Thursday, January 05, 2017
The value of research
But it points out something worth noting. Research is an invaluable tool when you’re writing a script. Any script (except maybe for a SON OF ZORN script because that show is just completely idiotic). But for pilots especially (and agents and studios want spec pilots today from young writers), the more authority you have over your world the better.
And the good news is, many writers are lazy and don’t bother to do research. It’s a way that your script can shine.
Any writer who has been on staff of a show can tell you the hardest part of the process is coming up with stories. Research, in many cases, eases that problem. Instead of having to dream up stories out of thin air, they’ll fall right into your lap. And they’ll be richer and more true to life.
On MASH, Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart began a policy where doctors, nurses, corpsmen, soldiers, anyone who was in the Korean War were interviewed. We had thousands of pages of transcripts from these interviews and during our tenure we interviewed many more. We even flew to Phoenix to spend a day with the doctor "Hawkeye Pierce" was modeled after. Each episode of MASH contained between two and three different storylines. So over eleven years that’s roughly 600 separate stories. We could not have done the show without that research. Ironically, some of the stories we took from those real life interviews were so bizarre we had to tone them down otherwise no one would have believed us.
CHEERS of course was the best. I wrote off my bar tab for eleven years. Donald Trump would be so proud.
And if the subject of your pilot is accessible – let’s say you’re writing a pilot about the Department of Motor Vehicles – take a day or two to just go there. Observe what happens. Talk to employees during a break.
If your show centers around an AA group go to an AA meeting. How exactly are they conducted? What really goes on there? What does AA mean to the participants? And like I said, most writers won’t bother. So their AA scenes will seem very surface, stereotypical, or wrong.
It’s worth the time and worth the effort. And if you’re writing about subject matter that interests you (which you should), doing the research should be fun.
Being in the White House Press Corp. was way cool. We went on a campaign trip with President Carter and wound up in someone’s backyard in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Who says writers don’t lead romantic lives?