Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rewrite night survival guide

Shows are getting back into production, meaning writing staffs are once again burning the midnight oil. Some tips from a grizzled veteran:

Take-out pasta does not travel well.

Avoid chocolate covered coffee beans. Someone once brought in a box of them to the rewrite room. Two hours later seven writers were bouncing off the ceiling, pitching nonsense, pitching the Pledge of Allegiance, one guy was pitching his Haftarah.

Bananas at midnight are a good idea. The contain potassium which will help keep you up and alert.

Cheese Doodles will not.

Take a break, get out of the office, and walk around the lot. You may think it’s adding fifteen minutes to your night but considering it will clear your head, you might catch your second wind and finish sooner.

Don’t spend an hour on one joke. Always remember the big picture. Table the thorny joke until the end. First and foremost is getting the story right. Tomorrow you can fix jokes.

Beware of show runners who are recently divorced. They have nothing to go home to and thus would much prefer to hang out all night with you.

Limit cast trashing to a half hour.

If there are one or two scenes that need major work or rewriting, do those first. You don’t want to get to 1:00 AM and THEN have to start tackling the hard stuff.

If you order BBQ food for dinner you are assured a long rewrite.

If you feel the need to pop something sweet in your mouth, don’t make it an M & M, make it a Tums.

Don’t breast feed in the room unless you plan to share with everyone.

Limit other show trashing to a half hour.

Drink lots and lots of water.

If you’re at page 30 and someone says “Can we go back to page 22?” KILL this person.

Don’t stop to watch the last two minutes of the Lakers game. That’s forty minutes. And probably overtime.

And if you stop to watch the end of the Mighty Ducks game – well, you just don’t want to be there.

Red Bull is not your friend. You may think it is until you see tomorrow’s runthrough.

Don’t get hung up on tiny details. If it needs to be googled or checked for spelling or added to a scene in act one, leave it to the people staying late to proof. We call that “Proofer’s Challenge”.

Limit discussion on how rich Chuck Lorre is to fifteen minutes. No, twenty.

Late at night when you’re punchy, you may write what you think is a hilarious run. Go back in proofing and cut it in half. The guys on the BOB NEWHART SHOW did not do this and I can pretty much tell you by watching the show just what time certain bits were written. Keep the best five jokes, discard the other seven.

Cellphones off until breaks.

Once you hit 1:00 AM it’s not a bad idea to call it a night, send the cast whatever you have, come back in the morning, finish, send them the remaining pages and have a later runthrough if necessary. The amount of work leftover will be addressed faster and sharper when you’re not all fried.

And finally, if you’re there for one night in a consultant role, the phrase you need to remember and say frequently is “See it another day.”


Jesse Wendel said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

* Bows three times *

odocoileus said...

Funny and frightening at the same time. Tales from the trenches indeed.

...and and R-R-Red Bull is m-my f-f-friend. Wha-what's that that r-r-ringing in m-my ears?

Richard Cooper said...

I want to write something with Ken Levine! Speaking of Red Bull, someone just installed several vending machines on the campus where I work, $2.50 a can. (Shiver.) Actually, the meetings I'd like to be in on are happen over on our sound stage where the Coen brothers are shooting. Freaking security won't let me near the joint.

Anonymous said...

Writing anything while on anything, be it Red Bull or 151 rum, pretty much mandates you go back the next morning when of sober and sound mind and look at last night's inspiration. It's possible whatever you've eaten/imbibed/smoked/(heck, mainlined) may have opened up a new path of creativity. Odds are better it's opened up a line of thinking only others in the same condition will find funny (which I believe was one of the problems with a lot of the writing in the early 1980s, when, pre-Cosby, all the stories were the sitcom form was dead).

Anonymous said...

Ken...what's a Haftarah?