Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day then staff work begins!

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, debating the Dan Harmon firing,  trashing WHITNEY. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, recommend apps for your iPad and iPhone, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

You’ll mosey back to the office, maybe talk in very general terms about the season ahead, some scatter shot thoughts on characters and stories, then go home at 4.

Week two you’ll come in and the showrunner will panic. He’ll realize you’re now hopelessly behind. From there you get to work, really delving into the characters, spitballing story areas, eventually breaking stories. You still go home at 4 but at least you’re getting something done.

Over the next few weeks the stories will be outlined, assigned, written, turned in, and rewritten by the staff. You start having lunch brought in, going home at 6…and then 7… and then 9. By the time you go into production in August you might have four scripts ready to go with a few others in the pipeline. And hopefully you’ll have seen every summer movie you wanted to see, made your vacation plans for next year, bought that Fender guitar, remodeled that kitchen, fulfilled every dinner obligation, read all those books on your nightstand (hopefully one of mine), and took pictures of sunsets so you’ll remember what they look like…because now the real fun begins.

The actors come in rested and the first day of production you’re ready to kill them for it. And so it begins.

Your first real break comes when you can say "Happy Thanksgiving".


lucifervandross said...

Sounds like fun.

Johnny Walker said...

You have to wonder if there's not a way of improving that process. It definitely seems true that it takes as long as you've got available (or maybe just a bit over) to create something.

Becca said...

Now you see why it makes Ken crazy when dimwits assert that good actors just say whatever they want to say, and who cares about those dumb ol' writers, anyhow.

WF: has recently become very odd. Now there's always one real word included. Today, for me, that real word is [Apocrypha] complete with brackets. W. T. F.

Kati said...

I guess 2 questions:

1. Do you think showrunners and staff writers do the procrastination dance kind of unconsciously-on-purpose 'til they're tapped into: a. the energy you get from suddenly being on an insane deadline, and even better, b. the pseudo-celestial euphoria you get at 4 am of many sleepless nights, when suddenly everything is funny, everything is beautiful and makes you cry, and every bit of your skin seems to be marching across your bones?

If that's what they're doing, that's cheating. Come on, stop tapping the muse.

2. Do you recommend that staff writers enjoy the down times while they can, or are there ways to work til 9 pm - even alone or in a pair maybe - some early days to stave off the badness to come?

Becca said...

Considering the theme of last night's "Mad Men," why wasn't the song as Peggy left and the credits began Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me"? I like the Kinks, but...c'mon!

DJ said...

No, the sheer exuberance of "You Really Got Me" precisely reflected what Peggy was feeling at that moment.

helen said...

Hi Ken,
Sorry as you've probably said all this before but please will you remind me what a 'showrunner' does as we don't have them in the U.K.


Cory said...

Also, if you notice, they are moving away from older songs to songs that fit the youth movement for the time. It's thematic and yet another small thing that makes the show brilliant and subtle.

Kati said...

Helen, my best understanding is that a showrunner is often but not always the show's actual creator (who came up with the concept and wrote the pilot), and he or she usually gets the distinct pleasure of wearing many hats. His or her job often entails:

1. Liaising between the upper executives and the writers: i.e., taking a lot of heat and pressure from executives above him and trying to shield the writing staff from those frustrations; choosing his battles regarding notes for changes to the script; and keeping the writers from having absolute meltdowns.

2. Deciding how the writing process will work. It sounds like every show is different. Lots of times the writer's room beats out the story in great detail, scene by scene, and then an assigned writer or two totter off to write the script over the next couple weeks. Other showrunners 'counsel' or meet with the writers individually, I've heard. Some showrunners maintain more writing control: apparently Trey Parker or Matt Stone (who writes more? I can't remember) use the writers largely for volleying around jokes, and then tells them to go home so he can concentrate and write, and then calls them at 11 pm to come over to his house and help him :p So showrunners get to literally run the show, as much as the studios will let them, anyway.

3. I think they also get to do other fun production-y stuff as far as keeping up with budget and managing props, set, costumes, actors...I hope they have a lot of help with this, but yeah I think they do all that too :(

4. So a showrunner is someone I suppose to feel bad for and be as supportive of as humanly possible, and also someone that you'd better hope is great at their job and loves what they're doing.

I'm betting you have this person in the UK, just under a different title, and maybe with less stress. I know I've heard Canadian TV works very guys have a different government relationship and crazy behemoths like the BBC, not sure how that works out for you.

To be clear, I've only read about all this (sigh). Anyone who ACTUALLY knows what they're talking about, feel free to jump in and give Helen a better answer. I just thought I'd chime in in case no one else did.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kati. It's a bit different in the U.K. they're called writer/producer and get both credits.

helen said...

Sorry I pressed the wrong key!
And I think there are lots more writers than writer/producers!

Becca said...

Cory: There isn't a huge difference in age between the Gore song and the Kinks song. Believe it or not, "You Really Got Me" was released in 1964. "You Don't Own Me" came out in 1963. Both songs were considered a bit long-in-the-tooth in 1968.

Regardless, I certainly didn't think that the Kinks song was a *bad* choice. Not at all. I just liked the idea of the Gore song better (and usually I detest music that's too on-the-nose).

Aurora said...

Sounds dreamy, and I'll take it. Sign me up please!