It’s not just Friday Question Day. It’s Friday the 13th Question Day. Don’t read while operating heavy equipment.
Andy Ihnatko starts us off:
Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant's book about screenwriting mentions an dirty trick: an unscrupulous screenwriter hired to polish the seventh draft might change the name of a central character, just so that later on, he can claim co-screenwriter credit even though all he did was make some basic tweaks and trims.
What other ways do screenwriters sometimes game the system to either get more credit or even just protect their contributions?
They change genders of the main characters. They change locations. They capriciously change dialogue but characters essentially say the same thing. Most arbitrators easily see through these transparent alterations. And if not, the original writer is more than happy to point them out in his statement.
Dan Tedson asks:
In general, what months do staff writers work through the year? Is it 6 months on, 6 months off, that sort of thing?
We should be so lucky. Usually the writing staff will assemble around Memorial Day. They’ll work on stories and scripts and production begins around the beginning of August. Depending on the show (half hour/hour, single/multi camera) a full season could end anywhere from March till the end of April.
So it’s more like a month or two off, not six. Think of an NBA season if you go deep into the playoffs. And when shows are in production it’s not unusual for writing staffs to work weekends and late nights.
I'm getting started as a comedy writer and I want to be versatile. One of the things I've noticed is that a lot of comedy writers know how to write everything from one-liners to sketch to half-hours to full screenplays.
A lot of the same rules apply to multiple formats, but I'm wondering, what "rules" do different formats have? How do you view them differently?
The only rule that covers all of those formats is you have to be really funny. Otherwise, I’d say versatility is fine but when starting out concentrate on one format, learn its rules and head in that direction. Especially if you don't know the rules. Take classes, read books, and follow relevant blogs.
It's hard enough to master one format, much less three or four.
Agents, should you be lucky enough to get one, need to know how to sell you. They generally don’t take the scattershot approach. You’re either a TV writer or a screenwriter or a sketch writer. So decide which form is right for you and focus on that. Once you establish yourself you can spread your wings and show your versatility.
How do shows, once shot and edited, get to the network? Also, do they go to New York or LA? Did you ever have a show you work on have an episode get lost or damaged on its way to the network?
Networks provide very specific formats. They tell you what to deliver, in what format, and how many copies. Likewise, they tell you exactly how long the show can be, and what the delivery deadline is.
Each network has different requirements but I believe you can turn it in to LA or NY depending on where your show originates from. It’s so easy today to beam shows around the world instantly. And because they’re digital, there is no loss of quality from generation to generation. But unless things have changed, someone hand delivers the material to the network.
Usually the line producer or someone from the production screens the final version one last time before sending it to the network. And every so often a mistake is caught and last minute scrambling has to occur. I remember once on AfterMASH they forgot to include credits and had to race to correct in time (although in this case, we might have preferred no credits).
Line producers do a spectacular job and are usually taken for granted. But they have to check on so many things – sound, color balance, mix, music, and editing. A million details.
And I don’t know if this is true anymore but when we delivered a show way back in ancient times (mid ‘90s) we had to leave space for the commercials, so those had to be built in as well.
What's your question? Please leave it in the comment section. And Happy Friday the 13th.