Once, Michael Green, the screenwriter of Logan and Blade Runner 2049, was on the road when, at 100 miles, he realized he had been driving in second gear the entire time. To him, that’s what it feels like to try to write scripts during a pandemic. “It’s not that your engine can’t do it, but you’re spending a lot of energy, and it’s definitely not as efficient,” he says. “I wrote less in the last year than I have in my entire career.”
It’s a sentiment shared by a host of other writers, who, like almost everyone else lucky enough to switch to remote work last year, had to find creative ways to maintain their pre-COVID-19 productivity. . Before the pandemic, Hollywood scribes would have killed to make the world stop for a while – well, a chance to write that spec! – but few emerge with a handful of scripts. “We’ve all dreamed of having six months to work on whatever we want,” says Green. “But I don’t know anyone who wrote the spec they were dying to crave.”
Instead, several screenwriters say they struggled to get into the right open space. “When the lockdown started, everything came to a stop in me in a creative way,” says Russian doll co-creator Leslye Headland, who is writing a new Star wars series for Disney +. Despite converting a closet on the second floor of her Brooklyn apartment into an office to give herself a dedicated workspace, she couldn’t find a cure for her writer until a friend recommended her book. Cal Newport. In-depth work, and she discovered the Pomodoro Technique, a method in which you write in 25-minute increments punctuated by five-minute pauses. It re-energized his writing.
The practice has given her structure, something rare lately, and it is the closest she has been able to emulate her pre-quarantine schedule, where she often had pockets of time to write in between. realization and production functions. Now that she’s settled into a rhythm, she’s found she’s more adventurous with her writing, especially since she’s not heading for a production date. “I always feel like we’re in a phase where we don’t know exactly what the new normal is, so I’m more willing to come up with something that’s left of center and let my imagination run wild instead. than trying to cover it up. in order to set a deadline, ”she said. “It’s no longer about, ‘How do I make something happen? And it’s more like, ‘What could happen?'”
Watchmen designer Damon Lindelof had a similar experience. After the success of his show on HBO, he made the conscious decision not to do a show. “I wanted to take a step back and be a fairy godfather, flapping my wings at varying altitudes depending on my needs,” he says. So the recent Emmy winner has spent his forties developing new top secret projects with a set of collaborators he’s barely met in person. (“I don’t even remember his size,” he said of one of them, “but I know all the details of the room he’s sitting in.”) Of course, Lindelof would prefer to far seek ideas in a physical writer’s piece than on extended Zooms and FaceTime calls. “The process is not ideal,” he says, noting that he feels slowed down.
But, like Headland, he found a silver lining. For those in the development phase, deadlines have become more nebulous as studios grapple with a production delay. As Lindelof says, if the shows and movies were planes on a runway, there are already plenty of passengers ready to take off – so he can line up and take his time building his own. “I feel the benefit of going a lot further and building the world more and being free to travel roads that you may have to turn around and go back to where you came from,” he says. However, if the pandemic has made anything clear to him, it is that he is a very social animal who writes better in collaboration with others: “If I find myself in some kind of real Will Forte-Last man on earth situation, there will be no writing.
Among the many scribes who say they have found it impossible to write in solitude, there is Vida designer Tanya Saracho. “I spent six months creatively frozen in Los Angeles and needed to change the air I breathed,” says the showrunner, who has a development agreement with UCP. So, in the fall, Saracho bought a one-way ticket to the UK, where she spent five months bouncing around different AirBNBs in London, writing in cafes and in her friend’s recording studio. She returned to the United States in January with a pilot screenplay about a Mexican girl who travels to London and falls in love with a British folk musician. Said Saracho, “Turns out I just needed to get off the mainland.”
Not everyone suffered from a lack of inspiration during their 40s. “It was actually a rich creative period,” says Small fires everywhere‘s Liz Tigelaar, who adds that she appreciated the opportunity to take a step back and reassess her development list. Her outlook might have something to do with the fact that she spent much of the pandemic in a van with her publicist wife and 5-year-old son, crossing the country from east to west three times and from north to north. south twice. “As a writer, so much of your life permeates your work, so just expanding our world has helped me so creatively,” she says.
That’s not to say that it has always been easy to find the time or place to produce scripts. In order to complete a movie she was working on, she locked herself in her stepmother’s condo on the beach for two weeks while in Florida on one of their trips across the country. “I lived as a 20 year old boy, eating turkey burgers and not doing laundry and wearing the same clothes and just writing,” she says, noting that the pandemic has completely upended her writing routine. usual. “To really dive in now, you kind of have to give up your life and go somewhere that you won’t be distracted – and I feel like I didn’t have to do that.”
Writers with young children at home say juggling the demands of parenting and working remotely has been the hardest part. To be able to Designer Courtney Kemp, for example, tries to do most of her writing on weeks when she doesn’t have custody of her daughter so that she can be fully devoted to her when she’s around. Green and his wife, Amber Noizumi, who direct the Netflix animated series Blue eyed samari together, take turns moving away from their writing to prepare lunch for their two pre-teens. “A pitch meeting interrupted by a child a year ago would have resulted in the end of lifetime screen use and now there’s no meeting where someone doesn’t take a moment to deliver.” a snack, answer a question or just check on a child, ”he says.
Children regularly make appearances in “Zoom rooms”, the virtual iteration of writers’ rooms that some love and others hate. Shows that were in the middle of their season when COVID at least hit had the advantage that the writers already knew each other and a workflow established. Such has been the case with The Handmaid’s Tale, who shut down their physical writers’ room on a Friday and started a Zoom room on a Monday. “It went well, but in some ways we were a special case,” showrunner Bruce Miller said. “It would be difficult to start cold. “
Most writers who had to set up new rooms during this time say it’s running out. “After a few hours I’m exhausted,” Headland says. “When you are in a physical room, you feed off the energy of people. Kemp, who has had a handful of rooms during the pandemic, says that while she appreciated the ability to go back and forth with a few clicks, the positives end there. “A Zoom room does not replace a writers room,” she says. “You just don’t get the same chemistry. It is more difficult to pay attention. I sometimes found myself pulling stories from people because they were so exhausted. I know there will be people who are like, “Oh, that’s a better way to do it.” It’s not.”
One day at a timeGloria Calderón Kellett, who opened a Zoom room for a new Amazon show during quarantine, won’t claim it’s not more tiring. “The energy is definitely zapped,” she says. But at the same time, she recognizes some advantages. She has a New York-based writer on her team for the first time, and she’s admittedly blown away by apps like Miro, an online whiteboard: I didn’t think so. And when it comes to Zoom locations, she’s on full blast. Selling a movie to HBO Max while in quarantine without having to drive to Los Angeles was a game-changer. “If I go far with a movie, I want to do it only on Zoom,” she says.
How writers’ rooms will be forever changed is open to debate. For well-oiled machines like The Handmaid’s Tale, a Zoom room will likely continue to be part of the process. In fact, Miller is considering the idea of having three days in the office and two at home, with longer periods of remote work built in every now and then. But not everyone is so excited about the prospect of a new Zoom normal. Lindelof says: “It terrifies me that we are moving in a direction where I can’t sit in a room with other people, eat junk food and talk about what was on TV last night for two hours before. to actually work. “
A version of this story first appeared in the March 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.