Glad You Asked Department 1/8/18
by Larry Brody
Last week we presented a guest article about what it’s like to see your first script produced, and over the weekend a similar question came in from a TVWriter™ reader about my own personal experience in that regard. So I thought I’d share my answer here and now:
Question from Armando:
My longest running recurring dream is that I’m sitting in an easy chair, iPad in hand, watching as an episode I’ve written as the newest staffer on THE GOOD PLACE begins, with all the actors delivering my lines. It’s the most exciting dream I’ve ever had, even better than the one about Gal Gadot, her golden lasso, a tub filled with Lucky Charms cereal, and me.
You’ve had hundreds of TV episodes on the air. How does it feel to hear actors saying something you’ve written? In particular, did it feel the first time?
Answer from Yours Truly:
First of all, congratulations, Armando, on proving yourself a real writer. How, you may be wondering, did you do that? Very simply: You asked me about My First Time and it was a writing question instead of a sex question. So smile, dood, this proves you’ve got what it takes to go far.
My first produced script was an episode of the long gone series HERE COME THE BRIDES. I don’t remember anything about the story other than it involved the heroes helping a group of immigrants trying to build a new life for themselves in the rugged 1870s Pacific Northwest, believe it or not. But I do remember sitting down to watch the show the night it was on, eager to hear the actors uttering my words.
Unfortunately, an hour later, after the episode was over, I was still waiting. Because the thrill of seeing absolute proof that I was a professional writer of television never materialized in terms of anything other than my writing credit. I never got to experience the “Oh wow, they’re saying that I wrote” moment for one not uncommon reason:
The cast wasn’t saying what I wrote. My recollection is that about two-thirds of the dialog had been rewritten by the story editor and the remaining third had been changed by the actors themselves during the shoot. And the way I felt about that was dumbfounded.
What had they paid me all that money for? Why had they hired me to write two more episodes if nobody liked my dialog? What the fuck was going on?
I got the answers as I continued to work on HERE COME THE BRIDES and then other shows over the next couple of millennia. My experiences and conversation with various executives, producers, other writers, directors, actors, and their friends and lovers and even spouses brought the truth home:
Like all television writers, I was being paid to do the hard job of facing the blank page. Of organizing the material. Of writing dialog that gave everyone else involved enough of an idea about what should be there – but to their minds wasn’t – to make it easier for them to adapt the words to their own needs.
This is one of those occasions where I could go on and on and on, but you probably get the point. On HERE COME THE BRIDES and all the shows that followed, I was hired and re-hired as writer and then producer and then showrunner (and occasionally even praised to the skies) because my words came closer to what everyone involved wanted, or thought they wanted, than those of most of the other writers they’d worked with.
In fact, very often the praise came out something like this:
“Larry, that script was awesome. You’re a really good writer. Rewriting you is a cinch.”
Now that may not sound like much to you, Armando, and when I was starting out I wasn’t exactly tripping on that particular accolade myself, but my time in the trenches has had its teaching effect, and I’ve learned to appreciate the comment above.
Because when you get down to it, and the various needs and desires of everyone involved in a Hollywood production are taken into account, if those in charge like your work enough to keep asking for more, you’ve done the job you were hired for and then some.
Which is what being a pro, a real pro, is all about.
Here’s hoping that you get to experience the same acceptance I have, and that you embrace the joy a lot more quickly than I did. Relax, let yourself grin, and enjoy your very real and exciting success along with everything that leads to and follows from it.
In other words, good luck, kid. Say hi to Gal and the tub for me.
My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!