Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jump Right In...It's *Your* Story

Sure it's kinda spoofy and a little over the top, but this post from TV writer/producer Richard Manning still captures the essence of excitement/pain blend that a freelance screenwriter experiences when trying to successfully navigate a television series' Writer's Room.

Mary Sue’s successful pitch: “Griff and Angela [the series leads] must mind-link with K’Vax [their sentient, female, wisecracking spaceship] after a radioactive nebula erases K’Vax’s memories.”

There was more to her pitch – such as the mind-link forcing the aloof Griff and Angela to confront their true feelings about one another – but Mary Sue never got that far; Sam had interrupted. “Good hook, but amnesia’s soft. Needs more jeopardy. Hey! What if the nebula turns K’Vax evil? And she tries to kill everybody on board! So it’s dangerous for Griff and Angela to go into her mind; they might never come out. Terrific pitch! Sold!”

Mary Sue was ecstatic. “Great! I’ll write up an outline –”

“We don’t do outlines. We – me and the writing staff – break all our stories in the room. Once we get the structure down, you go off and write the script. Come in Tuesday at nine. Bring in a beat sheet. Not an outline, just the big moves. Some rough act breaks. Keep it simple. One page, tops, just to get things started.”

And so it begins…

9:00 am Tuesday. A punctual Mary Sue happily looks around her first Writers’ Room. Cheap, mismatched “executive” chairs surround a coffee-stained table strewn with old magazines, food wrappers, a Slinky, a broken water pistol, various Rubik’s-type puzzles, and other toys. The walls are a crazy quilt of actors’ headshots, set blueprints, costume design sketches, test photos of alien prosthetics… and three large whiteboards.

Two are covered with multicolored scrawls, circles, arrows, renumbering, and crossouts – the story beats for Episodes 5 and 6, in impenetrable shorthand: “5. BRIDGE: G + A expo. K ng 10 min no Froonium. H/L payoff? AB: J zapped.” The third is frighteningly blank – a naked canvas awaiting a plot.

I've been there. It's confusing, terrifying, intimidating, and exhilarating all at the same time.


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