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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Australian SF novelist Jonathan Blum decided to watch the whole season of CHARLIE JADE, and has written it up in his LiveJournal. If you haven't had a chance to check out the podcasts, check it out. It's a great summary of what Denis McGrath, Sean Carley and I experienced as the writing team who parachuted into South Africa on short notice to try to help showrunner Bob Wertheimer put his vision on the screen.



That's really interesting to read back. But on the whole, the teachable moment of following that saga is, I think, the whole point.

It comes down to defining "the vision" for TV.

In a Canadian/USA model, where usually there is a rush to production, & things are being written at the same time as (or close to) being shot, it is simply unworkable to have a non-writer in charge of making major creative decisions.

Fifteen or twenty departments can come at you very fast, with all sorts of demands, and the reason why you need a writer is because a writer can take the problem of the moment and instantly know, "that's an easy fix and here's how we'll do it..." or "that's a big problem & will require this change and this change and this change."

If you can't go into your office & fix the problem with words on a page, then you cannot showrun series television made in this kind of production model. Period. You do not have the most important skill possible -- the ability to use the page to fix the problem.

Without that singular person in that seat, it quickly devolves into the parable of the blind men feeling up the elephant -- each insisting they know the shape of the whole creature by the feel of the hunk they've got a hold of...

In film, there is usually plenty of time to fix (or over fix) problems that come up, and there's only one story to shoot so you don't have the cascading problem of the third episode coming down the pike. Writers with TV production experience understand that all problems unsolved quickly become exponentially worse, every six, seven, or eight days -- depending on your schedule.

(Now you could also say the disposable nature of film screenwriting is also why so many films suck, but that's not my fight so I'll leave that to someone else.)

There is a cogent way to produce TV without a writer in a position of creative control. And it's done in the UK a lot. The problem is that it is not scalable. You write all the episodes first, and vet them for any problems. Then the Non-Writing Producer might have a fighting chance to communicate their panic I mean ideas to the writing staff or writer, and allow for a solution that both serves story & production process.

This also pretty much restricts you to doing six episodes or so. Not a bad way to work, I guess. Not my preference.

But this is a fundamental truth. Canadian Producers are still trying to argue it, though every program that gets produced with empowered writers, rather than a Non writing Producer or an Actor in charge adds another nail to the coffin of that argument.

And that is the true lesson of the glorious mess that was Charlie Jade.

This is the kind of thing I might write if I had my own blog, Alex. Heh heh heh.

By Blogger DMc, at 1:45 PM  

I should add of course that I don't mean to say you don't need a strong producer in there too.

The problem (and the cushion) in the USA is that there's a studio behind the program, who knows the business side inside and out, rather than an independent producer who may have only ever done one or two series, or line produced several but never had control of the creative.

A Showrunner/writer with no concept of production realities and needs wouldn't last more than a few weeks without getting sidelined. Sadly, the reverse, a producer without a gift for creative visioning & an inability to write or work with writers -- those shows often limp through an entire season, or more.

By Blogger DMc, at 4:52 PM  

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By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:09 AM  

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