Fake it til you make it…as a TV writer

Jess Harris, series creator and writer of ABC2 comedy series twentysomething tells us how to bluff it as a TV series writer in a feature that first appeared in Encore.Jess-confetti(small)

What does a TV series writer actually do?

Create fictional characters and a make-believe world for them to play in. Basically, I’m a liar.

What skills do you need to be good at the job?

A big imagination, with enough discipline to be able to sit still long enough to convert it all into witty, concise, entertaining and touching dialogue, which is then edited down to a tight 27 minutes of TV.

Who are the people you work closest with?

There are a lot of people who are indirectly involved in my writing process as I draw heavily from my own life. Friends and family are never safe when it comes to creating characters. As I write by myself, at times it is quite isolating. I often talk to the mirror to test if the dialogue sounds natural. Sometimes words on the page can seem really poetic, then you read it out and it sounds like a corny scene from Dawson’s Creek.

But as I am also a director and performer in the series I write, by the time I come out of the scripting tunnel, I am ready to be surrounded by people again. When the show goes into production there are so many different departments who help me to bring the world to life.

Is there any lingo we need to know to do the job?

If there, is I don’t know it. I still don’t consider myself a professional; I never thought I would be a writer. My high school English teachers would be shocked and confused to hear me throwing around the title ‘writer’, I’m the worst speller and I have no sense of grammar. Even spell check can’t catch the typing chaos I spit out. Luckily our producer goes through it all with red texta and saves me from being exposed as the unrefined little simpleton that I am.

What does a typical day on the job entail? 

I get my best ideas when I’m exercising, so I wake up early to hit the gym. Then I put on my writing uniform that consists of a lot of stretch fabric and hoodies and if I’m dressing up, a headband. Then I start tickling the keyboard and hope that the story starts to tell itself.

What’s the best part of the job?

I love that I have an outlet to explore my thoughts and views on life. I love that I can take funny, embarrassing, sad and inspiring moments from life and weave them all into a story that people can enjoy and relate to. In sharing the characters flaws and vulnerabilities, it’s freeing and therapeutic.

But there is nothing more rewarding than watching the final product on the telly – to sit back and see what was once just a show for one in my head, now being magically beamed into people’s lounge rooms.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Sitting still. I once looked into getting a treadmill desk. Apart from that, I think the challenge is the time it takes to get things from an idea to a polished final product. You write something you think is funny and you have to hope that it is still funny and current a year and half later when it finally hits the small screen.

How do you become a TV writer?

I’m not sure of the most direct route. I always knew I wanted to be in the entertainment industry but I didn’t know how to get in there so I decided to write about what I was going through which was being in my 20s in a job that didn’t inspire me, with a burning desire to do more, to have a voice. This is how the show twentysomething came about. I just wrote about what I knew. I was doing it mainly so I could create the perfect role for myself as I wanted to act. But then I realised it was the aspect of telling a story that I loved. We aired the first series of twentysomething on Channel 31, it was from there that we got the opportunity to remake it for ABC2. We can’t believe we are now about to release a second season. So excited.

Encore Issue 16This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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