Writing Rooms, and Virtual Writing RoomsComplications Ensue
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I'm in Charlottetown for most of the week, teaching at the Island Media Arts "Boot Camp" for writers. I'm putting six emerging TV writers from the Atlantic Provinces through their paces. Yesterday they pitched their shows and we reworked them a bit.

Today the whole class worked as a writing room, pitching springboards for each others' shows. You can't really tell you have a show until you've worked up ten or a dozen springboards. If you have a good idea for a show, a dozen springboards should be the work of a few hours with a bunch of people, or a couple of days on your own. (See how valuable a writing room is?)

(A springboard, as you know from reading my book CRAFTY TV WRITING, is the idea for an episode in a nutshell.)

Tomorrow they're pitching springboards for THE BORDER. Yesterday we watched ep. 7, "Family Affairs" together. (You can watch it here. No idea if it plays outside Canada.) It is one hell of an hour of TV. At the end of each act out you have a pretty good idea where the episode is going, and then it goes somewhere else more interesting. Superb. Y'all probably read Denis McGrath's blog, and he is a fine blogger, but he is a knockout TV writer. (Please don't tell any American showrunners, or they'll steal him.)

If you live in a decent-sized city, try putting together a writing room of your own. In my book I talk about writing groups which critique each other's work, but a writing room would actually pitch stories and arcs and characters for each others' shows. You will learn much faster about writing for TV in a roomful of writers trying to turn an idea into a bunch of episodes than on your own. You'll learn from pitching your idea and seeing what people make of it, and you'll learn from trying to make your writing buddies'

You will all agree -- best if you sign a written one-paragraph agreement -- that the person whose show you're working on owns all the ideas you guys come up with.

If you don't live in a major urban center with other newbie writers, you can still set up a virtual writing room with Skype. Skype calls are free and it's easy to set up a conference call. It will not be as effective to do it text only, and it will be way less effective by email. You need the freewheeling nature of a meeting, where one person jumps on something that someone just said.

Try it, you'll like it. And if your first one doesn't work, build a new one with the best people from your first group and some newbies. Group dynamics are tricky.

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Are there some ground rules about giving credit in a writer's room like that? For example, if someone pitches a great idea for my pilot, what can I do with it?

By Blogger probability, at 7:16 PM  

What exactly is a springboard? When you say you should get a dozen springboards, how detailed are they?

By Blogger BrK, at 7:56 PM  

This is unrelated to your post, but seems worth mentioning! Charlie Jade starts airing in the US on the SciFi channel starting this Friday. About damn time. :)


By Blogger jamesdubick, at 8:06 PM  

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