Film & TV

Working in a Writers’ Room

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 11:36 min

Shonda discusses what she looks for in writers when staffing her shows and how her own writers' rooms are structured.

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Shonda Rhimes
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at the board. That is always a great way to go, because it makes you seem energetic and like you're doing something. Two, try to talk when you're in that room. Try to say at least one thing a day. Three, make sure you've read the writer's room notes the night before, and be the person who, when somebody asks, what did we say? Remind everybody what you said. Try to be useful. Try to be helpful. Be kind and be nice. And be the first one there and the last one to leave, always. That's what I think will help you. When I'm looking to hire somebody, I like to find people who not only have a real individual voice in their writing, so I don't want to read a spec script, which is just a script written for somebody else's show, meaning you can write in somebody else's voice. I want to read an original piece of writing. Sometimes it's an article, sometimes it's a play, sometimes it's a novel, sometimes it's a script. But I want it to be original, it has to be original. Not only do I want to read that and find out that you have an original voice, but I want people who aren't afraid of me, which I've found is interesting. People come in afraid to sort of express their opinion. They think they're not supposed to have one. But not only are you supposed to be not afraid to express your opinion, you have to be willing to argue. You have to be willing to fight for your opinion. Because to me, a writer's room where everybody is in agreement all the time is not a writer's room. That's just me listening to the sound of my own voice. And that is boring. And I can't possibly be right all the time. So I always want a room in which everybody has different opinions, everyone's from sort of a different background, everybody has different experiences, different ages, different everything, so that people can bring that to the table, and then argue their points of view and their ideas. That always makes for much better television. I think a writer's room can be a very wonderful place to be, but I also think that there are so many mistakes that writers can make in writer's rooms that I've seen over the years that I think can really be detrimental to their career. And I don't know that everybody really knows it or understands it. And you have a responsibility, every evening, to go home and have come in, having read the writer's room notes from the day before, to have some ideas about what you want to talk about the next day, even if it's not your episode that's being placed on the board to be discussed. If it is your episode, you cannot show up in the writer's room the next day with no new ideas or work. You really have to go home and come up with a bunch of new pitches, come up with a bunch of new ideas, having forwarded your story, have things to put on the board to fill it up that can be then discussed or changed or challenged, but you have to have done so...


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.



Reviews

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

Don’t have any yet. But Id like to create a real life “Notebook” with Shonda Rhimes

Great! This is my first chance to check out this masterclass. It is very motivational! Thank you.

Shonda is brilliant. As an entertainment professional, this Masterclass has helped me to hone what I already know, and has given me the confidence to be fearless!

Shonda's class and her lessons are unforgettable! So glad she shared so much of her knowledge with us. Thank you Shonda!


Comments

Mikaylynn W.

Hey Everyone, So I know in this lesson the assignment was to set up a google hangout and to break a new episode. I am interested if anyone else is :) Also I am looking for other writer's to connect with.

A fellow student

How do two women age 62 and 68 living in South Carolina break into the industry? We have been writing and honing our craft for the last seven years; have come up with a faith-based mystery movie series and want to move forward but where do we go?

ANN H.

Who is the industry? How to break into the industry? How to get a manager, an agent, someone to look at my stuff. How?

Jonas K.

Are there different categories for writers in a writers room? (Outliner, Dialouge Writer, Head Autor ...)

ernest C.

i love behavioral research studies for this purpose of charactization and the idea of emotional intelligence truly helps guide my ideals for character building ESPEC-SILLY when the behavioral ideal is influencing a social change. Mmmmmm.....I'd follow the single malt Glenmorangie trail to anyone's table! I'd probably write like Hemingway then with the same ATTITUDE of the writer. I recognize the group pattern Shonda refers to as the PACK, it's needed in the wilderness to survive. Anyone think TV Land isn't a wilderness that Shondaland has to fight to survive is definitely NOT sitting at the table - a lone wolf effect might unfold to prevent recessive dangers of Pack inbred story line plots.

Scott V.

But what if you are stupid and/or really don't have anything to say? lol What little experience I've had in writer's rooms with friend's projects has really taught me that's where I seem to be at. I have shows I want to make and scripts I want to write, but I don't actually think I can survive a writer's room.

EK T.

Great session. I probably would have gotten fired for being too quiet at one point in my life. Then at another point, I may have run into trouble for not being able to shut up. Those who are just coming into this field, with all of these great resources are really lucky. Take advantage of all these instructors have to offer.

Nancy P.

I very much respect the point Shonda made about writing from character. I have encountered actors and directors who have asked me why I have so much focus on the character. I am taking away a great deal of information from the pitch and working in the writing room. Thank you.

Donna S.

I loved this lesson. I love how she describes the culture of the writers' room, One room has a lot of activity going on, such a people walking on a treadmill, working on arts and crafts projects and so on and that the culture of the other room is very different. It's more quiet, lots of eating going on, etc. I personally would rather be in the one with the activity and would especially love to be able to walk on a treadmill during the day! I never had a job where someone gave you a head's up about the work culture. After being offered the job and accepting it, I always got the basics, here's your desk, here's the kitchen/break room, etc, but I was never was informed of the culture such as "we all eat lunch together," or whatever. But, I always found out the hard way what it was like for employees to stray away from the established culture.

Derrick W. J.

I really like this course. I'm bingimg the video lessons then I am going to go back thru all the lessons. She makes some really good points.