Vince Gilligan says Aussie scripts need more time in Writers’ Room

Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul creator Vince Gilligan yesterday spoke at Series Mania Industry Day and addressed differences between the Writers’ Room in the US compared to Australia.

Gilligan said a small group of writers plotted every episode intensely before a writer subsequently penned the script itself.

“It’s a sequestered jury that never ends. We’re sitting around all day talking ad nauseam, talking about minute detail,” he explained.

“The breaking of the episodes is the hardest part and takes the most elbow grease. It probably takes on average 3 weeks to break each episode. Sometimes we’ve gone as many as 5 or 6 weeks.

“That’s why it’s such a blessing to have more pre-production time.

“We want the show to be visual storytelling, we want it to be cinematic -we want to dispense with dialogue. We love writing dialogue for Saul Goodman or Jimmy McGill.

“But that’s the cherry on top.”

Writers plot on 3×5 cards with a felt pen marker, putting each plot on a large board.

“When we’re done any one of us could write that episode,” he continued.

“The writing is, in a sense the easy part. The breaking of the story is all-hands-on-deck, intense, focus-until-your-eyes-bleed. It’s the least-fun part of the job, but the saving grace is we all like each other.

“We don’t send a writer off to write until we’ve found it in the Writers’ Room because it’s a waste of time otherwise.”

But when moderator Kelly Lefever explained Australian Writers’ Rooms are usually given just 2 days to plot an episode, Gilligan was shocked.

“I’m truly sorry to hear that. Most shows in the States get more time than that. Not a whole lot more, but we are blessed even compared to other shows,” he said.

“Most shows in the States you might get a week to break an episode, maybe less. Not 2 days. That’s crazy -no offence.

“You’ve gotta have time to think it all through. Otherwise you’re running for your life. You’re up your ass with alligators.”

18 Comments:

  1. Apparently Chris Chibnall wanted to establish a Writers’ Room for his tenure of Doctor Who, but he had to give it uyp because it was too expensive.

  2. But how do you change it? Last year in the US NCIS was the No. 1 drama averaging just under 20 million viewers an episode. With that audience comes bigger advertising income and therefore bigger budgets. Australian drama audiences are under a million. If you spend more on preproduction, where does it come from?

  3. “But when moderator Kelly Lefever explained Australian Writers’ Rooms are usually given just 2 days to plot an episode, Gilligan was shocked.”
    And boy, does it show!!
    Finely honed, meticulously crafted US dramas like Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are in another stratosphere compared to most serious Aus drama shows.

  4. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, but it makes sense. And it explains something that shows in Australian productions, particularly TV – things that have had a long gestation / development time generally have more nuanced & more polished storylines & scripts.

    (Not saying they’re _better_ shows – production and execution count for a lot too – but the scripts are generally less paint-by-numbers…)

  5. Derr! Network dramas where you have to make 24 eps don’t get as long as premium dramas like Breaking Bad. Though writers were being contracted exclusively for 12 months to work on short run dramas and expected to do a lot of hours of writing. The WGA won overtime for more than 2.4 weeks writing on a script to stop this. For premium dramas they will pay that, for others facing financial pressure they will cap the writing to 2.4 weeks per script and quality will decline. US Networks have already been experimenting with a return to low budget episodic series that look more like 80s TV to cope with declining advertising revenue.

    US dramas also have script editors who ensure scripts are polished and have continuity across the season. Australian dramas it’s often just figuring out a plot outline then contracting a writer to return a finished script, and it shows. But with shows only…

  6. Yes, and there in lies the problem with the quality of our drama. And most producers don’t understand that, they just think writers are whinging – again. Producers continue to say they can’t afford the extra money – which, having worked on both sides of that fence – I know is rubbish. Producers need to understand, if they invest more in the scripting process, they’ll have a stronger product, which might be better received and lead to more work and financial rewards for everyone.

    • ebola_retson

      You might have worked with producers who think writers are whingers, or that they can’t afford the extra money for more development time. It might be true or it might not be. It may have escaped your notice but there isn’t a whole lot of money in the TV business in Australia and in many ways comparing us to the US is a waste of time. We are a cottage industry compared to them. But that doesn’t mean Australia is exclusively populated by producers who are fools and shysters. My advice to you is this: Find a producer who gets it. We’re out there. This painting of producers as guys who just take a slice of the pie for themselves at the expense of investing it where it counts is such a snore. Sure, those kind of producers exist. Don’t work with them. Find producers who understand that nurturing and fighting for quality authorship is the cornerstone of their business. Find a producer…

    • In most cases it gets back to the fee broadcasters will pay as to whether or not a producer can afford a writers’ room. In my experience neither writers nor producers are happy about it.

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