TV & Hollywood Writers Today

If the scripts being produced by television writing staffs today are any indication, Hollywood could benefit from revisiting the old “writers room” system for producing quality films. Work performed collaboratively, rather than by a series of consecutive contributors, currently generates what many would consider some of the best writing in the entertainment industry in recent years.

Television writing staffs remain relatively consistent from season to season, and ideally throughout the run of a series. A talented team with a strong rapport can thus turn out a product that regularly pulls together the best of its members’ ideas. Not to over-idealize, of course—naturally, not all television writing is Emmy-worthy—but under the best of circumstances, this is the kind of teamwork where the whole is truly better than the sum of its parts.

Another advantage of how television shows are written compared to what we see all too often with cinematic screenwriting has to do with where the final decision-making lies. In television, this lies most commonly with the head writer. Though the network can still exert some power over the finished product, creative control rests substantially in the hands of a member of the writing team itself as opposed to, for example, producers, directors, or cast.

In contrast, responsibility for the final script is not so easily delineated in film. Directors wield a great deal more control, and their creative decisions may be superseded by various others, many of whom have a direct monetary stake in the project: producers, the studio, and even the studio’s financial concerns. A studio today considering a writing staff model would do well to examine contemporary television practice and not just the writers room system of yore.

Among the priorities held by studios that once incorporated this system were speed and the streamlining of the writing process. The more scripts the writers could churn out, the more blockbusters could be produced, with all contracted parties—in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes—ready and waiting to perform whatever work the studio had for them.

It would be easy to dismiss this conveyor belt method for apparently valuing quantity over quality, but television staff writing reflects that resourcefulness, more so than the modern film industry with its characteristic serial contributor approach, while still managing to put out some quality material.

Hollywood, furthermore, does not actually lack its own brand of expediency in writers and writing. The metaphor here, though, is less a conveyor belt and more a revolving door. Sheer speed of output is, then, neither a problem inherent to collaborative writing nor, necessarily, a problem at all.

What was wrong with a system that employed the writers room model, rather, can apply to any structural arrangement, any medium, any group at a whiteboard or individual at a laptop. It is what happens when writers aren’t encouraged to work up to their potential and actually create the kind of high-caliber screenplays they probably entered the industry hoping to create.

An emphasis on the end result, in which the writers’ primary responsibility is to adhere to a set of requirements assigned to them, differs notably from an emphasis on quality, in which putting together a good product is permitted to trump those predetermined specifications.

When it comes to making better films at the screenplay level, what kind of system a studio utilizes for employing writers—that is, whether it is in the writers room mold or otherwise—is secondary to where the focus lies in the writing itself. Put simply, the important factor toward producing quality pictures is not to sacrifice quality.

  • Why does Hollywood make a SiFi way into the future or especially when a alien craft has communication and show interference on their screen? U would think the far advanced aliens would not have interference on their video screen. Don’t blame it on the audience sake either. Also when covert operations of some kind and the people touch their hearing device to show they are hearing something. That’s stupid. If anything just show a quick close up of the person’s profile with the hearing device and that’s it! Come on the audience has seen plenty of movies to know that it’s a hearing device the actors are listening to.

    M rosasOctober 8, 2012 4:20 pm

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