Writers’ Circle Confidential: Brent’s Non-Replacement

And welcome to another instalment of Writers’ Circle Confidential, your ticket behind the curtain of your new favourite webseries. You heard me. It is your new favourite now. Unless you just discovered Cracked: After Hours or something.

Just me this week. My cast are thus far shy about sharing their recollections with my tens, nay, elevenses of readers. Seen the latest episode yet? Well, what’s keeping you?

A lot to talk about this week, so let’s get to it. Allons-y!

Meet Zoe

As I said last week, a good way to hook your audience into your premise is through a new arrival. A character who is as unfamiliar to the setting as the audience, thus allowing us to discover the characters and status quo through their eyes. WKRP had Andy Travis, Cheers had Diane Chambers, Brooklyn 99 had Captain Holt, and we have Zoe, brought to ridiculously adorable life by Anna Barker.

It was a bit of a trick adding a new character to what was, for me, an old and familiar dynamic. I wrote three hours of play script based around Phil, Jeff, and Becky bantering with occasional interjections from Tina. Figuring out a fourth person and making her fit in was a challenge. We decided we wanted a geek girl, especially since she was going to be our blogger (that being a field of writing not already represented by playwright Phil, novelist Becky, and screenwriter Jeff), but Phil has his nerdy side as well*, and we didn’t want Zoe to just be “Girl Phil.” That’s not an interesting dynamic to add, and would be shortchanging our second female lead.

So Zoe gets to be the awkward one. The one who doesn’t quite know how to make herself part of a group. Phil is held back by depression and self-doubt, but Zoe is just adorably clueless at socializing. Well, hopefully adorably.

Keith's notes on next week's episode show we're pretty confident.

Keith’s notes on next week’s episode show we’re pretty confident.

And thus, as Tina briefs Zoe on the group, we get our new introduction to the characters. A bit more thorough as to who they are, a bit more fun as Tina imagines them at… not their best. And results in a delightfully hilarious banshee-wail from Matt Pickering as the Coffee Shop Douche.

Some of us have started using it as a ring tone.

*Phil’s nerdy side is evidenced by the fact that when Phil and Becky enter the writers’ room, he is trying to explain why, in man of Steel, Krypton’s atmosphere has the same basic effect on Superman as Kryptonite.

Cutaways

Now, the method with which we re-introduce the main trio at the top of the episode brings us to a point of controversy amongst the Writers’ Circle Brain Trust (aka. myself, Ian, and Keith).

There’s an easy shorthand to figure out who wrote each script. If it’s just two (maybe three) people in one location, odds favour Keith being the primary writer. If it’s filled with cutaways (or has Tina in it), you know it’s one of mine.

I love cutaways. Ian, our director of photography, hates them. And me for writing them, which I will quite unapologetically continue to do whenever it suits me. See, I’ve been working in theatre for 20 years now, and that means dealing with the limitations of stage. There are simply things that can’t be done, or at least not done well, on stage. One of those is little comic asides like the ones you see in the stairwell sequence. Lord knows I’ve tried to work some conventions that are meant for the screen into stage plays, with what could charitably be called moderate success. Now that I’m writing for the screen, I see no reason to write things that could easily exist on stage. So I cut away. I include flashbacks. We see both sides of a phone call. And I’m loving it.

(Also watch that scream from the Coffee Shop Douche again and tell me it isn’t worth it.)

This, however, lead to an interesting complication. The cutaways are basically never shot on the same day as the rest of the episode. Since we don’t shoot episode-by-episode, we just figure out when and where we can do each shot, and fit them all in.

As a result, episode three basically encompasses the entirety of our shooting period. Phil’s flashback in the stairwell was shot in June, on our very first shooting day, the day after our first table read. Becky’s flashback was shot months later, in November. Look at that shot carefully. Most of this was shot in summer (as will become clear next week in further cutaways), but it is winter out there. The first half of the episode was shot on a completely different day than anything in the Writers’ Room, which was shot in a… very special time period. Let’s talk about that now.

Clearly, the staircase scene was tiring enough to shoot on its own.

Clearly, the staircase scene was tiring enough to shoot on its own.

Hell Super Fun Happy Good Times Week

Like I said, most of this was shot in summer. Which meant one dreadful thing: working around people’s vacations.

Well, I don’t know what we expected. We made the shooting schedule in June, of course people already had vacations booked, I already had a vacation booked and it was a last-minute travel deal. But still, this proved more challenging than we’d guessed.

We gathered up everyone’s availabilities, from the leads to the recurring characters to the one-off guest appearances, and having done that, discovered something horrifying.

There was only one window when all four of our leads (not counting Tina, who is credited as a lead, but has the least screen time) were available at the same time: a five day stretch in early August. This meant that every single scene where Phil, Becky, Jeff, and Zoe are all in the writers’ room (and some that only had three of them) had to be done in this one five-day period. And on four of those days, we’d only have four or five hours of shooting time, since people had day jobs.

We swiftly branded it Hell Week. And then I swiftly re-branded it Super Fun Happy Good Times Week, so as not to get people into more of a negative frame of mind than we needed to. Also because I loved shoot days and really wanted that to be infectious.

One 13 hour day on the Sunday, then whatever we could get done between 7:00 and 11:00 Monday to Thursday nights, typically followed by production chat with Daisy. And beers. Keith and I usually wanted beers by then.

(Once he wanted me to stick around for a beer specifically so that he could blame me personally for the title “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”)

The minor miracle? We got it done in four days. We had five, but we did it in four. Our cast are that good.

Now, that’s not to say everything worked that smoothly. A lot more scenes got pushed into September than we wanted. Our October launch date got pushed back to January (not wanting to compete with Christmas) as we were approaching our planned launch date and still hadn’t finished principle photography. As you may have guessed from me mentioning that scene we shot in November.

But still… getting through all the Writers’ Room scenes with the four leads took a chunk out of our to-do list, and let me saunter off to direct Scorpio’s production of Frost/Nixon with a clear conscience. Although not being on set for shoot days made me sad every time.

Next week! “Introducing the characters” enters week four in Origin Stories. Watch the episode on Thursday, then join me here on Friday.

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