SWN TV Panel + Egg timers

I went to the Scriptwriters Network TV Panel on Saturday at the Raleigh Studies. I tend to be wary of these kinds of things. Often they lack specificity and tend to regurgitate basic information that most people have heard countless times before. Anyone who's serious about breaking into writing for TV is constantly digging for information. So questions like "How can I get a writer's assistant job?" are really just missing the point.

Sometimes I have to wonder if a lot of the people who attend these things used to work in practical careers, like engineering or something. It's like they expect the system to make sense.

And it's not the fault of the guest speakers. They're usually very entertaining -- and that was definitely the case on Saturday. The panel consisted of the wonderful:

Jane Espenson (Battlestar, Buffy, etc.)
Amy Berg (Threshold, The 4400)
Dawn DeKeyser (Ugly Betty, Samantha Who?)
Jeanette Collins (Dirty, Big Love, etc.)
Melody Fox (Flash Gordon)

They were fantastic and managed to entertain regardless of the questions. The problem with these events is often the moderators. More often than not they push the questions in a predetermined, bland direction, instead of exploring new issues or finding things that the panel is really responding to.

And, for anyone that doesn't already know this, there's no such thing as a good Q&A with the audience. It just doesn't exist. You always get people asking ridiculous or inappropriate questions, or someone's asking a question that's so slanted to their situation that it's like eavesdropping on two people who met up to get coffee or something.

I just think Q&A's connected in any way to entertainment are practices in futility. But maybe that's just me.

Regardless, there were some interesting moments in the talk. There was a debate among the panel about the relevance of specs vs. pilots. They disagreed about the current value of specs, but, interestingly, they all agreed that if they ever got the chance to run their own show, they would insist on reading specs for existing shows. By the panel's opinion, it's because:

1. They're harder to write than pilots.
2. They're the only way to judge if someone can mimic another showrunner's voice.
3. It's too hard to judge a writer's range off of something so purposely slanted to their voice and talents.

I found that really interesting. And I don't know how anyone couldn't be interested in their discussion of why male scifi and genre TV writers tend to be less chauvinistic than their mainstream brethren. The lovely Jane Espenson theorized that it was because those kinds of guys were more likely to grow up in their rooms reading the Narnia Chronicles instead of fearing women and joining frats.

I can't say I agree completely, but it made me heart her even more for saying that. I swear, it's like she's the TV writer equivalent of George Harrison and I'm a teenage girl in the sixties. Somebody slap me.

(Though I did, against my normal instincts, get in line with all the other gimme-gimme people to say hi to Jane and the other writers. I'm sure I came off like some blushed-and-schmucky little boy, but Jane was very nice to me.

I shook her hand and introduced myself to her, telling her how I couldn't bring myself to do so the few times I had seen her on the picket lines. I felt like Willow in one of my all-time-favorite Buffy moments where she and Oz ask each other out.)

When asked where they saw themselves in five years, Ms. Espenson said she'd like to be running her own show, or working for Ron Moore or Joss Whedon. She said she had absolutely no problem serving as a lieutenant to genius.

That answer was entertaining, pithy, and made me yearn to work for or anywhere near genius.

One of the other things I gleamed from the event was from the remarkably entertaining Amy Berg. Honestly, I didn't know much about her before the panel. Though she looked familiar. But I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out for her work and watching the upcoming Leverage (also because of the wonderful Kung Fu Monkey, link to the left). She was witty, self-deprecating, and a little off-kilter -- my personal trifecta of choice.

But she spoke about something she referred to as The Timer.


I believe she was referring to John Rogers when she said her current boss instituted this method of writing.

48/12: In their room -- they don't have offices yet, so everyone spends all day in their writer's room, writing away. And they write/work/live & breathe the show for 48 minutes, and then on the dot they break for 12 minutes. And they can't talk about the show at all. Berg said she would stop in the middle of sentences, in the middle of a line of dialogue.

And when she came back, it was always refreshed. She said that they'd been working on the show for months now using this system, and she's never felt stressed. She's even started using it in her own writing.

Personally, I'm intrigued as hell. Food for thought.

So, I'm not always thrilled with these events. But, hey, the company was great. I found a new writer to admire, and I got to shake Ms. Espenson's hand.

And it made me want to write. So -- I take it all back. Not too shabby.

ps. "I said date."


Emily Blake said...

Hey. I was there too. I'm the asshole at the back whose phone rang twice in a row.

adam _______________________ said...

Yeah, Michael said you guys were there. And while I didn't see anybody I knew, I do rememeber the phone. Proof positive.

How'd you like that rebuke from the mediocre moderator?

The one thing I forgot to comment on in my write up was that it was held in a screening room, so the chairs were designed for projection-viewing. Hence, unless you were in the front row, it was hard to make out the speakers at times. Especially when you sat behind an Amazonian blonde.

Emily Blake said...

I kind of ignored everything the moderator said because he annoyed me, so I'm not sure about the rebuke. I just listened to the ladies talk. I could see fine, thought, probably because I was in the very back row looking down.

Some girl next to Michael kept leaning over and staring at me. I'm not sure why.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for writing this up. I was trying to remember names and such, to refer another person - and your site came up in Google. I'm a journalist by trade, who has written some specs. Back when I had time, I used to cover these kinds of events, and publish write ups on other screenwriting websites. I'm sure someone would pay for it if you chose to do the same - or you could get a link to your site out of it.