Soft Writing: Dreaming Bigger for Intelligent Design

    Intelligent Design is progressing. I’m still vague on the structure of each episode, as well as how many episodes there should be per season, and how each season should differ in structure, and how I can end it with the content I want but in a structure that makes sense. 

    And that’s just the really macro stuff. 

    In other words, there’s a lot to work out.

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    When I first had the idea of pitching to a network, I had this dream of hiring a bunch of writers and renting a nice cabin on Lake Arrowhead and having a kind of vacation retreat while we plotted out and wrote the whole series. That idea has a couple problems with it.

1) Based on a 12 episode per season schedule, and a 3 season arc, that would be 36 episodes, each of which is around 60 pages long. That would be a very long retreat.

2) Issue 1 is compounded by the fact that I had wanted to hire about 6 writers, not including myself, 3 men, 3 women. Each writer would have to write 6 episodes, each of which is 60 pages, totaling 360 pages of quality writing per writer. That’s really hard to do. It’s nearly impossible to do in a short time.

3) Each script has to be written and reviewed and then rewritten and then re-reviewed until it’s good. Give a week per draft, assuming that each writer can write 60 pages in a week. That’s six weeks. Give each review of each episode 1 day, that’s another 36 days, per rewrite. Give another 2 days for rewrites, again divided 6 per writer. That’s 12 more days. Another set of reviews, another 36 days. That’s a minimum of 5 months in a cabin, in the woods, with creative people.

4) Based on 3, it would be psychologically a bad idea. Financially, it would be a bad idea. On top of all that, I don’t know another show that’s done in this way so there’s little guarantee that it would even produce something I’d be happy with.

    All of the above points have killed the idea of Arrowhead Cabin.

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    With the idea of the writing group retreat slowly disintegrating, another problem has arisen. In order for me to pitch the idea to a network, I’ve got to have an outline and a structure to the story. For the story to have a structure, I’ve got to know where it’s going. To know where it’s going I’ve got to plot it out. If I’ve got to plot it out, I’ve eliminated all the really good parts for other writers to do, which forces me to ask, what’s the point in having the other writers at all.

    Having to write 36 sets of 60 pages is a daunting task. It took me 1.5 years to write ALGORITHM, which was only 140 pages. This would be [insert time while I use a calculator] 2,160 pages. I don’t know if that’s possible. And if it is possible, I don’t know how long it will take me. Since Beta relies on technology, and since technology advances so fast, the episodes might be period pieces by the time I’m done with them.

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    I used to write novels. That taught me an invaluable skill that has enabled me to do everything I’ve done since then. I break large tasks into small manageable components. Then, I deal with each component, one at a time. If I don’t use that technique, I tend to get really overwhelmed with what seems like an enormous task. In this overwhelmed state, I often will overestimate how long things take. That leads me to becoming paralyzed because I think I can’t start something that big.

    To solve that problem, which seems to be cropping up with Beta, I’m going to work out exactly how long it might take me to write 2,160 good pages. 

    I can write about 10 pages per day. They won’t be amazing. They’ll need rewriting. Plotting everything out before I write seems to limit the number of rewrites, but they still have to occur.

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    I paused here because I had lunch meeting with Jon Frendl who makes mobile apps. Jon met Peter Thiel (the VC behind Facebook, Paypal, and SpaceX, among others).  Anyway, I told Jon my story, about how ALGORITHM came to be and how I came to make it. 

    It was a good lunch.

    Then, as we were wrapping up, I mentioned the plot for Beta. He loved it. So, now the reaction is unanimous, and that’s a good sign.

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    I’m resuming this 9 hours later.

    If I write 10 pages per day and there are 2,160 pages, then it will take me 216 days to write. I tend not to write on the weekends, prioritizing time with Memi. If I break 216 down into 5-day increments, then it will take me 43 weeks of writing, or just under a year. That’s way faster than my overwhelmed mind was threatening.

    While I was taking my 9 hour lunch break, I read Variety article about how showrunners stay flexible with their stories while filming because stuff on set changes. That article made me wonder whether my dream of having a series script that’s as strong as a feature script, if that dream is even possible.

    That said, the primary reason the showrunners have to stay flexible isn’t because great new story ideas come, but because of the nature of the way series are produced and that flexibility may not be needed with a different production model.

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    All of this may seem like procrastination, but the fact is there’s a lot of work… a lot of different things that need to get done, or at least that I need to clarify as I go forward.

    If I need to plot out everything before I can write the pilot, then what’s the point in having a writing staff. If I don’t have a writing staff and have to write it all myself, that means that the entire thing will be written before it’s shot. That means that the production model will change.

    And the reverse is true too. If I can change the production model, then I can get the writing done first, then I can write the whole thing out before a single camera rolls. Then the whole thing will fit together like a movie rather than having the duct tape that series writing generally requires.

    The real question in all of this is, how much work do I have to do and how much work can I get away with not doing up front and hire other people to do, and still end up with a really solid show?