One of the vital parts of making TV is having a certain amount of clarity in storytelling. From the writing of individual episodes to the relationships with cast to the environment on set, building trust among a group of creatives and the audience is essential.
At IndieWire’s inaugural Consider This FYC brunch, the creative engines behind four different TV shows gathered for an Above the Line panel. Moderated by IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers, one of the themes that emerged from the conversation became how to establish this trust in the process of creating a TV show.
“The Act” showrunners Michelle Dean and Nick Antosca talked about the process of bringing a real-life experience to the screen while avoiding some of the pitfalls of other crime-based shows. Working together with their different backgrounds, the show became a melding of different approaches to the same story. Dean’s journalism background offered her a unique set of skills to help tell the story of Gypsy and Dee Dee Blanchard, one that she first documented in a longform piece for BuzzFeed News.
“Screenwriters lead with structure, which is great,” Dean said. “Journalists tend to lead with details. That’s what you do. You go around and you gather details and you build the story out of that. Here, you try to put them intelligible story structure that the audience could really understand.”
In addition to the storytelling diligence that comes with telling a tale based on real-life individuals, Antosca talked about the desire to practice full disclosure with the show’s viewers. Keeping the guesswork out of an existing story lets the people watching focus on different aspects that would normally go unexplored.
“We wanted to make a promise to the audience that we were going to be up front with them. That tells you at the beginning that this story is about the people and not about the lurid violence or the murder,” Antosca said. “By the end of the first episode, you know both of the twists. So you know it’s going to be about how you get there, not about solving a crime.”
The HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness” had the creative freedom to pursue a series that defied traditional TV formats and rhythms. What may at first seem like a series of standalone segments eventually revealed themselves to be an interconnected set of ideas about topics dealing with gender, race, creativity, and the many different facets of the human experience. For Naima Ramos-Chapman, part of that artistic trust came from not having to subscribe to predetermined roles in the creative process, instead working with a group of collaborators who all served as writers, directors, and performers on the series.
“There was in an instant respect, but once we were in the room, there was also a very amazing ego check. We just really loved what we were making so much that nobody cared that it almost killed us the year we were making this show,” Ramos-Chapman said. “We just really wanted to make something that shifted consciousness. Even now, we’re still talking and very much in love with each other.”
For the Starz series “Now Apocalypse,” part of that trust happens on the set during production. Gregg Araki, who directed and co-wrote all ten episodes of the show’s first season, discussed the process of keeping all the show’s central ensemble on the same page.
“All 10 scripts were written, so they knew what their whole character arc was for the whole season before they signed on. They knew where I was coming from. It was so amazing to have these actors that are so fearless and went there,” Araki said.
“Drunk History” creator Derek Waters explained how his Comedy Central series, over multiple seasons, embraces a mentality that conveying stories from the past means trusting that you can meet an audience on their terms. Through the show’s historical reenactments, Waters said he always seeks to bring in recognizable faces as a way to make every anecdote relatable in its own way.
“History in particular is obviously so important, but it’s rarely taught in a way that makes you think, ‘Oh, these people aren’t any different than you and I. We all start from the bottom,'” Waters said. “If you make someone laugh, you have their attention. It’s a comedy premise with history at the heart. There’s a lot of people that do a lot of great things that don’t always get the attention. In my opinion, it’s my job to find those stories and get them out there.”