Strategy Meets Performance Blog

Ten Tips for Creativity from a TV Writing Team

I appreciate the artistry and creativity that goes into making a streaming TV show so much that when I had a chance to bid for an afternoon with TV writers at a Just in Time for Foster Youth gala, I jumped at the chance. To be able to give back to this amazing organization and learn how a team of writers taps into their team’s creativity was a dream come true. I captured key learnings including a Q&A session with the writers and 10 tips for tapping into your team’s creativity that can be applied to any team.

Sacred Lies is a fairy tale anthology series on Facebook Watch about a young lady, Minnow Bly, who escapes from a cult her parents joined. She is young, strong and determined to survive and thrive. “I get to choose” is a line in the show that encompasses her attitude as she navigates her way through her new life.

Raelle Tucker, the show’s main writer and “showrunner” as they call it in Hollywood, was inspired by the Stephanie Oakes novel, “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” as well as a short (but not bad) experience she had living in a cult with her family. After producing a successful first season of 10 episodes, the show has been renewed for another season. I had the privilege of interviewing Raelle and her team on all things TV, or ahem, streaming.

Fascinating Facts

  • There are almost 500 shows out at this time including network and online streaming programming (Facebook Watch, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Instagram, HBO, etc.).
  • Seasons are shorter now and this can be good for giving viewers variety.
  • Writing a show is a group-oriented activity that brings inspiration from everyone’s lives, research and as well as insights from experts in the field.
  • A 10-episode show requires a team of writer to collaborate for 20 weeks.

Q&A with the Sacred Lies Writing Team about How a Perfect Episode Comes Together, Engaging your Audience and the Life of a Writer

Q: When the team is working on a storyline, how do you know when you’ve got it – where the storyline works and everyone feels excited/satisfied/complete?

A: Sometimes we all smile at each other and we know. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it feels just OK and we say, “Meh, let’s check in tomorrow.” At that time, we tend to all agree if it works or not.

Q: How do you develop each of the characters?

A: There is a question you ask about each character in the beginning that you want answered by the end of the season. The whole season also needs to have a beginning, middle and ending for the audience to learn why these characters are all connected.

We also need to create interesting scenes out of seemingly ordinary settings. For example, if someone goes to the police station, we need to think about “Who is coming in and out? What are people doing and saying?”

Q: Why do people get turned off to shows?

A: Raelle shared that an audience can get turned off if the show feels grim, feels like homework and is hard to watch. “When no one has stayed up all night working on it and it’s not anybody’s baby, it shows. In these instances, it loses its specificity and pull.” Others added that shows that have violence against women and vision changes from one season to another can be turn-offs.

Q; Why do people watch shows that have seemingly repetitive plots, episode after episode, season after season?

A: Those are “folding laundry” shows. They are comforting, easy to watch and easy to catch up on if you miss a moment. (Who knew?)

Q: Why are crime shows so popular?

A: Because we wonder, “How is this person like me? Can I be capable of that? How do people get to this point?”

Q: Which shows had excellent endings?

A: The team’s picks included: Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation and Catastrophe.

Q: What is the most rewarding part about being a writer?

A: You get to reach a lot of people through your work. You collaborate with other artists. You get to work on the fly, on set. When things change, you sit in a corner and rewrite parts of the script.

Q: What makes this work tough?

A: “Writing is an outlet and safe place. When it is also work you love, you have to not take it personally if you receive critique. It can be challenging to get feedback on something that is both your work, outlet and safe place.”

Q: How do you incorporate messages into your shows, for example about female empowerment?

A: We try to do it subtly without getting on a soap box.

Q: How can someone break into TV writing?

It is harder for women and people of color because the reality is most writers are Caucasian males and we often bring along our friends, who tend to be like us. It’s all about giving someone their first break and mentorship.

It’s important to see networking as developing friendships, not as going to crowded events where you feel stressed out and pressure to give cards to everyone. It’s about developing friendships. (Everyone sighed and agreed.) One writer said, “I was thinking that I’m not a good networker…and now I realize that I actually am because I’ve developed a lot of friendships.”

Raelle shared that it took 16 years to get her own show. She has written for and executive produced multiple shows including Supernatural, True Blood, The Returned and Jessica Jones. Her unique route was self-taught without formal training. How did she do it? “By reading a lot of bad scripts and thinking about what I’d do differently.”

How it All Comes Together: Ten Tips for Tapping into your Creativity from a Team of Writers

I asked this team of talented writers, “How do you tap into your magic and that of this team to create this artistry that delights us viewers week after week?”

  1. Be vulnerable. We let people in on our flaws. We have to share a lot of things in order to get each other’s experiences and we are respectful to one another.
  2. Appreciate and be nice to your team. Raelle shared that it is important to be nice to your staff. “They have power over my career as much as I have it over theirs. It’s a collaboration.”
  3. Don’t take it personally. There will be crappy ideas 75% of the time. Don’t take it personal. You’ll share an idea and have a ‘thud’ silence and that’s OK. It’s part of the process.
  4. Get moving. When you are stuck, move your body, change the scene, go somewhere else.
  5. Get present. You can listen to Eckhart Tolle on the way to work.
  6. Work with what you’ve got. Sometimes having a short compressed amount of time is helpful. For example, when you have kids, you must work in the windows in between work and life. This can actually make you more productive. You’ll tell yourself, “Well, I have one hour, let’s do this.”
  7. Let it percolate. Think about the scene or idea throughout your day. This will prepare your ideas to flow the next time you sit down.
  8. Accept deadlines as your friend. Deadlines help you deliver because you can’t just say, “I’m not feeling it today.”
  9. Create space. On the same hand, give yourself enough time to write. You need “white space” for any kind of creative thinking. Set time aside and turn off your electronics.
  10. Know when you are at your sharpest. It’s not important whether you are a morning bird or night owl, it’s critical to channel the time of day you tend to feel fresh, sharp and “on.” Some of us can’t do it after 6 p.m. Be ok with that and work with it.

Sacred Lies

Pictured front left to right front row: Kelcie Gruenberg, Jenniffer Gómez, Molly Nussbaum, Raelle Tucker, Me (Sherry Nooravi), Caroline Hayes and Hilly Hicks, Jr. Left to right back row: Tony Saltzman and Brennan Peters

 

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