As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the use of virtual writers’ rooms seems to be the new normal for the foreseeable future. These obviously have their limitations and have presented a number of challenges for our members. In an effort to make virtual writers’ rooms as effective and staff-friendly as possible, the Guild leadership recently reached out to a number of showrunners to determine best practices. This list is by no means exhaustive but it does represent their common best practices.
- Establish practices early on that minimize Zoom fatigue and increase productivity.
- Address challenges of technology and ask your studio to provide software and equipment to make rooms run more smoothly.
- Be aware of and take steps to improve writer morale during this challenging time.
- Don’t be surprised if the entire breaking and writing process in a Zoom room moves a bit more slowly than it would in an actual writers’ room.
- Encourage writers to create a productive workspace and make sure they have the equipment they need including computer monitors and software, wireless headphones an ergonomic office chair etc. The studio should reimburse writers for reasonable expenses for necessary equipment.
- Determine the role of writers’ assistants and support staff before the room starts.
- Consider flexible room hours and provide regular and frequent breaks.
- Ask an assistant to initiate regular 10-minute breaks during room hours for people to stretch, walk around or take care of personal business.
- Some SRs have found a longer lunch break increases productivity in the afternoon.
- Some working parents might be without childcare during this time, so try to make reasonable accommodations, if possible.
- To get the most out of room time, come prepared with specific tasks to help writers stay focused and increase morale. Open-ended conversations are more difficult to have on Zoom.
- Consider breaking into smaller groups or giving writers individual assignments. This may help inexperienced writers or writers who tend to be quiet participate more.
- Because writers who tend to be quiet in the room may withdraw even more on Zoom, try to make a more conscious effort to call on writers to participate.
- When it comes to pitching, writers can signal through a wave or other hand gesture that they would like to talk or pitch, or they can text you or write in the comments section.
- Consider allowing writers to turn their screens off and listen from time to time if they need a visual break.
- Because showrunners are always in the room, consider allowing an occasional afternoon off to give yourself time to catch up on other work.
- To maintain morale, check-in with writers both as a group and individually to see how they’re doing. You might want to do this at the beginning of every call and/or through one-on-one meetings with individual writers.
- Be cognizant that everyone deals with stress differently. Offer some flexibility if writers need to take personal time.
- Create opportunities for writers to socialize. (e.g. send cakes to writers’ homes for their birthdays, have virtual drinks together after the work day etc.)
- Writers Room Pro software developed by writers and recommended by several showrunners. It has a whiteboard and beat sheets and it’s similar to google docs in that everyone can work in it.
- Final Draft software has a collaboration feature that allows writers to view and search through any part of the script while others are in it, as well as write in it. It tends to work better if fewer people are writing in it at the same time. It also requires a new code each time it’s opened.
- Zoom has a screen share, so whoever is handling the document can bring it up and type in it and everyone can see it. Zoom also allows you to create separate zoom rooms like office spaces. For example, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has three rooms that writers can enter and exit throughout the day as needed.
- Google Docs allows people to write and edit in a shared document.
- Some showrunners also recommend the white board app Miro.
- A Second Monitor can be beneficial to showrunners. The room can be on one monitor and your document on the other.