Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 Questions with a Writer's Assistant and Script Coordinator

For most of 2007-2011, Caleb Bacon was David Milch’s Writer’s Assistant/Script Coordinator. He says: "During that time we did John From Cincinnati, a pilot in NYC called Last of the Ninth, two years of development of Luck, and then Luck. During periods of hiatus I would do some freelance Writer’s Assistant work for a variety of writers including former Cheers Executive Producer Rob Long. Last Fall, I did the Sullivan & Son multi-cam pilot with him and Vince Vaughn for TBS. And this year I basically did both gigs -- Script Coordinator and Writers Assistant -- on the comedy’s first season. Sullivan & Son debuts this Thursday, 7/19, at 10pm on TBS."

You can also follow Caleb on Twitter: @CalebEatsBacon.

1. How did you get your job as writer's assistant?

I had two different crew jobs on Deadwood and over two seasons I developed a relationship with the show’s creator, David Milch. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life but David had a sense that I was a writer even before I fully came to that myself.

After Deadwood’s third season, he brought me into the Writers Room as a writing intern. I even received a weekly paycheck. Unfortunately, Deadwood was cancelled but we instantly started work on John From Cincinnati. And when there was an opening, I became Script Coordinator. I was a mid-season replacement.

2. What are all the duties of your job/what are your usual hours?

All of the shows I’ve worked on have had their own sort of hours and duties. Back on John From Cincinnati I had to be on set for first rehearsal every morning. David Milch would often rewrite scenes on set so I’d need to be there for those changes. That’d often be as early as 6 a.m. My recent transition to comedy rooms has been more friendly for sleeping-in as I typically don’t need to be in until 10 a.m. And I’ve occasionally had to be in Writers Rooms after midnight.
 
Every show is also different in terms of how the Writers’ Assistant and Script Coordinator and Writers PA split responsibilities. I’ve done everything from taken notes in The Writers’ Room, to typing on the large monitor in The Room for rewrites, to issuing scripts for production, to dealing with the lawyers on clearances issues, to cleaning up all of the half-consumed water bottles in The Room, to making sure that all of my superiors are appropriately caffeinated.

3. Do you have time to write?

Honestly, it’s hard while I’m on a show. After staring at Final Draft all day it’s hard to stare at Final Draft all night. Plus, the stress, the hours, and all of the carbohydrates, can be exhausting. Then there’s trying to have some kind of personal life. So, thankfully I don’t have to work 50 weeks/year.

But because of all of that I’ve discovered some fun and unexpected creative outlets. I’ve written essays, articles, produced and hosted almost 150 episodes of a podcast, taken improv classes, and done some sketch comedy.

I’ve scaled back on a lot of that stuff these days so that I can better focus on my writing. I’m 31 and would like to one day have “Assistant” gone from my title. I believe I have to write my way to the next step.

4. How is being a writer's assistant on a comedy different from being a writer's assistant on a drama? 

The laughter is the main thing. And for me, I love showing up to a job where I know we’re going to be cracking up all day.

5. What have you learned from your job - writing or otherwise?

I’ve learned that I’m the happiest when I’m doing the best that I can at the job that I have -- while not worrying about the job that I don’t yet have. I’ve became someone who can type over 100 words-per-minute and is a Final Draft Ninja. While these aren’t things I tell women at bars, I’ve became a really good Script Coordinator/Writers Assistant. Even though I want to write full-time, I take pride in the job I have now. Because of that I often get television work, and don’t have to take “civilian” jobs. Over the years, writers that I admire have been willing to read my stuff, and even let me pitch in The Room. And once I find my way into a staff job, I plan on being extra kind to the Writers’ Assistant. (So long as he or she doesn’t screw up my lunch order!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday links!

Mentor Series: Lindy Dekoven, Former NBC EVP and Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women, Discusses Women in Media and Politics [HelloGiggles]

Paul Haggis Talks THIRD PERSON [The Hollywood Reporter]
"I must have ripped up about 20 versions of the screenplay before getting it where I wanted it."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday links!

Chris Pine and Co-Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman Discuss Captain Kirk's Growth in Star Trek 2 [Reelz]
"It is structured so that the antagonist brings out all of the qualities in Kirk that need to happen in order for Kirk to grow."

Goon Screenwriter Jay Baruchel Talks Hockey Violence and Bringing Back the Enforcer [Wired]
"I had that as an idea and watching that movie you are rooting for both of them and neither of them, you want both of them to succeed but you also know that just can’t be. In order for one of them to succeed the other will have to fail, but you also have a connection to both of them. I also thought of it as a Western in a way. You have these two gunfighters, they hear about each other and you know that inevitably they are going to have to face off."

Exclusive Interview with 'Magic Mike' Screenwriter Reid Carolin [About.com]
"..he develops a conscience through the movie because he doesn’t intuitively feel fulfilled."

The Animated Life of Seth MacFarlane, From ‘Family Guy’ to ‘Ted’ [NY Times]
"It was an idea that I had for an animated series. And when I decided it’s probably about time for me to make a movie, that seemed like a cool idea. The “Avatar”-slash-“Lord of the Rings” technology had reached a point where you could create a fictional-looking character that was completely real in movement. It’s been in adventure films, in fantasy films. Where more than a comedy do you need subtle character actors?"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing advice from Nora Ephron

Last week, we lost a talented, insightful and hilarious woman: Nora Ephron. From The New York Times:
Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally...,” died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
In a commencement address she delivered in 1996 at Wellesley College, her alma mater, Ms. Ephron recalled that women of her generation weren’t expected to do much of anything. But she wound up having several careers, all of them successfully and many of them simultaneously.
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. Her later box-office success included “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.”
While my informal and unscientific Twitter poll revealed that When Harry Met Sally might be Nora's most beloved film, I think Sleepless in Seattle is my favorite. I often think about it as a reminder that we can be creative and clever with structure. Would you ever think that a two-hander romcom could explore a love story between two characters who don't really meet until the very end? Meg and Tom are essentially living in two different movies. Somehow, it works - and it's also impossibly romantic.

If you haven't already, please read Girls creator Lena Dunham's beautiful New Yorker tribute to Nora, whom she was lucky enough to know personally.

I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of Nora's writing and career advice:

On procrastination:
"I have on my computer something called Freedom. You put in however many minutes of freedom you would want, and for that period of time your computer does not allow you to go on the Internet."

On voice, routine, distractions and advice (from a 1974 interview):
"Well, it’s just that my point of view happens to be faintly cynical or humorous—and just the way I see things and that’s how it comes out when I write it."

"You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn."

"I don’t have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece."

“Life. I mean the main thing that distracts me is the pressure to go on with one’s life. That you have to stop to have lunch with someone or you have to take the cat to the vet …”

“First of all, whatever you do, work in a field that has something to do with writing or publishing. So you will be exposed to what people are writing about and how they are writing, and as important, so you will be exposed to people in the business who will get to know you and will call on you if they are looking for someone for a job. Secondly, you have to write. And if you don’t have a job doing it, then you have to sit at home doing it.

On entering a male-dominated world:
"Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

On turning tragedy into comedy:
"I feel bad for the people who don't at some point understand that there's something funny in even the worst things that can happen to you."

On navigating unfriendly workplaces:
“Women are loyal and true in a way that men aren’t. We have trouble breaking up. On some level, you have to choose to not be victimized by the things you should be calm about and focus on the things that should actually upset you.”

On female characters:
"I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are."