On Saturday I’m off to York to catch some Shakespeare in the park, performed in part by a few friends and collaborators. Hopefully it’ll be a little breezier than the last time I saw one of Bill’s works, a 3-hour rendition of The Merry Wives of Windsor that required at least two toilet trips during the performance.
On Sunday I and the aforementioned friends will gather to read through the scripts for the next series of I Am Tim, that horror-comedy web series you may have seen me talk about and that I help out on. Previously having done sound recording and script supervising on the first-season-recut-and-reshot-as-a-movie, I was promoted to plotter and co-writer for series 3, which is the web series equivalent of watching the first two seasons of Buffy as they air and then being asked to hop aboard for the next.
My collaborators are Jamie McKeller – creator, director and Helsing Prime – and James Rotchell – Tim II. (Yes, they both play the main character. Confused? Good. Go watch the series.)
Our writing process is somewhat similar to the yanks’ version: all the writers get together in a room to decide where they want the story to go this season, having a few arguments about who should die, who should turn gay and which actor should get more screentime because they promised the director sexual favours, then beating the plot into a shape that resembles a watchable story and divvying up the episodes between the writers.
They then scurry off to write drafts of those episodes (ours thankfully average at 8-10 minutes as opposed to your regular 22 or 42-minute TV show) and return with said drafts to have them torn to shreds by the other writers, at which point the original scribes will head back to redraft and polish or another will take an episode off their plate if it’s being problematic.
Rinse and repeat until delicious web-delivered content is in your sweaty, donut-covered mitts.
Please bear in mind that this is a fairly simplified version of my understanding of how a normal US TV show is written. Obviously every writer has a different method, and each team will have their own procedures and quirks, but that’s what experience leads me to believe goes on in those concrete basements with no windows or doors.
For all I know, they could just be telling each other jokes. Hell, from what I’ve heard about most sitcoms, that actually is what happens, each writer trying to one-up the others’ jokes until they have a bulletproof script. It would certainly explain why most British sitcoms are about as funny as roadkill – production companies can only afford one writer, and have you ever tried bouncing ideas off yourself?
Of course, all that sounds fairly sensible and streamlined, and that we know what we’re doing. Which is clearly ludicrous in our case. Especially the last part.
Crossed wires, awkward conversations about character motivations, fluffed deadlines, semi-serious discussions about racism and scripts passed around like the proverbial town bike. That’s a fairly concise summary of what our writing process has really been like. But it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing something so far.
The thing about coming onto a series that you’ve previously been a fan of is that you can see it more objectively than the people who were on it at the start. Or, rather, your subjective view as a fan is incredibly valuable when considering how an audience is going to receive an episode.
There have been character quirks I’ve noticed and been able to implement into my episodes, and even at the plotting stage I was able to contribute how myself ‘as a viewer’ would react to the events unfolding, and modify them for the better accordingly.
One of my favourite things about writing this show is that I get to put lines in the mouths of characters I’ve grown to love from watching them, and knowing that you’re getting their voices right – having two other writers peering over your shoulder to ensure you don’t fuck up – is alternately wonderful and terrifying.
It’s been a while – a month or two – since I actually ‘wrote’ anything for Tim, but all the scripts are now in and we’re starting to gear up to prepare to ready ourselves to shoot the new series later this year, so a quick tidy up of my episodes before the readthrough to polish dialogue and add jokes/pathos seemed appropriate.
It got me all excited again.
Oh, and speaking of the readthroughs? They may possibly be the funnest part. If you ever involve yourself in any scripted production with a lot of jokes, get yourself in on the table reads, because chances are you’ll have a blast with some awesome actors, and putting your own spin on a beloved character is always ripe for hilarity.
And if we have that much fun just reading some words on paper, just imagine how great the actual series is gonna be.
I can’t wait for you guys to see it.