Day 3: This was a light day, at least for me as my responsibilities are still limited to script, casting, and creative decisions. The morning consisted of meeting with our Casting Director. For those of you who don't know, the Casting Director both submits ideas and lists of actors they feel are appropriate for the part -- to guide you -- and handles the contractual aspect of casting. They also "check avail" on actors who you're already considering for the part.
"I love this actor --"
"Not available. Movie until November."
They must maintain a frighteningly encyclopedic command of this knowledge. Our Casting Director is sent off to check avails on the lead actor choices Dean will present to the network tomorrow.
Now, for some roles, you hold auditions. For many roles you do so. But TNT is in a pretty good place right now, batting a solid .750 on new series both ratings-wise and creatively. That means we can go after some bigger fish, make offers and see how that falls out. It's worth noting that while we're in a good spot, the dirty secret of most network television is that the actors you see in the lead roles in your favorite shows were almost certainly never the actor the writer had in mind when writing the role, and often not the actor the writer and director actually originally wanted for the role. The actor is often a compromise between writer, director, studio and network. As I've said before we're in a nice situation here as the studio is a guy, who's also directing, and our network humans are pretty damn cool.
However, there are usually are multiple stages of auditions. The Casting Director and his minions often screen the first level, looking for some lucky unknown finds and weeding out the mismatches. Then the writer and director get to watch auditions for a couple hours a day for a week or two. The top choices from that go to studio. Often those auditions are held in a really creatively stimulating conference room. The actors the studio fall behind are then brought to network. I've been in rooms where after the network auditions everyone nods and says "WE LOVE HER! We have discovered an unknown new talent! Hallelujah!", and I've been in auditions where we all look at each other and sigh "I guess we have to pick one, eh?"
Why not wait forever for the perfect casting? Well, you can do that for features -- my movie's swung back to March because I have an offer out to an actor who's not available until then. But TV is still driven by what the network needs for its strategy this year, and if your pilot fits, then you need to get it up and running, or odds are it will fall through the cracks next cycle. This is insane, horrible, and wasteful, of course, and many wonderful TV shows die and are never brought back for, frankly, no goddam good reason.
There's also the fact that there are just a shitload of pilots being made every pilot season, and anyone who's halfway decent in an audition -- who's gotten their career to the point where they can get in the room -- is a hot commodity. I have the '08 Fall pilot breakdowns right here ... ah. Roughly 110 pilot scripts in development currently. And this is early times yet. Certainly not all will go to pilot, but plenty will, and then you also have to take into account that during Fall development many actors are working on shows for short arcs. So, even though they're not committed for when your show will actually be on the air, even though the actor you want for second lead is free as a bird for when you'll actually be shooting the series, you cannot get him for the pilot because he's busy being Cylon #7 for the next three Battlestar Galacticas.
As I said -- horrible system. The pilot process is both structurally flawed and utterly fails to produce results statistically better than random show generation. The process deserves to die, and quickly. But Hollywood's a big boat, and she turns slow.
And, to be blunt, the odds of getting all five dream actors you want for the leads/ensemble (assuming the writer, director and producers all miraculously agree on the "dream") to coordinate their schedules is thin indeed.
Oh, as I said, a light day for me, perhaps, but our physical production unit, however, is going absolutely 150 mph trying to nail down a shooting location. They are busy calling people, seeing how many crews are available in different cities, checking locations compared to the script, and comparing financial models. I keep one eye on this stuff from a distance but, frankly, all I'm going to do is slow them down. The key to being an executive producer is knowing when to stay the hell out of the way. Literally everyone on a TV or film crew is usually more experienced than you are as a writer. After all, most of your scripts never get shot. They shoot episodes/movies every week.
Afternoon was reviewing the first script notes, making script adjustments for physical production constraints ("Can we do these two scenes in one location to save a bit of time and money?"), waiting for casting feedback and developing alternate ideas if avails crap out on us.
Day 4: Final script notes with the director, and refining (and redefining) the casting lists based on Casting Director feedback on avails, and some late-moment inspiration. I meet he Production Designer, whose job it is to design the entire "look" of the show, from physical construction of the sets through the fine points of color scheme, tech level, general visual vibe... A pilot is supposed to be representative of what you'll see every week, so whatever the Production Designer comes up with, you'll probably be living with that visual tone for the entire run of the series.
Also some more discussion on where to shoot the damn thing. In four weeks. I'm going to lie down now.
Day 5: For the morning, Chris and I work at his office and finish up all the notes. That draft, which will become our locked Final White Draft, is emailed off to the studio. The scenes will be numbered so the script can be prepped for breakdown -- that is, so you know exactly what will be shot where and in what order. All revisions after this will be on a page-by-page basis, and the new pages will be on different-colored paper. That is, if we change three lines on page 45, an entirely new page 45 will be issued with the changed lines asterisked on the right hand margin. Furthermore, this revision is printed on a different-colored paper stock so you can just rip out the old page 45, insert the new one, and be assured that you have the latest revision. This is why, on a set, you will hear "Did you get the blue pages?"
Afternoon was a final conference call between writers, studio and network, now that the network's seen our ideas, to further discuss casting choices for all five lead roles. We then nail down a rough strategy for Week Two, and discuss some of the camera tech we may use.