Thanks to the gracious invitation from my Screenwriting Research Network colleague Paolo Russo – and a grant he was able to procure (and in the before-Covid time) I was able to spend a week at Oxford Brookes University working with the screenwriting masters students in Paolo’s course. At the culmination of the week, I gave this lecture on how writers rooms worked in the States.
Let me talk briefly about the kinds of things you learn in a room. One of the things you should take a class in is psychology because reading other people and managing how you deal with them — when you figure out their personalities either love you or don’t love you — but you have to work with them for the next three years because contracts are three years long. So you have to work around them. In this particular case. we were doing an episode about a gentleman, sadly, who was dying of AIDS and coming home for Christmas to tell his parents that he was both gay and dying of AIDS and what happened was the writer who was doing it was very fond of himself and didn’t like to be told anything was wrong with his stories, but your job in the room is to make all the stories as good as possible because if the show gets canceled you all lose your job. So I knew that he didn’t like criticism and he was higher on the hierarchy than I was right? He was a higher rank producer. I was still a co-editor or something like that at the time and I’m sitting in the room and his problem was — this is a story about angels who came into your life and told you how you were messing it up and please fix it — so the father was a violin maker and he’s going to give his son a violin he’d been working on since the boy was born. So that’s about 26 years and it was still not good and he really wanted to give the kid the violin because there was a metaphor that if you played violin again maybe he wouldn’t be gay. I’m not really sure I agree with that but anyway…
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