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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Q. We wrote a script, shot a pilot, and we're shopping our show now.
In the mean, we want to write 12+ scripts so we're ready to rock when the big bag of money gets here.
Mmm, no, I wouldn't do that.

Television is about the most collaborative medium I know. Even the movies are less so. In the movies, you can shoot your indie film and sell it. The studio may ask for cuts, but they rarely ask for reshoots, and they wouldn't think of asking you to reshoot the whole thing.

In TV, if they like it, if they buy it, the network will now want to make the entire show theirs. They won't like some of the actors. They'll have a few people in mind. They might want that cute girl changed into a cute guy.

And they will want to have input on the script. I know, you already shot it and edited it. But now they want to put it on television. They want it to fit their network mandate. Since you didn't know what their network mandate is, you didn't shoot exactly the show they're looking for.

On the other hand they don't mind pouring money into the show. If the studio made you reshoot your feature film, it would double the cost. But if they make you reshoot your pilot -- well, they're thinking at least 13 episodes, maybe a full season of 22, and they are hoping you'll go 100 episodes. So reshooting your pilot is not a prohibitive expense.

They will want a lot of input on the scripts. They may want to add writers to your staff. If they let you run your own show, they may still want to put a veteran Supervising Producer on board to shadow you and make sure you don't blow their money through inexperience.

So it does not make sense to write 12 episodes. They'll get changed too much, and some will get thrown out. Moreover, no one at the network is going to read 12 episodes.

What you could do, reasonably, is write two more episodes. Now you have three scripts, one of which is shot. If you can show three really kickass scripts, they'll know whether or not it's a series they want.

That's what we're doing on my pay cable series. I've written three scripts. With network input, I'm writing two-page breakdowns for the remaining seven episodes of the first season. Between the three scripts and the breakdowns, anyone who's interested in buying the show for their territory has all the information they can reasonably use.

Once the series is greenlit, and you hire your staff, you'll probably want to get eight scripts finished before you start shooting; later scripts get written during production, and get to take advantage of things you learn during the show.
We thought all the springboards should be done at the beginning of the season, so we knocked out 12 springboards. But maybe this is done at the beginning of each writing week--rather than set the season, writers bring the idea they had *this week*, and it goes up against the other ideas this week. Perhaps that's more practical, given that the story editor or the showrunner may significantly re-write any particular episode, and a springboard created earlier may no longer make sense. Confirm or deny?
I would definitely write 12 springboards now. When I pitch a series, I try to have at least a dozen springboards ready, so I know there's a show there, and so they know what the show is.

To get 12 decent springboards, you might have to come up with a couple more dozen bad ones. There's a lot of carnage.

You will wind up throwing out many of your springboards as you get into the series. Many of the survivors will get rewritten out of all recognition. No worries. You don't owe them anything.
I read you to say the whole room works on [the story] until there is satisfaction. How much of the writer's meeting should that take?
How long is a piece of string?

You probably don't want to spend more than four hours a day in meetings or people will burn out. The rest of the time, people will be working on their scripts, or their beat sheets... or checking Facebook, or surfing the Net, or whatever it is they do behind the top of their laptops.

On CHARLIE JADE, we probably averaged 2-3 hours a day in meetings, with more in the beginning when we were trying to figure the show out, and much less later on when we were consumed with the writing.

On a comedy, people spend a great deal of time in meetings, first breaking story, and then punching up the gags.
Which reminds me, how many days are there writer's meetings, and how many hours in each meet? We can spend all day whipping out ideas and bits and getting nothing done.
You, the showrunner, have to figure out what a good mix is. There may be days with no meetings. There may be days chock full of meetings. But bear in mind that "whipping out ideas and bits and getting nothing done" is getting something done. That's how you put a show together.

I have it on good authority that a certain story room on a successful series spent a lot of time watching midget porn. They got their show written, though.

Seriously: you meet until people are sick of meeting. You write until you can write no more. Go home, write some more. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat.

In the meetings, you talk, you digress, you whine, you shoot the breeze, and then you talk some more. It's up to you, the showrunner, to manage your writers well. Too much focus and people get burned out. Not enough focus and nothing gets done. Reasonable focus, and a long digression triggers a useful idea that opens up a door you didn't even see before.

You have to ask the right questions in the meetings. You have to guide the discussion. You have to know when to talk about macro issues and when to beat up on a particularly revelatory detail. The reason people get paid so much money to supervise a writing room is because it is hard to herd cats.
I read it that when the treatment is final, that unit is given to someone to write a script from. At some point, that writer comes back to the room with a version of the story told this way and presents it. The room is NOT to re-write the story proper but to tighten the scenes, the humor, the language, etc. Just sharpen it up. Right?
The room doesn't rewrite. If the writer isn't nailing it, a higher level writer might take it to rewrite it, on up to the showrunner. On a drama, the room probably never sees the finished draft, though the writer might hand it to his buddies on the show to ask what they think.

On a comedy, there'll be a day of punch-up. But if the script is really not working, then the room might have to go back and rebreak the story.
I'm not clear on the difference between what's brought to the room and "the first draft".
There are several first drafts. There's the first complete draft that the writer writes. I usually call that a rough draft. He rewrites it until he hits his deadline or he feels he needs some feedback. He turns it into the showrunner; that's the first writer's draft. Showrunner reads that, maybe rewrites it. It might be sent to network for notes -- that's the first network draft. Somewhere along the line the script goes to production -- that becomes the Production White.

I wouldn't make too much of the name "first draft." Every draft is a first draft until it gets into the jaws of production, and further changes start to cost money.
Beats = outline in other media. It looks like you said a writer should find *someone* to check the beats with--not the room, and not necessarily the story editor.
I like to have someone read my stuff first, if there's time. Lisa reads my stuff, and I have an assistant, and I have a reading intern who's fantastic. If there's no time, as is typical on a production, I would show my beat sheet to whoever is supervising me: a story editor if I'm a free lancer, a showrunner if I'm higher up the food chain. They'll make notes and / or rewrite the beat sheet, and I'm off to writing pages.

Good luck!



Write it, shoot it, and shop it? That sounds like Quarterlife. It was a good show, but not a good precedent for how to make a television series.

By Blogger Unknown, at 10:08 AM  

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