Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Room chemistry

When putting a writing staff together I always think of the great line from either Bob Schiller or Bob Weiskopf – what six people would you like to be stuck in a Volkswagon with driving across the country? Besides talent, so much depends on chemistry because you spend so much time together in close quarters under enormous pressure. By the end of the season even the closest staff starts getting on each other’s nerves. It’s like, take a fifty year marriage and compress it into eight months.

Here are some of the obvious annoying things staff writers do that drive me nuts. And every staff has them.

There’s “Captain Grammar” – he’s the guy who never contributes jokes or story fixes, just corrects grammar. And thinks he’s saving the show. If you can be replaced by a Microsoft Word tool you should not be on staff.

Every staff has that one infuriating person who always wants to go back four pages. You’re now on page 24, he wants to return to page 19.

“Mr. Back in a second” is in and out of the room fifty times a day for phone calls. The entire state of Rhode Island doesn’t get as many calls in one day as this guy. And when he returns you have to spend five minutes getting him up to speed. If he is also the “Can we go back to Page 17?” guy you fire him after thirteen weeks even if he’s funnier than Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart combined.

Of course there’s the person who never shuts the fuck up. Even if they pitch something good you don’t hear it because it’s lodged in the middle of a story about her friend who has Crohn’s disease and her upcoming trip to Japan.

There’s the “PA Killer”. This guy terrorizes production assistants by sending them out for food sixteen times a day. And usually with specific requests. No eighteen year old blonde Reese Witherspoon lookalike wants to go to Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles at 1 AM to pick up a snack.

Bi-polar people just seem to gravitate naturally to comedy writing rooms. The more depressed or angry the better.

Finally, there’s “Dr. No”, the guy who hates everything but never has any suggestions or alternatives. This person is either found dead in the parking lot or becomes the President of a network.

Fortunately, I have none of these bad traits, and I’m sure you don’t either. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a phone call.

13 comments:

steve c said...

I was readng that list feeling pretty smug that I didn't fit in with any of the types listed (and especially that being a manic depressive is a positive here!) until I read Dr No. Uh-oh. My last job (not scripts, but marketing bullshit) I just spent my time scowling and shaking my head in meetings. Maybe I'm not a "room" kind of guy...

Will Teullive said...

Then there's 'The Gentile' showing up in the writer's room with that cross around his neck. This is Hollywood!! How the hell did he get in here?

Beth Ciotta said...

Too funny! This also crosses over to novels. Aside from my solo writing I've co-authored three books with another writer. One very specific writer. Whether the team consists of two people or six, you're right. It's all in the chemistry.

Tom Quigley said...

I know exactly how you feel, having tried to write with others a few times myself, and in some cases knew the chemistry was wrong as soon as I heard the words "How do you like your double espresso?"

MAD ABOUT YOU had 21 writers on its staff the final season, as Paul Reiser and Victor Levin decided to give everyone in the world who'd just received their WGAW membership card a shot at being on staff... I don't know about the chemistry, because I don't know if anyone even knew everyone else's name by the end of the season. Maybe it was better that way...

By the the way, Ken, can we go back to the blog you posted on March 24th? I was just thinking...

Mary Stella said...

That list exists in other rooms. I see the roles filled in business meetings all the time. Unfortunately, the business meetings don't have the comic relief.

Emily Blake said...

I'm definitely the talker. I'm misleading though. The first few days in a new environment I don't say anything, but as soon as I get comfortable, I can't be silenced. Everything reminds me of the time I did something.

Anonymous said...

Ken,

What if the writer is pleasant to be around, but generally quiet in the room (but a good story generator who writes well and gets outlines/scripts in on time)?

Would you keep that person around to balance out a room?

Does a writer's expected contribution in the room depend upon rank?

I swear these questions have nothing to do with me.

Scoopy said...

Happily I fit none of those profiles. Whew!

Oh, and -- it's "Crohn's disease", not "Krone’s disease," and "President" isn't necessarily capitalized.

Chesher Cat said...

How come "the person who never shuts the fuck up" is female?

And all the others are male?

Except, of course, the Bi-polar who is neither.

Just asking...

Anonymous said...

"How come "the person who never shuts the fuck up" is female?

And all the others are male?"

Well, let's be honest. None of these profiles are complimentary. One of them had to be female, or else some unpleasable crusader would come along and accuse Ken of being sexist.

Juancho said...

I have a have a lot of carefully channeled rage and untapped hostility. Plus, I'm funny as hell.

Ken, thank you for continuing to give me hope that I can make it in showbiz.

Kristen said...

BLESS YOU! For having pity on us poor PA's.

I have cursed many people while up at 6:30 trying to find stupid things like a starbucks double espresso with a hint of hot water...

You're right. Nobody wants to get you snack,, but we'll smile and play along if you treat us nice.

Dave said...

Ken -

I can't believe you forgot all about the dreaded "REPEATER." You remember -- the person who enthusiastically pitches what was pitched five minutes ago but "in their own words." Then when it's rejected a second time they can't believe it.

Great piece. Right...on...the...money.