This Saturday at the Film Independent Forum we’re offering a panel discussion on TV writers rooms, in which television writers—some veterans, some new voices—will take the audience inside the writers room and offer insight on the best way to break in. Among the panelists is Bridget Bedard, an Emmy-nominated writer whose credits include Mad Men and Transparent.
We caught up with Bedard to get a little preview of what’s to come at this Saturday’s panel. She filled us in on everything from writing drunk characters to the advantages of working for a female showrunner.
Tell us about the beginning of your career and how you broke into your first writers room.
I started as an aspiring indie filmmaker. I went to NYU and studied directing and had a short that went to Sundance. I got signed with an agency as a director but it was an uphill battle to get a feature film made. Eventually my manager put me up for a job writing for Mad Men. I was hired as a staff writer off of a spec script that I was hoping to direct (still haven’t) and an interview that apparently went well. When I tell that story, people think I’m incredibly lucky—which I am—but I was slogging away for a long time before I got that break, writing, teaching, scraping by. From there I went to Men of a Certain Age and I haven’t stopped working since. I love being in the writers room and now that I’m fairly established I might circle back to directing.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the way the writers room functions from the first season of Mad Men to today?
Every show runner runs his/her writers room differently, so it’s hard to say whether or not there’s been any kind of evolution or anything that I could say was a big change. I see rooms getting smaller and more densely packed with upper level writers. But then again [Transparent creator and executive producer] Jill Soloway hired only writers who hadn’t worked in television (except for me). So you never know. The biggest thing is probably just the number of places getting into original programming. It has exploded!
If you had to single out one piece of advice that has guided you throughout your career, what would it be?
Oy. I’m not saying I did this myself, but looking back I would say it’s very important to be selective. Know your value and work on things that are meaningful to you. It’s the only way you can make something good. Of course most of us need a paycheck, but at least keep pushing your passion project on the side. And hopefully it won’t be on the side forever.
Don Draper was often under the influence. Is writing drunk characters something you think about? Was there a drunk-speak specialist in the room?
I wouldn’t say I think about it, but some of my most prized scenes have characters that are either drunk or on drugs. You have to really imagine the brain-logic of a person under the influence. It’s very easy to get it wrong. But what can I say? I’ve lived a little. I don’t think anyone on the staff of Mad Men ever wrote a character acting drunk. They’re simply drunk while trying to act normal. The idea is that everyone is very mannered and trying to act normal at all times. You really have to rely on the actors to pull it off. Jon Hamm is very good at it.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened in the writers room of a show you worked on? Any big disagreements or unexpected sources of inspiration?
Hmm… I don’t know if anything crazy has ever happened. There are always disagreements, though it’s better if it’s constructive and not contentious. And unexpected inspiration usually comes from writers’ personal lives—stuff that happened on the weekend or on the way to work. I think a certain amount of personal disclosure is helpful to make a show good and real.
Do you notice a difference writing for a female showrunner as opposed to a male?
Yes, but I think that has a lot to do with the particular showrunner. I’ve only worked for one woman (!). She [Soloway] hires waaaay more women directors and seems more interested in emotional storytelling and authentic emotions within the stories. But I find this true of women writers in general—not to stereotype!
If you hadn’t become a television writer, what do you think you’d be doing?
Who knows! I have no other skills!
To hear more from Bedard as well as writers from Empire, Narcos, American Crime and Doll & Em, buy your passes for the Film Independent Forum and join us for the panel Television: The Writers Room on Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger