“The writers’ room is a tested formula for making good television,” he says. “The auteur model doesn’t work as well for television. It’s hard for one person to keep the story in their head for that many episodes. It’s better as a collaborative process. Collaborating with other writers gets you a better product.”
- David H. Steinberg, TV writer (in response to the WGA strike)
I was reading the Variety article on the strike of the Writers Guild of America that began one week ago. One of the changes that has been occurring in modern day television is that fewer writers are being hired and for shorter periods of time. It used to be that about a dozen writers were hired for a full 40 weeks. Now TV series are producing fewer episodes per season, and the number of folks in the writers' room has dwindled. Being there for 40 weeks also meant that the writers got to be there for the majority of the season. They were present for pre-production, as well as production itself. They got to feed off the process, learn from it, and be a part of the whole. Today's writers' rooms sound more like my lesson on writing succinct scenes: get in, do what you need to do, and get out.
So the above quote by Steinberg, who was a writer on Netflix's “No Good Nick", started me thinking about the advantages of collaboration. Sure, collaboration is more widely used in television than in feature writing, but it's helpful to use in all mediums, genres, and frankly, industries and personal lives.
I may have told you this story before, so forgive me if I have, but I made a collaboration error when I produced one of my plays in Los Angeles. The error I made was in not collaborating with other artists. I produced and directed a play I wrote. I didn't have an assistant director, or a co-producer, or even trusted friends to come and see it before opening night. Honestly, this wasn't out of ego, or need for control. It was simply because I couldn't pay anyone to come work on it, and I didn't want to hit up my friends. And honestly, I didn't really give it much thought. But after Backstage West came and reviewed my play with a recently sharpened scalpel, I realized I should have had another set of eyes on the production. To get more specific, I directed one of my actors to do a lot of yelling on stage, which was appropriate for the character. Unfortunately, it gave the reviewer a headache. And he wrote in his review that the whole play gave him a headache. At the very least, had I had another set of eyes on it, perhaps someone would have told me I need to help the actor find more levels in his performance. Needless to say, the actor blamed me. And he wasn't wrong.
Collaboration can be found in lots of different ways. Here's a little list of ways you can find collaboration in your work:
Get a writing partner.
Ask a trusted friend (who knows the craft) to critique your work.
Host a reading with actors who can give you their opinion afterwards.
Use a creative assistant director, if you're producing the play or movie yourself.
Hire someone to edit your script or manuscript after you're done.
But most of all, be open to what others have to say. Sometimes they're wrong. But usually, they have an important point they're making, and your work would only benefit from utilizing it and incorporating it into your work.