We haven't had an episode in a while of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, so let's rectify that with a good one that's timely. The guest is Greg Daniels, who co-created with Steve Carell the new Netflix series Space Force that premiered just yesterday. He also developed The Office for American television, and created Parks and Recreation, King of the Kill, and the new Amazon Prime series, Upload. He talks here about his writing, TV, his career and his two new shows.
Last week, the NBC series Parks & Recreation had a reunion episode of sorts, done with all the cast members participating from home in a fun, fairly clever premise of Leslie Knope (played by Amy Pohler) trying to stay in touch with everyone on a regular basis during the stay-at-home pandemic to make sure everyone was all right. It wasn't plot-heavy, but enjoyable, particularly seeing all the cast members back together.
Tonight, the current CBS series, All Rise, is returning to the air with a new episode -- also done remotely at home. The Writers Guild of America had an interesting article about how the episode all came about, and I thought I'd repost it here below.
(There was no credit line with the article, so alas I can't tell you who wrote it.)
The CBS legal drama All Rise has been one of the first primetime network scripted series to resume production, with a special remotely produced episode set to air this Monday, May 4 at 9 p.m. The show’s creative team, headed by co-EPs Greg Spottiswood and Dee Harris-Lawrence, virtually wrote and produced the topical episode, which addresses the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on criminal justice and the LA County jail system.
"It's a unique chance for our All Rise family to band together—in our different homes, even cities—to tell a story about resilience, justice, and the power of community," said Spottiswood.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only reflected in the upcoming episode’s narrative content, but it impacted how the episode was shot and produced as well. Inspired by current events and penned via a virtual writers’ room, the episode, entitled “Dancing at Los Angeles” (co-written by Spottiswood & Gregory Nelson), was filmed using Zoom, Webex, Facebook, and other social media and tech platforms. When production was cut short in mid-March, there was an unusually quick turnaround time from when the show’s writer-producers first conceived and pitched the idea, to the writing, filming, and air date. It will be the final original episode to air during the series’ first season run.
The All Rise writers’ room operated remotely via Zoom sessions to work on the episode: “We had a virtual writers’ room with a virtual white board, and we had virtual cards, which we shared, and we put up the collaborative function on Final Draft, and wrote and edited each other’s work together in real time on the same document while we were writing,” said Spottiswood. “Neither of us had ever worked that way before, but because Greg [Nelson] and I have worked together for a long time, not only on this season of television but on other shows we’ve done, we had a shorthand, which made the transition into the ‘virtual’ world a lot smoother than it would be for writers who may be just getting to know each other.”
Art imitates life, as the series' main characters manage their new daily routines at home. In the episode, Judge Benner (Marg Helgenberger) authorizes Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) to virtually preside over a trial, while other characters attempt to maintain relationships under quarantine. One character deals with the struggle of working as a food delivery driver to make ends meet. The episode’s plotline has real-life parallels, as some US courts are currently using Zoom to hear, try, and rule on cases while courtrooms are closed. The show's consulting producer, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, was on hand to provide insight into how the justice system continues in LA, even during a pandemic.
Compelled by both the unprecedented circumstances and logistical limitations of shooting remotely, the series’ production team had to get creative: Using Webex to create their own private network to dial in to shoot specific scenes, virtual footage was shot in each of the series regulars' homes, adding VFX to create necessary backgrounds. In addition, a lone cinematographer operating solo captured exterior footage that reflects the desolate environment that currently exists on the streets of LA. Surprisingly, the show’s team shot 64 pages in six ten-hour days, a faster pace than most one-hour series productions.
While CBS has yet to determine if the freshman series will be renewed for a second season, the show’s creative team would continue to incorporate some of these themes and production techniques going forward: “From a storytelling standpoint, I think that COVID-19 is going to affect all of our lives certainly into next year, and it’s going to affect how everyone does their jobs, so it’s going to become a part of our storytelling,” said Spottiswood. “We’ll take our lead from how the justice system itself is dealing with it, and how our characters are dealing with it, so some aspects of this special episode are going to carry over [to next season].”
But are audiences ready to watch scripted fare that mirrors the grim daily reality many people look to TV to escape from?
“It was a huge consideration, as we talk about tone all the time,” explained Spottiswood. “All Rise is an aspirational show, a hopeful show, that takes very real dynamics in the justice system and sees them through a specific lens of Lola and our characters, so it was something we talked about conceptually, and something Greg and I talked about every day when we were writing. We tried to focus on what our characters were experiencing in that moment, and to be honest to those characters and their situations.
“Many of our characters are essential workers, so they have to find a way to do their jobs. The justice system does not close down. It slows down to a dangerous pace, and people are in jeopardy or vulnerable as a consequence, and their Constitutional rights are at stake, so we focused in on the story and the relationships between characters and their ability, or inability, to find a way to connect. The movement, for us as writers in this episode, is one from isolation to connection, and that was our guiding principal.”
Continues Spottiswood, “Here are some people who feel as isolated as all of us do during this crisis, and what story can we tell to find them just a simple moment of connection with another human being so they feel less alone. Our hope is the audience will identify with that. Whatever their specific circumstance is, whether living in fortune or misfortune, a story about finding moments of connection and a quest for justice in an unusual circumstance is something that we hope, and believe, will resonate with our audience.”
Just in time for the Oscars, we have a special edition of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America. Recently, the WGA and Writers Guild Foundation held its 2020 Beyond Words special event. The WGA Awards-nominated screenwriters gathered to discuss their acclaimed films, and the group included Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Steven Zaillian (The Irishman), Rian Johnson (Knives Out), and Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), among others.
The guest on this episode of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America is screenwriter/director Noah Baumbach, whose movie Marriage Story just received a Best Picture nomination, as well as a Best Original Screenplay nomination – as well as a Writers Guild nomination. His films also include, Frances Ha, Greenberg, The Meyerowitz Stories, and The Squid and the Whale, along with the screenplay for such movies as Madagascar 3 and The Corrections. ). He talks here about creative process and career.
Big congrats to the inveterate Chris Dunn winning yet another Writers Guild Award as a member of the writing staff for The Young and the Restless. I believe this is something like his 37th WGA Award, though it may be less.
Little Known Tidbit: He is who the "Restless" is named after because he is of nomad heritage. Also, he's won so many WGA Awards that he now gives them away to Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween. (In fairness, he doesn't get all that many since he yells, "You kids get off my lawn!", so they now tend to avoid his house. He's had maybe three Trick-or-Treaters over the past five years.
Mr. Dunn has informed the press that he was out grocery shopping when he learned he was won -- yet again. No word yet on (as the obligatory Awards red carpet question goes) "Who were you wearing?" At the moment, the leading contender for Correct Answer is between --
Whatever Cathy would let me leave the house in
Everything was Cardinals Red
My lucky Awards shirt
The guest on this episode of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America is Krysy Wilson-Cairns who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for 1917. She also was a staff writer for the series Penny Dreadful and wrote the upcoming film Last Night in Soho.
On this edition of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guests are the co-creators of the Comedy Central series, The Other Two, Chris Kelly (who wrote for Saturday Night Live for seven years, as well as the series, Broad City, and the film Other People) and Sarah Schneider (whose credits include writing for SNL for seven years.)
The title for this week’s Al Franken podcast with guest Lawrence O’Donnell is pretty funny – “MSNBC’s Second Most Popular Host.” Franken describes the show this way, very simply – “Lawrence O’Donnell – Son of Dorchester, West Wing writer, Moynihan Senate Staff director – tears Trump and CNN a new one.” It's a very enjoyable, interesting show, made all the more fun as Al keep giving O'Donnell good-natured grief throughout.
On this edition of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is screenwriter Charles Randolph whose credits include The Big Short (for which he won an Oscar for co-writing) and Love & Other Drugs. This week, he talks about his new film Bombshell, about the “Fox News” sex scandal that ended Roger Ailes’ career.
On this edition of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is actor Shia LaBoeuf who wrote the semi-autobiographical film Honey Boy, based on his difficult relationship with his father – and he co-stars in the movie as his father.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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