Typing Faster

September 16, 2010

Bored To Death: How Jonathan Ames Writes A TV Show

Filed under: Bored to Death — petertypingfaster @ 7:00 am

There was a cute little puff piece about how Jonathan Ames, creator of HBO’s Bored to Death goes about writing his show. There’s nothing earth shattering craft-wise, but it’s a funny look at one writer’s process nonetheless.

Here’s the step-by-step breakdown:

1. For two months or so, write down on various pads and scraps of paper numerous ideas for the show, and by ideas, I mean: images, bits of dialogue, character arcs, situations and locations. I use many different pads and notebooks because I’m terribly disorganized and never seem to have the last pad I used nearby.

2. Gather all these pads — usually fearing that the notebook with the best ideas has been lost — and type up everything as one big document.

3. Gather a team of four to five writers, present them with this document, and then lead a discussion of how to shape these ideas into discrete stories. This takes about two weeks and these basic story forms are called “capsules.”

4. Once the general stories have been determined, a new discussion is begun — breaking the stories down into specific outlines, scene by scene (our episodes will generally have about 15 to 18 scenes). This probably takes two to three weeks.

5. Taking the outlines, the writers and I break off to write the episodes. I write several and the writers write several. I then take the writers’ drafts of episodes and do what is called my “pass.” This takes about two to three months. Along the way, I receive “notes” (feedback and suggestions) from HBO and I do my best to accommodate its wishes.

6. As the scripts are being finished, schedules for shooting begin, casting starts, sets are built, locations are found, costuming is discussed. I have dozens of very talented people working with me in an endless variety of departments.

7. Shooting begins. A typical workday is 14 hours. I sit at the monitor with the director and watch the actors perform. There is almost no rehearsal for the actors. They have to be ready to go. The first few takes are essentially our rehearsal, and the crew is like a benevolent artistic army. Each department — props, cameras, lighting, etc. — has its own hierarchy and power structure.

8. Each episode takes six days to shoot. Once an episode is done, we immediately begin to shoot the next one, and while shooting that one, I begin to work with the editors on what has just been shot, while also casting and preparing for the other episodes down the line. At the height of the season, we are working on all the episodes at once, each of them in a different embryonic state of development. This whole shooting process (creating a total of eight episodes) takes about two-and-a-half months.

9. Once the shooting is done, “post” begins — the final bits of editing, music, sound, special effects, color correction and so forth. This takes about two months, and the whole process from jotting down ideas with crazed handwriting to listening to just the right level of a car honk (sound editing comes last) is about nine months, which has obvious birth significance.

10. The final tasks are approving the various promos and marketing campaigns, as well as doing press for the show. So that’s about it. I think it’s pretty good that I broke it down to a 10-step process. Ten, being the number of fingers we possess, is always a good figure, even if one’s hands aren’t much good for anything, except for chin-stroking, typing and doodling. I should add that every step of the way there is a maddening and stressful fear of failure, but since making a TV show is such a collaborative art, there’s also a great deal of camaraderie and holding onto each other for dear life.

Bored To Death returns September 26th on HBO.


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