When seven Emmy-nominated writers gathered to talk about their careers, storylines and television, the evening was, well, sublime.
(October 3, 2013)
Photo: Michael Jones
Sublime Primetime panelists (L-R) Richard LaGravenese, Lizzie Molyneux, Wendy Molyneux, Greg Daniels, Larry Wilmore (moderator), Kevin Bleyer, Erica Oyama and George Mastras.
The challenge of writing Behind the Candelabra, explained Richard LaGravenese, was making Liberace's larger-than-life persona seem real and capturing the love story between the showman and his “assistant” Scott Thorson. When no studio would touch the project, LaGravenese found a home at HBO, where he happily recounts getting practically no notes from executives. It was the screenwriter's first foray into television, and the experience was so positive that he’s now creating his own series. By the way, Candelabra took home 11 Emmys this year.
LaGravenese, along with the six other Emmy-nominated writers who sat on the panel of this year’s Sublime Primetime – co-presented by the WGAW and the Writers Guild Foundation - were a testament to the robust state of television today and the rich opportunities for writers at a time when moviemaking is constricting. From Breaking Bad’s George Mastras and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s Kevin Bleyer to Greg Daniels (The Office), Erica Oyama (Burning Love), Lizzie Molyneux and Wendy Molyneux (Bob’s Burgers) and moderator Larry Wilmore (The Bernie Mac Show) the conversation more than delivered on WGAW Vice President Howard A. Rodman’s opening promise that the audience would be “hearing what they (the panelists) have to say about what they do best.”
The conversation offered a trenchant look at the sometimes-circuitous routes taken by these writers in their respective careers. Mastras was a burned-out defense attorney living in Los Angeles when he quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to China and wrote spec scripts for two years before winning the ABC/Disney’s writing fellowship and launching into TV writing. An actress by trade, Oyama’s obsession with reality shows developed while at home with her infant daughter and was the inspiration for her reality web parody, Burning Love. Bleyer hankered to be a journalist and war correspondent, but ended up writing for Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and eventually The Daily Show which, he jokingly says, makes him “something of a war correspondent.”
In fact, the ethos of The Daily Show is not unlike that of a newsroom, with the lineup of news stories sometimes revamped just minutes before the show goes live. On the other hand, the storylines for Bob’s Burgers, an animated family show, often come from the unconscious of the writers. Panelist Wendy Molyneux, for example, explained how her own dream about a toilet evolved into an episode on the series about an ET-like toilet. To authentically capture Walter White’s world on Breaking Bad, Mastras said writers visited a DEA meth lab in Dallas. And Daniels confessed to having worked out the final episode of The Office four years before the series ended.
These kinds of tidbits were a window onto what the creative process is like for writers at the top of their game. But while the Sublime Primetime panelists are all masters at their craft, their advice for aspiring writers came from experience: Write a lot of spec scripts. Know form and structure. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. And from Daniels, who shared the most personal insight into how he learned to write for television --- transcribe episodes of shows line by line in script form.
Sublime Primetime Photo Gallery
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