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Arts & Entertainment

Researching Your Story

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 16:14 min

Effective research can make your story come to life. Using case studies from Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, Shonda discusses her techniques and method for conducting research for her stories.

Shonda Rhimes
Teaches Writing for Television
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.
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I am a firm believer in research when you're doing your pilot to tell an authentic story. And it depends. I mean, there are stories where doing a ton of research is really necessary, and there are stories where doing a very small amount of research is all that you need. But, it just depends on what kind of story you're telling. You have to really be clear on what kind of story you're telling, and be OK with your level of authenticity. I'm a big fan of the good, old-fashioned library, which, many people are not, but I absolutely love it. Books will tell you everything you need to know about what a profession is like. One of the things I want to say about doing research, that I think is very important, read all the books. Read every book. Find books. Read them. Do not steal people's work. It's an unwitting thing that can sometimes happen. You don't really even realize that you're doing it, but really be careful that when you're reading books and doing your research, that you didn't find one book and take that one book, and use it as all of your source material for something. You really want to understand that you are looking for how a job is done, and not how someone did their job. It's a fine line, but I think it's important, because unless you're going to buy their rights-- the way we did with Judy Smith-- you really want to make sure that you're being respectful of the fact that somebody else has an experience that is their own. The same way you wouldn't want somebody to suddenly take your story and make a show out of it, and then tell you, "Too bad, I kind of just was inspired", you want to make sure that you're being respectful of everybody else's stories, as well. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think researching a project is really specific to what the project is. Researching medicine-- surgery-- is very different than researching, say, what Judy Smith does-- you know, the inspiration for Scandal. Being a lawyer is very different than being a shrink, like the doctors were on Private Practice. So, sometimes, it's just about talking to somebody who does the job, or who's lived the life, which is really interesting. On Gray's, I did everything from talk to actual surgical residents. I talked to actual surgeons who performed certain surgeries. I talked to patients about what their lives were like. There are resources you can call up. There is a media place for people who are doing health stuff. You can call up the Television Academy, and ask a couple of questions, and see where they'll send you to. There are places that you can call, and, frankly-- honestly-- sometimes, if you just picked up the phone and, for instance, called the doctor's office and asked a bunch of questions, they'd probably be happy to help. It's very interesting how many people are happy to help you when you say, "I'm writing a television pilot"-- oddly enough-- just to give you...

Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It was a good introduction of what to expect.

i learned i can write for tv as well as for film and i love that its not a male dominated industry which is great women usually smell better and are less hairy which is a huge plus if they are nice as well shonda is a great teacher and gave allot of detailed lessons that left no stone unturned thanks Shonda and MC

I'm so intrigued and enthusiastic about this class! It's already so rewarding and exciting!!

I needed a place to start and this was it. I've never seen any of her shows and now I have and Shonda is now one of my top inspirations.


Tammany B.

Hey guys. I have downloaded the workbook, but I am trying to find the character bible template. Do you know where I can find it?

Márcia A.

Her lessons are amazing! And I feel like I'm learning so much and it's going to help me so much in the future.

Ardy R.

There are multiple lessons in one. What I find is that just one nugget not only allows me to expand what I'm working on, it opens up so many other possibilities. It also inspires me and gives me the knowing that I venture into this in the company of others. I am no longer alone.

Kath Q.

I loved the fact that she's always been a "Story Teller", so am I. I've learned that it's O to share bits and pieces of other peoples stories. I've just always called it "Sharing". Information is power and often can help another work through their difficult situations. Loving it so far!

Sam T.

I'm blown away by the way she delivers each and every lesson. There is no ambiguity in her tone or lesson material. Its clean and to the point. The lessons are a breath of fresh air.

Jeremy C.

Medical, Medical. Genius. You never let specific medical terms stop you from writing. You fill that in later, it's about the story.

Portia R.

I can relate with this episode so much! When interviewing some chosen characters for a movie we are making, they expected me to have questions, and I said I didn't have questions and wanted them to just tell me whatever they felt they needed to share about their individual stories (i.e. their own lives) and as I was listening I realized that I couldn't have asked "question that would have brought all these amazing facts out of the person. Once the person had felt that they had said most of it, I asked questions. And those questions were inspired by what he/she had actually told me. And that person was immediately helping writing the story for me... It cannot get more authentic than that...

Marcus M.

Listening is key. In every industry! I'm not even in to filmmaking or TV making, but this is so important!

Heather S.

Good- but I am way past this stage... researched for 3 years, and written novel, I am looking forward to the pitch!

Leisa J.

Awesome! What can I say Shonda’s effortless session is better than a whole of trouble I could be getting into. A premise seems to be the bulk of the story such as: The Who, what, when, where, and why; also the characters conflict.