The Bitter Script Reader tells us the 2 most important things every writer – regardless of the medium she or he is working in – must know. (Especially if you want to get paid!)
by The Bitter Script Reader
Back in July, I attended San Diego Comic-Con and was lucky enough to attend a panel with a murderer’s row of TV writers. Speakers included Ashley Edward Miller (who was kind enough to praise my puppet videos when I introduced myself to him,) Jose Molina, Sarah Watson, Christine Boyan, and a number of other writers whom I regret I cannot recall at this moment. As these gatherings often do, the subject turned to the topic of breaking into TV writing and working on staff. Unsurprisingly, many people had varying stories, though just about all of them agreed it wasn’t easy.
One point stressed again and again was the need to be the kind of person whom other people want to spend 12 hours a day with. You’re spending five days a week in a writers’ room with maybe a dozen other people. No matter how good a writer you are, if you make that an unpleasant experience, you won’t last long. For a number of showrunners, a key question they ask themselves when considering a new hire is “Can I stand being with this person constantly?”
Ashley Edward Miller had some of the best advice though. He related the story of how one of his earliest assignments with his partner Zack Stentz was on the syndicated sci-fi series Andromeda, run at the time by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The two “broke” the story over several days with Wolfe and the writing staff. (For those not in the know, “breaking a story” is the process by which a script is worked out beat-by-beat, scene-by-scene, usually on white dry erase boards in the writers’ room.)
It’s important to know that these two were freelancers and not part of the writing staff. This script was essentially a “job interview,” or at the very least, that’s how they were choosing to look at it. Every night, after spending the day gradually shape the outline in the writers’ room, Miller and Stentz would go home and write the scenes that had been worked out. This meant that 13 hours after the story was completely broken, Miller and Stentz turned in a completed first draft.
Time is money in television and where you lose the most time is waiting for new scripts. A show may start the season with plenty of lead time, but it’s an inevitability that come November, that lead time is gone and scripts are being turned in uncomfortably close to production time. This means less time for production to prep, less time for rewriting that can sharpen the script, less time for casting to get the actors you need, less time for wardrobe to clothe those actors, less time for the script coming up next in the rotation…. you get the picture.