The Mythical Man Month - Complications Ensue
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Monday, August 06, 2007

Here's a clearly written argument for hiring fewer, better PERL programmers and paying them well above average. Key point: "a good programmer can do as much as 5-10 average programmers."

I think the same is true for writers. A below-average staff writer is almost useless: you wind up redoing all their work. (And by "all their work," I mean "all their work." I can't tell you how many free lance scripts I've rewritten 100% from page 1, based on the outline that I gave them.) A good staff writer can give you exactly what you're looking for with minimal rewriting. A great staff writer helps you bring the show to another level by showing you aspects of your concept that you hadn't even thought of -- all while keeping on time and on budget.

The effect is harder to see in screenwriting. A program is fairly easily judged by management by whether it does the job without crashing or not. One can quantify some of its parameters -- how many lines of code (fewer is better), how much processing power it eats, memory usage. It's harder for a management (producers, network execs) to tell the difference between a script that works and one that doesn't.

As in programming, there's a good argument for finding the best writer and overpaying them as much as you have to in order to get and keep them. The cost will be lower than hiring more inferior writers. I'd rather have two great staff people on this show than four so-so ones.

On the other hand, writing is not programming. If you choose your writing room well, you'll get different perspectives from everyone in the room. One writer's a single woman who smokes too much, another is a middle-aged guy with kids, another is a gay guy in a long-term relationship. One can bring the funny, another has a really good reality check.

Also, I'm not sure that writers can telecommute as effectively as programmers. I've blogged in other posts about the writing room. You want the writers to be able to break story together, and to help solve story problems on the spot. And, you want your writers to physically see the set and meet the actors so they know what they're writing for.

So the article isn't dead on for show business. But still worth a few milliplatos of thought.

Aside from Brooks' Mythical Man-Month, can anyone else recommend any books or websites on programming that seem applicable to script development?

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2 Comments:

Considering your familiarity with the subject, it may be a step backwards in complexity to suggest looking at Scratch at http://scratch.mit.edu/.

But for people who are not programmers, the introduction to the concepts of sub-routines and branching may spark some interesting analogies to story structure.

I also think the sharing aspect of Scratch may open up some thoughts on what happens when you share a script with another person.

By Blogger Aaron Carter, at 12:41 PM  

A couple of books that might be interesting to a screenwriter are:
Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative by Pete McBreen (ISBN 0-201-73386-2). It talks about shifting Software Development from an engineering-focused discipline to a craftsmanship discipline with apprentices, journeyman, and masters. It was the first book that came to mind when you mentioned the snippet about 1 good programming being as good as 5-10 average programmers; that sentiment is expressed in the book.

I think it would be interesting to a screenwriter as the writing industry is already a craft. I see a screenwriter as a cabinet maker or woodworker whereas software development (currently) is more like building a skyscraper (ignore scale for this analogy, I do not mean to imply any sort of judgement about difficulty or size between the two, only the techniques used).

The second book I think would be of interest is The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics for an Imperfect World. This book deals with how to work around the bureacracy and idiocy in the management above you to get the best product possible. Though I haven't dealt with anyone in a screenwriting sense I can definitely tell from anecdotes that the same insanity applies.

By Blogger Joe W., at 2:48 PM  

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