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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The LA Weekly has an interesting interview with the series creator of this year's serial series VANISHED.

Josh Berman's claim to an article is his notebooks. Voluminous notebooks about werewolf disease and how fast frozen bodies decay and the social structure of Atlanta. He doesn't write anything without extensive, in-depth research. I guess ideas grow organically out of the process of extensively researching. Novelist Tom Wolfe does that, too. He'll research a novel for a couple years before writing it; I suppose he's probably writing the novel in his head during that whole time.

Me, I usually wing it, with occasional nips at the Wikipedia or specialty web sites when I need to know how to do something. Granted, my head is crammed with trivia that occasionally comes in handy. ("Trivia,' for example, comes from the Roman tri + via, meaning where three roads meet, people will tend to bump into each other and exchange useless trivia. Still waiting to use that one.) And I generally only read non-fiction, particularly science and history, so when I was meeting a producer at Disney and he mentioned a project about the Siege of Malta, I could ask, "the Great Siege in 1565 against the Turks?"

But mostly I'm interested in the story I'm telling. For example in the pilot I'm writing, I have a character who's a social worker. I could do tons of research about social workers, talk to actual social workers, read books about social work. But honestly, we're not going to see this character do any social work at all in the pilot. We may never see her do any real social work; that's not what the series is about. I will probably ask my fearless research assistant to check some things out, as soon as I can figure out what those things are. But I'm not going to do a month of research.

I feel a little guilty saying it. Like I'm lazy. But I'm not sure what all that research would get me. And more importantly I feel it might pull me away from the needs of the story -- the way doing ten pages of character backstory gets in the way of actually putting the character on screen.

What kind of research do you guys do?

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9 Comments:

tri via does mean three roads, but it's not a reference to people bumping into each other. In Europe, prior to the rise of an educated bourgeois class, the aristocratic sons would be taught the three ways (synonym) of education: Philosophy, Literature and liberal Arts, and science and mathematics.

As this kind of education was seen as useless by society until the 19th century, an indulgence of the rich, the word Trivial entered the english language.

By Blogger Dan Abrams, AKA the man, at 11:28 AM  

I only do the kind of research I absolutely have to do in order to write sentence into the script. But I also look things up for fun at other times. I'm a wikipedia junkie.

By Blogger glassblowerscat, at 2:33 PM  

Brian Clemens the noted british television writer-producer of such series as THE AVENGERS, THE PROFESSIONALS, THRILLER and so forth, often said that he "winged it" then went back and "fact-checked" his script for plausibility and intriguing details he could use to make the script better. He said that most times he was 90% correct in his assumptions as to technology or procedure in a variety of subjects. He credited it to the fact that he watched the news and read the morning newspaper every day.

But if you need to immerse yourself, then by all means take a bath in knowledge.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 2:54 PM  

I wonder if that's why the Trivial Pursuit board was designed with six points--that makes it three intersecting paths.

I've been doing a lot of trivial research for my nonfiction Buddhist project. The other day, I was writing about a character in the Lotus Sutra who might be seen as overly optimistic, and that led me to look up the origin of "Pollyanna." On occasion, I research to make sure I got something authentic, but more often, I research to find some new way to discuss a topic.

I would guess that the most enjoyable TV writers use research to generate ideas, not to authenticate. Like, we've all seen adaptations of ancient literature that are clearly researched to be authentic and are really snoozers. But when Rome uses researched material to come up with some new plot twist for Vorenus and Pullo, it ends up more fun to watch.

By Blogger Andrew, at 7:38 AM  

I suppose I don't even have to tell you about the extensive research I did for The Black Tower. You can pretty much see it all on your computer screen at http://www.showbizmediaservices.com/blacktower.html

In the end, I really hope it all pays off because I'm really starting to lose my Pollyanna positive outlook at this point.

KJC (who is in talks right now with a successful TV prodco in Toronto, a computer gaming CEO in Vancouver who last worked for Disney, and two comic book artists currently working on the Heroes online graphic novel tie-ins)

By Blogger Kelly J. Compeau, at 4:03 PM  

If I don't have to get too in-depth I'll use children's books. They usually have what I need, with the added bonus of my being able to understand what they're saying.

By Blogger Choppednuts, at 11:35 PM  

Just a few days ago, I found out there's a company in Spain called Histania which does research for writers, arquitects, museums, communication agencies and whoever needs it. They say they can give you a detailed report on a topic or simply look for a specific data. Don't know if they are available outside Spain, though.

By Blogger Legor, at 7:07 PM  

Thanks. But I have a research assistant, the indefatigable Webs.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:50 PM  

For my feature-length screenplay "Wait It Out" I simply did some geographical research. The film takes place in the midwest, so I wanted to make sure the names of cities and highway numbers were accurate. For my next feature, I'm having to do a lot more reading on the para-normal and on the psychology of serial killers. I did find some useful resource books from Writers Digest called CAREERS FOR YOUR CHARACTERS and TALK THE TALK. The former gives detailed information about 100 different careers and the latter gives the definition of different slang terms used by some 65 different sub cultures. It's designed to help writers create authentic dialogue.

http://framerate.blog.com

By Blogger Parc Entertainment, at 3:28 PM  

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