October 22, 2019

What's a Writers' Room and How Do They Work?

Writers' rooms are sacred spots where your favorite televisions shows are written and refined. But what actually goes on between the walls? 

Writers' rooms are the places where ideas are broken, stories are conquered, and friendships are forged. They're where procrastination can take over a week, long nights are expected, and all ideas are safe. If you have a favorite TV show, that show has a writers' room. 

Unless you love reality TV. Because their "writers" are called consulting producers. We'll cover that another day. 

Today, let's focus on the magic of a writers' room, how you can find your way into one, and what to expect once you're inside. 

Writers' Room Definition 

A writers' room is exactly how it sounds. It's an office where writers of a particular tv show gather to work on the story together.

How many writers are in a room? 

Room sizes can vary from two people to twenty. It really depends on the production, how many episodes in the series, and the budget. Many times you have a showrunner, a few writers, a few more staff writers, a script coordinator, a writer's assistant, and maybe a writers' production assistant, who may or not be in the room. But no two rooms are made the same. 

Shows with 24 episodes generally have larger rooms. Shows with five to ten episodes have fewer writers. 

There are also mini rooms, they're rooms that exist for limited series or smaller shows that may last longer, but offer less of a guarantee of the writers inside them. 

Who's in a Writers' Room? 

There are lots of different titles of people in every room. The main job of these people is to write, but if you're breaking into TV, you need to know what they actually do. This way, you'll understand your role and what happens as you climb the ladder of the room. 

Script coordinator

The script coordinator is responsible for liaising between the writing and production departments. After the writers deliver the first draft, the coordinator prepares it for the production team and handles any clearance issues that may arise. 

Staff Writer

This is the first title for lower-level writers getting their first gig in a room. As Staff Writer, you help break story in the room -- and while you are not guaranteed an episode, this is where it all begins. 

Story Editor

You get to pitch ideas just like any staff writer, but you're guaranteed an episode as well. And you'll have your name in the credits. 

Executive Story Editor

These people usually are in their third or higher year on a show. They're commonly viewed as mid-level writers who have a few seasons or shows under their belt. 

Co-Producer

These writers have been doing it for a while. They still mainly write, but they're coming up the ladder and getting their careers ready for more. 

Producer

This means you've been writing for at east four to five years. Your primary job description is still being a writer. But now you probably have other jobs, like overseeing casting, possibly helping on set, and talking with directors. Also, at the producer level, the studio or company producing your show is increasingly likely to approach you to develop new ideas. 

Supervising Producer

Welcome to the world of being an upper-level writer. You now have expanded responsibilities inside the show. You can lead the room when the showrunner and Co-EP are busy, and you should be able to have the relationships within the industry to pitch your own shows.  

Co-Executive Producer

The second-in-command on every show, the "Number Two," the Co-EP is the showrunner's right-hand person. You review and rewrite scripts before they go to the showrunner. You're basically a showrunner in training. 

Showrunner / Executive Producer 

This is the executive in charge of all the creative decisions on a television show. They break story, budget, and lots more. 

Who supports the writers in the room? 

Every room needs a staff of people working to help the writers out. Making copies, getting lunch, answers phones, scheduling calls, taking notes, and all sorts of other tasks. 

So who are they? 

Writers' Assistant 

The writers' assistant sits in the room and takes notes for the staff. They can spell check, format, and do research, among other responsibilities. Most of the job is taking notes and knowing the story inside and out, so that writers can get your information and finish their outlines or scripts. 

Writer's PA

The writers' production assistant is in charge of keeping the office running. They stock the fridge, get lunch, do some research, clean the room every night, and assist the writers' assistants with anything they need. 

What happens inside the Writers' Room? 

Writers sit and break the story. In a new show, that means creating the bible, outlining the season, breaking each episode, and then writing drafts. Those drafts then get punched up by the room and sent to the network for notes. 

Once those notes come back, they get edited. When everyone approves a draft, that draft goes to the production team and director. 

They shoot the episode. And if you wrote that episode, you get to be on set. There, the role on set is to support the team with any writing that needs to happen and uphold the tone and intent of the show and episode. Doing so may require you to interact with and give notes to cast, in concert with the director. 

How do I get a Job in a Writers' Room? 

This is a complicated question. 

I still think the best way to break in as a writer is to go the assistant route. It ensures you make contacts in the industry. While you're not guaranteed to move up, you will meet the people who can read your writing and make a difference in your life. 

That's how I made it into a few rooms. Even now, the only people who hire me are friends I met from being an assistant or being their assistant!

Other ways just involve writing specs or TV pilots. Nowadays, lots of rooms try to hire people inside and out of the industry. Sometimes, they have influencers or consultants who work in the industry that's covered in the TV show. They can be hot comedians who are there for jokes or novelists and podcasts respected by the showrunner. 

There are no rules. There's no clear path to becoming a TV writer. You need to have great scripts and to get noticed. 

My suggestion, as always, is to move to Los Angeles, write great scripts, and bet on yourself. No two breaking-in stories are the same. 

What's next? 5 questions your TV pilot should answer

When an agent, producer, manager, or executive read your TV pilot a myriad of thoughts will run through their minds. If you’ve written something compelling and refreshing most of these thoughts will be great, but if your pilot misses the mark they’ll be less thrilled.

No matter the case, there are five big questions asked of every TV pilot.

Click to learn them!      

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