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“I would say a lot of dark chocolate, a lot of Diet Coke,” jokes “Lessons in Chemistry” creator Lee Eisenberg about what makes a good and productive writers room. We talked with Eisenberg and his fellow showrunners Akiva Goldsman (“The Crowded Room”), Debora Cahn (“The Diplomat”), Michael Dinner (“Justified: City Primeval”) and Zal Batmanglij (“A Murder at the End of the World”) as part of our “Meet the Experts” panel series. Watch our roundtable chat above. Click each name above to watch that person’s individual chat.
What really makes for a healthy writers room is “it just needs to feel safe and collaborative, and people kind of pitching on top of each other’s ideas.” Eisenberg has been in writers rooms for 20 years, so he knows that “when people feel comfortable, they share personal stories. And I think that specificity in that texture when it comes through in the room, then can be translated into the scripts. I think that’s where you get the best stuff.”
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Dinner had the added benefit of familiarity: “We had six of us who had done the original ‘Justified’ together. As I said before, it wasn’t so much that we were trying to reboot the show. We were trying to reboot the feeling we had during the show.” With new additions Walter Mosley and Isa Davis, “we started the room up in the pandemic. And I don’t want to say that it was easy, but we had such a familiarity with each other, and a respect for each other.”
“I think this thing that we do is really, it sounds oxymoronic, but it’s collaborative art,” adds Goldsman. “And that means that you have to be okay saying things and being wrong.” And you have to overcome the fear of failure. “Those of us who are writers know that there’s a hundred bad pages before the good one. You just have to write through them, you know, and I think that’s true of ideas … I like to think it’s a teaching hospital. You have urgency, but also is the opportunity to get better.”
Batmanglij and his creative partner Brit Marling “think of it as a garden and we think of ourselves as gardeners. And so we’re tending to the different ideas, trying to give them the right amount of sun and water.” And when you bring in other writers, the narrative you’re tending to must come first, “so that it’s not about people’s individual egos, but it’s about the story. What does the story need? What does it want? How does it want to enter the world?”
Cahn “always felt like writing is like a tax that I pay so that I’m allowed to do things like hang out in a writers room. I definitely didn’t get into this because I loved the relationship between me and the page.” That sense of community and camaraderie is “such a precious thing,” especially after it was lost for so long to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were all so starving for human contact,” she remembers. “We were so much more aware of the gift that that was.”
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