Thursday, August 19, 2004

On Monday, I had an interesting time at work. The writers asked me to help them with piecing together "beats" for a future episode. Beats are plot points in a story that must be written. As an example, say the beat reads, "Anne sits down to check email, gets a 'you're fired' e-mail message from Donald Trump." As a writer, you have to decide exactly how that beat will play out in the form of a scene, all while staying in theme and character, and moving the story along to the next beat. That comes out in dialogue and action.

Such as, Anne comes home, pets her cats, ignores the bills in the mail and sets them on the glass table with all the other ignored bills, strips out of her work jeans and puts on her home jeans, and then checks email. She reads the email from Donald Trump, that simply says, "You're fired." She responds, "Fine, you pucker-faced bitch with a bad combover, your hair is fired. By the way, I never worked for you, so you can't fire me anyway. And another thing, ten years ago, when you went to that night club in New York City with that bimbo and checked your coat with me, I snooped through your pockets. Yeah, I did, Donald. How do you like that?" Now, this was merely just an emotional response from Anne, who was reacting to being fired from a job she never held in the first place, and never thought The Donald would read it.

This fits in perfectly with the next beat, where Donald creates a new show to find the best hair stylist from the initial eighteen who were selected for his new show, "You're Fried!" After all, The Donald has been coifed with a fried hair combover for long enough. And that beat is written that The Donald, disjointed and sulking over having just been fired as CEO of his own casinos, does open Anne's reply email as a distraction from his own woes. He reads it, having no idea who this Anne is because he thought he sent the email to Anne Heche. Anne Heche doesn't work for The Donald either, but she thinks she is an alien from another planet, and that's a fine reason to fire anyone if he ever heard of one. However, the wrong Anne's words are taken to heart, and as he looks at his freshly sucked lemon face and bad combover, hatches the idea of "You're Fried." After which, he unconsciously checks his pockets.

And the beat goes on, literally until you've told your entire story. This is particularly done in episodics where there are multiple characters, each having their own "beat." Themes also have beats, if the episode has multiple story lines. Such as, investigation beats, if there is an ongoing one, or political beats, if politicians are involved. All are designed to map out the story so no one gets forgotten during the process.

So, on Monday, I was asked to help them map out the beats for the episode, and it was very very interesting. The writer for that episode is a famous author, and I worked with him and a producer from 10:00am to 4:00pm. An incredible learning experience that I was honored to be a part of. To see the thinking process and the discussions, and be a part of those was very motivating. I wrote the beats on cards as they were hashed out, and we tacked them up on a board and numbered them. I got to see this episode come together like a quilt and be a part of that creative process. And as you would patches in a quilt, we moved around the cards if the beats worked better earlier in the episode, or at night. It felt great, and the time flew by. It helps that these two are very good people with feet planted firmly on the ground, and the meeting was an all inclusive one where my participation and input were encouraged. It was a very gentle and welcoming experience that I felt very lucky to be a part of. The best part, was afterward they thanked me for helping them out.

But of course.

And, I thanked them for including me.

It's always eye opening to see that everyone has to go through a process where they feel like they are on shaky ground. Things aren't written perfectly in one draft, and no one has all the answers. Sure I know that intellectually, and most of us do, but seeing it in front of me is once again a reminder that the hurdles are there even at the top. Everyone has questions and moments where they feel it's time to ask for help. It was also nice to realize that I can still function confidently at that level, which includes not being afraid to ask how a process is done. This is a very important thing, because that confidence that I mentioned includes admitting something is new to me in company one may feel pressured to pretend they already know. Allowing myself to be coached so that I can give the more experienced parties the help that they requested and in that process, gain something myself.

And in doing so, in the end we all came out winners.

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