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SE2 D234: Inside the Room

Today’s session of Inside the Room, a mock writer’s room workshop sponsored by REJ Entertainment, proved to be quite rewarding. It was not without its difficulties, however.

Over the past six weeks, I have been in attendance to this workshop developing a scripted TV series called Below The Fold. The story follows Bobbi Sinclair, a cub reporter for a down-on-its-luck paper in Florida, who finds her life in danger after covering the suicide of a US Senator and falling down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and terrorist plots that threaten to undermine the US government.

Each week, the writers in the workshop ‘pitch’ their story with the other writers offering suggestions and critiques, much as one would experience in a real writers room. When I signed up for the workshop, I was expecting more writing, but the class is centered around the pitch and how the various writers interact and collaborate to develop the story before a single word is put to paper. What makes the program particularly appealing is the addition of a working writer from a current series joining the group to add his/her input.

The first week focused on the overall story with subsequent weeks focusing more specifically on tone, characters or setting. Since you are pitching the same story each week, it is fascinating to see how the story changes and the confidence the writers develop in presenting their pitches. That first week pitches were 10 – 15 minutes long, but as we near the end of the program, most pitches are now coming in at 3- 5 very tight minutes.

The last two sessions of the workshop are devoted, finally, to writing. Writers bring in the teaser to their series, and the group reads the script aloud as would happen in one of the regular workshops I attend. My teaser was presented this week with our guest writer coming from the staff of NBC’s This Is Us.

There was a lot of nervous tension in the air as this would be the first time some of these writers would ever hear their work out loud. The tension broke with the first script, and we finally got to meet the characters we’ve heard about for so long. As to be expected, there were varying degrees of quality to the writing. The work put in by the writers over the last couple weeks definitely showed, but developing character traits and potential plot points in the abstract is decidedly different than putting words in the characters mouths. Some did it better than others, but no one flopped.

Of particular note was the script presented by one writer whose story revolves around the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of a kid’s television show. It was funny, fast paced and set up the premise, characters, and stakes in just three pages. It was a well-crafted piece.

As for my efforts, I bobbled my initial pitch. I had written a new version but was not adequately prepared to present it. It was rambling, offered too many details and became a bit incoherent. Luckily, my teaser offered redemption. I had previously brought the teaser and the first act into Thursday night’s Rewrites Workshop and received great comments, so I felt confident in the script. As happened at Rewrites, the script was received very positively. In fact, I was the only writer to receive applause following the reading.

Okay, so it was just one person applauding, but that one person happened to be the guest writer from This Is Us. I’ll take that compliment and run with it. Still, despite the positive reception of Below the Fold, it’s obvious I need to work on my pitching skills.

My confidence received another boost at the conclusion of the workshop when the writer from This Is Us approached both myself and the writer of the above-mentioned sitcom about submitting our completed scripts to her. That is perhaps the greatest compliment of all. We are repeatedly told that we must hook the reader, whether it’s an agent, a producer or director, in the first ten pages or they will move on to another script. In this instance, we did it in roughly three pages. And to come out of this experience with a connection like that makes it all worthwhile.

On a sad note, however, we had two no-shows for the group. The one I expected. That particular writer has been struggling somewhat with his story. In fact, there hasn’t been much of a story, just premise. He has an intriguing idea but hasn’t been able to figure out where or what the conflict is to his story. He’s tried a couple of different approaches but hasn’t been able to get past the premise.

His frustrations began to show two weeks ago, and last week, he finally threw his hands up in resignation and declared he didn’t know what to do since nobody seemed to like his story. I don’t think it’s that no one liked his story, we just aren’t sure what that story is at this point.

I was concerned he might not come back this week, and true to prediction, he did not. It takes a thick skin to work in this business and criticisms can often seem personal when they are not. I’m hoping he’ll come back next week with his teaser and see the workshop through to the end. But if he can’t take constructive criticism in a supportive environment like Inside the Room, he’ll struggle mightily in the real world.

If you’re interested in finding out more about REJ Entertainment's Inside the Room workshops, you can find them on the web by clicking here.

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