Tuesday, June 07, 2016

You'll always guess wrong

There are some writers who are gifted and amazingly prolific. David E. Kelley, Aaron Sorkin, and Matthew Weiner can pretty much write an entire season of television themselves. I don’t know how they do it. If I tried that I’d be dictating the last six episodes from ICU.

There are also very strong showrunners who perform extensive rewrites on every script that comes across his or her desk.

If you get a script assignment from one of these writers good luck seeing any of your words make it to the screen.

Not only because they rewrite everything but because you will probably turn in a bad draft.


Because instead of thinking “what would the characters say?” you’ll more likely be thinking, “what would the showrunner have the characters say?” Hey, it’s human nature. You’re trying to please your boss.

But in so doing you are falling into a terrible trap. Because trust me, you will always guess wrong.

You can not get into the mind of Aaron Sorkin. Or Matt Weiner. Or even me.

There’s a big difference between writing someone else’s characters and copying someone else’s writing style. For your script to be any good at all you have to bring something of YOU to it. What can YOU add?  

Do the best you can, and if you get rewritten then so be it. Here’s the stuff from your script that might actually make it to the screen – the moments or the lines where the showrunner says, “Damn! I wish I had thought of that.”

Don’t be a mimic. As James L. Brooks says, “At some point you’ve got to be a writer.” Trust YOURSELF and maybe someday people will be second-guessing you.


Toby the Wonder Horse said...

“You can not get into the mind of Aaron Sorkin. Or Matt Weiner. Or even me.”

I once found myself in the mind of Sherwood Schwartz. It was a cold, bleak, barren place. I only managed to survive by capturing, killing and eating one of the giant winged wombat that nested inside his cerebral cortex.

Joseph Scarbrough said...


Jahn Ghalt said...

Thanks to Basket of Kisses, I know far more about Matt Weiner's "work week" than I ever imagined.

I'll guess he and Kelley, Sorkin, Chase, et al would approve of your comments on rewrites.

I wonder if they were as immersed in all the aspects of making serial television as Weiner, who in a given week could be in the writer's room (for a show several weeks out), consulting with fellow exec producer(s) for a "practical" shoot in LA that still looks like 1960-70, rewriting the script two-three weeks out, in the editing room for next week's show, perhaps writing his "own script" (and who gets to re-write that?), sometimes directing an episode, and casting, and.......

(and maybe he gets to kiss his wife and slap his boys around before hitting the sack)

I wonder if he's bored without a show to run?

Mike said...

@Joseph Scarbrough:

MikeN said...

If I were writing for David Kelley I have would a rape case where the lawyer wins by calling the victim a liar and a slut on the stand, then later is out shopping and chatting nicely with a salesgirl, only to reveal that it is the rape victim, and now our lawyer feels terrible. In another episode, or perhaps the same one I would have a murder trial where the judge tells the lawyers, 'Jury is asking if they can convict of manslaughter instead of murder, which tells me they don't want to convict him of murder, but they don't want to let him go either. So the question is who will blink first?" Then camera zooms in on steely gaze of the lawyer.

MikeK.Pa. said...

From an excerpt of Carol Leifer's book that appeared two years ago in Salon (link below): "Most people are unaware that every episode of “Seinfeld” was rewritten by Larry (David) and Jerry (Seinfeld). They had the final pass on each and every writer’s draft, and when they were done, the script always turned out better and more finely tuned than what the writer originally handed in."

I think David is a flat out genius. I wish he would do another sitcom.


Jake Chambers said...

Lots of links in replies here. Gonna add this one now.

I'm having a hard time believing these are the movie salaries. I know you don't make $200 million movies, but any connection you have who can say if this video is anywhere accurate?


RyderDA said...

Okay, puzzled, in part because I'm not in the biz.

"If you get a script writing assignment from these guys good luck seeing any of your words show up on the screen"

So why do they ask for them if they're not going to use them? To get story ideas? Strikes me they are so creative they don't need those. Ditto to get new and fresh dialogue (which is the essence of what you are saying that you can't write the dialog they would write). So aside from them simply running out of time from showrunning, re-writing, producing, blocking, creating new ideas for new shows to pitch -- under what circumstances do these phenomenally talented and successful folks ask for scripts from anyone, including newbies?

Andy Rose said...

And when Larry David left the show, Jerry Seinfeld did the final polish of each script on his own. Which is why he stopped doing the comedy routines at the beginning of each episode. He no longer had any time to write them.

Johnny Walker said...

Interesting balancing trick, as at the end of the day your job is to please the showrunner. But I suppose you might serve them better by listening to the characters. Not your own idea of what should happen, not what you think the showrunner wants to happen, but how you interpret the characters behaviour yourself.

Am I close?