SCREENWRITING: Be a Self-Starter but Seek Advice – A paradox exists in the writers’ room

by Neil Landau

A paradox exists in the writers’ room. You need to absorb information and find your own way through observing how other people behave in the room, reading draft after draft to see how they evolve and come up from that early writer’s draft through network notes and the process of refinement. If you get an opportunity to go on a location scout or to sit in on a music spotting, color correction or editing session, take advantage of it. Just sit there and absorb.

You also have to be smart, politically savvy and diplomatic enough to know when to keep your mouth shut and when to open it. You need to learn not only how to write for a given show, but also how to read a room. One option is to say, “I take it that I’m here to observe and learn. If you’d like me to participate, please let me know. Tell me what’s appropriate.” That’s a good question to ask on staff, because if you just assume things, you can alienate people and commit career suicide without even being aware that you’ve done anything wrong. Ideally, mentorship should naturally emerge in a writers’ room from a hierarchy. It behooves them and the show for the more seasoned people to take the new writers under their wings and mentor and explain things to them. On some shows, in some writers’ rooms, that does happen. But often people have their own scripts to write, their own problems, personal lives and multiple projects. You’re not necessarily a responsibility they want. They want you to come in, be low maintenance, fend for yourself, not get in the way and be a professional. That means being a proactive yet humble listener and learner.

An edited excerpt from Neil Landau’s latest book TV Writing on Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Age (Focal Press, 2018), https://studentfilmmakersstore.com/products/tv-writing-on-demand-creating-great-content-in-the-digital-era-1st-edition

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