Welcome to CHAT & CHOW: a Q&A series. My one request for a writer who agrees to participate — the person has to either a) meet me at a food truck or b) have boba with me.
Today’s guests, writing team Erin Maher and Kay Reindl.
Kay: “It’s not a writing team unless there’s a phaser stand-off.”
I met up with Erin and Kay for some food truck goodness to learn more about their latest project THE PATH, now up at IdeaBOOST.
The cool thing about IdeaBoost is how fans show support for a creator/creators’ project: not by giving money, but by giving VOTES. Votes are calculated through tweets, likes and boosts. The projects with the most boosts make it to the next round. And if you’ve seen the 60 second trailer for The Path then you know this project needs to make it to the next round.
Because The Path is described as a transmedia experience, I asked Erin and Kay what that means for the audience as well as what it means for them as the storytellers.
Erin: The transmedia project at IdeaBoost gives us a chance to work on something and get potential audience feedback along the way. It’s sort of turning your potential audience into your network/studio; they get to let you know what THEY want to see, and we get to interpret that creatively and bring them something that they can be a real part of. We did something like this on the show BAR KARMA for Current TV; on that show, the user base actually voted on stories that they wanted to see, and the writers turned those stories into actual scripts that could be shot and broadcast. With “The Path”, the audience gets to be in on the series from the very beginning, and contribute in even more creative ways.
Kay: We haven’t been involved in any digital projects yet but I’m convinced it’s going to be the primary driving force in storytelling. It may take awhile and it will evolve a lot, but that’s where we are headed. I think the primary advantage for storytellers is that it’s a new model, in that there is more immediacy. We are going to be more connected to the fanbase and there’s going to be a more natural give and take than there is in network television. Built into this project is the idea that the fans can get creative with the show and I like the promise that the gulf between the creators and the fans will be lessened. If we do get to make the show, it’ll be great for us as creators to see how we can use the digital platform to make our show more immersive and inclusive.
THE Q & A
1. When do you like to write?
EM: I prefer writing either in the very early mornings, or the very late evenings/night. I have a hard time writing in the afternoons; I tend to run out of steam then and need to take a break and re-energize.
KR: I like to start around 10 AM and write for a few hours, take a break, then keep going. I have almost convinced myself that I’m super disciplined. This is a lie. When I’m actually writing dialogue and script stuff, I can go much longer than when I’m brainstorming or writing up outlines. I’d rather just write, frankly.
2. When do you actually GET to write?
EM: At the moment, WHENEVER I WANT! And at the moment it seems that the late nights are when I get things done.
KR: I pretty much get to write whenever, which sounds awesome, but isn’t!
3. One of the benefits of having a writing partner is having someone to bounce ideas off of — what’s an unexpected benefit of having one?
EM: An unexpected benefit of having a writing partner is that you always have someone to exchange those “this is weird, right?” looks with when something goes pear-shaped in the writers room… and you also have a shorthand that makes it faster when you want to communicate an idea or ask for feedback on something.
KR: When you’re in the writer’s room and you get a strange feeling about something, look at your writing partner, and see that she caught it, too. Also, a writing partner is someone who is going through the exact same thing professionally as you are. That can be invaluable in our business, which can be pretty isolating.
4. Every person has a unique “breaking in” story. Can you single out a sliding doors moment you feel would’ve taken your career in a different direction had it happened the other way?
EM: Kay should tell you our breaking in story if she hasn’t already… although I wouldn’t recommend any other writer try it that way. Also, if she does tell it, I would like to remind people that at the time that happened, we had already been writing together for some time and had scripts to show; you can’t get discovered at Schwab’s if you don’t have the goods.
KR: There are a lot! It really involves a chain of people and chance meetings, like passing a restaurant where a friend asked, on the spur of the moment, if I wanted to go to an awards show, where I met Glen Morgan, and then afterwards we got on Millennium. I always remember that as the perfect coincidence.
5. When reading someone’s script, what’s the main thing that turns you off or keeps you from finishing it?
EM: It’s probably opening a script and seeing a huge block of text that’s nothing but description. Your heart sinks, because you realize that someone thinks he’s writing a novel, and it’s going to be slow going (with rare exceptions, of course.) Aside from that, and this will sound weird, the mark of an unskilled writer is often… restaurant scenes. For some reason, every writer who’s starting out has at least one long scene in a restaurant that involves everyone ordering their food in great detail. One of the most valuable things we learned on our first job is to start a scene as LATE in the scene as possible; don’t show someone walking into a room, don’t show someone ordering pasta unless there’s something really important/significant/humorous about that moment, and just get to the point of the scene as soon as you can. I think those long moments of dithering/not getting to the point are signs of a writer who needs to improve his/her skills.
And the other thing: it’s easy now to do research on these things. Learn proper script format, and use it.
KR: Lack of voice. Story problems can be fixed. The lack of a voice is, to me, almost impossible to overcome. But that is just for me when I’m reading, especially for writing competitions. Imagine how many scripts agents, producers and executives read every week. Triple that. You have to be able to stand out, and an original voice is the way to do that. Also, please for the love of God, don’t open your script with two solid pages of backstory on the sixth galactic winter. And don’t use pictures. Also only use two brads (a joke from back when we had to physically hand people scripts that had been printed on actual paper).
6. What’s the biggest rookie mistake you see writers in the room make?
EM: We’re all passionate about our storytelling, but remember when you’re working on your first show, you’re working for the showrunner/studio/network. You are there to please them, even when they’re taking out the best line of dialogue you’ve ever written in your life. Roll with it. And when you get your own show, you can put that line of dialogue back in. It is not the end of the world. Make your pitch ONCE, and if it’s dismissed, give in gracefully. (I know it’s hard when you’re just starting out and you’re REALLY emotionally invested in your first script and suddenly your favorite thing is gone. It happens. Sometimes it’s budget. You have to live with it. It’s TV, Jake.)
Also, for male rookies: a male staff writer in his very first job does not outrank a female producer. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people forget that/ignore it/not care.
KR: Oh, constant naysayer, please stop derailing stories just because they are not how you would write them! Seriously, if you don’t have anything constructive, if all you are doing is saying you don’t like things, then we agree not likely to get along.
7. Your advice to writers in 3 words.
EM: READ. LISTEN. WRITE.
KR: Write another script.
8. Multiple choice - Because writing teams have been compared to marriages, I decided to ask them a multiple choice question ala “Newlywed Game”:
Your partner is opening a store at the mall. What type of store is it?
a) Pet supply store
b) Coffee shop
c) Book store
Kay’s answer for Erin: c) book store
Erin’s answer for Kay: b) coffee shop
They were both correct.
To give The Path a BOOST: Go here. (Seriously, go. Tweet. Like. Boost)
You can also get updates from Kay’s blog here.