HIIIIIIIIIIII THERE PRETTY PUDDIN POPS!
How are you? How’s your mom? How’s your job? Did your roommate stop eating your eggs? Is your wrist still hurting? Did you ever end up checking out that new restaurant? Did your lisp go away?
I hope one of those questions applies to you so that we can feel like this is a private conversation between the two of us, as it should be. I have been M.I.A., I know. But, I did warn you that this would happen. It doesn’t mean I didn’t feel the distance growing between us, because I did. Sure, distance makes the heart grow fonder… but sometimes, given too much distance, the heart will get bored and walk down to the neighborhood bar to find a new body with a larger chest to live in. I know this. It’s been done. AND I’M NOT OVER IT.
But, let’s catch up. What’s new in life? In about two weeks, we wrap on season one of the show I’m writing on. Which is INSANE. The show airs on Netflix on January 6th, which means YOU have got some weekend plans with your bed. I’m HIGHLY encouraging everyone to Netflix & Chill that first weekend of 2017. Find a good mate on NYE and then use me as your excuse to see them again. I’ll even provide the first move. Text them this around January 3rd: “Hey, I know we JUST met but this weird chick is making me lay in my bed all day this weekend and watch this One Day at a Time show. Maybe you’d want to join? We can pick up some some chocolate covered strawberries. She’s making me do that, too. Also, I have to wear silk pajamas. UGH she’s so demanding.”
I guarantee results. Except anytime the “Chill” part takes over, pause the show, You may unpause it once you’re back to the “Netflix” part. I can’t have you miss some key story points and prime jokes.
Anyway, I thought I would check in. Because I miss you. I was stewing on what exactly I should check in with, until I realized that most all of my recent conversations with my Trader Joe’s cashiers have been the same. Once I tell them “I’m a sitcom writer now!” completely unprovoked, they ask: “Cool. How exactly does that work?”
So, I thought, why not write a post dedicated to the basic idea of what it means to write on a show, given what I’ve learned in the five months? Will I regret this in six years when I realize that I really don’t understand the business at all at this early point in my career? Is my personal experience vastly different from the experience of everyone else in the industry? Am I going to regret this in years to come, possibly hours after posting? Probably! Let’s get started!
Again, disclaimer. Everything I’m about to say is just my own experience. Like how, growing up, I thought cops were just dudes that handed out cool badge stickers. Or how I thought flannels were made to keep your arms and chest warm. After I moved to LA, I learned that their real purpose is just to be tied around your waist in 90 degree weather. Silly, silly me.
Being a sitcom writer is usually all about the writers’ room. If you ever perused the television career book section of Amazon you would see selections entitled “GETTING INTO THE WRITERS’ ROOM” and “THINGS TO SAY IN A WRITERS’ ROOM” and “WRITERS’ ROOM: A ROOM TO WRITE IN.” These titles are real books. I know this because they should all be arriving to my home in 5 to 8 business days.
Our writers’ room is essentially a conference room with a long table in the middle, many chairs surrounding it, dry erase boards covering every wall, a desk in a corner with a computer, a big TV that the computer is projected on, and more sweets than the inside of a piñata.
Who sits at the table in the room? Great question, Kathleen. It’s the writers. Though there are different titles that affect pay and rank, everyone essentially has the same job: to pitch ideas for the show. The titles ranges from low (staff writers) to high (executive producers). The big bad boss the room is called the “showrunner” because they RUN THE SHOW. They’re badass and the hardest working people in the world. They deal with not just the writing, but everything. Literally, everything. What are the main titles like? What about the font for the posters? What are the characters eating for dinner? What do they wear in every scene? How should their hair look? Should their bowls be yellow or red? Where should we place the clock in the apartment?
Fun fact: There almost never is a clock in a set because it would be so annoying to try to always make sure it’s entirely accurate. The character would be like “Good morning!” And you’d be like “WTF, WHY DOES IT SAY 2PM THEN, HUH CAROLINE?!” cause you’re rude and detail-oriented and like to kill any good vibes.
One confusing thing is that the showrunner’s credited title is “Executive Producer.” So, by just looking at the credits on a show, you can’t tell who is truly the showrunner of a show, because there are also other types of EPs. You also don’t even know whether someone with a title of “producer” is a writer in the room or is a different kind of producer. Maybe they’re the post producer, who deals with the editing? Maybe they’re the line producer, who deals with budget and hiring? WHO KNOWS!? NOT US! Basically, the credits are super unhelpful to know exactly what somebody does. You can use some contextual cues (if they’ve written something on IMDB and are also a producer, they’re most likely a writer-producer, not another kind) For the most part, though, we’re all in the dark.
Are you confused yet? Good, because I always am.
All the writers sit around the table all day. A writer’s assistant job is to sit at the desk and type the notes into the computer as ideas get tossed around. I haven’t had this job but I know you have to be mindful of what is relevant and what the showrunners would want to look back on later. What if, when pitching on different ideas for a meal in the show, I pitch that they should eat bagel bites dipped in grape jelly? (Ew) Then laugh REALLY hard like it’s the best idea I’ve ever had? The writers’ assistant would decide whether it’s worth the 5 seconds it would take them to write that into the notes. Essentially, they decipher whether anyone would want that idea to enter their minds again. Clearly in this scenario, because my idea was SO great, the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s not so clear.
When dealing with an episode, everyone pitches on what the story should be. What if the main character goes to the mall for a Beyonce t-shirt but they’re out of her size? THEN has to go to the other mall, across town and where her ex-boyfriend works, to get the shirt? AND the concert starts in 20 minutes! AND her water just broke! AND Jay-Z is the father!!! (I know, guys. I’m a well of innovative ideas.) The showrunners decide whose episode it is, (who it says “written by”) and then that bitch (or bitches, if a team like Michelle and me) goes off and actually writes down the episode to look like this:
GIRL BUYING T-SHIRT
So, do you have a medium or not?
HER EX-BOYFRIEND WORKING AT JC PENNEY
Why is the floor wet? Did… your water just break? Are you pregnant?
GIRL BUYING T-SHIRT
No, I’m just fat.
HER EX-BOYFRIEND WORKING AT JC PENNEY
You’re totally pregnant! I knew you and Jay-z weren’t just ‘going fishing’ 9 months ago!
GIRL BUYING T-SHIRT
We really did go fishing! It just gets super boring out there! Gosh! (SHE TAKES A BITE OF HER BAGEL BITE DIPPED IN GRAPE JELLY)
I know what you’re thinking: That is genius. I do not disagree with you. Truly, it needs no work. The entire town will fight for it. But, writing is re-writing, so all the writers would take this masterpiece to work on in the room and make it even better that whatever I just vomited up.
That’s it. That’s all I know so far.
I mean, there’s more to my current job, like hearing the episode multiple times at table reads and run-thrus and re-writing like crazy and joke pitching and eating so much free food all day then wondering why my pants don’t fit, but this is the general gist of how a writers room works. I hope that makes a little more sense than when someone heard I’m writing on this show and asked if I wrote, by myself, all 13 episodes. Definitely not the case.
So the next time someone asks me, “How does your job work?” I’ll groan and direct them to this post and say LEAVE ME ALONE.
That’s 100% a lie. I like to talk. I’ll most likely just tell them everything right then and there and in more detail than they ever hoped to know. Cuz that’s the way I roll.
Thanks for checking in and not forgetting about this here bloggy!!! I’ll be back soon with some tragic tales that have been left untold. Which is, in and of itself, truly tragic.