No photo this time, as this week's snap was intended to be a staff picture in answer to Javi's. East side, yo. However, my staff rebelled at a spontaneous portrait. Apparently it will be allowed when more mascara is applied and hair crimped. And that was just Chris Downey. (Insert alternate hack punchline here) Ahem. Next week then.
This week was mostly consumed by beating out the 12-or-so page outlines for the first few episodes. This is the first time this staff has worked together, first time some of the writers have worked in one-hour, and first time any human alive has attempted to outline this particular heist/con man/vigilante show. So, you know, process stuff, exactly what our outline format is, "what was that great joke you pitched about Hardison and Parker?" etc. Filthy Assistant types at approximately 1000 words a minute so most of this stuff is already in the room notes, but it helps to have another human look at your act breaks and say "No, you are not insane, that works."
While those writers then buggered off for a day or two to put the final shine on the outlines, the rest hacked at a few new ideas for the next batch. They ranged from super-high concept to particularly gritty. So gritty, in fact, that researching and discussing one of the topics wa a magnificent, soul-sucking buzz-kill. This is the risk you run when writing a show about high-tech thieves going after powerful assholes in order to right wrongs -- there are so very many assholes, and so many wrongs, it can get a bit depressing. I cannot even imagine what the writer's room is like on a rainy day over on Law & Order: SVU. "Hey, it's child-rape Wednesday. When's lunch?"
It can also, admittedly, be quite inspiring. Downey brought in this article, about the ultra-rich jetting off to Miami, driving around in Hummer limos and playing competitive paintball with ex-DEA agents, and you cannot help but be fired up by the magnificent douchebaggery presented. I mean, come on, what sentient being can ride in a Hummer limo and not be cognizant of their karmic debt? I, personally, felt the belly-fire re-ignite at the prospect of skewering these fella's fictional counterparts.
The outlines were then turned in, group-read, and group noted. Not excessively so -- again, we believe firmly in the assigned writer's right to call an audible -- but there are always little logic humps that multiple brains can help with, or things that look a little screwy in the cold light of the outline. Sometimes a writer will simply say "Go ahead, read that bit. I could not make it work, no matter how hard I tried," at which point we all pitch in to fix it -- or often agree that the idea does indeed not work when put in a form that may actually need to be acted and shot, and so an alternative must be found.
The most fun is just seeing the individual writers' styles inform the very dry beat-sheets they go off with. There were great, unexpected little surprises in each document.
We were also somewhat distracted by the discovery that The Closer writers have a video blog. You can watch screenwriters ... screenwriting. The staff spent some time amusing themselves at the prospect of a videoblog detailing our day at work, and decided that it would not accomplish anything in growing the fan base, but would probably initiate a UN human rights investigation over my people-management skills. I chuckled munificently, had them throw out their lunch wrappers -- as I insist they not leave the premises during lunch -- and then started the 48 minute timer for our first afternoon session.
And you think I'm kidding.
As always, sate your curiousity in the Comments, and here are the questions from last session:
Caseyko74: So, do the writers have their own little office or are you all in the same location as the production office? I am curious since I have only ever worked on a pilot, and mostly films where we rarely see the writer(s).
Right now the writer's room (and I mean room) is based at Dean's magnificent new complex. When we actually go into production we will probably move to whatever facility we shoot out of, assuming we are in LA.
Oh, and Casey, hope you didn't think I was blowing you off when I was in New Orleans. I was there for 72 hours to visit and do some quick rewriting. I am, possibly, the only person to come to New Orleans and literally eat nothing but craft services. I know, I know, what a bloody waste. On the other hand, I got some spiffy pics of a cemetery.
joshua james: Once this season is finished and you're a hit, does the staff grow? Will you adopt more baby writers for the next season / level / dungeon challenge?
Hey, no summoning Princess Kinahora. Assuming there's a second season, I don't know what the staff situation will be. Personally I'm rather digging the small staff. If they stay, they stay. Our co-producer Amy Berg, for example, wrote a crackling pilot as a sample and I wouldn't be surprised if she's running her own show within a year or two, if not this one. So you never know.
As we're freelancing a batch out, we're grooming those folk as possible staff replacements. Speaking of which, I know there's a question about that somewhere ...
jim: I vaguely remember you saying some time back that this show was going to be highly freelanced. How does that work into this process or has that been dropped or am I just nuts and you never said that?
There we are. Well, oddly, although we have a small staff, that seems to be working out just fine. Now as many of you know we're required by the Guild to freelance out two scripts a year (hmm, that's for 22, I'm not sure what our quota is. I should check ...) Although we're not freelancing out as heavily as I originally intended, we're still going to use our freelancers as an aggressive bullpen, rather than the standard "Oh God we're behind, let's farm out a script" or "Hey, my buddy needs to make his Guild minimums for the year ..." We'll freelance fewer than planned, but more than usual, and in a different context. Once the show is on the air and more people can get a better sense of what it's like, I hope, hope, to go to Next Generation's old open pitching policy. But we'll see.
deepstructure: "The odd thing about television is that story doesn't really matter" well no wonder tv sucks! come on, no one else was shocked by this? i know characters are (more) important, but really.
Let me clarify. I said "doesn't really matter", not "doesn't matter", and there's a reason for that distinction.
Basically what I mean is, no matter how hard you work on story in TV, ultimately story will not save you. Character in TV is ALL. Truly good stories, of course, come OUT of character, they don't happen TO characters. Good story always comes out of character choice.
This doesn't mean that you can slack off and write bad stories, or you shouldn't bust your ass to write great stories, which is what all those writers hammering away in writer's rooms right now are doing. It's just that you can not help be cognizant of the irony that you are working hardest at the part of the show the audience cares least about. Very rarely do people show up, week in and week out, to watch intriguing stories regardless of characters -- those are anthology stories, or, arguably, Law & Order. People tune in to watch characters they like do things and deal with unexpected complications in delightful or interesting ways. Your story, per se, is disposable, week after week, replaced in the viewer's mind by the new week's dilemma like clockwork. Nature of the beast.
While I personally cannot think of a show that I watched on a regular basis because the story was just so gripping -- even though the characters were boring or I hated them -- we can all recall episodes of our favorite shows where in retrospect the episodic stories didn't really hang together, but we loved watching the characters deal with the situations (good chunks of several X-Files seasons fall into this, and I'm sure you can all add your own personal picks.)
What good story does is provide the most interesting or intriguing framework for the characters. Great story supercharges a show. Also, cumulative great stories allow you to address a season as a creative meta-work of art unto itself. Even so, while you need a constant stream of great stories, and breaking great stories is bear work, it's the invisible part of the magic trick, the skeleton, for 99% of the viewing public, and hence the occasional frustration.
Wil wheaton: Hey, is that Boylan on the board Christine Boylan?
kid sis: Hey Rogers! Don't make a Brazilian porn fart on my wet dream of Underpaid Glorified Dialogue Writer! Zeus knows I can't clean bedpans or fill out insurance forms...
For that metaphor alone, you should get an automatic staffing gig.
Until next time, remember -- always three-quarter, never profile.