Run. The word echoed around me from all directions. It was a big bright red neon flashing sign blocking all paths forward. That’s the word my cousin Lynne, a writer for the television business, dreamed of the night before her script was sent into the twilight zone of television. Run.
I arrived in Los Angeles, Ca. with my cousin in total panic mode. Her boss had changed his mind; he didn’t want this story anymore, he wanted that one. With less than a week until deadline, after writing a perfectly adequate script for episode seven of ‘In Plain Sight” for season three, Lynne was back at square one. New story. New dialogue. Blank page.
And I was still jealous of her life. My cousin was living out my dream. Her words reverberate through television sets across the country by means of the characters Mary, Marshall and Stan of ‘In Plain Sight.” How freakin’ cool.
As you might be able to tell, I didn’t go on your typical college spring break. I opted to get a peek into the industry that has become both a passion and an addiction, rather than take part in the Cancun or Puerto Rico drunken haze that many students chose. While I may not have gotten free drinks, I can easily say that I would not have traded my experience for anything else.
My days consisted of reading old scripts on the beach and my nights consisted of discussing the new scenes Lynne was writing. I spent a week getting a first-hand look at both the stress that comes from the entertainment industry and the immense sense of accomplishment. I saw the blank piece of paper that the episode began with progress to a full script.
My cousin brought me to the NBC/Universal lot where I entered my own personal heaven on earth. I met the writing staff of USA’s ‘In Plain Sight” and SyFy’s ‘Warehouse 13″ and was given a tour of the ‘CSI” sets by one of the veteran writers of the show who has worked there for seven seasons. Upon telling these various professionals that I wanted to break into the television industry, I received a variation of one response.
‘Oh man,” one writer said with a look on his face that clearly expressed sympathy. ‘Good luck” was another preferred reaction. My personal favorite however was, ‘Run away while you still can.” It all came back to that one word. Run.
Initially, you might think that this would be discouraging and disappointing. But then I sat in the offices with the writers. I saw how the collaboration and teamwork of a writing staff can take the story and develop it so that it works for the screen. I watched the producer’s cut of an episode in the writers’ room of ‘In Plain Sight” where they encouraged one another and admired the way their words were transformed on the screen.
After taking an oath of secrecy and being warned of spoiler alerts, I watched the footage for the upcoming ‘Warehouse 13″ episodes. And for all their warnings and caution signs about the difficulty and stress of their jobs, sitting in that room felt like I was sitting amongst a group of guys who absolutely loved what they were doing. The office was plastered with drawings of the gadgets from the show and the white-boards filled with ideas for future episodes.
David Rambo, ‘CSI” writer and producer, then took me from the writers’ room to the Stage for a tour of the ‘CSI” sets. I got a first-hand look at the morgue, followed by a trip to the hospital and finally a visit to the interrogation room and offices of ‘CSI: Las Vegas.” All on Stage 25 of the Universal lot. Over in another building, on the swing set of the show, the crew was set up to film a separate set of scenes on a special made set for the episode. As I was introduced to more writers and crewmembers I got more of those looks as if to say, ‘I hope she knows what she’s getting herself into.”
There was one constant in every show’s staff the way they talked about their fans. Lynne and the ‘In Plain Sight” staff said, ‘Oh the fans are going to love this” while they watched the character development in the cut of an episode. The fact that the writers of ‘Warehouse 13″ chatted about the ‘easter eggs” (hints fixed within episodes of the show) they were planting in the episodes to get their viewers excited. It was how the CSI crew members described how cool it is to get to create a set such as this one and how excited they are for it to air (and it is an awesome set; tune in during April to see).
Yes, I did see the hours and hours my cousin spent locked in her office typing away. And I heard the drama of last minute story changes and dialogue that didn’t come out just right. I saw what the business came down to in its rawest form, before the writing on the page was turned into actions on a set.
But I also saw what the writers liked most about their jobs: the way they bring characters to life and the way they get to share their stories with millions of viewers every week. Writers simply do not get enough credit for the shows or films they are responsible for. When we watch television we see actors we see direction, but how often do you really sit back and listen to the dialogue?
Without the behind-the-scenes work that these people do, none of that would come to life. Marshall wouldn’t have Mary’s back during every witness protection case, Pete wouldn’t get his ‘gut feelings” during a ‘Warehouse” investigation the ‘CSI” crime lab wouldn’t exist.
So I could run. I could look at the challenges and difficulties that the entertainment industry doubtlessly brings to its workers and say ‘too hard, not going to try.” But what fun would that be? More importantly, what excuse would I use for the ridiculous amount of television that I watch? Instead of running away, after meeting writers and visiting sets, I’d rather run with my passion and see where it takes me.
Rosenberg is a member of the class of 2012.