A full-day experience in a television writers room taught me one thing: there is no such thing as a bad idea. My fascination with what occurs behind closed doors on a TV series was realized when I was given the opportunity to attend the Writers Guild of Canada’s Writers Room Intensive for this year’s Toronto Screenwriting Conference.
In a sunbathed room on the seventh floor at Entertainment One’s Toronto office last Friday, I watched as Wynonna Earp showrunner and executive producer Emily Andras welcomed participants Laura Ashley Seaton, Tim Kilby, Priscilla M. White, Keri Ferencz, Matt Doyle and Blain Watters, who worked together—fuelled by coffee, water and food—to break a spec script of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Aiming to keep quiet during the entire session (I was there to observe, after all), I found it really hard not to chime in with my own ideas, especially when initial nervousness in the room was replaced by excitement and laughs. I’m not the biggest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, but I quickly found myself caring whether or not the episode began with the fortysomething slayer burning cupcakes and taking out the trash. Would Buffy have a daughter, Andras asked? Yes, everyone agreed. Would her daughter, Alexa (a nod to Xander) be a slayer too? Would Alexa’s father be seen in the story? Every question was discussed and positives and negatives weighed, before moving on.
After several hours of back and forth and notes on the white board, the teaser and Acts 1 and 2 had been written down. Then, suddenly, a storyline suggestion caused all of that work to be erased. They were starting over again. Like I said before, I quickly learned there are no bad ideas. I also realized that it’s important to have ideas and vocalize them. Your notion may not be used, but at the very least it will inspire discussion that leads to something. I’ve often asked writers who came up with an idea in the room and been told they can’t remember. I chalked the answer up to wanting to be humble, but they’re right. With so many thoughts being shared and scribbled on the board, there was no way to keep track of who had said what. Not that it matters; the goal of the room isn’t to spotlight one person and celebrate them, it’s to tell an engaging, interesting and entertaining story.
It’s something that, by the end of the session, I finally had a grasp on and an appreciation for. Want to find out how the Buffy spec script turned out? Register for the conference and attend the WGC Writing Room Intensive session on Saturday, April 30, at 11:15 a.m.
The Toronto Screenwriting Conference runs Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 at the Metro Toronto Conference Centre. To register, find a schedule explore hotel and food options and more, visit the website.