TEEN WOLF Showrunner Gives Us a Practical Lesson in Production

Why you can’t always do what you want when you’re running a TV series (and, no, you can’t even always do what you need):

TA Message About Race and Racism in Teen Wolf –  Jeff Davis’s Tumblr post (which has since been taken down)

I have seen a number of posts regarding race and racism in Teen Wolf that reference a quote I made in an interview about my efforts in trying to build a world in the show that is somewhat idealized. The critiques are all fair and insightful. I do think it may interest some of my more vocal critics to know the difficulties of approaching these kinds of subjects in television.

First off, the lack of story development for Boyd’s character. I have said numerous times in interviews that the new supporting characters are there to “support” the main characters. I have 41 minutes a week in which to tell a story. It’s not easy to service every character equally!

Second, our show has budget constraints that severely limit how many guest actors we can have. For example, I would have preferred to have Michael Hogan show up in every episode of the new season. Unfortunately, we could only afford him in a certain number. With the three new wolves, Sinqua, Gage and Daniel, we had to decide how best to use them in twelve episodes. When we make contracts for actors it’s usually a minimum guarantee of 6 out of 12 episodes.

Now, here is a sample email during the production of the show I received about Sinqua Walls who plays Boyd:

“So Sinqua is testing for a pilot on Tuesday. Tracy (his manager) has asked if we can get him on the latest flight possible back to LA on Monday night. She doesn’t want him traveling the same day as the test. Would this work for production? He still isn’t closed for the next episodes and they have been holding b/c of this possible testing. This is rather time sensitive since I believe he was scheduled to fly out today. So please get back to me ASAP.”

What this means is that while he was guaranteed several episodes in our show, Sinqua made it very far along in the casting process for a pilot. Since Sinqua is not a regular cast member, he is often out auditioning for numerous other roles. And as he had the possibility of getting another job, his management was hesitant at committing to any more episodes with us. While I was writing the last batch of episodes, I had no idea if he would even be available to me. That makes it very difficult to invest in a character if I’ve got be able to craft a script so that he can be easily written out in case the actor gets another job.

When we send out breakdowns for cast it always says “All ethnicities.” I’m quite proud of the fact that our lead actor is Latino. But I have also always said I will not make Teen Wolf an “issues” show. I think a series like Glee or even the humor of Modern Family are far more equipped to handle those subjects. I also worry that as a white male who grew up in a pretty ordinary middle class suburb I may not have the insight to be particularly adept at tackling issues of race head on. While there is no way I can write without socialization and my own personal bias both informing and affecting my work, I believe my first job is to entertain. That’s what I love about writing. Entertaining people. If I skirt the issues of race and sexual politics, the reason is most likely that I don’t feel like I’m going to be very good at tackling those issues within a show about teenage werewolves. I don’t really know how to write those stories. But I think I do know how to scare people and how to make them laugh. There are far better writers out there like Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, David E. Kelley, far more equipped to tackle those subjects. I’m here first and foremost to entertain. All else comes under the banner of “best effort.”

I love the passion all of the fans bring to the show and I’m glad it creates far more of a discourse than I ever expected. I’m pretty sure most of my response here comes out of my own insecure thinking: “Are they calling me racist? I’m not racist! Wait… am I?” But maybe some of this information will provide a different insight into the why’s and how’s of the world of television and if you don’t necessarily forgive our flaws, you might at least understand them a little better.

So this insight comes out of a specific problem, a big controversy about the show, which Jeff thought he was ending. But instead…

Poor baby.

The Clearest Guide to Outlining for TV Writers Since the Last Clearest Guide

JK Rowlings’ outline for some book she wrote about a kid named Harry Potter

There’s an awful lot of “How To Write A Good Outline” info out there, not only on the web but also in books. The section on outlining in our very own LB’s Television Writing from the Inside Out comes to mind. But until we can get him to condense the info and put it on this site, here’s what we believe to be the next best thing:

How To Save Tons Of Writing Time – By Using A Complete Outline – by Marina Brito

A few months ago, it was the Christmas season and I was out shopping for Christmas presents for my family.   I found my shopping trips to be inefficient, long-drawn, and incredibly frustrating. So much for the Christmas spirit!

But why did shopping have to be so frustrating? I realized that it was because I hadn’t planned it ahead of time and I had to figure out what to buy on the fly.

This frustration while shopping reminded me of my frustration while article-writing

My article-writing was also inefficient and long-drawn.   Just like my shopping, it was not planned ahead of time and I had to figure out what to write on the fly.

But I was in the practice of outlining my articles. So why was I still struggling?

I struggled because I often sat down to write my articles with a half-outline.  What do I mean by a “half-outline”?

A half-outline is one which only has questions in it

The questions that I’m talking about are the ones that I use to construct my outline such as: “how”, “why” and “what”.  I can also have other points that I want to cover in my article, but in a half-outline they’re just a list of points to cover.

The problem with the half-outline is that there are no answers to go with the questions or the points.  And that’s why I practically had to write every article on the fly and it was such a long-drawn and frustrating experience.

Fortunately, I found a solution:

The solution is to have a complete outline

A complete outline adds answers to the questions and to the points in the half-outline.  This is probably easier to understand through an example:

Let’s see how to use the complete outline on an article

Read it all

And when you do continue reading, be sure and mentally substitute “Teleplay” for article so you can properly welcome the epiphany to come.

Watch This Deleted Scene From LOUIE

…Because we can learn just as much about television production (and writing) by knowing what the geniuses don’t use as well as what they do:

We don’t know what episode this was intended for, but don’t you think that a 2-minute version, or two 2-minute pieces as a frame for the rest of a show, would have been awesome?

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Having just watched the LOUIE episode in which Louie apologizes to Marc Maron for ruining their friendship 10 years earlier, I’m thinking this scene would have fitted in nicely with both the theme and the format of this particular half-hour: Separate vignettes. If the material was shot for that episode I can also see why it was cut: No room.

StoryBundle Looks Interesting

A good thing for readers, no doubt. And for writers? For new ones, yes. Another interesting way to get your work out there and have your eBooks discovered. What are we talking about? Here’s what the site itself has to say:

 StoryBundle is a way for people who love to read to discover quality indie books written by indie authors. You know how it’s always hard to find something good to read? StoryBundle hopes to solve that.

We take a handful of books—usually about five or so—and group them together to offer as a bundle. Then you, the reader, can take a look at the titles we’ve chosen and decide how much you’d like to pay. Think of us like a friend that scours independent books for undiscovered gems, then bundles these titles together for one low price that you decide. Yeah, we mean it; you get to set the price that you want to pay!

…There are a fixed set of books that we offer in a bundle, and each bundle is available only for a limited time. If you miss out on the bundle, you’ll have to buy the books individually from each author. We only have one bundle on sale at a time, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Again, one of the central concepts is that you get to decide how much each bundle is worth to you. Think each individual book in a bundle of five books is worth $2? That’s fine! Pay $10 and get five books! Only think they’re worth $1 because you’re not sure if you like a certain genre? That’s fine too. If you want to reward these authors and encourage more independent writers by giving a bit more, that’s fantastic as well. One reason we started StoryBundle is because indie authors need our support, and we want to do our part in showcasing awesome writers.

Read it all

This all sounds pretty cool, although if we signed up as buyers we’d probably choose to pay only pennies, if anything, because that’s how we roll we’re starving writers ourselves. Although if we stuck around we’d probably cough up a few more shekels because of, you know, that little thing our mothers gave us, i.e., “guilt.”

Which brings us to the most important bit for writers:

I’ve written a book! Can you feature my book in a future bundle?

We’re always in search of awesome indie books, so we’re interested in checking out your work. If you’re an author, email us at submissions@storybundle.com.

If we’d finished our book we’d definitely include StoryBundle among the places we annoyed with submissions. Since we haven’t, we’re hoping that one of you reading this will do it instead…and keep us posted on how it turns out.

Good luck!

Guilt & Loathing For Writers

…The guilt being how terrible we feel because we’re not using our time properly and, you know, writing. Because writing is so much more important – to us anyway – than getting a job, loving our spouses, and/or taking out the garbage.

The loathing being self-loathing. Because, let’s face it, how can you not hate yourself for:

  1. Not writing
  2. Believing for one instant that said writing is more important than loving our spouses (although it just may outweigh getting a job and/or taking out the garbage

Bottom line: This stuff is tough to deal with. And considering how hard everything else already is, why have guilt and self-loathing on our minds? Gotta get rid of it, you know. Open ourselves up, let the voices in our heads get down into our hands and clickety-clack on our keyboards.

What’s that? You’re clueless about how to do that? About how to make time to do the thing you simply can’t live without doing? About how to feel good about yourself while doing (or not doing it)?

Our answer to this dilemma is this tip, which some may call the Secret of the Universe, but which we call “Keep Busy.”

As for how to get ourselves to keep busy, ah, have no fear, Scott Hanselman, who describes himself as, “a former professor…now a Microsoft employee…[and] a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author” has what turns out to be a remarkably good answer (even for non-writers):

Productivity vs. Guilt and Self-Loathing – by Scott Hanselman

The not getting stuff done sucks, but the guilt and self-loathing is where you really get into trouble. You likely don’t say it out loud, but you think it. You might not tell your spouse, but you think it. I suck. Man, I suck. I’m just not getting a damn thing done…

Here’s what I do when I’m feeling non-productive and guilty. Again, watch the video for more details, it’s not selling anything and I go into more detail. I need to just write a small book on this.

  • Stop Checking Email in the Morning
  • If it’s important, Schedule It
  • Measure, then Cut
  • Do smaller things
  • Let go of Psychic Weight
  • Schedule Work Sprints
  • Stop Beating Yourself Up

Read it all