In this episode, Michael and Phil tackle the subject of staffing a TV show. Get answers to common questions and see what a working Showrunner is looking for when hiring new staff writers.

Show Notes

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Autogenerated Transcript

Michael: (00:00)
You’re listening to screenwriters. Need to hear this with Michael Jamin.

Michael: (00:08)
All right, everyone. Welcome back today. We’re talking about how shows are staffed and how you can get on a staff and all that stuff.

Phil: (00:15)
That’s what I want to know. Let’s do this.

Michael: (00:16)
That’s what you want to pay attention to I’ll take notes. All right. Well basically, you know, when a show gets greenlit to go into production, the showrunner is hired first. If that’s not the person who, who sold the show, it could be sometimes it’s like a younger person might sell the show with less experience than they team up that person with an experienced showrunner, whatever let’s say you are. Or

Phil: (00:36)
I have a question about that. So let’s say that I sell a pilot and they are like, Hey, you need a show runner here. A bunch of people. And I’m like, I got a guy, his name was Michael Jamin, his writing partner, Sivert. I want them to run my show. They vet you guys. They like you. They’re okay with it. Am I get a creator title right? Created by probably shared with you is my guess.

Michael: (00:58)
It depends. eh, I, you know, it could be also developed someone like a developed by, or if this case, if you truly created the show by yourself, and then I’m brought on later after mixing on air and I don’t get any creative, I just I’m Executive Producer. I don’t get a creative background.

Phil: (01:12)
Okay. And then you are the showrunner. What would my title be? Would I be an M assuming I’d be an EAP because I created the show.

Michael: (01:22)
Not necessarily. Yeah, not they, you have to negotiate for all that. Um, you could be maybe a producer. They would, might give you if you’ve had no experience, they might give you a producer title, but they, they might not make you an executive producer and that’s not up to that’s up to what you knew associate with the studio, you know?

Phil: (01:39)
Interesting. And I think from our last conversation, those aren’t technically writer’s Guild, guaranteed titles, right? Those are new sorta titles. Yeah.

Michael: (01:48)
Yeah. And it’s what you can, it’s what you can negotiate. I mean, I, yeah, I’m not sure if yeah. I was going to try my, remember we ran a show for the firm, the guy. Yeah. I know for a fact, the guy who created was not executive producer, so yeah. It’s you have to negotiate it. So whatever, you can get your first show, you don’t have a lot of you don’t have a lot of, uh, cards, you know?

Phil: (02:08)
Yeah. Okay. So who in that room? I it’s my show. I sold it. You’re the show runner who has ultimate creative say

Michael: (02:18)
I the showrunner, but, um, the short Warner’s going to try to keep, if the sermons are a decent person, we’ll try to keep that the other guy or woman to create happy. You don’t really want them, but you have to defer, like, that’s why they bring on the show runner. Because like, you’re the one with the experience. You don’t want hunter who has, it knows how to talk to the network and deal with the actors. And ultimately you, you know, you have that.

Phil: (02:39)
Yeah. And ultimately you work for the S for the network. Right. But they could technically fire you if you put up too much of a fight. Right. Because it’s,

Michael: (02:49)
Anyone could get fired. Everyone is on the chopping block. So, you know, you don’t, you want to be respectful and you don’t want to, you know, destroy their vision. But ultimately, you know, that’s the why that’s why you’re being brought on. So I’ve never had a situation where it became like a struggle of egos. And like now we’re doing it my way, usually that the inexperienced writer will, will kind of naturally defer to the showrunner just because, you know, you have the experience. Yeah.

Phil: (03:17)
Got it. Okay. That’s a bit of a digression, but go ahead. Continue. We’re talking about to how we get staffed on a show.

Michael: (03:24)
So usually the show runner will have the first person that they’re showing or we’ll hire is the, is the second in command. Usually the higher it goes in that order, they usually hire up ha they hire from the top down. So they hire like a co-executive producer or someone was a supervisor and producer. And then finally, if there’s any money left over, maybe you’ll, you’ll throw in, um, a staff writer. That’s traditionally how some, but not necessarily how it’s done anymore. They’ve kind of make their kind of changing things now.

Phil: (03:50)
Okay. So let me, let me ask another question here. When you’re making those hiring decisions, how much are you actually looking at budgets to say, like, I know this coach VP has this rate and that’s gonna affect my writer’s room budget this much.

Michael: (04:04)
I honestly, I’m not even privy to that stuff. They try, you know, they don’t even tell you. They often they’ll say, we’ll see what we can do. Or often this, the studio will say, well, it’s important for us to have a lot of voices in this room. Uh, we don’t really care about experience. And so they’ll say, this is what you’re going to get. I’ve been on shows where like they say, Nope, you know, I, where I’ve tried to hire people with experience and I’ve gotten vetoed by the higher ups who say, no, we want you to have more writers and fewer, like, I’m always, like, in my opinion, I’d rather have someone a really skilled co-executive producer who knows story and who really can turn into a great draft. That’s the most important thing to me when I’m running a show, but the studios often have other decisions. They like, no, we want to make sure we have X amount of writers on this show. It doesn’t matter if they’re never written a word before in their life, but that

Phil: (04:53)
That’s where they want. Got it. So in that situation, have they said, well, unfortunately you’re not able to make that offer because it eats up too much budget or is that anything that comes up like, yeah,

Michael: (05:03)
No, we don’t want to hire this person. That person doesn’t check out with us, find somebody else. And it’s like, oh great. You know, got it. And it’s not that we want to hire our friends. We want to hire people that we’ve worked with, that we know can do the job. Right.

Phil: (05:15)
So, because ultimately the writer’s job is to make your showrunner job easier because you have so many hats you’re wearing.

Michael: (05:22)
Yeah. All I really care about is can this person write a good draft or do I have to do a page one rewrite? So, you know, that’s like, I don’t, that’s all I really care about is that will the draft come in? Good.

Phil: (05:35)
Got it. Okay. So you’re saying that now things have changed though, and some shows are kind of doing things differently in regards to staff writers. Yeah.

Michael: (05:43)
I, I, you know, in some degree, like I’m talking about the, the industry is changing so fast that, uh, you know, the orders for shows are becoming because of streaming and cable. And you know, in the old days when I was coming up, there was four networks and you get 22 episodes a year, but now it’s streaming and you meet, you do 10 a year or 80 year, and the budgets are getting smaller and smaller. And so they won’t hire the writers for the entire production to show. Maybe they’ll just hire writers for the pre-production of the show. And so, you know, it’s the rules, it’s a very fluid situation. So

Phil: (06:15)
Got it, got it. Okay. So what a, and we’ve talked kind of extensively at this point about there’s one skillset. You need to have to make it as a staff writer. And that is to be able to write a good episode of tell

Michael: (06:28)
And that’s hard to do so failing that. Can you contribute in some meaningful way and without like gumming up the works and you would think that’s an easy thing that you would think that’d be a low threshold. But apparently that seems to be a hard, hard bar to cross for a lot of people, because a lot of new writers simply gum up the works because they want it. They want to talk as much, or they feel like they should be contributing as much as the higher up writers. But the higher up writers are getting paid easily five times as much as a lower writer. And so the low writers thinks, well, if that writer just spoke, you know, for 10 minutes, I better say something for 10 minutes. And I was like, but no, that person’s getting paid way more than you, that they have to talk.

Michael: (07:09)
They were quiet. You know, they are supposed to carry more of a load, but some new writers just don’t quite understand that. And so by matching, they feel like, well, I have to do my here’s my 10 minutes. I better keep talking. Uh, it’s like, Ugh, you know, that doesn’t help actually. But there are other ways you can meaningful contribute a great way to contribute for a new staff writer. Most people don’t realize this is sometimes they, they want to fight for their own ideas. They take up time arguing for their ideas. And it’s not like we don’t want to do their ideas. We just want to do whatever the best idea we can get our hands on. And if there’s this one of the best ideas I want, we’ll take someone else’s best idea. So a great way that a staff writer can contribute instead of fighting for your own ideas is when someone has an idea that gets a little traction, see if you can build on their idea. So it’s not your idea you’re building on theirs. Yeah.

Phil: (07:54)
And now you’ve given me a note in the past that you got a great piece of advice when you were a young writer about finding a different way around. Do you want to talk about that? Yeah.

Michael: (08:02)
Yeah. And now I, that was, I learned that as a staff writer on just shoot me and I got that piece of advice from a writer named marsh McCall. And he was, uh, at the time he was, he had just come off with Conan where he was the head writer on the Conan O’Brien show. And I remember struggling the first few weeks trying to like, we would be pitching a joke and, or a story area, and everyone was so fast and so quick with it. And I was like, I w first they’d say something funny and then I’d spend the next 10 minutes laughing as if I was in, you know, in the audience of the show and just in complete off them. But I had to contribute in some way. And so we pitch on a line and like, how do I beat them for this joke?

Michael: (08:41)
I just couldn’t do it. And one day I marched took me aside and I kind of confided to him what I was struggling with. And he goes, oh, well, here’s what you do. Instead of everyone, if everyone’s racing towards this one joke, trying to climb over the hill to get to this one joke, you’re never going to beat these people. Cause they’re pros, they’re faster, they’re better, they’re stronger. They’re funnier. You have to find a way around. You have to go under the health. You have to go around the hill, you have to dig a hole, you can get to the sand, but you have to get a different way there. And I, and to me that freed everything up, that little analogy helped me so much. I was like, oh, okay. I don’t have to follow them. I can, I can cheat. I can find another way around to get to the end, the end. Funny. I, you know, I can think of a different way to get to a punchline that isn’t necessarily the same pit, the way everyone else is pitching. I can think of a different way to approach the joke and that freed everything up. And after that, I kind of became all, I kind of came alive in the room and then I had my confidence soared and I was like, oh, I can do this job. That’s a, before that I thought I was gonna be fired. Yeah,

Phil: (09:36)
No kidding. So, so do you have any example of what that would look like? It’s so hard. I know it’s putting you on the spot.

Michael: (09:43)
It is it’s but it’s like, I, you know, I remember like if you’re pitching a joke about, uh, Nina being a non-event horn, who was a kind of like, she, she used to drink a lot and maybe everyone’s pitching a joke about her being a drunk. And, and we’re trying to think of a funny way to talk about that. If you came out of it a different way, instead of trying to get to the drunk part, get to the part where she’s promiscuous or something, you know, just do something else that no one else is thinking about. Cause it’s not like we have to come up with a line about her drinking too much. It could be, you know, it, it could be another way to approach the problem. Um, uh, yeah. And so I wish I could think of a better example, but it’s always been about, um, just not following everybody, come up with your own way to get around the problem.

Phil: (10:26)
That’s a, I think it’s powerful, powerful advice for anybody who is struggling with that. So what would you consider to be the no-nos of a staff writer?

Michael: (10:36)
Well, there’s a, there’s a phrase that’s often heard in, in TV writing rooms. It’s it’s pitch don’t. And so that means it’s so much easier for a staff writer. And again, I include myself in this because I was just as guilty. It’s so hard to come up with something usable and good, but it’s very easy to take a dump on someone else’s idea and to explain why your idea is no good. Why it won’t work. That’s extremely easy, but it’s not productive. And so that’s. So you never really want to point out a problem unless you have a solution. You know, and I that’s, that’s been my mantra to the, to this day. It’s like, I don’t point it up. I just come up with solutions, you know?

Phil: (11:17)
Yeah. I’ve heard other people refer to this as being the doctor know that. Yeah, no,

Michael: (11:23)
You know, it’s funny you say that sometimes people will say to play devil’s advocate and my partner always says, he always interrupts. He goes, well, whoa, are we playing devil’s advocate now? I didn’t realize, let me get out of the board game. We’re not playing devil’s advocate. You know, we’re making a TV show.

Phil: (11:38)
Yeah. Right.

Michael: (11:39)
So no doubt that the devil, by the way, devil does need an advocate. Devil does pretty well on his own. So he doesn’t need any help from you.

Phil: (11:47)
Right. Right. Okay. So, so I can, I know that there are some observations I’ve made in writer’s rooms with what young writers have done. That seem odd to me. Tell me if, tell me if these are no-nos, um, having a pad of paper out and just doodling the entire time while everyone’s talking.

Michael: (12:06)
And that happens, uh, you gotta have balls. Cause they see some older writers doing that, a more experienced writers. Even. That’s not really a good form. Like it’s an, and I’m guilty of it too. I’d take out my phone and I’m looking at my phone. You should definitely shouldn’t. You should not

Phil: (12:19)
Be. That was my next to national

Michael: (12:22)
phone away. And I’m guilty of it. But some people, sometimes they do it all and maybe they think it helps their expression, but it doesn’t like it releases their mind and releases their creativity. But to the other people, maybe it does, maybe that’s the truth, but to the outside bystanders, it just looks like you’re doodling your board away. Yeah. It looks at your right. So put that away. Um, I don’t, I’m not a good doodler, so I don’t have that problem. All right.

Phil: (12:46)
So say I’m a new staff writer, what time? And the writer’s room starts at 9:00 AM. What time should I be there? If it’s

Michael: (12:52)
No writer’s room starts at 9:00 AM. Right. And it usually starts at 10. The writers or writers are always like that’s show up to work at later. Um, but I’d say it was a 10. You get your in the seat at nine 50 and you don’t want to be the last per, you never want to be the last person to sit. You never want to leave the showrunner waiting for you. I see that happen all the time. Like, are you out of your mind? Don’t wait. You know, no man being in your seat before everyone else. And I, and even now as a co-executor I’m in, if I, if I’m not running the show, I’m in my seat before everyone else, it just seems wrong to keep the boss waiting.

Phil: (13:26)
Right. Okay. So next, um, let’s say that the writer’s PA comes in and he’s taken everyone’s lunch orders. How much time slash how picky should I be with my order?

Michael: (13:38)
Oh, wow. Yeah. I haven’t really thought about that. Uh, if you can make it funny, then you can take as much time as you want, you know? Cause if you make the other writers laugh about how you deliberate, uh, you know, over your lunch order, that could be a funny routine. But um, if not, uh, then you’re just a pre-madonna, you know, don’t just pick something out and move it on. You don’t want to hold, you don’t want to hold up the room. You don’t want to be often in a writer’s room. People are goofing around and they’re just having fun and that’s fine, but you never want to be the last person or the first person to go far out. But that’s you let someone else be the last person. Cause you don’t want to, you don’t want the boss say, all right guys, settle down. You know, you don’t want to be the last person to open your mouth. And even like today, I’m always considered of that guy, you know? And I’m, I’m in a pretty safe boat. I’m a, Co-Executive Producer with a lot of experience. So I wouldn’t make that mistake. So why would a rookie writer make that mistake?

Phil: (14:28)
All right. What are there, have you seen any other big mistakes or subtle mistakes? Even that, uh, beginning staff writers were making?

Michael: (14:36)
Yeah. It’s sometimes they’ll fight the fight. The showrunner on what the tone of the show should be. You know? And it’s like, man, this man or woman just sold the show, they sold it. It’s that they got a show on there. That’s pretty impressive. If you don’t agree with them, then get your own show. This is their shot. And we are all here to help them get, realize their vision. Even if you don’t not like their vision, it’s their vision. Even if you think it’s their, vision’s going to get the show canceled. It’s there, that’s on them. We here to help them.

Michael: (15:12)
Hi guys. Michael Jamin here. I wanted to take a break from talking and talk just a little bit more. I think a lot of you guys are getting bad advice on the internet. I know this because I’m getting tagged. One guy tagged me with this. He said, I heard from a script reader in the industry and I was like, wait, what? Hold on, stop. My head blew up. I blacked out. And when I finally came to, I was like, listen, dude, there are no script readers in the industry by definition. These are people on the outside of the industry. They work part-time. They give their right arm to be in the industry. And instead they’re giving you advice on what to do and you’re paying for this. I mean, it just made me nuts, man. These people are unqualified to give my dog advice. By the way her script is coming along quite nicely.

Michael: (15:51)
And oh, and I’m a done another thing when I work with TV writers for a new one, I’m writing stamps. A lot of these guys flame out after 13 episodes. So they get this big break, they find it, they get in and then they flame out because they don’t know what is expected of them on the job. And that said, because you know, it’s not going to happen again. So to fight all this, to flush all this bad stuff out of your head, I post daily tips on social media. You can find me on Instagram and TikTok and Facebook @MichaelJaminwriter. If you don’t have time, two minutes a day to devote towards improving your craft guys, it’s not going to happen. Let’s just be honest. So go find, make it happen. All right. Now, back to my previous,

Phil: (16:33)
Do you feel like you’ve seen that throughout your 26 years? Is it a common problem or do, would you say it’s becoming more of a problem with younger reps?

Michael: (16:41)
You know, as I get older, eh, you millennials, but um, I, I see it every year. I see a young writer make that mistake and get fired and I really don’t get fired. They don’t get asked back to season two, which is

Phil: (16:53)
Equivalently being the equivalent to being fired.

Michael: (16:55)
Yeah. Yeah. And you can, you can tell, like I remember we were on a show and, and none of the execs was like, we found this great young writer who did a show. We did a year on this very high profile show and I’m like, they only did a year. Huh. And you want to hire them and you think they’re going to be, they only did a year because they were fired off that show. So they have a great credit. But if they only get a year off a hit show it’s cause they were fired off that show. Why do you want this person? And I was right. I turned person turned out to be a disaster.

Phil: (17:26)
Yeah, got it. Yeah. I asked because it does seem to me as a millennial that even in my business, the millennials tend to be a little bit more entitled. They seem to think that they have a right to argue with me about how things are done. And it’s not about ego. It’s not about saying like, I’m right. You’re wrong. Like I want to hear what they have to say. Cause I’m aware, like I may not have all the best and I hired you and I pay you money because you have unique insights that I don’t have you supposed to make my job better. But you know, ultimately I recently just had someone quit because I’m toxic because I held them accountable. Right. Right. And so I I’m seeing that. And I’m wondering if that’s how it translates, but it’s interesting to know that it’s, it’s a perpetual problem. Well,

Michael: (18:13)
You know, the job of a staff writer is you’re there at the, at the executive producers. Pleasure. And you’re, you’re there to make the, so if I picture a line or a story idea that the boss does, the showrunner does not like, or we argue over a point, like I make my case, they hear it, they make a decision and then we move on. I don’t keep arguing with them. I don’t try to change their mind after that. I’m like, okay, move on. You heard me good. Now I haven’t heard you felt, I feel heard let’s move on. I will do what you want.

Phil: (18:43)
Hmm. You know? Uh, what else can you ask for? I think, right. But yeah. You know, so ultimately it sounds like you just need to know your place and you need to read the room and you need to understand. So what I would consider to be basic social skills.

Michael: (18:54)
Yeah. There’s a lot of that. A lot of basic social skills. Um, yeah. And that it’s odd that people don’t pick up on that. And I’m always, yeah. I always try to be aware of other people, uh, now, uh, nowadays, by the way, I meant to point out in my little, my little show notes, um, the studios are, are making definitely more of an effort for diversity and stats. And so, I mean, I, and when I see people complain on Twitter, I’m like, uh, yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I, from what I see the, uh, they are, uh, the, the effort that they’re making is very sincere and they are putting money behind it. And so they are definitely making a conscious effort to have a, you know, just a broader range of people in it so that more voices can be heard. And so if you’re complaining, well, no, they’re not, well maybe, cause they’re not hiring you, but I see it on my end. They are hiring people like you. So

Phil: (19:44)
Yeah, no, I I’ve. I’ve seen that. Um, in the short time I’ve been here, there’s definitely a concerted effort to get minorities and underrepresented people into shows and all shows, not necessarily just shows with an ethnic, you know, tone or voice. Exactly.

Michael: (20:00)
Right. Yeah.

Phil: (20:01)
Hmm. Well, let’s go back a little bit because I think one of the things we might’ve passed over is like, how, how are you picking staff writers? You talked about how you go top to bottom, you know, typically higher level down, but how are you getting in contact with people? How are you finding scripts from new writers? How are you making those introductions? Okay,

Michael: (20:20)
Well usually you, you, uh, when you’re running a show, you call your agent, say, Hey, we’re hiring, send over your, you know, some, some young writers and they, next thing you know, you have a stack of, you know, giant stack of scripts and, uh, from your agent and from the other competing talent agencies, and you have so many scripts that y’all pick up one and I’ll start reading. And if I get to bites page four or five, and if I’m not hooked on the story next, so forget about the end, forget about this idea that wait till the end, it gets great at the end. Nope. I’m not waiting. I’m picking up another script and find somebody else

Phil: (20:52)
Let’s narrow in on that. If you don’t mind, what is it that stands out to you in those first four pages? Like how do you know or what gives it away that this is a good writer?

Michael: (21:02)
Well, for, well, I work in mostly comedy, so there better be a really good laugh on by the end of page three. I hopefully I remember, uh, when my partner were writing specs, like, man, we want to come up page one, boom, with a big, hard joke, like a big laugh. It could be, you know, a real swing. So I’m looking for that. But also I want to know, has the story started, you know, when, how to start a story, has it begun yet? And cause until the story starts, and this is something that I talk about in my course, right? Like what does that mean? When a story starts? Uh, I go into a great detail because it’s hard. It’s important to understand, but if the story hasn’t started by page three or four next, and by the way, you will be just as guilty. If you’re watching a TV show and they don’t start the story, you pick up your moat next, what else is on? So you’re, you’re, you’re no different than me when I’m hiring, we have the same criteria, you know?

Phil: (21:53)
Got it, got it. So a big laugh they’re taking, you know, they’re, they’re implementing the tone of the story, right?

Michael: (21:59)
Yeah. I want a big, I want a big swing man. Yeah. Go for it. And the gate, get my attention.

Phil: (22:05)
Got it. And then store it. Um, we don’t need to dive too far into story. Cause I know you covered that in your course on a lot of your social media stuff. So if anyone listening, hasn’t isn’t following Michael check out his Instagram, uh, Michael Jamin writer. He’s got a ton of tips on that stuff and that’s one of the topics I always covered. All of me

Michael: (22:20)
Guys follow me. I’ll lead you over the cliff.

Phil: (22:24)
You’ve made comments to me before, like the pied Piper

Michael: (22:28)
Cut that part out.

Phil: (22:30)
So as far as, um, you you’ve made comments to me before, about when you were reading these stack of scripts, you’re really like the, you’re looking for someone to do you a favor and to make it so you don’t have to continue reading those.

Michael: (22:43)
Yeah. I’m begging like I want, it’s not like I don’t have like an attitude, like impressing me young. Like I’m begging, please. Someone should give me a script that really impresses me. I want to hire you so I can stop reading the other 90 scripts on my desk. I don’t want to read anymore. I don’t want to do that. I want to ha I, you know, and once if you’re a great, if you know how to write a script, you do, you’re doing me a favor because it’s not the other way around. I need you on the show. You’re doing me a favor and we will hire. We were, um, we were staffing on, on written link. Uh, we were reading, it’s a show we ran a couple of years ago. Uh, we read a lot of scripts and I was like, ah, no, no, no, not really. No. And then one finally made its way into my desk and I was like only a few pages into it and was like, hire this guy, hire him now I don’t need to read anymore. I don’t want to lose him, hire him now because I don’t want to read anymore. And he impressed me. And that’s how, and that was that. Yeah.

Phil: (23:39)
And did that write a workout? Yeah.

Michael: (23:41)
Yeah, he was, he was very talented, you know, turning into drafts.

Phil: (23:45)
There you go. Then probably still working my guess. Yeah. That’s incredible. That’s awesome. Okay. So now that I’m a staff writer, um, is there anything else that you think that I need to know in terms of like, how can I be a better staff writer? Obviously it’s good drafts. It’s perf it’s being, knowing your place in the room and fulfilling that role. But is there anything related to like, is there homework I could do, should I, obviously I should watch this show, but is there anything that helps me like pay attention to like the voice of those characters or anything like that?

Michael: (24:19)
I remember actually I think it was two years ago in Tacoma, FD, the show I’m currently co-executive producer on one of the writers came in with a list of story ideas that they wanted, they were going to pitch and I’m like, yeah, let’s hear them. And most of them weren’t very good, but I was like, there’s gotta be something in here. And it saved me the effort of it. Cause I w I didn’t have a list of ideas. I was like, I was like, yeah, if you have a great idea, let’s do that. And, uh, so I thought that was really good on their part, that they were prepared and they, you know, and they had some ideas that they were brought to the table and I’m, I’m perfectly happy to pitch if they got to go to, yeah, I’m happy to pitch on that idea.

Michael: (24:52)
You know, I was like, good for you for being prepared. Other than that, it’s a really good opportunity. They can use this as an opportunity to learn. And instead of being argumentative, if, you know, you’ll you’ll know pretty quick, which writers are the ones who can, you can learn from because they’re the ones that everyone’s kind of paying attention to and figure, you know, watch what they’re doing and try to get on their page and try to get into their head because that’s a person that education is invaluable. So you don’t always have to be working. You can also be learning. Hmm.

Phil: (25:25)
Hmm. That’s a good note. Awesome. You have, you have a note here on our notes. Don’t need joke. People are idea people. Okay.

Michael: (25:33)
Oh, don’t joke. What does that mean? Um, uh, oh, sometimes. Oh, wait. I was a question that someone asked, asked me on Instagram, um, was like, how, how does their division of labor work? Or some people just idea. People are some people just joke people. And I, that may, may have been the case back in the eighties or something when money was flowing, but now you’re kind of expected to do everything. But the Mo the most important function is story. Do you understand story? Can you help contribute in that way? And that’s very hard. As far as joke people, I always feel like that’s, that comes in last. That’s like picking the, uh, the color that you want to paint the walls. First, you have to build the house that you have to construct the house. So, uh, I was actually, yeah, so that was in response to a question like what, uh, what, you know, how does the division of labor?

Michael: (26:24)
So we talked about this in one of the other episodes we did is like, some people think that the writers’ room works like, well, one writer writes for this character and the other writer writes for that character. It’s like, no, no. When you put together a script, you go off, you write the script and you’re writing for all the characters. And you’re expected to the script, has to, the story structure has to be there. And it has to funny. So you have to be able to do both. And the trauma room. Of course, it’s a little different, you don’t have the burden of, uh, being funny. That’s why the hours tend to be better and drama.

Phil: (26:51)
Yeah. And that’s something you want still me. Um, it’s easy to kill people. It’s hard to make them laugh.

Michael: (26:57)
Yeah. Well, that’s like an old thing and knowledge it’s like dying. Uh, you know, w w was it dying? Dying is, is easy. Uh, laughter is hard. Getting people to laugh is, is, is much harder. Comedy is very, very hard. Yeah.

Phil: (27:09)
Got, got it. It doesn’t have a note here. Um, don’t you don’t need thread polars. Is that the same thing as a doctor know? Or is it,

Michael: (27:16)
Yeah, yeah. What is this? You know, what ha well, like, but this does really make a hundred percent logic here, you know, it’s was like, oh yeah, yay. You know? Yeah, yeah. A lot here comes the logic, please. Everyone hide I’m let me, of course, you know, if something is egregious, then you don’t want to do it, but there are some people who think they’re getting bonus points by pointing something out that like, like we’ve been working on this for the story air for four hours. And no one thought about it now, like, obviously it’s not going to be a problem when you’re watching it on TV without, you know, with your phone in your hand and read a magazine and the other so that, you know, no, one’s really paying attention to that closely. Yeah.

Phil: (27:57)
Got it. All right. And then, uh, lastly, I know there’s this, there’s this topic that’s come up a couple of times and recently happened in, in Tacoma, FDA where, you know, we have our script coordinator. Mike Rapp is just an awesome guy. He was actually given the opportunity to write a freelance episode of our show. So he wrote an episode that is airing soon. I think it’s episode 3 0 4 of this upcoming season. And he’s he wrote an episode, um, how to freelance episode works, uh, obviously as a staff writer, I’m assuming you’re going to get the opportunity to write an episode, but yeah. How do, how do we do the freelance thing?

Michael: (28:34)
You know, the guilt has a stipulated. They, they have to, for every certain number of episodes that you produce, or in a season, a certain X number have to go to freelance. Uh, and if they don’t, then the show has to pay a penalty. Often in the old days, they would often hire outside freelancers, just experienced writers. And I’m talking to the old days, like in the seventies. Um, but now there is a shift towards giving those freelance opportunities to people who are staff that’s on the show, support staff. So like writer’s assistants and script coordinators, people who’ve kind of paid their dues and you give them a shot.

Phil: (29:07)
Hmm. Got it. Now I, this is, I think, topically relevant because recently on Twitter I saw someone complaining about how, oh, I have I’m on a show. And it seems like the showrunner just wants to give these freelance opportunities to their friends, rather than giving them to the support staff. They’d rather pay a penalty instead of giving it to the writer’s assistant or whoever, and make sure that their friends get a job or get a gig. Um, my feeling on that when I read it was, or is it that those lower level staff have not impressed the show runner enough to say, I think this person can do this.

Michael: (29:44)
Yeah. Because that’s probably what’s happening is that, you know, they, before you get to freelance, you, the boss is going to want to read a sample of your work. And so it better be really good and, you know, giving a freelance to anyone, you know, it really puts the showrunner a little bit behind the April, because if it doesn’t come in good and most do not, it’s going to need a giant page, one rewrite. And now the show runner has to do that. And you know, and they’re not getting extra money for doing that and they have to do it on their own time. So like, that’s why we see that when I’m running a show, all I care about is, is the draft coming in good shape, because if it doesn’t, I got to do it on my own time and you have so many other things to do.

Michael: (30:22)
I like, I, last thing I want to do is rewrite someone else’s work from page one. And so if you give that opportunity to, to someone who isn’t quite ready and it’s very hard to be ready, you know, that’s why it’s so important to be educated and to be as prepared as you can. Uh, because, you know, actually we, we were my partner and we were a few years ago. Um, this happens a couple of times in our career, were they show, uh, the Kirsty reality, how Allie had a show on TV land called the Kirstie alley show was with Michael Richardson, Rhea Perlman. And so I guess they needed to have a couple of freelances and they were a little bit behind the eight ball. And they, we had some friends in the show and they said, Hey, these guys will do it. And we had nothing going on at that time.

Michael: (31:06)
And so they hired us to do this freelance and it was great. And we went in, we banged it, we hit it out of the park. Everyone loved it. Like the whole staff loved it. And everyone was relieved that we did a good job because it just makes their job easier. But, um, yeah, maybe now if they had did it, that was few years ago, maybe now they would just give it to, uh, I don’t know the staff right. Or, uh, or writers assistant, I only think they could at the time, because they just, th they script had to come in. Good. So they had a high, they really had to hire experienced people to do

Phil: (31:33)
It. It’s literally, there’s no time to

Michael: (31:34)
Rewrite. There is no time.

Phil: (31:36)
Yeah. Interesting. Okay. Well, any other thoughts about getting staffed or how your staffing shows you think that would be helpful for people to know? I think,

Michael: (31:46)
I think I covered it. Um, but again, it’s all about, this is your opportunity. This is your shot, and you’re not gonna get too many shots. So you have to be prepared, you know?

Phil: (31:54)
Yeah. Preparation is have specs, have pilots be able to understand what story structure is and understand how to understand your role. Yeah. It sounds like,

Michael: (32:05)
And like I said, showrunners, are looking. We are begging you to understand that if you understand that you’re hired because we need you. And so it’s not it. So it’s not a favor. You’re not doing, you know, you’re doing us a favor. And so the other way around.

Phil: (32:17)
Just another thing you’ve always said, Hollywood needs a good writers. Yeah. Yeah. Great. Thank you, Michael. Thanks everybody for listening.

Michael: (32:23)
Yeah. Thank you guys.

Phil: (32:25)
We’ll catch you on the next one.

Phil: (32:40)
This has been an episode of screenwriters. Need to hear this with Michael Jackson and Phil Hudson. If you’d like to support this podcast, please consider subscribing leaving a review and sharing this podcast with someone who needs to hear today’s subject. If you’re looking to support yourself, I encourage you to consider investing in Michael’s screenwriting course I’ve known Michael for over a decade. And in the past seven years, I’ve begged him to put something together during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Michael had time. And I have to say, I wish I’d had this course 10 years ago. As someone who has personally invested in most online courses, earned a bachelor’s degree, and actively studied screenwriting for over a decade, this course has been more valuable to me than most of the effort I’ve put in because it focuses on something. No one else teaches: story. In his course, Michael pulls back the curtain and shows you exactly what the pros do in a writer’s room. And that knowledge has made all the difference for me. And I know it will for you too. You can find more information For free daily screenwriting tips, follow Michael on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @MichaelJaminWriter. You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @philahudson. This episode was produced by Phil Hudson and edited by Dallas Crane. Until next time, keep writing.

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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