What Can Green Envelopes Teach Us About Writing?

What can green envelopes teach us about storytelling? Well, these green envelopes come from the Writer’s Guild of America. Every time a TV writer writes an episode and they rerun it, they have to pay us. So residual checks come in one of these green envelopes. And yesterday I posted a video of me live on the air, opening up about five of these showing people how much money I got paid in the month. And everyone loved it. I know this because of a lot of video views, and a lot of engagement on comments.

The comment that I got most often was, what’s wrong with you writers, don’t you know what a direct deposit is, what century do you live in? And I was like, man, you guys are missing the point. Every TV writer I know loves coming home and seeing one of these green envelopes in the mail. Take that away, we would revolt. This is like Christmas morning to us. Right? You come home, you see it. You’re like, Ooh, what’s inside? Is it 10 cents? Or is it $10,000? And there’s all this anticipation. And I prefer getting $10,000. But when I opened it up and it’s only 10 cents, I freak out. Well, now what’s 10 cents? It costs 53 cents to mail the stupid thing, why even bother me, I’m wasting my time, but that’s fun. That’s more fun for you to watch me open it up and get 10 cents.

This is the same thing with screenwriting. Yeah, they could direct deposit this. That would be way more efficient, but there’s no fun. I wouldn’t enjoy opening up a statement once a month. Oh look, I made $434.¬†There’s no anticipation. There’s no fun to that. We all like getting these envelopes. And so think about that.

You know, like when you make a movie, a movie costs $30 million to make, oh, that’s a lot. What a big waste. Isn’t it just more efficient if they post a makeup poster for $1.38 and the poster says, boy meets girl, boy gets the girl in the end. They live happily ever after it saves a lot of time and a lot of expense. There’s no joy in that. The joy is the journey and watching them, the whole journey of the movie, same thing with the green envelope. And this is what you should think about when you’re writing your stories. Think about me, opening up a green envelope. We’re building all this expectation. Oh, what’s going to be inside how it’s going to change his life?¬†$10,000. That’s a lot of money. Like a lot of possibilities, great things can happen. And then I open it up and then reality hits me in the face. It’s a splash of cold water. Oh, I had these dreams and now it’s just 10 cents. Now, what is the hero going to do? What’s he gonna do? That’s a story. And that’s how you should approach it. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a movie, a comedy, a drama, a novel, or a play. Think about me, opening up a green envelope. That’s how you want to unpack all that information. That’s what you want to set up. And that’s what you want to shatter. That’s good storytelling.

For more on how to be a good storyteller. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a play, a movie drama or a novel. It doesn’t matter. We’re telling stories to learn more about that. You could subscribe and you can follow me here @MichaelJaminwriter.

Author Details
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.