We all know production in the time of COVID-19 is going to be hard. We have to set limits, make sure actors are safe, keep the crew healthy, and find a way to lock things off so the director can get to work.
The one person left off of this list is the writer... you know, the person whose brain is responsible for everything about to happen on screen.
The joke that writers get no respect in Hollywood is an old one. And frankly, tired. Now that TV is king, writers should be getting more respect, especially in the current time period where they have to work on the fly to change things to accommodate new protocol.
But no matter what they are consistently left off of the reports and guidelines for returning to work.
In the most recent 36-page report released June 12 titled “The Safe Way Forward,” writers barely get a shoutout. On page 15 of the report, they break down who is allowed on set. It says “Absolutely NO VISITORS. All crew must adhere to the Zone System. Limits will apply to producers, writers, studio or network executives and location contacts. Important parties should participate virtually.”
Okay, writers are in there...but are they really in there?
The report goes on to say that any transmission of sound or video from the set to remote monitors would be made available at the director’s discretion.
This has showrunners and writers a little wound up. TV writer Tony Tost tells Variety, “Intentionally or not, the guidelines seem to create a situation on set where it would be easy to keep the writer or the showrunner marginalized and center on the director in a way that, at least in my experience, is not normal in TV.”
And he's not the only one with a problem.
Beau Willimon and Lowell Peterson of the Writers Guild East put out a statement for their membership on Tuesday, seeking to dispel the notion that writers would be excluded.
“New York protocols are still being developed,” the statement reads. “We are in close communication with Governor Cuomo’s office and will update you when those protocols have been finalized. Among our goals is to make sure that creator, showrunner and writer/producer access to set is protected.”
Why Do Writers Need to Be on Set?
Writers are the boots on the ground representing the story. They have to make sure lines that are important are not cut from the episode and they have to control the character motivations and make sure the talent is on the same page moving forward.
Tost went on to tell Variety, “It is invaluable for me to not only be there but be there in a leadership role for the different departments...That carries through to the actual filming too. I’ll often revise a scene on set just if it doesn’t seem to be working. I like to collaborate a lot with directors. There’s a healthy dialogue there back and forth to make sure we’re really capturing the intention of the scene. I’m afraid all of that will be lost if the writer is reduced to a virtual presence and the director is the only one there on the ground.”
And it's not just on set.
Writers Rooms are all over Hollywood and for lots of shows in New York as well, but the coronavirus has forced them to adapt. They're now mostly done via Zoom, which is a very hard way to make connections, have your voice heard, and schedule a conversation.
But writers have been adapting since the dawn of time. And this is no different.
There's new protocol and more time to write. Scripts are being fine-tuned as people wait to come back to work. But the number of shows will probably be less. Mostly because no one is sure when these scripts can shoot.
This has put writers in other difficult places.
We are creating things and being left off of sets, but we're also trying to survive while there is a drought in creation.
It's a hard time but one where we need writers more than ever.
Only time will tell if they succeed.