Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
April 3rd, 2012 by Mere Smith

Shondaland!

So as some of you may know, last night I attended an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Panel, deftly titled:

An Evening With Shonda Rhimes & Friends

.

.

This sounded nice and homey, although “Friends” apparently meant one other Executive Producer (Betsy Beers) and 7 actors (Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy, Taye Diggs and KaDee Strickland from Private Practice, and Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, and Katie Lowes from Rhimes’ newest show, Scandal.  Which, as they politely reminded us several times, airsthisThursdayat10p.m.onABC.)

Now this is not to say I was bummed to be staring at Sandra Oh for an hour and a half (I have feelings for Cristina Yang that transcend the boundaries of mortal love) — especially since she was wearing a fabulous dress with a cut-out down the middle that, in terms of wardrobe malfunction, hovered in a constant state of Threat Level: Red.

.

copyright zimbio.com

.

However, coming from a writing perspective, I would’ve loved to have seen Rhimes and her actual friends instead — y’know, just kicking back over some wine and Girl Scout cookies — or maybe Rhimes and her Writers, talking about their process — or just Rhimes herself, explaining to me HOW THE HELL YOU CREATE A FEMALE EMPIRE IN THE MIDDLE OF DICKLAND, TV.

You see, as a female Writer, when you’ve never worked with a female EP, you want to hear everything about her, like, “Do you ever have a hard time convincing male executives to trust your judgment?” (though considering she now has three shows on the air simultaneously, this one seems a tad obsolete).  And, “How many layers of bullshit did you have to wade through in order to stop being called ‘opinionated,’ ‘aggressive,’ or ‘bitchy’?”  And, “Do you approach running the writers’ room differently than the men you’ve worked for?”  Or, “Hey, when you go to work, do you feel pressure to look ‘feminine’?  More specifically, do you ever wear ridiculous fucking shoes like this?”

.

.

Because I did last night.  And oh, what a giant mistake that was.

.

Int. Our House – Sunday Night

Me: What are you wearing tomorrow for the panel?

The Finance: A suit jacket and a button-down shirt.

Me: Well, shitballs, now I have to look nice.

.

Int. Our House – Monday Afternoon

Me (tearing through closet): Where are all my nice shoes?  All I can find are Nikes!  Do I even have any nice shoes anymore?  Oh, wait, good!  Here’s a pair I haven’t worn in 10 years.

.

Int./Ext. Car/Parking Garage/Theatre – Monday Night

Me: OH MY GOD MY FEET HURT SO BAD OH MY GOD PLEASE DON’T LET GO OF ME OR I’LL TOPPLE RIGHT ONTO THIS GARAGE FLOOR/THESE STAIRS/THIS TOTALLY FLAT PIECE OF CARPET AND I’LL BREAK MY GODDAMNED NECK!

The Finance: I’m losing feeling in that arm.

Me: THESE ARE THE WORST SHOES EVER CREATED IN THE HISTORY OF SHOES!  THESE ARE FOOTBINDING SHOES!

The Finance: Y’know, you didn’t have to wear them.

Me: BUT YOU WERE GONNA LOOK NICE AND IF YOU LOOK NICE I CAN’T NOT LOOK NICE AND OH MY GOD FUCK ME IN THE ASS I AM NEVER FUCKING DOING THIS AGAIN!

The Finance (muttering): I hear that.

.

Thus, before we even got to the panel, there was some drama.  Which is so unlike me, considering I spend the majority of my time in my socks — though admittedly, most of them look something like this:
.
.
Which some might call dramatic.  Though not necessarily in a hot Sandra Oh way.
.
Anyway, before the Twitter questions ensued (“What’s going to happen to Meredith and Derek?”  “What’s going to happen to Charlotte and Cooper?”  “Why can’t you just spoil the whole season for me so I don’t actually have to watch the episodes?”), I did pick up a few educational tidbits, the most salient of which (to me) was:
.
Rhimes doesn’t always plan her story arcs ahead of time.
.
SAYWHA-HUHNOW? goes my death-grip control-freak brain.
.
No, she lets the actors complete the episodes — which she rarely watches being filmed, unless there’s a particularly pivotal scene (insert another control-freaky knee-jerk reaction here) — then, after watching their performances in the editing room, she forms ideas about where to take them from there.  Let me tell you, that is some huge trust in the actors on her part.  However, as has been established time and again, Rhimes makes incredible casting choices, which I suppose lets her breathe a little when it comes to that trust.
.
Still, as someone who’s always worked on shows with story arcs planned out AT LEAST a season in advance, that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality scares the shit out of me.  I think I needed to hear her talk about this other way of doing things — and to know that it can succeed — so that I can open myself up to new possibilities, new methods of writing and showrunning.  For the most part, the men I’ve worked for have all had similar approaches when it comes to story arcs — discuss, plan, act — cut and dried — but perhaps there’s something to be said for a more liquid and evolving type of storytelling.
.
It certainly gives me something to think about when it comes to running my own show.
.
But I can tell you right now, I’ve learned my lesson:
.
I will not be wearing those rigid fucking shoes when I do.

Comments

12 Responses to “Shondaland!”
  1. No preplanned arcs. That really hurts my brain! But then past the initial wince – I sorta kinda like it. I’m intrigued. It’s like she’s living through the eyes of the fan who’s watching the show unfold before her and she’s seeing the possibilities as they naturally develop based on the chemistry.

    Love the monkey socks. Flove.

    • I thought the same thing — “She’s almost fan-fic’ing the canon!” Which totally blew my mind. I’d like to try that style someday, but I think I’d have to pre-plan a few seasons first, just to get a hold on the story. Also, the monkey socks love you back. They told me. They didn’t want me to tell you, ’cause they’re embarrassed, but I thought you should know.

  2. As someone who always know where her stories/novels are going to end up, hearing a TV writer say she doesn’t have a planned arc – especially in her serialised style of shows – is amazing! It seems to work for her, though.

    Love your monkey socks! I used to have a lot of funky socks – happy hippos, laughing cows, several pairs of cat socks, of course – and when I was going to the physio on a regular basis, that was the first thing she’d want to see. 😉

    • I love the weird socks because most of the time I’m wearing comfy clothes with no style whatsoever (think yoga pants and XXL t-shirts — I hate being confined by my clothing; I feel like I’m choking). Thus I make up for my Tuareg wardrobe with monkey socks. And manatee socks. And socks with bunnies on them that read, “You say ‘psycho’ like it’s a bad thing.”

  3. Whether or not an improvisational, liquid style is better or not is a really interesting thing to debate and talk about, but can I say how refreshing it is for the few writers who will own up to this? I remember Ron Moore being totally open in his Battlestar Podcasts about how fluid their plotting was and just the fact that he was publicly avoiding the “We have it all planned out,” line that I rarely believe from most showrunners meant a lot. Bully for her not only for finding a style that works for her, but for being willing to let all the control freaks have a teeth gritting moment and risk getting looked down upon. Good. For. Shonda.

    (Even if I, like, totally gritted my teeth through hearing some of her process.)

    By the way: The shoes are awesome, and not just because they caused you so much pain. But DeMoriel is right: the socks are even awesomerer.

    • I know; the control-freak part of me was having fits listening to Ms. Rhimes describe the way she plots her shows. It was only after I came home (and took a sedative) that I could think straight about her process, and finally admit there’s some real merit to it. Scary, scary merit, but merit nonetheless. And next time I go to a writer’s panel? I’m wearing the monkey socks. ONLY the monkey socks.

  4. Princess of Darkness says

    Didn’t Shonda just adopted a second baby? lol that might explain her lack of attending. But isn’t that even more incredible… 2 kids, no story arche, write as you go… are we sure she’s not wonderwoman?

    P.s.: I wouldnt have been able to get to the parking garage with that shoes lol

    • Hey Nic!

      Sorry it took me so long to respond; I have other things I’m not writing, too. And I barely made it out of the parking garage — it was only by the grace of the Finance’s upper body strength that I made it into the theatre at all.

  5. Carissa says

    Well, it didn’t work for um…the doctor one set in the jungle, which I happened to enjoy. Dammit. I hope it works for Scandal, because the first four episodes are awesome.

    I’m guessing she would have had you wear your shoes in one scene. I hope you learned something from THAT, love monkey.

    • The love monkey has learned never to wear those shoes EVER. AGAIN. Even Ms. Rhimes couldn’t make me! Oh… fuck, fine. Yes she could.

  6. […] wear Nikes to it, it’s a 99.9999% certainty I don’t want to go wherever it is.  (Shondaland being the obvious exception, though if anything, that only reinforced my preferences.)  So sitting […]

  7. […] liked the cocktail dress, wanted to make sure the boots were comfortable – wise veteran of Shondaland – and said something nice about the jacket.  Showcasing one of the many reasons I love him, he […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *