Submission are now being accepted for the WGA’s 2016-2017 TV Writer Access Project. The Project’s mission is to identify excellent diverse writers in order to provide a hiring resource for television writer-producers. WGA members who meet the criteria for participation are invited to submit one piece of literary material: one spec script for a television series in first run on either network or cable as of August 8, 2016 OR one original spec pilot teleplay, in either the half-hour or…
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.
Earlier this week we were lucky enough to attend another great “Writers On Writing” event at the Writers Guild Foundation, this time in conversation with Steven Knight. Steven Knight’s credits are as diverse as his career has been long – he has written “Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Pawn Sacrifice,” and “Locke,” (which he also directed.) Knight created the eminent “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and, most recently, Netflix’s “Peaky Blinders.”
Here are a few of our notes from this fascinating discussion:
Always, always, always keep working through the writer’s block. Knight sticks to a consistent writing schedule. Even if he feels a creative block creeping up, he finds a way to loosen up, tries something new, and shakes it off. He also recommends writing early or first thing in the morning. To help himself stay organized, Knight goes so far as to have separate computers – one for writing and one for everything else.
Start far away and work your way home. When approaching new material, Knight employs the philosophy that you can pick any subject, setting, or character imaginable – something that is completely foreign to you. From there, you can work your way back to something that rings true for you or is in line with your experiences. Where ever you begin, you can eventually find the emotional truths in the unfamiliar.
Small screen vs. big screen. In Knight’s experience, networks are prepared (and often prefer) to create something unconventional. They’re willing to take greater risks as long as the characters are complex and interesting. There’s also more time to explore and develop those characters and relationships. He has started to prefer the world of television because the audiences are incredibly loyal and invested. Lately, for his film projects, he tries to construct creative challenges for himself, which is how the highly unique “Locke” came to pass.
Lessons learned on “Peaky Blinders.” Execs at Netflix are almost competing with each other to give the fewest notes possible! Spinning many plates is good fun. Be careful about killing characters – you might regret it. Anti-heroes do bad things for good reasons, which is one of the most compelling character traits to explore. Fiction obeys the rules, reality does not – this is a line that Knight has been trying to blur with “Peaky.”
Knight was incredibly insightful and clearly has a hugely imaginative mind. There’s so much to learn from his talent. We encourage you to check out his work– we’ve started you off with a few links below!
The mission of the WGA’s Career Longevity Committee is to assist writers of all ages in planning for long and successful careers by giving them the tools and knowledge to adapt to changes in the marketplace. One of their most exciting programs, “Seasoned Readings,” provides older writers with an opportunity to produce their own work and reach an audience for it, often receiving useful feedback in the process. Each Guild member doing a staged reading in the series is encouraged to put together a targeted invite list of personal and professional contacts.
If you’re a member of the WGA and you are interested in arranging a Seasoned Reading, reach out to the Career Longevity Committee here.
This week we attended the “Inside the Writers Room with OUTLANDER” event at the Writers Guild Foundation. The hit STARZ series was adapted from the novels by Diana Gabaldon by Ronald D. Moore, who was joined by the show’s writer-producers Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney, and Matthew B. Roberts. They chatted with moderator Kate Hahn about the benefits and challenges of adapting from existing material, the processes of their writers’ room and much more.
On adapting from existing material: To balance the room, Ronald D. Moore found it advantageous to bring on a combination of writers who were both fans and non-fans of the books. He found that this approach helped to calibrate meaningful discussions about what the writers would keep and what they would change from the original IP. The group noted the benefits and challenges in the writing process of an adaption. Even when the team would prefer to throw out a character, storyline or move in a different direction, the parameters of the books dictated that they stay on course. Some of the writers, however, enjoy working within those restraints, as it creates more of a road map for them to follow.
On straying from the existing material: Though the writers’ room collectively aims to honor the source material, their approach is to deliver the familiar characters and events in new and surprising ways. Moore summarized this notion perfectly: “No one says, well that show sucks, but at least they stayed faithful to the books!” He always wants to be surprised by the show, so the writers aim to carve out spaces for spontaneity and originality within the well-established “Outlander” world.
On collaborating with the author: Author Diana Gabaldon has been fully supportive of Moore and his team of writers. She recognizes that changes to her work are inevitable. Moore reports that Gabaldon is not shy about voicing her concerns as they arise, but is incredibly respectful and always (eventually) defers to their creative licenses.
On writing a good sex scene: This wouldn’t be an Outlander writers’ panel without an in-depth discussion on the topic of sex! Anne Kenney, who wrote the steamy episode “The Wedding,” noted that sex means something more than just sex for the characters in this world. It is not to be gratuitous or lewd. Kenney’s advice for writing a successful sex scene is to identify the emotional intent and purpose of the scene, just go for it and do not let insecurities hold you back.
On the writers’ room: As we’ve heard time and time again at these events, the key to ensuring a productive and respectful writing environment is that showrunners hire kind and truly considerate people. The “Outlander” writers admit that their room isn’t always free of debates or disagreements, but these discussions are built on a foundation of respect for one another. It’s so important to recognize that a showrunner is looking to hire a writer who will make their life easier, who they enjoy being around, and who can get along with others.
“Outlander” is currently in its second season and has recently been renewed for a third and fourth season. New episodes air on Saturdays at 9 p.m. PST on STARZ.
As the only library on the planet focused entirely on writing for the screen, it’s easy to see why The Writers Guild Foundation Library is among the best places for screenwriters to hone their craft.
Their mission is to preserve and promote the craft, history, and voices of screen storytelling. They collect scripts and related materials, and make them available to everyone who comes to visit, providing wireless internet and a quiet place for writers to work. They have everything from produced film scripts to television, radio, and even video game scripts. As an added bonus, they’ve collected writers’ papers, books, periodicals, and many other materials on the history, biography, art, craft and business of writing for entertainment media.
You don’t have to be a guild member to take advantage of this resource! All you need is a photo I.D. for use of library materials.
7000 W. Third Street, (Corner of Fairfax Avenue & Third Street)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday
11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Thursday
Closed Sundays & Mondays
Visit their website by clicking here for further information.
It’s easy to forget how valuable of a resource The Writers Guild Foundation really is, so we are here to remind you. Last month, we attended a handful of events put on by the WGF that gave us unparalleled access to a number of impressive shows, writers, and showrunners. The WGF brings in guests who speak candidly about their work, careers, processes, successes and failures and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Don’t miss out! Click here to check out their upcoming events. And remember, tickets are discounted for WGA members.
“Special Screening and Panel with PREACHER.” May 31.
“Inside the Writers Room with BETTER CALL SAUL.” May 27.
“Master Class with Courtney A. Kemp.” May 17.
In partnership with the Academy Education and Nicholl Fellowship Programs, the Writer’s Guild Foundation presented on March 19th, Day One of their WGFestival for 2016. For this full-day event, the festival focused on the business of screenwriting and the career paths within the trade. During this crash course on the business, each guest offered their unique perspectives and experiences in the industry. Here is our report in a nutshell on how the day went. New Spaces in Distribution The New…
Last night we attended the Frank Spotnitz event at the Writer’s Guild Foundation. Spotnitz spoke with Neil Landau, a professor of screenwriting at UCLA School of Film and Television and a television trailblazer in his own right. Spotnitz opened up about most recently executive producing and developing Amazon’s most viewed series, “The Man in the High Castle.” He also reflects on his time working on shows like “The X-Files,” “Hunted,” “The Lone Gunman,” and “Millennium.” Here are some of the…
Last night we attended The Multi-Hyphenates: Jay & Mark Duplass (hereafter referred to as “The Brothers”) on Doing it All at the Writer’s Guild Foundation. Events hosted by the non-profit are open to all and are very informative. Here’s what The Brothers had to say. A volume of work is helpful in this industry and if you’re a writer, you should have 100 stories to tell. Don’t allow yourself to be held up. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, have an…