Monday 29 October 2012

6 Rules For Writers in Production: Part 2

So, continued from the last post here, four more rules for the writer in production on his/her own show.

Rule Three: Don’t Assume that No-one Else Knows What They’re Doing

You’re the writer. It’s your show. We get it. I put it like this because some writers can get into a siege mentality – the ‘they’re-ruining-my-amazing-show’ way of thinking you see in Episodes or countless tales of production woe told by writers in West End Sam Smith’s pubs.

Undoubtedly, shows can be ruined by conflicting agendas. The channel feels its paid one type of show, the casting agent feels she’s casting a different type of show and/or the director likes to think he’s shooting a movie – and none of these overlap with the show in your head. But normally the warning signs are there early on with such clashes and conflicts. They need to be sorted out early. If you’re convinced the show the channel wants and the show your producer is making and the show you want to write are not the same show, address this before shooting. And bear in mind that plenty of shows have all these problem of conflicting agendas and still turn out okay – or prove to be hits for reasons that were not predicted by anyone. And plenty of shows are lots of fun to work and turn out to be dreadful.

Usually, grounds for paranoia is unfounded. Maybe you’re a good writer, but it’s quite likely that everyone else on the set is equally good at what they do. Maybe even better. They are probably more experienced. You’ll discover your art department worked on the original series of Yes, Prime Minister - stuff you grew up watching. They’ve done this before. And they’re making the most of what’s on the page. Are you 100% confident in what you’ve put on that page? (See Rules One & Two).

Rule Four: Don’t Assume that Everyone Else Knows What They’re Doing

A TV Production is a well-oiled machine. As long as you feed it with decent scripts. But there are always problems. Your three hours of broadcast television probably has about a hundred scenes, which is going to involve a lot sets, props, costumes and lights. There’ll probably be some location filming which will involve trying to find affordable venues at the right time of day – with the right cast. And it can't happen as you'd like. Or your pencilled-in guest star might get a better offer to be in a movie or, even better, their own detective series on ITV.

Given all of the above, stuff will go wrong. You will spot some problems on the horizon. You will be asked to approved a specially made prop that is technically correct but still hopelessly wrong. (see also Spinal Tap/Stonehenge incident). Maybe the props buyer or make was being overly literal, but the odds are that they had to guess because the script doesn’t specify every last detail (because you cut out loads of description because your producer told you to make the script shorter and you couldn’t beat to cut any of the jokes).

If someone on the crew is being difficult or stupid, bear in mind that one of their kids might be in hospital and they’ve got more important things on their mind. Or, more likely, this might be the fourth show they’ve worked on that year. They’ve just done a sitcom set on a Nuclear Submarine, a comedy drama set in a Caribbean Hotel (but filmed near Penzance) and a Sunday Night TV period cop show in Bath. They’ve been busy. You’ve thought about nothing else but your show for the last year. Give them a break. Or at least help them help you.

Rule Five: There is Never Enough Money

This rule needs no explanation. There isn't enough money. No matter what you're making and no matter how big the budget. Everyone feels they should be paid more. Everyone feels they should have a bigger budget. Everyone would like to take longer over the shot. Everyone one like one more take. It’s television. It’s not going to happen.

Rule Six: Remember, Everyone Wants the Show to Be Good

No-one actively wants the show to be bad. I'm sure there are notable exceptions of sabotage but they're rare. Everyone's doing their best to make the best show they can with the time they have, and money they have - and they script they've been given. That's the only bit you ultimately control. So give each scene a few more minutes. Clarify that direction. Do your homework. And above all, be grateful that your job is infinitely easier, more interesting and better paid that most jobs in the world.

Oh, and Rule Seven. Be nice to the runner. Why? Because it's good to be nice. But also because she'll probably be Head of Comedy in 15-20 years.

To spend the day with Sitcomgeek talking about all things sitcom - along with the splendidly knowledgeable Dave Cohen, have a look here.

No comments:

Post a Comment