In this special Writers Guild Foundation event, a panel of female showrunners discussed their experiences running a room and the impact of increasing female voices in television. Here are some of our main takeaways and pieces of advice from each fascinating panelist:
SJ Hodges — “Guidance”
- For her current show with AwesomenessTV, Hodges demanded fifty percent of the staff be women. It’s important to remember that, right now, decision-makers won’t take these steps without a push.
- Don’t be conflict-avoidant in the writers room. Try to find a solution to the problem at hand, even if it’s uncomfortable.
- Content creation is moving at lightning speed. Out of necessity and ease, studios and networks are working from lists. It’s important to push for women and people of color to be added to these lists.
Alexa Junge — “Grace and Frankie,” “United States of Tara,” “Friends”
- Junge wholly avoids running the room like a “mommy.” She avoids emotional projection by treating everyone respectfully. She stays aware of the writers feelings and needs without pandering to them.
- Junge is somewhat distressed by how far behind the entertainment industry is in representation of diversity, television in particular. She feels there are still too many people who are too comfortable with the status quo.
- Transparency is the key to a successful writers room. Junge is able to more effectively address issues or problems in the writers room when everyone is open and honest. This approach also establishes an egalitarian tone to the room.
- Actually take notes from executives! This shows the execs that you respects their opinions and it helps establish a trusting relationship. Then, when you decline to take a note and can explain why, they’ll take you seriously.
Dee Johnson — “ER,” “Melrose Place,” “Nashville”
- One of the hardest aspects of showrunning for Johnson finding time to write for herself. Time can be taken up by so much besides writing — it’s important to make the time to write the project that will feed your soul.
- You absolutely want to avoid shutting people down in the writers room. You don’t want your writers to be afraid to spitball. Even a horrendously bad idea can foster an amazing one.
- Find ways for your writers to see and participate in production. Understanding production is a crucial part of developing a writer’s talent.
Laurie McCarthy — “Reign,” “Ghost Whisperer”
- Someone once told McCarthy that he got up everyday at 6:00 a.m. to write. She felt belittled by this comment, as though she wasn’t actually a writer because she had other priorities that prevented her from working along the same schedule. She realized that alone doesn’t make a writer. Putting in the work when you can makes you a writer.
- Make a decision. Even if it’s the wrong one, embrace your ability to be the decision-maker.
- One of the most important roles to fill as show runner is your Co-Executive Producer. Find someone you get along with, but at the same time, someone who is honest and can challenge you.
- With so many shows and opportunities in the industry today, you can’t afford to lose talented staff. Acknowledge their importance to your project.
- Showrunning, at its core, is a job designed for a single 30-year-old, which is why men tend to get these positions. As much as women need to fight for these positions, men need to start advocating for women to do these jobs.
Lizzy Weiss — “Switch at Birth,” “Undressed”
- Weiss is dedicated to creating an open, “chill” vibe in her writers room. She wants her writers to call each other out for subconsciously sexist comments. She wants to address these things in a lighthearted, approachable way.
- Weiss joked that “no man has ever said, ‘this is probably a stupid idea…’” Don’t apologize and speak with confidence.
- Weiss takes management advice from wherever best it comes, and recently, it has been from Starbucks, in which they say, “the employee comes first.” Once the employee is happy, the customer is happy. Weiss applies this to her writers room. They do things and even make creative choices for the writers and crew first, the audience will eventually follow.
- During an interview, be a wholly active participant. You are interviewing to be a part of the showrunner’s passion, so share their passion for it. Be present. Be the way you would be in the writers room.
- Be aware of what’s happening in the world and in the industry! You don’t always get the nudge that you need, so you must keep yourself inform. Research #OscarsSoWhite. Participate in discussions of under-representation in the industry.