We have spent the past week in pre-production at the Oxygen show.
Pre-production means the producers are planning out the shooting schedule, while we rewrite the script over and over again until it satisfies the network, the budget and the cast (in that order). This is when it gets more intense, and a bit frustrating. This is when you have to, as the comedy saying goes, “eat your babies.” Gone is your hilarious joke about chick lit — too “smart.” Gone is your clever dig at tearjerkers — they don’t “get it.” Another segment gets changed entirely, as the location was impossible to rent affordably. Jokes are rewritten, made “broader” and softer, and less “political.” You are told to lose the subtlety. Sometimes we marvel at what does get in. Jokes we thought were too raunchy or silly, sketches that we threw out there because someone needed to say something at that moment — some of this stuff was in Plan D. Now we’re writing the script backwards, trying to fit the same joke or the same social commentary around a budgetary restriction, and it can be very difficult. It can be extremely frustrating. You know how to make the joke work one way, the best way, but you can’t do that, so you’ve got to sneak it in or illustrate it in another fashion.
We had a pre-production meeting and there were about twelve people in the room. That was the moment, when they were all talking about a rehearsal schedule, that it hit me: they are going to shoot this thing and people will see it. Every time I open Final Draft and do another “shorter, faster, funnier” take on a sketch, it changes what’s going to happen next week. When it’s three people in a room coming up with a show, as it was a couple of months ago, anything is possible. You imagine it in your head as flawless, fantastic, and also a little fuzzy. You don’t really see the performers. You can’t exactly see the title sequence. You just hear laughs, maybe. And maybe you picture the Entertainment Weekly review.
The reality is now that we’re often one of the last to find out a change, and the script is due in minutes with the new jokes, the new way the show has been conceived. We’re still trying to come up with ways to satisfy the changes, the notes, while keeping our original intentions intact. The show is evolving, changing into something very different than it was when we started, and we have to keep in mind how it will come together once it’s edited. We could find ourselves on the other end of a thirty-minute show that looks nothing like what we thought of a few weeks ago. We are not the “creators” of the show. This wasn’t our baby that we pitched and fought for. We are writers hired to come up with ideas that illustrate the show the producers created. This is “their” baby, as far as the contracts go, as far as the legwork goes. They’re the ones who call the shots, and we do what they ask. An important part of all this is learning how to be a surrogate, how to write to someone’s wishes and keep a sense of detachment, stay far enough away so that you don’t take it personally when they decide they don’t want it anymore, when they just don’t get it.
This is all happening in a very short period of time — three weeks. Everybody’s doing their job at once, and sometimes there’s not enough time to tell other people what’s going on. It’s exciting and fun and it’s pretty crazy I get to be a part of it all. I’m learning a lot about writing, about writing for a broader audience than I ever have before, and when to stick up for something I’ve written if it needs defending. I’ve learned when to step back, even if I have ideas on how to make it work, because we only have so much time, and other people can handle it, and being a part of a team means you don’t have to be a part of everything.
The craziest thing about all of this is something I had nothing to do with. Liz has been cast as one of the three leads. The morning I started back up at work, the producer said to me, “There’s this girl we love. Liz Feldman. She’s great.”
“I know,” I said. “She’s one of my bridesmaids.”
This week when I rewrote sketches, I got to write “LIZ” for the character name and I knew exactly what that would look like and sound like. The fuzziness of the voices in my head went away. I knew how to write to her strengths, and how she’d be able to pull the sketch off. We spent time with all three of the women, and now it’s easier to see how the show will look when it’s all been shot two weeks from now.
Because everything great seems to be tempered with everything awful, the staph is back and it sucks. The surgeon has now decided I need to see someone else to find out why every time I’m not on antibiotics, I get incredibly painful sores that leave scars. It’s been five months now and I’m so mad about it that sometimes I pace (because hey, it hurts to sit), and yell and complain and remember that there is no dignity at all in the human body.