Playwrights - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Aaron C asks if he should hire playwrights rather than TV writers for his internet series:
Because my season is already pretty much outlined, dialogue and character are most important to me. My hunch is that playwrights tend to be better at dialogue, and get into writing more for the love of writing than for fame and fortune.
I could not disagree more.

Plays and TV are entirely different media. Plays can have action, but the characters can't go far. Editing is limited to scene changes. The frame never moves in a play. There are no closeups. All you can do is move your characters around the stage. The audience sees the players from various different angles depending on where they're seated. So, plays are about the words.

TV is about the words, the action, the framing, and the editing.

They are different media. And therefore, they use different flavors of dialog.

So play dialog tends to be expansive and wordy. It is often stylized. Mamet's characters all speak Mamet-speak.

TV dialog is terse. If a character has more than three sentences strung together, it's a big deal.

Plays have huge ole chunks of dialog, character arias, often about the past. TV rarely describes the past, and tries to avoid referring to it. You can go hours on TV without hearing a character say, "You remember when...?" and then recounting an event in it its entirety that both characters remember perfectly well.

A great play creates a ritual space; the dialog is the words of that ritual, in which the audience is a celebrant.

A great TV show brings you into a world, and makes the characters a member of your family.

Playwrights aren't better at dialog than TV writers. They are better at play dialog. On TV, play dialog would sound stilted, portentuous and gassy; just as, in a play, TV dialog would sound bloodless and mundane.

Playwrights are also not used to necessarily doing what they're told. David Mamet refuses to take network notes at all. That comes from being a playwright, where you can simply refuse to change a line if you don't want to.

I wrote a play once. It even got a reading at a playhouse. I learned how different playwrighting is from screenwriting, and that plays are not my medium.

No, I wouldn't hire a playwright to do a TV writer's job; unless that playwright also happened to be a pretty good TV writer.

And the play? Now a pay cable series I'm developing for The Movie Network.

Oh, and Aaron ... all the good writers, in any medium, get into it for the writing, not for the fame and fortune.

Labels:

5 Comments:

Good answer. I am only trying to figure out which crappy, famous, rich TV writers Aaron is thinking of.

By Blogger nadia*, at 7:03 PM  

Hmm. I can think of another Aaron who writes both plays and TV pretty well...

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 10:15 PM  

All great points, but he's hiring writers for an internet series, which, presumably, is also a different medium.

By Blogger Ed McNamara, at 12:29 AM  

I dunno Ed. As talked about a couple posts ago, if you're creating a web series you probably don't want it to stay a web series. Or at least, you don't want to only ever make webisodes - you want to move to TV. So you'd want to stick with the same style of writing.

By Blogger Trevor, at 3:28 PM  

Trevor, I'll have to go back and find your post, but I agree with the idea that if you're going from web to TV, you're going to want folks who understand television as a medium (and I'm sure a lot of stuff being mined from the web for TV, Quarterlife notwithstanding, goes through a fair bit of redevelopment). What I think I'm getting at is that we shouldn't so quickly think of the internet as something similar to one medium or another. It is a medium of its own.

By Blogger Ed McNamara, at 10:56 PM  

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