Enlarge /. ATX TVs panel in the author's room Zooms: From L to R, top row: IndieWires Ben Travers (moderator), Sera Gamble (Netflix & # 39; s You), Dan Goor (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Bottom row: Melinda Hsu Taylor (Nancy Drew) and Beth Schwartz (Sweet Tooth).
Every week the news now seems to be announcing that another Hollywood project is being delayed. Sometimes this is because you can't make money in an empty theater, but just as often because production is interrupted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most of this industry is paused for now, one crucial segment has not – the authors. Instead, like many of us, we have intensively familiarized ourselves with the inner workings of zoom calls at work.
"Because of the pandemic, I feel at home for every aspiring TV writer," said Sera Gamble, show runner at Netflix & # 39; s You (formerly Supernatural and The Magicians), during this year's online edition of the ATX TV Festival. "You're trying to write while doing a few other things. Well, congratulations, you're in showrunner training now. I've had to sit down a lot in the past and rewrite a script in a moment that feels like a difficult one felt crisis, and sometimes it was a severe crisis, but it feels like times 10. I have to reset expectations every morning: I wake up, wait a minute before checking my phone, answer my loved ones and then take the problems from the day they come … (I tell my authors) & # 39; you can't solve what you can't solve, so what can we do in the next hour? & # 39; "
For this later panel for this year's ATX TV Festival, Gamble (virtual) joined Dan Goor (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Rec), Melinda Hsu Taylor (Nancy Drew, Lost) and Beth Schwartz (Sweet Tooth, Arrow). Streamers take "Inside the Writers' (Zoom) Room." For some, the change came abruptly. Hsu Taylor and her co-workers had almost completed both writing and production in the last season of Nancy Drew when they suddenly had to switch everything over to remote friendliness (she was assigning her son a zoom birthday at the time to help her with that to help you understand the basics of logistics and experience). Other authors, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine employees, started wholesale in a digital world. They were five weeks in history at the time of this panel and hadn't been in person at all while working on the upcoming eighth season.
Of course, nobody had a choice. As COVID-19 continues to grow in the US – the country has exceeded the 2 million case mark in the past two weeks – all areas of life have to adapt. And when personal interactions are associated with a potentially life-threatening risk for the foreseeable future, zoom calls suddenly sound decidedly preferable.
"There was a little relief when we went home," said Gamble. "We were socially distant in two separate rooms for weeks before we went home, just so that people could be six to ten feet apart. At some point I asked a writer's assistant to keep track of how often & # 39; Coronavirus & # 39; was said – it was every two minutes. At least if we went home we could work. "
Logistically speaking, certain things were more difficult for television authors in this common zoom existence. Larger authoring rooms, in which 10 or more people are working, may have difficulty translating into a single zoom chat where it becomes more difficult not to speak and read about the room. You and Brooklyn Nine-Nine now opt for several smaller zoom calls that focus on narrower tasks, and only the showrunner jumps back and forth between conversations. It has also proven to be more difficult to recreate these magical authors in these digital workspaces – the creative sparks, the interactions between employees where a convoy at lunch later in the afternoon could solve an action problem.
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"It's more efficient, but it's funny and less fun," said Goor. "There are fewer jokes. We made every possible zoom joke we could do in the first week – we changed all the backgrounds, mine were my mother's watercolors. We made background videos of each other … so we have new ones Finding ways to waste time now that I think about it … But it's nice to feel a response to a pitch, and it's a lot harder to do it with Zoom. I'm finding myself out of ideas for To talk stories out. "
At least early on, Zoom also surprised authors with some positive advantages. In author rooms where some employees have been involved in a show for much longer than others, Zoom can remove some unspoken hierarchical barriers and put them all on an equal footing. "These places have something democratizing that is always there and of the same size," said Goor. "It might be easier for new people to speak up. & # 39; Oh, and April, what do you have to say about it? & # 39;" Zoom also naturally leads to fewer breaks in the working day: fewer bathroom breaks, less loss of space in endless jokes, and skipping longer lunch routines, such as the sophisticated Wheel of Fortune approach of Brooklyn Nine-Nine employees when choosing takeaways.
But maybe the biggest change? The pandemic has given everyone in the author's room a more holistic perspective on life – episode four of the season, which will no longer be the most important thing for anyone. All together, and many writers now have a much more traditional working day.
"Comedy lessons are usually bad and they have gotten so much better," said Goor, noting that he now usually works from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., eats lunch, and continues from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. "For the first few seasons, we routinely ate dinner (in the authors' room) and were there to read a table until 8:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. We adjusted. This is partly because it is impossible "Zoom in for a long time, but it is sometimes the case that people can be with their families, be healthy and experience life."
Concentrating at home or being physically in a room for a specific task can be a new challenge, but these TV writers continue to find approaches that work for individual groups. Hsu Taylor and Nancy Drew's staff begin each session with a three-minute meditation to deliberately convey to their thoughts that work has begun. "I know some people check their email because I hear a click," she said. "But I prefer to think that way. & # 39; OK, I'll do it now. & # 39; I tell my mind and body that they should be here for the next few hours." And some previous tasks that force authors to do so sharing their attention no longer exists, such as having to be on set for script optimizations during an episode you may have written.
"With production down," said Schwartz, "you can really focus on the scripts instead of being everywhere."
Welcome to the most nerdy baseball TV event on this page of the network. (Most years in downtown Austin, like 2017 when Fargo from FX headlined.)
Years later, this ATX TV installation is still the best use case we've seen for these old black and white and tiny televisions.
The end product
Good or bad, our new reality has absolutely influenced what we will see on the screen at some point. For example, you focus on a bookshop manager who is creepy obsessed with an aspiring young writer. In short, the show often has characters that at least kiss. But for the coming season three, this aspect may have to change without asking questions.
"We can't put people at risk – TV shows aren't worth it," said Gamble. "So we're going to change what we can and keep an eye on the lines we don't want to cross. We won't do the show and we crappy because there was a pandemic. We will be measured and tried." Keep the spirit of the show. But it's a conversation, scene by scene, by scene. "
The COVID-19 pandemic also requires shifts in logistics. Where you can film and who you can film depends, of course, on which scenes a typist can write. The authors noted that productions in Canada and New Zealand such as Nancy Drew and Sweet Tooth will take place first, as these countries have navigated COVID-19 better than the United States. And with the mandatory quarantine for travelers to these locations, local actors could also have a leg for roles.
Goor and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine team are experiencing new logistical problems with babies. No explicit spoilers, but two characters had a last season, and the team suddenly had to deal with animatronics and maybe less time for toddlers on the screen ("There will be a run with these bespoke fake babies," Gamble joked).
"It's hard because we make stories about work-life balance for these people. It goes in so many different directions and we still don't know where (the pandemic) is going, so it's hard to write for it. "Said Goor. "Is it safe to shoot outside? We originally wanted everything to be a bottle episode so that we could shoot on the stage (and) it is controlled. But now it is better to take all the outside shots? Because it seems as if it would be healthier and safer for people. How many extras can you have? Can you use children? And since there will be waves of productions with films and pilots, the availability for guest performers will be much more difficult. Five episodes of guest arches are now more difficult. "
All of these decisions ultimately flow into the television business. For writers, the ability to remotely attend a writer's room is suddenly becoming more commonplace, which democratizes the careers of people outside of NYC and LA (and the sky-high rents of these cities). And not having to commute regularly or being in a physical space would mean that writers' rooms could more easily welcome authors with physical disabilities, which opens up new perspectives for a variety of shows.
"I think there's a reason why we do this (rooms for personal writers), and it's not just about spending studio money on all of these rentals – it's good for creativity and production," says Gamble. "But it will be easier to say: & # 39; We should only meet at Zoom some days. & # 39; And for the disability community, when an agent calls me and calls on someone and explains why someone rarely or never on I know that it works now. If all of this causes a lot of great writers to break into the business, that appeals to me. "
ATX TV Festival 2020 will be posting its panels on YouTube throughout June (including a panel with The Mandalorian staff that will be available this weekend). The entire discussion "Inside the Writers (Zoom) Room" is available below.
You can now view all ATX TV panels "Inside the Writers (Zoom) Room" on request.