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Monday, June 25, 2007

Guest Blog: Upfront and Behind, Part III

Good Monday, Rouge Wavers - today we conclude our three-part guest blog by M., assistant to a, what they call in Hollywood, Big Deal showrunner, who was kind enough to tell us all about her adventures in assisting to develop, cast and produce a television pilot.

Upfront and Behind, Part III
by M.

After two weeks of read-throughs and rehearsals, was show night. Like a stage production, the actors had to perform the script in front of a live audience. The studio packed in different audience groups in different age ranges and ethnicities. At least 150 people sat in uncomfortable chairs with too much air conditioning for four hours…….damn, I hoped the show would keep them entertained. A stand-up comic kept the show laughing at silly jokes, but, at least he kept them laughing.

And on the stage floor it was a whole other world. My boss surrounded herself with close friends and writers. The people she could trust for advice to tell her if a joke worked or not. Network and studio executives crowded around the monitors, and agents, girlfriends, husbands, assistants all crept onto the floor during the shooting. My job was to keep them all away from my boss. No one got on the floor that she didn’t approve…..even her agent, who I couldn’t resist any longer. The actors moved from scene to scene, feeding off the energy of the audience.

And if you thought show night meant the script was complete, think again. Even in front of a live audience, after each scene, the writers would put their heads together and come up with another joke. They would notice if one joke didn’t get as much of a laugh from the audience as expected, so they would put another in. The actors, amazingly, would roll with these line changes and deliver the new jokes with just as much zeal. Sometimes the new jokes scored with the audience, sometimes they didn’t. Thank God for editing too.

Being a part of this was seeing a machine running smoothly. When the audience laughed in the right places, it was the best feeling ever. Over fifty people among the crew, actors and writers all worked to present this show, and this night we got to shine. My 65-year-old father sat in the audience, and I could hear him laughing over the rest of the crowd. Even though I didn’t write the joke that brought the laughter on, it was awesome to be part of the team that entertained that many people. All along, this show, even though it was only a pilot with no guarantee of landing on the Fall schedule, felt like it was familiar, even though everything was brand new. All the work we had done felt like we had created a show that was entertaining, and that could be entertaining for years to come. That might sound strange, and I’ll agree it was a surreal feeling, maybe best described as feeling like you’ve met someone before even when they are a perfect stranger. All the cogs had fit into the wheel just as they were supposed to.

Finally, with show night over and an exhausting week of editing the show was delivered to our network. While we waited to hear about the results from the upfronts, our production company was quick to start suggesting writers for hire, particulary higher up writers. The higher the level of writer and/or producer, the quicker they are to get staffed. Agents were calling and bribing me, trying to get in our reading pile early. But, the production company filtered out all the incoming scripts. All I could think from that experience is that these agents had been heavily tracking every pilot in town since March, if not sooner, and spending time on the phone with each show they could. Younger and newer writers…they’ll get staffed last, but I’m told new writers need to be off and running with a new agent by December in order to get enough meetings in and build relationships for any consideration that spring. And being a television writer is all about having up to date spec scripts.

This season I read a million “The Office” specs, a handful of 30 Rocks, and because of our style of pilot, a handful of Will & Graces and King of Queens. Original pilots were often submitted along with a spec of an existing show.

So, for you budding/aspiring TV writers, finish those spec TV scripts now. Get a pilot or a play under your belt. Find that agent during the quiet time so when next spring hits you are off to the races. And hopefully the Upfronts will leave you behind.

Our pilot…well, we won’t be on the Fall schedule, but the network hasn’t said no completely yet. We could still get a mid-season pick-up, which means only 6 as opposed to 13 episodes, but also means, we will start this process all over again. My boss, no matter what the network decision, feels like we gave them the best show we could, and as long as she didn’t regret anything, it still feels like a job well-done.

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2 comments:

Charli said...

What a ride, thanks for the info.

Christian M. Howell said...

So where do I sign up?