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Room to Write

I’m writing this at a corner table at a coffee bar near my apartment. For me, this is so unusual, it’s practically freakish. I’ve always written at home; even when I was young and broke, I wrote at home. Back then, I was so poor, I didn’t have a desk and instead balanced my keyboard on an open dresser drawer. These days, I not only have a desk, I have a nice desk, a battered antique that a late friend of mine, a friend who was admittedly something of a lush, used as a bar. The writing surface is still covered with round white circles where various wet highball glasses and vodka bottles once stood and on humid days, I swear you can almost smell the bourbon.

I like writing at home. I like the quiet, the books, the food. I like being able to walk around in the ugliest t-shirt imaginable and take a nap (right on the floor if I ever wanted to!) whenever I have the urge. I don’t take my situation for granted. I know for many writers — people with young kids, roommates, impossibly tiny apartments – find it difficult if not outright impossible to swing this. A writer friend of mine shared a minuscule studio with an actress wife who was often home; he rigged up a circular shower rod in one corner and behind the heavy curtain was his laptop, the tiniest desk imaginable, and a pair of earplugs. Having a place where one can be alone with one’s thoughts, the proverbial room of one’s own, is so essential for writers, many of us have had to jerry-rig a few cubic feet and the illusion of privacy out of whatever’s at hand. And so while I’ve lived with my boyfriend (also a writer) for many years, I’ve always held onto my tiny Village apartment as an office. I once complained to a friend about all the artists’ colonies and writers’ retreats she’d been to that I wish I had gone to as well, and she seemed honestly taken aback. “But you don’t need to get away to write,” she pointed out. And she’s right.

Jean Kerr, author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, was so hard-pressed as a suburban mother to carve out any kind of privacy for herself that she would regularly pile her manuscript into her station wagon, drive a few blocks away, and covertly write against the steering wheel, hoping none of her brood would bike by and find her. My maternal grandmother was a novelist in Korea who supported a gigantic family (ten kids!) writing serialized stories in various newspapers. She regularly took refuge in the various tea rooms of Pusan, scribbling longhand, and handing the finished sheets to a trusted child (i.e. my mother) to hand-deliver. According to my mother, hers was a top-secret mission; but her siblings would invariably find out, the jig would be up, and my grandmother would be forced to move on and find a new refuge. I have a photo of my grandmother in one such restaurant, glasses on, holding a pen and focused absolutely on a stack of papers in front of her despite the guy sitting across from her, virtually no room to move in, and the noise of a city so obviously pouring in through open windows. I used to look at the picture and wonder: how did she do it? Then I became a writer myself and realized: she just did. This, after all, was a woman with deadlines, serious mouths to feed, and the compulsion to write. When she needed a break, she would head out and grab a bus, any bus, and ride along its entire route – staring both blankly and observantly at the world in the way we all do, wherever we live, whenever we need to get out of our heads.

writer Matt Koff at work in the Writing Room

Matt Koff at work in the Writing Room

So I’m thrilled that the Writers Guild East, now in its new location on Hudson Street just north of Canal, is finally opening a Writing Room: a quiet place with six work stations where members can come in, plug in a laptop or take out a Moleskine, and write.

Reservations are in four-hour blocks starting at 9:30AM and will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. Cellphones and food will be blessedly banned, as will, I hope, boisterous conversation and over-amplified I-pods. If people want to write in a Starbucks, damnit, they can go out and write in a Starbucks.

The Writing Room is nothing fancy; all that will be provided is a flat surface, quiet, wireless, an outlet, and some coffee. Yet while these things together might be considered a luxury in New York City for anyone, for the writer, they’re as essential as words themselves.

A Writer’s Intention

When it comes to writing, I’m a mutt. I’ve written documentaries, books, textbooks, instructional videos. The nice thing about this kind of work is you pick up a few tips. I wrote a video on how to run a faster 10k and now I know what a fartlek is. I wrote a Martha Stewart Christmas special and now I can make a Christmas wreath out of a hanger.

rag wreath by heather knitz designs

by heather knitz designs

I even wrote a video course on college algebra when I was desperate for money. This taught me that even though getting older means that the things that seemed impossible when you were young are not only easy but fun (e.g. speaking in public, driving a stick shift, screaming into a megaphone on a picket line), algebra isn’t one of them. But for most of my career, I’ve written dramatic work – plays, some screenplays, and tons of children’s television.

There are those who write prose, people an agent I know refers to “real writers”. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about those of us who write stories that aren’t meant to be the final product, but the blueprint for the final product. Our work exists to be interpreted – by directors, designers, actors – which means that only a percentage of what we originally intended makes it to screen or stage. Occasionally, the result is better than one could have imagined; often, it’s worse; always, it’s different. Does this attract a certain kind of person? I teach in a low-residency MFA program in creative writing and trust me on this one, you can tell the dramatic writers a mile away. The playwriting and screenwriting students are the ones hugging and doing improv and putting on cabarets and one-act festivals. They’re upbeat and unpretentious, and give graduation speeches that are too long and require props. As far as I can tell, dramatic writers are sort of the clowns of the MFA program, minus the seltzer bottle and big pants. Maybe that’s because drama is not only a collaborative form, it’s as low as vaudeville and as ancient as the Greeks. Or maybe it’s all that hanging out with actors.

When you write children’s animation, of course, there are no actors to hang out with. The actors tend to be a bunch of eight-year olds in London, or a studio full of adults doing funny voices in LA. And there are only rarely table meetings, the kind I dreamt about as a kid watching Dick Van Dyke, meetings where you’re surrounded by funny, smart people all talking at once while punching up a script and eating deli and screaming with laughter.

Weavers at Work from The Library of Congress

My life as a television writer is the opposite, a sort of middle-class/Greenwich Village version of a 19th century Jacob Riis photo, the one where some nameless lady is sewing shirtwaists in an Essex Street apartment: it’s basically piecework, with internet access. Alone in my apartment, I pitch, I write, I recoil at the notes, I write again. The more shirtwaists I crank out, the more I get paid. If my stitching gets sloppy, I lose the gig. And let’s not even talk about insurance, since animation is so not covered by the Guild, it’s almost funny, but isn’t.

One of the pleasures of writing animation, however, is the relative control you have over the visuals. (Note: I say “relative”). Sure, there are restrictions. Some people think animation means you’re free to write anything, whereas the truth is you can’t even show running water or a character putting on a sweater. Still, what I write pretty much stays in the script. If I write that an octopus holds a balloon and floats up to the stars, or a jealous heron knocks her husband off a tree branch, or a starfish swoons with emotion (and in closeup no less)… it stays. If you pitch it well enough, if it’s affordable, if it’s good… the sky’s the limit. Within reason.

In terms of pure satisfaction, I’m lucky enough to have two graphic novels out now, books I wrote with my boyfriend/fellow Guild member, Laurence Klavan. We wrote City of Spies and Brain Camp as screenplays, which were handed over to two amazing artists, Pascal Dizin and Faith Erin Hicks, who then directed, shot, cast, acted, designed and edited what they read. I’m still stunned by how faithful both books are to what we wrote, down to the smallest detail… even while they utterly express the personality and vision of the two artists.

It’s about the purest collaborative experience I’ve ever had in my life and of course, I hope both books do well. But I’m not kidding myself. As a business, publishing isn’t TV (frankly, these days even TV isn’t TV); and even the most successful graphic novel sells only thousands of copies, maybe tens of thousands. Maybe even hundreds of thousands… who knows? Compare this to a single cartoon I’ve written, even a not-very-good episode for a lousy show, which can and will be seen by literally millions of children, around the world, for what I’m sure will feel like forever.

Still, I can’t complain. Whoever said this was supposed to be easy?

Susan Kim

Susan Kim

Susan Kim has written for more than three dozen children’s TV series, including Wonder Pets!, Arthur, Martha Speaks!, Dragon Tales, PB&J Otter, Ni-Hao Kai-Lan, Handy Manny, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Speed Racer, Reading Rainbow, and Stanley; she has been nominated for an Emmy and Writers Guild Awards four times. She won a Writers Guild Award for the documentary Paving the Way, which aired on PBS. She serves as a member of the WGAE Council

Watching Women in Digital TV

The following was aired on GRITtv

More GRITtv

It’s 2010, and for the first time in history, a female filmmaker won an Oscar for Best Directing. Mind you, we’ve had four women total ever be nominated, so it’s tough to win when you’re not even in the race.

We look on TV and see an abundance of women: Desperate Housewives, The Closer, Damages, Weeds, I could go on. We look at the box office and we see films like Sex and the City and Twilight, which had the highest grossing opening for a film by a female director ever. Even when it comes to comics and heroes, we were given Buffy.

We saw a woman create one of the most influential digital commentary sources, The Huffington Post, and Felicia Day now tweets to almost 2 million followers due to the success of a web series she created called The Guild, which is now sponsored by Microsoft.

All of this leads us girls to believe that we are being taken seriously and our tastes matter. It also points to the fact that we do know our way around this thing called the internet, so why is it still so hard to find female programming online? As the creator of the web series, Downsized, I know this content is out there. I know it’s dramatic and poignant and hysterical and smart and appropriately estrogen-ridden, but I also know that a majority of women have no idea where to find it.

And that’s not because we’re not socially connected. We tweet. We Facebook. We fool around on Youtube. We laugh at Funny or Die. We may even post a comment on a blog about it. What we don’t find is female-centric content.

As a member of the Writers Guild of America, East, I know there are many female digital writers and filmmakers that are actively part of the guild, so we are definitely making video and putting it out there, but it is our job to make sure you can find it. And in our socially connected world, it also our job, as women, to watch it, because as media becomes increasingly more digital, we still need to keep our place in the programming line-up.
Named “a fresh new voice” by NewTeeVee in 2010 for her work as writer/director/producer/star of the YouTube Official Series DOWNSIZED, Daryn Strauss has been profiled on TV Talk Radio, Script Magazine, and Web Series Network. The independently produced DOWNSIZED was recently invited to screen at the Cologne Conference in Germany, along with shows from HBO and MTV. Daryn is a vocal participant in the web series community and avid supporter of equal rights in programming content, so she is very happy to provide a home for online content geared for women, Digital Chick TV ( She has a second series in development.

Jim Jones and Our Stumbling Leader

I kind of feel bad for America’s children, kind of. You see, growing up in my house, the evening news was a given, five nights a week. Dinnertime was always 5:30 P.M. You had to be home, no questions asked. If you were late, you had better have a really good excuse. On school nights, dinner was followed by homework, while starting at 6:00 P.M. my father would commandeer the television to watch the local and national news. At the time, we had four options, and one was PBS in really poor quality.

Writing this makes me realize how much of my youth involved being forced to watch something I did not choose. I am the youngest of nine, which topped out at seven living in the house at the same time during my formative years. I could tell you anything that was happening on Dallas or Knots Landing. I knew who Luke and Laura were and understood when my mother and sisters would talk about them as if they were neighbors. However, when it came to real TV drama, you had to look no further than the news.

My first memories include the much-talked-about clumsiness of President Gerald Ford and the 900-plus people drinking the
“Kool-Aid” in Guyana. The latter, of course, being the image most burned into my brain. I believe at 9 years old, it both frightened and enthralled me. The idea that so many people could let one person direct them to take their own lives was weird and thankfully far away. I don’t recall anyone in my family trying to fully explain the breadth of the scene at the time, but I do remember knowing it was bad.

Throughout the years, my household changed for various reasons and, I should take this moment to point out, never included cable television (to be blamed on my father’s tight wallet). The routine of watching news continued for years to come. I’m sure I didn’t realize then how it was shaping my career path. I learned to be inquisitive. I was even voted biggest gossip in my high school, an honor I wear proudly now as a badge of my journalistic abilities but at the time completely mortified me.

Once I hit college and started hanging around those crazy folks who had CNN and Headline News, I was love-struck. I said, “That’s my calling,” and immediately changed my major from secondary education, never looking back. When they brought the first Gulf War into our living rooms—well, not mine but someone else’s—I was smitten.

I know it makes me sound somewhat old, but here’s why I worry about the kids today. There are so many choices on television. If you meet a family that doesn’t have cable, you’d give them the stink eye. There are few families that sit down and have dinner together and then turn on the TV the way we used to.

Every time a big event happens, e.g., September 11, those of us in the industry think, Well, this is going to change things for good. It wasn’t long afterward that we returned to doing stories about fallen starlets stumbling drunk out of limos with no knickers on and waterskiing squirrels. I blame the attention span brought on by the so-called MTV generation. If I can’t blame that, I have to blame parenting, and if I can’t blame that, I have to blame an oversaturation of “news” on cable TV. It makes me think that someone down the road is going to look back and say, “The first thing I remember seeing on the news is when Lindsay Lohan went to jail.”

Labor Says Mott’s Apples Are Rotten To the Core

RWDSU Workers Rally at Mott's Manufacturing Plant in Williamson, N.Y.

Rally at Mott's Plant. Photo by Bess Watts for CSEA Local 828

Among the many TV ad jingles sadly cluttering my brain since childhood (although useful in trivia contests) is the one that went, “The finest apples from Apple Land/Make Mott’s Apple Sauce taste grand!”

A branchful of the juicy, singing fruit would belt it out at the end of commercials that urged us to use applesauce to accompany meats, slather onto bread, spoon on top of ice cream, spackle drywall, you name it.

The Mott’s commercials were especially meaningful where I grew up because we lived in Apple Land — western New York State, not far from the town of Williamson, where workers at a Mott’s factory have been out on strike since May 23rd.

The job action was started by 305 working men and women, members of Local 220 of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Whether they win or lose could play a role in determining the future of organized labor — and the vanishing American middle class.

Mott’s purchases between six and seven million bushels of New York apples every year — more than half of all the apples produced in the state — and has gone through a number of acquisitions and consolidations since Samuel R. Mott, a Quaker who made his own apple cider and vinegar, founded the company in 1842.

Today it’s owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), based in Plano, Texas. Ever since the takeover, union members claim, the family spirit at the factory that once included an effective worker-management safety committee, Christmas parties, Easter hams and company picnics has been destroyed. Corporate greed, they say, has marched in with a vengeance.

I first met Bruce Beal, Local 220’s recording secretary and a member of its executive board at an AFL-CIO meeting in Albany, NY, last week. (Full disclosure: I’m president of the Writers Guild of America, East, a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) We caught up again on the phone, just as he and fellow strikers were seeing off a delegation of members headed out to an informational picket at a Dr. Pepper Snapple facility in Illinois.

Beal said he and the other union workers were shocked when DPS — despite a profit of $555 million on sales of $5.5 billion last year — demanded massive contract concessions; among them, slashing wages by $1.50 an hour, the elimination of pensions for new employees, a 20 percent reduction in their 401K’s and a change in their health plan Beal says would force members to pay out of pocket an additional $6000-8000 a year.

In an official statement playing on the region’s economic hardship, the company declared that, “DPS workers in Williamson enjoy significantly higher wages than the typical manufacturing employee in Western New York… As a public company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all of its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities.”

Bruce Beal dismissed the DPS argument as “a line of bull… They don’t give a rip about their employees, just lining their pockets is all they’re concerned with.” He points to Larry Young, the company’s CEO, whose salary has risen 113 percent over the last three years to $6.5 million, and says that workers were told that they were nothing more than a “commodity, like soybeans… When we talked about how the company’s demands would cause our members to lose their homes or have their cars repossessed, they looked right at us and said, ‘You are living beyond your means.’”

Beal says the union has heard that other profitable businesses are discussing the strike and saying that if DPS wins, they, too, will demand massive concessions. But as Local 220’s president Mike LeBerth told The New York Times, “Corporate America is making tons of money — this company is a good example of that. So why do they want to drive down our wages and hurt our community? This whole economy is driven by consumer spending, so how are we supposed to keep the economy going when they take away money from the people who are doing the spending?”

Trucks will now be pulling up to the Mott’s factory gate with this year’s crop. Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, said its members will have to cross the picket line: “When apples are ripe, they have to be harvested, and growers will be delivering this year’s apple crop to the Mott’s plant as usual… It is not done as a sign of support or a gesture of disrespect to either side.”

According to Bruce Beal, “Our fight is with the company and not with the farmers. They have to make a living, too.” He urged anyone interested to go the strikers website,, for more information or to contribute to their Hardship Fund. Others have suggested a boycott of all of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s products, which also include 7 Up, Hawaiian Punch and Canada Dry.

Meanwhile, DPS refuses to come back to the bargaining table and on Monday, August 30, the workers will mark Day 100 of their strike. Maybe they can get the singing apples from those vintage TV commercials to change their tune and learn some good old-fashioned labor songs. Like the one that asks, “Which Side Are You On?”


Michael Winship is president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

You take the good, you take the bad…

One of the things I enjoy most about the industry in which I work is the camaraderie. I have friends, and not just the Facebook kind, with whom I have stayed in touch over the years. Many of them were co-workers of mine, which makes me believe there is something inherently social about the television-news business.

Having not worked in any other field, I can only guess that the amount of imbibing done by news employees tops most others’. In my 20’s, so many nights after the 11 o’clock news were spent at local watering holes, where we would expound upon the day’s events. It is a practice that continued well into my 30’s and pretty much to this day. Conversations went something like this: “I can’t believe I saw that dead guy in the street” or “Can you believe the director punched up that camera at that exact moment?” Much laughter would follow one of these two comments, and it was usually the first.

When you break down the root of said socializing, it is not difficult to determine the source. Our job is depressing. If we’re not writing about kids killed in a fire or murdered teens, we’re writing about politics and fraud (often in the same story). It creates a need for an outlet to blow off steam.

I’ve taken to not watching the news when I can. Weekends are spent ignoring what’s going on in the world locally and nationally. That is, until Sunday when I need to be in the know for the workweek. Vacations often include watching some news, only to judge its production and talent value. I wish I didn’t even care about that, but it’s easy to critique the job you do when it’s done by someone else who is nameless and faceless.

I imagine the same scenario in newsrooms across the country. A shooting on the south side of Chicago, a fatal fire on Cleveland’s east side, a killer on the loose in suburban Reno. After the news every night in all of these towns, the migration happens. People hop in their cars after the show, pull out of the parking lot and meet four blocks away at their spot. In most of these places, the bartender knows the clientele. Drinks are had, some laughs are shared and eventually everyone goes home.

There are many nights, before I go to bed, that I find myself wondering why I do what I do. I like to say that no one will live or die based on what they see in the news. There will, however, be people who are deeply saddened by it. That does not usually include those of us who are writing it. We’ve desensitized ourselves to the point where we are unshaken despite knowing we should be.

In the meantime, I will continue to show up when I am scheduled to and continue to mindlessly write stories that someone else will see and say, “That’s awful.” And each night as I fall asleep, I will ask for the strength to do it again tomorrow.

My love-hate relationship with the Internet

Anonymity; and the Internet by Stian Eikeland. Member of the activist group Anonymous wearing a Guy Fawkes day mask using an old computer outside.

"Anonymity; and the Internet" by Stian Eikeland

I find technology fascinating but I am also terrified of it.  I didn’t even buy a cell phone until years after all my friends had them. The first two computers I ever owned were hand-me-downs, and I quickly killed both within six months. Basically, I had to ease myself into the idea of the “World Wide Web” and have come to discover, at this point in life, it controls almost everything I do. It may in fact eventually be the demise of my industry.

I would say that I first noticed the impact the Web was having on news when our newsroom stopped getting newspapers delivered. The edict was: Get it online—it’s free. I find this to be somewhat annoying in that we essentially may be contributing to the end of newspaper publishing. What I don’t believe is that the general public understands the effect of reading news online rather than picking up a newspaper or turning on the nightly news, be it local or national.

For the most part, we are the source for the news that everyone is reading online. If you go to any news-based website, you will find stories that are links to already-produced news from TV stations, radio stations and newspapers around the world. Meanwhile, the revenue streams for all three continue to dry up because people are no longer tuning in and are instead getting the info they want, customized to their needs, online. Most advertisers are following them. Do you see where this is going?

Let’s pretend that all the TV stations in America stop news operations and newspapers go away because there is no money coming in. Where, then, will most of the news you read online come from? You would be hard-pressed to find any source remaining that is not creating its own stories. Therefore, your news is no longer the journalism that we’ve all come to know, the kind that has been shaping this country for centuries and has been held to ethical standards that today’s Internet is not.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the damage at this point is beyond repair. I don’t even believe that a disappearance of the concept of journalism will happen in my lifetime. Perhaps if the backers of news were to invest in doing it right online, we could all ride this wave together. I don’t see that happening until someone realizes the amount of money invested in new media needs to be the handled the way television was in its early days.

I will now e-mail this to someone who will post it to a website that I will be able to share with my friends via Facebook. Later I will look at it on my cell phone, which has become pretty much anything but a phone.

The Internet Is Not A Newspaper by Mark O'Brien

"The Internet Is Not A Newspaper" by Mark O'Brien

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Interestingly enough, I started in this crazy business on a technical path. I worked as a shooter and editor in my first job out of college and eventually as a TD, director, chyron op, stagehand, studio camera, boom operator, graphic designer and (please God, never again) a master control operator. Why do I bring you this short history lesson? I’ll get to that.

After holding my various jobs in news production, I eventually slipped, somehow, into the journalism side of things, producing for the CBS affiliate in Youngstown, Ohio. We were number one for murders in the mid to late 90’s, hooray! Gang warfare, Mafia warfare, you name it. It made the job very easy. The old, if it bleeds it leads concept. But I didn’t like it. I was hell bent on changing the world! I wanted more positive news, less negative. I impressed my friends and family. They would say “Oh wow, you are a news producer. How cool”. And it was, for a while at least. Then the fight got old and I, like any good producer, needed a change. So I moved on and eventually landed in New York City.

Flash forward or in this case scroll through the years. I held onto my technical know-how along the way, by doing the jobs that I could when not in a union shop. When I ended up with a union gig, I was disappointed that I couldn’t touch the machinery. It took getting yelled at a few times, by someone jaded and in the business for decades, for me to learn. Although I still have issues with the “you can touch this deck but not that one” mentality.

Here’s where I revert to the beginning. All these years later as we see the diminution (it annoys me that I just used this word) of the local news business, my earlier skills are coming back as a blessing. Across the country, TV stations are changing the way they do things. In the once union heavy market of NYC, where I used to get my knuckles smacked with a ruler for touching eject, I am now editing on a desktop. Companies looking for new ways to save money are beating down IATSE and NABET which in turn is forcing the writers and producers to do more with less. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have an eye for shooting, when it eventually comes to that and I am sure it will, and I have an eye for editing. I’m now in a shop where producers and writers make their own graphics and we’re not the only newsroom in the number 1 market that is doing so.

I suppose the end result after 18 years is that I am forced to embrace the changes. I hear the scripted phrase “lucky to have a job”, over and over again. I get it. I am lucky to have a job. I am not lucky to be in a position where I am now not only critiqued on the content and writing of a news show, but on the look of it as well. When I made my transition I expected to be judged on writing ability and producing know-how. Now I hear “that video didn’t match the script, what happened?” Or, “that graphic didn’t work with the story”. In essence, the job of a News Writer is becoming quite blurred and the actual writing of it is not the main focus anymore. I’ll expound on that in a later entry. That is unless I find a brand new career between now and the next time I sit down to write one of these.
Patrick Mason works as a Producer for WNYW FOX 5. Most recently as a producer for Good Day New York. He previously worked as a producer and copy editor for WWOR My 9 and News 12 New Jersey.

That’s no Chagall –A Review of FBI 103 by Bonnie Datt

More than 40 Guild members learned how to perpetrate ATM and art fraud. No, it wasn’t some Fagin-like school for criminals, but rather, “FBI 103: A Seminar for Script and Screen Writers” presented by the WGAE and WGAE Foundation, along with the FBI Office of Public Affairs. After passing advance background checks and being screened through on-sight metal detectors at the agency’s Manhattan office, the writers learned about procedures and operations from some of the FBI’s top operatives working in Corporate/Securities Fraud, Cyber Crime, Gang Squad and The Art Theft and Jewelry and Gem Theft divisions of the Major Theft Squad.

Not only did the special agents discuss how their departments worked and answer questions, but many of them also shared, and occasionally pitched, interesting case stories. Austin Berglas, of Cyber Crimes, explained the elaborate workings of a major Eastern European backed American ATM fraud case. Dan McCaffrey, the former head of Tiffany’s security, and now an agent dealing with Gem and Jewelry Theft, discussed the extensive crimes of the former 47th Street jeweler, Joel Spigelman. Art Crimes agent Jim Wynne illustrated his talk by bringing in actual forged paintings from FBI cases, as well as the fake provenances which were used to try and authenticate them.

This interesting and informative seminar was obviously beneficial to the many screenwriters researching and writing FBI related projects, but WGAE members learned that this exchange was also important to the Bureau. Our hosts explained that ever since the G-Man days of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI has been concerned with the image or “brand” it presents to the world. If society sees the FBI in a positive light, citizens are more likely to aid agents in their work fighting crime. The FBI representatives explained that while they knew that not all fictional portrayals of their organization would be accurate, they hoped that WGAE writers would depict them positively, as the hard working protectors they are.

Bonnie Datt

Bonnie Datt is a comedy writer for animation, television, print, stage and the web.

Dialogue for One

Sign for a laundry called Soap Opera by Brent Moore/

by Brent Moore/

I’m amazed by the questions I’m asked when I tell someone I write for a soap opera.  What’s surprising is that they’re almost always the same questions and never questions I was asked when I wrote for prime time.  The first is, “How far in advance do you write?”  For producers, the answer would probably be, “Not far enough.”  For writers, it’s, “Too far.”  The time between writing the breakdown (the outline from which a script is written) and the air date varies a little from show to show, but generally it’s 10 to 12 weeks.  Producers like as much time as possible to handle the business of putting together a show. But with that much lag time, writers may introduce a new character and write for him or her for nearly three months before ever seeing them on the air.  I’m not sure why this subject piques people’s curiosity, but that’s my cocktail party answer.

The second question is, “How do you come up with the stories?”  The short answer is, “Every way conceivable.”  Some stories are inspired by news items – a returning soldier coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, a governor hiding his homosexuality, a woman dealing with infertility and surrogacy.  Some stories come from the characters themselves.  Bringing back a character who was once in love with a woman now married to his brother … well, you can see the possibilities.  In some cases the source is literary – take, for example, the story of a power hungry assistant convincing his boss that his wife is having an affair, leading to tragedy.  Does the name Othello ring a bell?

The most common and most baffling question I get is, “So, do you just write for one character and one storyline?”  I have no idea how this myth started but I wish I had a nickel for every time someone asked.  I’ve tried to wrap my head around how it would work.  Imagine that “my character” is a young woman, Mireille.  The story I’m writing is about her search for the man who killed her sister.  An associate is writing for Rico, a doctor finding the courage to love again after a painful event in his past.  A meeting between these characters might go something like this:

It was you all along!  My sister loved you, she trusted you, but all you ever wanted was to take over
the company.  You killed her, I know that now!  And so do the police.

Will you marry me?

Actually, everyone on the team of writers for a daytime serial writes for every character in every story.  On any given day there can be three or more overlapping stories and twelve or more characters whose lives intertwine.  Writing for only one character … well, I think that’s called a monologue.
Lately, the question I’m most often asked is, “Will soap operas survive?”  When I started writing for daytime, doom and gloomers told me soap operas would be dead in five years.  That was fifteen years ago.  Granted, there are far fewer soaps now than there were then.  Women are out working, the target audience isn’t home during the day, and with a DVR, it’s no longer necessary to be home when a show airs. There’s competition from hundreds of cable channels.  It’s a rough time for the daytime industry.  But the numerous blogs and websites devoted to soaps, the magazines for daytime viewers and the fan mail we get tell me people still love their shows.  They want continued drama.  They want soap operas.  But that doesn’t answer the question.  When people ask if soaps will survive, I can only say, “I sincerely hope so.”