After attending a Q&A with John Yorke and Jeff Melvoin, I was offered a bursary to join the online Running the Show course, which made a huge difference to me, and I hope the course continues to offer free places to make it as accessible as possible.
The course began with Jeff giving an overview of the showrunner and head writer roles and encouraged us to think about the skills and qualities we already had, or could look to nurture, that might help us deal with the pressures and responsibilities of running a show.
Across the following eight weeks, the course traced the challenges of having a series greenlit: from breaking story in a writers’ room, to the beginnings of prep, the potential crises of production and the final ‘rewrite’ of the story in post.
I especially appreciated the insights into the different ways to run a writers’ room, both as a creative exercise and as a constructive and respectful, interpersonal one. In the UK, opportunities to learn these skills feel hard to come by beyond piecing together approaches from staffing in different rooms or being thrown into the deep end to lead your own, perhaps before you are ready.
Each week featured a short video discussion between Jeff and John, reading materials and exercises adapted from Jeff’s book, and a longer form interview between Jeff and an industry guest. These included a range of showrunners and head writers from the US, the UK and Europe, as well as directors, editors and actors from different series, such as Emma Frost, Charissa Sanjarernsuithikul, and Frank Spotnitz.
The reading materials and weekly homework tasks made up the bulk of the course and took a good few hours to complete. These included considering how to deal with different issues that might arise in a room and deconstructing how a sequence of a real world TV episode was reimagined to save on the budget.
While Jeff encouraged us and fed back on the cohort’s work as a whole, much of course was structured around mutual peer critique. We were lucky to have a range of backgrounds in our group, including writers at different stages, line producers and continuing drama story producers.
The course content largely skewed towards the American system of showrunning where showrunners often have a producorial and managerial role across all aspects of the production. However, Jeff was careful to outline how the US system differs from most British shows where the writing and producing roles tend to be much more separated. With the course taking place after the end of the WGA strike, Jeff was also able to share perspectives on the state of the industry gleaned straight from the picket lines.
The final weeks of the course turned inward as we reviewed what we had learned and put together action plans to help us towards the next stage of our careers. In an industry where there is so much pressure to always put the work first, I particularly appreciated the importance given to fostering work life balance. I hope to take this approach into the year ahead.