We Got Nothing
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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Once, I was working on a show when the director walked into the writers' room. Most of the time, the director spends the entire day on the stage, working with the actors. At some point, he calls the writers to the stage to watch a run-through of the script, and after that the writers go back to the room and complain about the run-through, make filthy jokes, complain about other shows on TV, attack and undermine each other personally, order dinner, then settle in to do the re-write.
So when the director walked into the room before the run-through was called, we were pretty sure it was bad news.
He flopped onto the sofa.
"We got nothing," he said.
"Wait," I said,"What about –“
"You didn't let me finish," I said.
"You did have to finish. We got nothing."
"But, what about the shape of the story? The basic beats? Maybe the act break is in the wrong place or maybe we need another twist in the second act but there's got to be something in the set-up that –“
"We. Got. Nothing. We got nothing."
But of course we didn't take his word for it. We didn't just cancel the run-through, chuck the script, and start right into the page-one rewrite. Instead, we frittered away the afternoon complaining about the director, the cast, the way the little hole in the Starbucks coffee lid sometimes cuts your tongue if you shove your tongue into it, why kids these days wear their pants so low, how impossible it is to ever listen to all of the music you have on your iPod, and then we went to the run-through.
Which was a disaster, because, as we knew: We got nothing.
So we went back to the room after a an almost funereal run-through of a terminally-ill, do-not-resuscitate script, and spent another hour or two engaged in bitter, unsupportive joking until it was time to order dinner, send the PAs out for beer and wine, and actually do the work.
Which was remarkably easy, frankly, because you never actually Got Nothing. There's always something there. It's easier to rewrite every word on every page of an existing script than it is to start with a blinking cursor and a blank screen.
"Let's just do this but, you know, the good version," is a terrific plan of action.
This, but, with the funny. Or: We know what we need here. We need the exact opposite of what we have. Everything we've got but, you know, the opposite.
Making something better is a lot easier to wrap your head around than simply making something. Which is why scripts will float around town for years, getting written and rewritten dozens of times, or why a network will continue to make the same kind of failed pilot or cancelled show over and over again. In Hollywood – and in Wall Street, I guess – you never really believe that you Got Nothing.
Even when you hear them all say:
We Got Nothing.
And that's it for this week. Next week, we'll jump off the carousel. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.