Inside the Writers' Room
Duration: 2 days (weekend)
Times: 10am-6pm, plus overnight assignment on Saturday evening
Capacity: Approx. 8-12 participants
What goes on inside the Writers’ Room in American Television is the subject of much speculation. Truth be told, the specifics of the Writer’s Room changes with each show and each showrunner. However, the rooms themselves have one major focus – to develop story and to deliver scripts.
As the American Writers' Room model is adopted in the UK and across Europe, demand for TV writers with skills and experience in this environment is on the increase.
This 2-day workshop with US writer Sharon Doyle is a crash course in writing as part of an American Writers’ Room. Participants will split into teams and showrunners will be appointed as the groups brainstorm, develop, pitch, beat out, write and rewrite the first act of the first episode of THE KNICK, Season 2.
The Writers' Room is "a clash of creative intelligences", to use Robert Zemekis’s phrase, but at a startling pace and strict schedule. However, it has come a long way since the famous meltdowns of Syd Caesar’s comedy room on THE SHOW OF SHOWS or the open warfare of 21 JUMP STREET. If you happen to be working on a hit show for HBO like THE SOPRANOS it is a great deal of fun. It is also the hardest thing you will ever do.
Writers are by nature solitary beasts, and the idea of open collaboration can cause some to blossom and others to break out in hives – and those writers may be the best in the room. The good showrunner manages the creativity, and tries to bring out the best in the show’s writers – but he or she is often the creator of the show, and as such is the ultimate keeper of the voice of the show, and as they say, the last typewriter. Little scriptwriting is done in the room itself – all those highly paid writers write (or rewrite) at home all weekend long.
In this workshop you will:
- Get an overview of American Television development and the rise of the writer-producer.
- Analyse American series THE KNICK for voice: characters, story arena, plot structure, character relationships, tone, pace, and style.
- Breakdown the story of an episode in terms of beats or actions.
- Pitch story ideas for new episodes and get feedback.
- Develop an episode beat by beat as a team, led by a showrunner.
- Write to a strict deadline.
- Experience the joys and terrors of rewriting and being rewritten.
- Understand the role of the showrunner and the supervising producer.
Before the Course
Created and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, directed by Steven Soderbergh, and produced by Anonymous Content (TRUE DETECTIVE), THE KNICK is set in New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900. Clive Owen plays Dr. John Thackeray, wrestling with his addictions while leading a team of innovative, inquiring medical staff.
As a minimum we will ask you to watch at least six episodes in advance. In particular, you will need to be familiar with the pilot and Episode 10. We will also ask you to familiarise yourself with the American historical and cultural context of the show.
Then, you will prepare your ideas for Season 2, ready to contribute on day one of the workshop.
Each participant must be able to bring a laptop or tablet for writing, and must be able to share writing electronically (by email). Participants are expected to spend Saturday evening completing an overnight writing assignment.
Morning: Overview and Intro to American TV
- Overview of American TV: The rise of the showrunner and multiple storylines.
- Breaking story, beat sheets and 100 episodes.
- Review pilot of THE KNICK: Analyse for voice, story structure, ongoing character dilemma, franchise, story and character elements which continue throughout.
- The participants divide into groups to write the beat sheet of Episode 10 (1 or 2 sentences per scene, with a focus on active verbs).
- The results are compared and contrasted with the pilot episode, paying particular attention to evolution of characters, story structure, and character dilemma.
- Each team makes an individual pitch for the first episode of Season 2.
Afternoon: The Writers' Room and Breaking Story
- The group again divides into teams, and this time showrunners are appointed (one showrunner per team).
- Each team develops their ideas into an episode.
- Each showrunner pitches their team's episode to the rest of the group and receives feedback.
- The teams revise and beat out the first act/half hour of their epoisodes and write the beat sheet (1-2 sentences per scene, with a focus on action).
- The showrunners assign scenes (3-5 pages) to their writers or writer teams.
The writers deliver their assigned scenes to the showrunners by 11pm.
Morning: Rewriting and Reading
- The showrunners arrive early to assemble their team's scenes into a single script of the first act/half hour. It is now the responsibility of each showrummer to revise the script as he/she thinks necessary, for voice and continuity.
- The teams arrive, and each showrunner leads a script reading session. This is an opportunity to give feedback and to discuss revisions to the whole story line.
- The showrunners assign rewrites to other team members than original writer.
1pm-2.30pm - The teams do rewrites while the showrunners go to lunch.
2.30pm – 4pm - Having delivered their rewrites, the teams go to lunch while the showrunners assemble the scripts into single documents (revising for unity and/or completely rewriting, as he/she sees fit).
Afternoon: Read-throughs and Reactions
- The first acts are read out and feedback is received from the other teams.
- The teams discuss their process and their reactions to each other's processes.
- Summary and concluding remarks.