Inside the Writers Room with ‘The Mindy Project’

This is one of the most helpful articles on what we would call “The TV Writing Life” that we’ve ever found on the interwebs. Dig in:

mindy-project-writers-guildby Amanda

“Big, relatable things that happen in our dating lives” – that’s what the writers ofThe Mindy Project think about when they pitch stories for the show, which just finished its first season on Fox.

Last night’s Writers Guild Foundation “Inside the Writers Room” event at the Landmark Theater kicked off with a screening of the episode “Frat Party,”followed by some insight into the writing process from creator/star Mindy Kaling and the show’s writing staff.

Once the writers room opens, all the season’s stories are broken collaboratively. Everyone pitches ideas and one of the “leader types” put them on cards. Eventually the ideas are whittled down to the best, and then writers are sent off to write specific episodes. A writer wouldn’t be solely responsible for any big story turns; those are all figured out ahead of time, as a group. Also, it’s okay if a first draft of a script doesn’t yet have all the jokes figured out. When asked about writers’ block (something the writers say can’t exist when you work under the pressures of a show), Mindy suggested writing the “straight version” of a script, which only includes the main story beats. You can later “adorn” the script with the funny “ornaments.”

Tracey Wigfield, a 30 Rock alum who wrote “Frat Party,” says that being in a room full of writers is itself an antidote to writer’s block. You can throw out an idea that’s not fully formed and someone else will add to it. As all the writers chime in, ideas grow and improve. Really though, one writer says that the key to getting scripts finished is “just sitting down and doing it.”

Mindy says she avoids fights in the room by being decisive. When she wrote for The Office, her boss would instigate arguments between writers and then sit back to watch the melee, but Mindy doesn’t work that way; she’ll say yes or no to an idea quickly so that everyone can move on. If anything, the writers will fight over YouTube videos. If you’re going to interrupt work to show everyone a video, it’d better be funny.

The one other thing Mindy can’t stand: slow renditions of “Happy Birthday.” At one point, someone even printed out a picture of a cake and Usain Bolt to remind everyone to be speedy with their greetings.

Mindy isn’t the only performer in the room. Ike Barinholtz, who plays goofy nurse Morgan, is also a member of the writing staff. “When I hire writers, I like theatrical people,” she says, perhaps because she grew up in a house where children were expected to be seen and not heard, since nobody has anything worthwhile to say until they’re 18.

When he joined the writing staff, Ike was pleasantly surprised to learn that he wouldn’t be boxed in by a specific concept or structure. After seeing the pilot, he thought perhaps every episode would be a satire of romantic comedy tropes, but Mindy wants the show to do more than that. “People like when I’m on dates,” she admits, but also says that the show can’t be an endless parade of fun male guest stars. She also wants to “unlock the work dynamic,” and Tracey is hoping that next season will see some kooky female patients, perhaps played by actresses like Anne Hathaway or Reese Witherspoon.

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