Troy DeVolld tells us what TV credits really mean

exec prod Troy

Understanding Credits
by Troy DeVolld

Prompted by a recent discussion with Andy Dehnart at realityblurred.com, here’s the key to understanding credits in reality television:  Stop trying to make sense of them and start relying on context in relationship to the credits as a whole if you want to understand who’s who.

When you see nine Executive Producers listed on a show, a few could be network execs overseeing the show, a few could be owners or execs at the production company, and still others could be showrunners or even talent and their managers.

The difference between a Co-Executive Producer and a Supervising Producer? Sometimes none.  A show may have one or the other or both (in which case the Supervising Producer is likely supporting the Co-EP), and each title can stand without the other.  I’m aware of a few companies that don’t issue Co-EP credits for some reason, so the Supervising Producer is overseeing some part of production and/or post and reporting to an EP.

The difference between a Story Editor and a Story Producer?  Whatever the company decides to call the members of its story team.  In cases where both titles exist on a show, the Story Producer title is likely reserved for the more experienced / senior of the two.

There’s also the Senior Story Editor or Senior Story Producer title, which denotes senior members of the story team in field or post.  A Supervising Story Producer, when one is titled, oversees the story team and reports to either a Supervising Producer, Co-EP, or directly to the EP if there is no Supervising Story Producer or Co-EP on the show.

Remember that experienced writers on traditionally covered scripted shows can often negotiate a producer credit based on experience and seniority on the show. Screenwriter John August explains all of that here.

In short, it’s all negotiable.


Troy DeVolld is a longtime LB buddy and one of the masters of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Recipe for Getting Ideas

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by Lew Ritter

One of the most asked questions that most new writers ask is ” Where do you get ideas for your scripts?” The answer is simple, but often elusive. They come from out of the blue. Ideas are all around us like air. The important thing is to be aware of them.

First you add : READING

I wanted to write a police procedural spec script. Where would I get the ideas? Every city has a tabloid newspaper like the New York Daily News or New York Post. Scanning these tabloids can provide dozens of juicy conflict situations that are fodder for a script. An Iraq War veteran not getting appropriate care from his local V.A hospital. A politician going to jail for embezzling money. A neighbor who was abducted as a child and now has reunited with loved ones. Any situation where people are in conflict can be the basis for a story.

Stir in : OBSERVATION

Sometimes just being aware of a situation can provide the start of a story. You are rushing to catch a flight. You rush into the terminal and spot a large line waiting to get through security. Maybe you see a person being taken aside by TSA and wonder why. Could this moment be the beginning of a potential terrorist script?

Stir in: THE WHAT IF? GAME

What if such and such happened? Why did it happen, or what would happen after that? According to screenwriting legend Sylvester Stallone watched the fight between a relative unknown fighter and a heavyweight champion. From that observation, he was inspired to create the story of ROCKY. He has used that one situation for five or six sequels and become wealthy and world famous. We should all be that lucky or observant.

A few years ago, I was taking a boat trip aboard the NY Circle Line. It is a pleasure boat that circles the island for three hours. As we cruised around the island, I realized that Manhattan was a very large piece of real estate. It was not all skyscrapers. The Northern tip of the island contains some forested areas. As I stared up at the midtown, I thought, what if someone owned all or even part of the island of Manhattan? They would be wealthy beyond belief. What if someone unearthed an unknown deed to the island?

 

One day I as I was taking a walk I saw a group of young girls playing an innocent game of hopscotch. What if I’d paid more attention and perhaps heard that what they were saying wasn’t as innocent as what they were doing. What if they were spawns of the devil? Voila, the basis for horror script.

Stir In: EXPERIENCE

A few years ago, I was hired to teach at an elementary school in a tough urban school district. Dealing with many of the students on an on-going basis was downright unnerving. At the end of the year, I was relieved when I was not rehired due to budget cuts, but I was inspired to do what every good writer does. I made it the basis of a script about problem students that I’m still fiddling with as a potential TV pilot.

CONCLUSION

It’s like a good recipe for a cake. Take the incident and figure out how you can embellish it. Sometimes, the dough will rise and you have a juicy story or script. Other times, the recipe will fall flat and be tasteless. Discover which it is by letting the idea marinate in the back of your mind. Give it the time it needs to become a really fine entree…or a great script.

What do your characters really, really, really want?

A casual but very important lesson in writing for the screen, whether that screen is big, small, or, you know, even smaller, from one of TV’s comedy writing masters:

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by Earl Pomerantz

A while back, I mentioned the primary lesson I learned while attending “The Actors’ Workshop”, which I later applied – when I remembered to – to my writing.

The lesson involved the actor’s pre-determination of their character’s “intention.”  Before you begin, if you first identify your character’s – or characters’ if you are writing or playing numerous parts – intention, articulated in a single, declarative sentence, you are productively off to the races – completing the horseracing analogy – right from the starting gate.

It turns out there is another equally important lesson, which I was reminded of when I saw Brooklyn, which I enjoyed primarily for its writing.  (Although less so for its directing, which seemed disservicingly sanitized.)

The screenplay for Brooklyn, based on a novel by Colin Toibin, was written by novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity and About A Boy, to name just two, both of them made into enjoyable movies.)

The lesson I was reminded of watching Brooklyn – and I do not recall for certain where I originally learned it – was…

Listen.

This directive seems obvious in acting since, at the very least, unless it’s a Howard Hawks movie, the actor has to listen for the other actor to stop talking before they begin talking.  Otherwise, the audience will be unable to understand what either of them is saying.

But listening, for actors, means more than just waiting for your theirto speak.  It involves listening, to interpret the words they are hearing’s underlying intent.  It helps a lot if the script’s dialogue, rather than saying it all, leaves actors something to interpret.

And in Brooklyn, it does….

Read it all at Earl Pomerantz’s blog

THE ELEVEN LAWS OF SHOWRUNNING

The following analysis of television showrunners and how they operate, for better and for worse, has been making the interweb rounds. It’s a hell of an educational read, and we’re pleased to jump on the bandwagon with important info. (But if you think this TVWriter™ minion’s going to include his name here and get blackballed by all the VIPs who think this is about them, welp, no way, dudes!)

Check it out, gang. A perfect running shoe...erm, show...oh, wait. Crap....

Check it out, gang. A perfect running shoe…erm, show…oh, wait. Crap….

by Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Upon finding this essay, any number of showrunners with whom Ihave worked in the past will assume it is a personal attack inthe language of a management lesson. No matter that what followsis a distillation twenty years of experience – and has been inthe works since I ran my first show,  The Middleman.

I expect to be excoriated by some who will believe I am writing out of envy,or to avenge some perceived slight, or was just too cowardly to say it to their faces. It takes that level of ego to be a television writer/producer: the conviction that what you have to say matters so much that it is worth not only mastering the tropes of an entire medium, but also the risk that all the intermediaries required to create the finished product will ruin it all with some fatal blend of incomprehension, or incompetence.

For many, the undeniable triumph that is pitching a series idea,having a pilot ordered, successfully producing it, and then having it ordered to series is nothing less than a validation: not only of their voice and talent, but also their Way of DoingThings. This often translates to an intractable adherence to the notion that “my creative process” is so of the essence that all other concerns must be made subordinate lest the delicate alchemy that made success possible be snuffed. This often leads to incompetent and – whether through ignorance or ego – abusive senior management.

I’m not talking about “the lack of experienced showrunners” currently written about in industry publications, but rather that the management culture of television shows as represented by both experienced and novitiate showrunners is beset by a cult of idiosyncrasy overprofessionalism, and tolerance of toxic behavior; all enabled by the exigencies of getting the show on-air, and keeping it thereby any means necessary.

This is exacerbated by there only being two sins for which a showrunner pays with a pink slip: wasting time and squandering money. However, these contingencies are amply prepared for in studio plans and budgets; and an entire army of dedicated professionals stands beneath the showrunner day in and out to ensure neither occurs….

Read it all at Scribd

TV Writer-Playwright writes a play about writing TV

If TVWriter™ had a series called “Getting There,” or maybe “Making It,” this is exactly the kind of informative as all hell post you’d see from us:

Tanya Saracho Has No Plans to ‘Fade’ Away
by Rob Weinert-Kendt

TANYA SARACHO THE KILROYS ©ELISABETH CAREN 2015

Tanya Saracho 

In less than a decade, playwright Tanya Saracho has skyrocketed from Chicago storefront theatresto that city’s and the nation’s mainstages, and then quickly to a television career in Los Angeles, where her credits include “Devious Maids,” “Looking,” and the current Shonda Rhimes hit “How to Get Away With Murder.” Saracho’s recent stage credits have included The Tenth Muse at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Mala Hierba at New York City’s Second Stage Theatre. Currently running:Fade at Denver Center Theatre Company, Feb. 5-March 13.

It’s been a while since we spoke. You’re like a superstar now.
No, sir, that’s not true.

You’re doing well, though.
Doing well is different than being a superstar. I’m in a town full of superstars and I feel like such a hag. I mean, in L.A. you meet a 29-year-old who’s already had two development deals and is working on a movie, and you’re like: Why did I get started so late? I spend a lot of time thinking: God, I don’t get it! The inner monologue you have every day—that’s the exhausting part. I can see why people jump off bridges. That may sound extreme, but at the beginning, I was on the phone with my agent saying, “Get me off this show, get me on a plane back to Chicago, I’m the worst one here.” He had to play therapist for me. I was like, “I’m a fraud,” and he said, “Let me let you in on a secret: Everyone here has that fraud syndrome. Everyone. Just go back to work.”

There’s been a learning curve, obviously, but you seem to have picked it up quickly.
It’s like a video game: I achieved Level One, and there’s brrrring sound, and you get more guns—a little bit more in your armory. I’m well into Year Three. But it’s like, outlines still stress me out. I don’t write outlines when I write a play. I just light a candle, put on some incense and go! But first of all, you can’t have a candle in your office here, and also they’re like, “You have an hour!” I’m like, “But I need to pray to my muse…”

And everything has to be vetted at every stage. So I couldn’t see the alchemy here at first, like you have in the theatre, where something goes from words on the page and actors and designers take it and make it something onstage, and there’s a magic you can’t explain. But there is alchemy here too, especially in the reach. That was something I was not prepared for. It’s even more than film. Especially on “Looking,” where I had more agency to shape characters and I was on an episode—more people watched that one episode than have seen all my plays combined. Memes started happening, and it wasn’t just that there were memes; it was that people were listening. Suddenly you’re like, Oh, shoot, you have a responsibility in what you’re saying….

Read it all at American Theatre

8 Ways Studying Improv Will Make You a Better Comedy Writer

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we're playing it by ear here.

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we’re playing it by ear here.

by Erica Lies

Recently, it’s become a common adage — almost to the point of cliché — that if you want to be in entertainment, you should take improv classes. They’re recommended for a variety of benefits like networking or how they’ll teach you to think fast on your feet and be flexible. And improvising has become increasingly popular even for the regular folk, whether it’s for better communication or just feeling comfortable in front of a crowd.

But for writers who aren’t interested in performing, there’s more direct and obvious upside to studying improv: it’ll make you a better comedy writer. Yeah yeah, big shock that practicing comedy makes you better at it, but improv is often overlooked in favor of sketch precisely for those seeking writing skills.

I’ve been improvising for the last ten years, and busting my chops with various teams in front of both large and tiny audiences certainly helped me get up to speed with television writing much faster than I would have otherwise. Sure, improv gets a terrible reputation for being hokey and forced, and it’s been mocked everywhere from The Office to Broad City to You’re the Worst. But learning to do it well will give you secret ninja comedy prowess. Here’s a few of the skills you’ll pick up that are valuable to a comedy writer:

1. How to hold onto your material very lightly

Revising and editing scenes you’ve labored over can be so painful—really, that scene that took me two hours to write, I have to cut it and all my amazing jokes? But doing scene after scene in an improv rehearsal will teach you that for every scene that doesn’t totally work, there’s four more that can be conjured just as easily. Improvising taught me to love cutting out what’s unnecessary or what doesn’t work. I know there’s always more where it came from, and if those new scenes don’t work, I’m happy to cut them, too.

2. How to write efficient dialogue

To that end, improv will also train you to move scenes further faster. There’s a whole lotta rules you learn when first start out improvising, and in addition to the rule of “Yes, and,” an especially helpful one for writers is labeling your who, what, and where in the first few lines of a scene. You’ll also learn to use fewer but more specific words, because specificity creates humor. There’s no being wishy-washiness in the best improv, only statements that move the scene forward because they’re packed with information, much like a good script. In this way, practicing improv also teaches you to clearly communicate your idea or premise. The faster you can get on the same page with your partner onstage, the quicker you can start being funny, but without that base reality to play against, nothing stands out as unusual.

3. It’ll help your exposition sound less like exposition

Doing any screenwriting, whether it’s film or tv, ruins watching both, and for me, the worst is hearing clunky exposition delivered at the top of either. But of course, making exposition flow and sound natural in your own writing is tough, and that’s where improv comes in. Doing scene work repeatedly will teach you how story points sound when they’re delivered with more importance than simply the writer’s need to explain, and you’ll learn how to sound like a human being while portraying a high stakes prison break or how backstory can be suggested with simply a line or two.

4. How to recognize the unusual

Every school of improv has a slightly different approach to what’s referred to as “game,” or the funny part of the scene, but each one agrees that its starting point is when the first unusual thing happens. This is something that sounds like it’s easy to spot, but takes some practice. Because what’s important isn’t just noticing the unusual, but noticing it within the particular world of a scene. What’s strange in an everyday doctor’s office is worlds different from what’s strange in an alternate reality like a real life Candyland. But even the world of Candyland has a pattern and rules that apply to what’s “normal” there. For instance, a building not made out of sugar would really stand out in Candyland, and there’s where your scene potential lies. Once you’ve labeled your who, what, and where, you have what’s called that scene’s base reality. The first thing that happens that breaks that reality is where the funny of your scene starts.

5. How to convey character quickly through specifics

Once you’ve gotten a few classes under your belt and the terror of being in front of people has died down a bit, it becomes easier to implement that tool every writer loves and needs: specifics. And more importantly, you’ll learn how even the tiniest detail at the beginning of a scene can be used to inform a character’s attitude and worldview. A character drinking fancy coffee at the top of a scene might be someone who’s a coffee connoisseur and more broadly someone who enjoys the finer things. Maybe it turns out they’re a foodie. The point is improv will teach you to hear yourself and the tiny details you put forth, recognizing that they matter. One small detail mentioned because it’s the only thing in your head can be explored to reveal an entire character without having to strain or think much.

6. How to write “straight” and absurd characters

Much like playing against a base reality helps improvisers find what’s funny in a scene, playing what are called “straight” and absurd characters helps point out what’s funny and keep the scene simple. Despite the name, the comedy “straight man” has nothing to with gender or sexuality. The straight man plays the reality of the scene. They’re the sane person, or at least the person who finds the crazy absurd. Straight/absurd scenes are some of the most common in improv, but furthermore they make good scripted comedy. It’s the basis of nearly every strong comedy duo, from Abbott and Costello to Broad City. And if you become skilled in recognizing that dynamic quickly, it’s becomes much easier to write.

7. It helps you focus material and edit yourself

The stereotype of bad improv is that it gets too wacky, too crazy, and tries too hard, and that’s often what happens when players aren’t zeroing in on one comic premise—that “game” I mentioned earlier—and playing it out. Simply, playing a game in a scene consists of establishing a base reality, recognizing the first unusual thing that happens, then zeroing in on that and heightening (increasing the absurdity) and exploring (essentially, justifying) it. Recognizing a game when it pops up (and it will) helps improvisers focus on only one funny idea, rather than running with several different ones and landing in Crazytown (also known as that stereotype of bad improv). And learning to keep it simple one scene at a time helps focus writing, whether you’re working on sketch or a storyline in a pilot.

8. Improv teaches you to recognize rhythm and brevity

Once you start doing shows, you’ll notice a quick pattern with getting laughs: often the short, more direct line of dialogue is all you know. They more you improvise, the easier it becomes to feel the rhythm in scenes, and this carries over into writing dialogue. Too many syllables and the same sentiment isn’t funny, but make your exchanges short and suddenly it’s easier to feel where the laugh comes in.


Erica Lies is one-half of the writing duo of (not coincidentally) Erica Lies & Valerie Nies, whose extraordinarily funny script, EDGEWICK COMMONS, finished second in the 2015 People’s Pilot.