Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"Leading From The Feminine - A Follow-Up From Yesterday"

The quote in the above title derives from advice received by head writer/show creator Jill Soloway (Transparent) concerning an innovative strategy for running a TV series’ writers’ room, a strategy, the quote implies, contrary to its opposite, “leading from the masculine”, a descriptive I never heard of because it does not exist, due to, in my experience and the experience of every other writer I know, the fact that, to date, the latter was the only writers’ room strategy there was.  Think:  Breathing through your nose, as compared to breathing through your ears. 

There is no breathing through your ears.  

Now, apparently, there is.  (And the world’s ears could not be more excited, following the analogy, if not literal biology.  Where there remains no “breathing through your ears.”)

Before delineating the nature of “leading from the feminine”, I will provide a justifying rationale for why it had never previously been tried, excluding, due to its obviosity, the fact that the show running positions have been dominated by men, men who became role models for male (and, on rare occasions, female) successors who perpetuated the only “room running” procedure they had ever experienced. 

(Note:  This post focuses on leadership style, not “Do men write differently from women?”, a subject to which I have little original to contribute, except to observe that if this distinction exists, and my experience suggests that it might, there are a significant number of exceptions, most notably, I casually evaluate, myself, whose less punchy, more observational approach could not inaccurately be categorized as leaning at least somewhat in the direction of the “femy.”  More on that…possibly never.)          

Consider this as context:

Most cable series and series produced on Netflix and Amazon, etc, receive orders of six to thirteen episodes per season.  By comparison, a network’s seasonal series order consists of a minimum of twenty-two episodes, and, not infrequently, more.  (When I consulted on According To Jim, the show produced as many as twenty-eight episodes, Jim cranking out as many of them as they could before the children on the show advanced to ages where their innate adorability was no longer a certainty.)

Also, many, if not all, non-network series operate on a production schedule which, due to the fewer number of seasonal episodes allows them to complete all the scripts before they go into production, in contrast to the network template, where, excepting the four or five scripts written during “pre-production”, they are entirely written concurrently.  (Meaning simultaneously with production.  Sorry, if you already understood that.)

What’s the difference?


During the production of network TV series, here’s what is regularly involved in a typical work day:  You develop future episodes, you edit already produced episodes, you cast the following week’s episode, you “fine tune” the following week’s script for the upcoming “table reading”, you add the finishing post-production touches to the episode that is about to be broadcast, and then later in the day, you go to the stage, to oversee the runthrough and to ascertain the rewrite requirements of the show currently in production.

Boy, that’s a lot!  No wonder I felt constantly frazzled.  “Frazzled” fits!

In network television, you are continually racing the clock.  (A pressure with which I so anxiously resonated I refused dogmatically to wear a watch.  Who needed a wristal reminder that I was falling perilously behind schedule?) 

Nearing the end of the day – though hardly the work day – the escalating time pressure, and its inescapable consequence, intensified.

Around five in the afternoon, the writers proceeded down to the stage for the runthrough, after which there would be an overlay of notes from both the network and the studio, then there was dinner, and then, at maybe six-thirty to seven, you would begin the rewrite process, that could last until “unconscious.”

There was only one way to get through this.  Call it “leading from the masculine” involving the manly-identified process of…

Brute force.

It was like pushing a giant boulder up a mountain.  You put your shoulder to the boulder and using everything you have, you move it doggedly forward, till your task is finally accomplished , the boulder at the top of the mountain, the night’s rewrite reaching “Fade Out – The End.”

That’s how you did it.  You manfully muscled your way through.

By contrast…

According to the article I read about Jill Soloway’s approach running Transparent,

“For two sessions in the morning and two or three more in the afternoon, ‘we have 50 minutes of real contact, like eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart creative contact’ with no computers or phones allowed.  In addition to regular breaks, ‘there’s a half hour of socializing, so we don’t waste an hour sitting at the table.  I just like to respect my writers’ time.’”

I do not recall anything close to that happening when I was working.  We thought twice about going to the bathroom.  There was also none of the following:

“They {meaning the writing staff} don’t only talk.  The also sing, dance, and improv scenes, all in an effort to get at their truth.”

Nope.  None of that happened either.

The question is,

Are the oppositional strategies the consequence of deliberately “leading from the feminine” or the result of the exquisite luxury of available time?

I shall respectfully reserve judgment until this revolutionary method is attempted with a 22-episode order.



Canda said...

Socializing half-hour is a great idea, then you don't waste time at the table avoiding work by talking about the trades, etc. Now, when you sit at the table, everyone knows it's time to WORK. Socializing time is over.

Jed said...

Although SIX FEET UNDER was a terrific show, reading and re-reading Soloway's quotes, it sounds like a "bunch of New Age bull." The only thing that matters is the end result. Whatever works for Soloway is just fine for her and her staff, just as whatever works for you...etc, etc, etc.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I was meaning to ask whether you'd have liked the "feminine" lead version.

I do think the get-the-socializing-out-of-the-way half hour is a rational strategy. I'm less keen on the rest of it - I may be female but I can't stand "touchy-feely". Although again, the 50 minutes with no phones or computers is probably also good for concentration and focus.