Friday, July 28, 2017

Television Writing Insight from Comic-Con 2017

This year I once again attended Comic-Con in San Diego. One of the panels I went to was “Introduction to Television Writing” moderated by my friend Spiro Skentzos (Arrow, Grimm). The panelist were Keto Shimizu (Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow), Sera Gamble (The Magicians), Ryan Condal (Colony), Terry Matalas (12 Monkeys), and Karen Horne (NBC Talent Development executive).

The first question was about what they look for in sample scripts when staffing shows. The list included flawed heroes and new worlds we haven’t seen on television – not necessarily fantasy worlds, but environments or workplaces. The panelists want to see a point-of-view on the page and that the writer has mastered the rudiments of writing. Typos are bad, and they like to see a lot of white on the page – in other words, be economical with your stage direction. Ryan Condal emphasized the importance of tone, saying it “had to be singular and you have to have consistency of tone.”

The panelists confirmed that they now prefer to read original pilots rather than sample specs of existing shows. This is a fairly recent trend in the industry and is the result of there being so many shows these days that showrunners often aren’t familiar with the show you’ve spec’ed and have difficulty judging your work. Karen Horne revealed that though NBC’s talent development program requires submission of specs of existing shows, they are soon going to start asking finalists to provide an original pilot, so you better have one ready.

Everybody stressed the need for good characters. Sera Gamble said that the nature of a character is the defining force for what they do next. Do they fight or fly in the face of a challenge? And when it comes to writing characters well, she says, “Specificity is the most important thing.”

Keto Shimizu pointed out that, “Plot points will feel empty if there’s not emotional stakes attached.”

The subject matter is not really that important. Sera Gamble said, “What I like to see is a simple idea executed really, really well.” She also emphasized the importance of staying true to your voice: “You have to be clear what is your thing and do that thing.” Rather than trying to write for any show, aim for the shows that fit your point of view.

As Terry Matalas stated, you should write material you love, because “if you’re not excited to tell it, it will come through” in the writing.

They also pointed out that they may not have time to read the whole script, so your first five pages have to be fantastic and seduce the reader. They will know what kind of writer you are from those five pages.

During the Q&A section, the topic of diversity came up. The panelists acknowledged the reality that “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism) exist, but encouraged writers to ignore them and fight to be heard. As Sera Gamble put it, “It’s easy to try to shut people up. It’s really hard to speak.” But you have to speak.

Certainly the diversity of the panelists suggests excellent writing can break down the barriers.

You can follow these fascinating panelists on Twitter at:


Spiro Skentzos

Also, if you’re a WGAw member, Spiro is running for the board and would be an excellent pick.


Get The Three Stages of Screenwriting

"I used to always recommend that new writers read Story as their first and most important introduction to the craft of screenwriting, but from now on, I’m going to recommend The Three Stages of Screenwriting."
-LA Screenwriter Review


 The Hollywood Pitching Bible

“ ‘Bible’ is the right word. This is the Truth about pitching. Just do what it says.”
- Gary Goldman (Writer/Producer, "Total Recall," "Minority Report," "Big Trouble in Little China")