My posts on writing this week elicited quite a few Friday Questions. Thought I’d answer them while the subject matter is still fairly fresh.
If you're writing a spec script should you target network or cable and also a specific network, i.e., TBS or FX, etc
Write the best pilot you can and then decide whom it’s best for, not the other way around. Don’t try to outguess the marketplace. Producers and agents are looking for original material, not the next FX show. Write something great and let all these networks fight over you.
The Curmudgeon wonders:
You're in the writers' room and someone pitches a joke and everyone laughs -- who remembers the exact joke and how? Is there somebody there who used to work for the CIA, who's had their sense of humor surgically removed, available to record these pearls as they issue? I mean, the inspiration strikes, you pitch a line, everyone laughs -- but who catches the exact line?
Tom Reeder, one of my favorite comedy writers, graciously answered this in the comments section, but it’s worth re-printing in case there are one or two of you who don’t read every comment.
In response to The Curmudgeon: The writer who pitched the line usually remembers what he or she said, and if not, there are a couple of writers' assistants in the room. It's their job to record the pearls that are produced in the room.
The writers' assistant who is at the keyboard types in the proposed change; everyone looks at it on the monitors, and most of the time it's correct -- as pitched. Once in a while, someone will say, "The way David pitched it, he had 'corn nuts' at the end." That gets fixed, and then the showrunner says the words we all love to hear: "Moving on."
Thanks, Tom. Okay, moving on…
Ken, you've mentioned a number of times that scripts today are by and large developed in the room and that, with the exception of a few rare individuals, no one person could write a script (i.e. from concept to final shooting draft) for shows as they are produced today.
That being the case, how are the scripts written by prospective/aspiring writers regarded when they are being assessed by potential agents, producers, etc? Are they still expected to be as good as a room written script?
Yes. Unfortunately, your spec is expected to be as good or better than the show itself. No, that’s not fair but that’s the way it’s always been.
Although, in fairness, if I’m reading a spec that’s not a home run but detect a real spark – a very funny voice, or terrific banter, or maybe very clever storytelling, that alone could get my attention. I understand that the writer is not seasoned, but if I think there’s some genuine raw talent I might be inclined to give him a shot.
Do you think being a team made it easier or harder for you and David to get hired for your first staff jobs? Did you get paid less than if you were solo?
It made it easier because the scripts were better. Yes, writing teams have to split salaries but I’ve always believed that, in our case, the quality of the work was better as a result of the partnership and that ultimately we had a better and longer career. Half of something was a whole lot better than all of nothing.
To me the trade-off was worth it. And as you rise in your career you’re able to make better deals than just the Guild minimums so the money improves even if you’re in a team.
I also think that today it’s easier for teams to get hired because shows have smaller budgets and they get two writers for the price of one.
I recently watched an episode of a series and noticed that an actress name was shown in the beginning of the episode, announcing she would be in it. This was not a regular of that series, but someone who had been in the show maybe 5 times all together in 6 seasons. I only noticed the name because she is the daughter of one of the regular cast members. But then she wasn't actually in that episode. Simply a mistake, or can actors get credited for more episodes than they're really appearing in? Say they're signed up for 3 episodes that season and only needed in two?
Actors who recur in series sometimes negotiate a deal for say 7 of 13. That means that they have to be paid for 7 episodes and get credit on those episodes whether they’re used or not. My guess, in this case, is that the actor was used in the episode and then his scene was cut. (And perhaps in the DVD his scene will be restored.)
In any event, it’s a fairly unusual occurrence.
I love when a character is killed at the end of one episode and then in the next there’s a scene of investigators standing over the dead body. The actor gets paid and a credit for lying still. Where do I get that job?
And finally, Carol has a question on my weekend posts about memorization:
How long does a television actor get to memorize their lines? It doesn't seem to me that they have a large amount of time for rehearsal or memorization!
They don’t. Soap opera actors have new half hour scripts every day. I don’t know how they do it.
Sitcom actors on multi-camera shows occasionally get entirely new scripts the day before they’re supposed to shoot. Occasionally, they get whole new scenes after the dress rehearsal. That can be a seven-page scene delivered to them an hour before they’re supposed to perform it in front of cameras and a live audience.
Your questions are ALWAYS appreciated. Just leave them in the comments section. Thanks!