The Middle Third: Beats
The beat goes on (?!)
Thank you for your patience – I filmed a very long video and then scrapped it and wrote a very long essay. I want this to be clear: no rambling, no edits. I’ll go back to videos in the future, but for now, please enjoy this breakdown of a process you might steal from the world of screenwriting.
The strangest part of my career in screenwriting is that I never knew enough about it to want it. I didn’t really watch TV. When I did, most often with friends or when I was sick, I was like, Yeah The Sopranos is good. Or, Yeah, Mad Men is so well-written. Or, I want to move to New York City and be Carrie Bradshaw. It’s not that I’m immune to mania. But I am an obsessive only in one area of art, and that is literature.
In 2016, in the middle of Sweetbitter’s launch, film and television adaptation was increasingly a topic of conversation. My agents at CAA (hi Olivia, Michelle, and Tiffany!) strongly believed I should try writing the pilot myself. I didn’t know exactly what a pilot was, but they sold me on the idea that trying was low-risk. I said I would take a shot but maybe I needed some help. I got a lot of help. Impossible to overstate how much help. And that was part of the draw of it. I’ve said this many times, but how often do you have some of the most brilliant filmic minds offering to give you a free PhD? Not only free, but they would pay me to learn. I signed up greedily.
It wasn’t until my agents sent me a selection of other people’s pilots that I began to care about television. I would read a pilot, then watch it. I did this over and over. I had never seen Girls. Never seen Orange is the New Black. Transparent, Atlanta, The Affair: it was the most television I had ever watched in my life. And I started—barely—to understand visual storytelling, to become—barely—aware of what was possible on TV. But my way in was—and still is—reading.
Much later came the writer’s room, the actors, the location scouts and sets, the 5am call times, darkened editor’s rooms where it feels like hours last years. Then there was another season and stepping back into a writer’s room: blank dry-erase boards, empty corkboards, stashes of Cheetos and La Croix, fresh piles of sharpies and stacks upon stacks of index cards. I could feel my own taut and eager competence. I kinda got it.