The Royal Diner

As a part of the summer semester I took my class went around town pitching our original ideas to producers and production companies around town. The last week of class was both stressful and adrenaline-filled. On day two of pitching we pitched to a production company who’s offices are on the Fox lot.

A studio lot is about as magical as you would expect. There are rows and rows of trailers where actors spend their down time and get hair and make-up done. Parking spots are labeled with names of actors, producers, or even just the names of TV shows, saving spaces for trucks of equipment or stacks of flats covered in plastic with labels like “Barney’s Living Room” or “Jay and Gloria’s Bedroom” (#truelife).

For our pitch meeting I carpooled with two classmates and we parked in the adjacent parking structure about an hour before our meeting was scheduled. The extra time gave us the freedom to wander the lot, practicing our pitches on each other, scoping out where our meeting was, and searching to see if we could recognize anyone. Through this wandering we happened through the studio’s backlot.

The backlot is sort of a permanent outdoor set. Most studios have one, and it’s where movies and TV shows can shoot outside scenes in a controlled environment. It’s a place that looks like a city (usually New York), but most of the buildings are hollow save for rigs to set lights. Sometimes one or two of the buildings are what’s called “practical” which means that they can film inside the building and it can be “dressed” to look like wherever the movie or show is set.

“Oh look, this stoop is outside of the bar in ‘How I Meet Your Mother’!” my friend said. We took pictures and kept moving, and as we neared the next corner is when I saw it. “It” being the set of The Royal Diner from the show Bones. I was beyond excited.

Bones was one of the first shows that I would tune in every week for. The show began the first season that I was really following and loving scripted television. Since then I’ve tapered off on the show, but somehow seeing the set reignited that spark. I suddenly missed Booth and Brennan and wondered what had happened to them since I’d stopped watching. But there was more than that too.

Somehow seeing this set in particular reminded me why I was there to begin with. I am in Los Angeles to make television that people love. TV is an escape, but the fictional world of characters can bring up questions that make you examine your own life. They can help people watching to make memories of their own, and they can inspire courage, strength, and love in our lives.

Television is powerful. And seeing The Royal Diner reminded me of that. Just a silly little practical set, but somehow so much more.


Writing Your Way Up

The hierarchy of a TV show staff is a many-layered thing.  Specifically, a TV writing staff is a confusing place where half the people in the “room” are called producers.  This whole system was confusing to me until a few weeks ago when one of our guest speakers explained it in depth.

A few terms to know:
“the room” refers to the writers room.  It is often an actual room with a conference table and white boards and or cork boards on the walls where the writers will sit together and figure out the story of a TV show.  Sometimes there are ping pong tables.  Or at least, that’s what I hear.
“Staffed” is to be working in the room.  All the positions I’m going to list are staff positions except for the last two.

Rolling credits (shown in the list of names under the first few scenes of a TV show):
Showrunner–This one is actually not listed as “Showrunner”, but as “Executive Producer”.  This is the one in charge of everything.  He or she is the person to whom everyone is asking questions of how the show is going to look, feel, sound, be written, and everything else under the sun.  Often, this is also the person who created the show.
Executive Producer–Sometimes also referred to as the “EP”, there will often be more than one of these, and they are the second in command.  These guys are in charge of the room while the Showrunner is busy with other things.
Co-Executive Producer–“Co-EP”.  Similar to the EP in a lot of ways, but with slightly less pay.
Supervising Producer
Consulting Producer–This is sometimes someone who was brought in for their knowledge on a particular subject.  A doctor on a medical show, a commander on a military show, ect.
Producer–All types of producers can be involved in varying degrees in aspects of the show besides writing.

End Titles Credits:
Executive Story Editor
Story Editor
Staff Writer–Credited as “Writer” in the end credits.  Not be be confused with “Written by” in the opening credits, given to whoever wrote the specific episode that is being shown.
Script Coordinator–This person is not directly involved in Writing the show, but getting the scripts from the writers to the directors, producers, actors, and other technicians who will turn it into a full TV show.

These guys, and their friends below are not members of the Writers Guild and are therefore not protected by mandatory minimums like the more senior positions are.  There is a significant pay difference between the Script Coordinator and a Staff Writer.  Also, while there is only one Script Coordinator, there can be multiples of all the others above.

Writer’s Assistant–The coveted job among low level people.  This person is pretty much the note-taker for the room.  They listen to the discussion and take notes on what’s being decided.
Writer’s PA–The guinea pig for the office, the one getting coffee and lunch orders.  Not all shows have them, sometimes the Writer’s Assistant will take on these tasks.
Writer’s Intern–Again, not a position every show has, but some shows will have an intern available to do research.  This is especially pertinent if it’s a historical show because they want to be accurate whenever possible.


Of course, all this should be taken with a grain of salt.  This list is nothing official, and is only something that was discussed in the class I’m taking.  Titles and positions will vary with different shows, networks, showrunners, and studios.

While there is a loose system, this is not like the corporate ladder.  The most significant difference here is that if a writer/creator is talented enough they can jump the hierarchy.  A new writer who pitches a show and gets green-lit can jump from zero to Co-EP with the push of a button.

What’s the organizational structure in the job that you’re hoping get?

Sampling Luther

It’s no secret that I love British TV.  Between my Whovian tendencies and my research paper on Downton Abbey, it’s not a surprise in the least that I think TV shows from across the pond are fascinating.

The culture and norms there are so different from what I’m used to in the U.S. and I love learning about people and situations that are different from me.  The best way for me to discuss this is in a sort of case study example.  Lately I’ve been watching and studying Luther, a show staring Idris Elba (The Wire).

In a word, Luther is intense.  It follows John Luther, the head of the Serious Crime Unit (and later the Serious and Serial Crime Unit) as they work bizarre and inhuman cases.  The show is more graphic and fast-paced than anything I’ve ever seen on American television.  It’s a high-risk high-reward situation as it certainly makes for a thrilling story.

It also focuses a lot on the friendship between Luther and Alice, a sociopath murder.  This relationship is borderline the most bizarre thing in the entire series, even over some of the crimes they solve.

Luther, and British television in general, doesn’t skirt around issues of violence or sexuality.  Graphic crime scenes are just background noise to the crimes being shown.  Scenes will often leave me with a “that escalated quickly” feeling when suddenly two characters go from greeting each other at the door to laying in bed a few hours later.

Besides the way that it approaches social issues, there’s also a really different form of storytelling that’s going on here.  Each season so far (and the upcoming season 3 from what I’ve gathered) has had an ongoing personal plot line going on the side.  Now, this isn’t completely unheard of in any television regardless of country of origin, but Luther does it differently than any show I can think of.

Confession time: For my class right now I am writing a sample script for Luther.  This is kind of terrifying to admit because this show has such a specific style that I’m worried I wont be able to properly emulate it.  And that’s without even the fear that I’m going to screw up some British thing and accidentally turn it more American.

Admitting this is also scary on the level of this-is-the-internet.  While I love the internet, it’s also a very permanent and very public place.  I don’t have any fantasies of someone from the show seeing this and then wanting to see my sample.  But more the opposite.  The worry that if someone sees this I could get in trouble for trying.

A little silly?  Yes.  Because I’m not trying to sell it.  I’m not planning to even shop it.  I’m writing this script as a sample.  A way of practicing something that I hope I can turn into a living down the line.  Practicing the method and the madness that I will apply to another show that probably doesn’t exist yet at some undetermined point in the future.

Maybe someday, far off into the future, I will get to work on a British show.  With people who will help me correct the mistakes I make as an outsider.  Maybe.

Have you seen Luther?  What are your favorite foreign shows?