Year One

Welcome to 2016!

My first “year” as a TV writer is complete, and boy what a year! The last time I checked in with this kind of journey post I was in “Year 12” and now…I get to start over the count! That feels good.

So here’s a recap of 2015. Most of these items will be expanded in greater detail in the next month or two, as I have A LOT I want to blog about (and hiatus free time to do it)

  • January – Finished my year as a writers’ assistant on “The 100” Season 2. Wrote up a series of posts about my experiences with Social Media and Fandom.
  • February and March – Worked on a new pilot sample with Julie to prep for staffing. Hoped and prayed to get staffed on “The 100” for Season 3.
  • March – Got staffed with Julie on “The 100.” Experienced euphoria which is described pretty well in a prior blog post.
  • April 5th – Attended Wondercon. Enjoyed the hell out of it.
  • April 6th – First day as a goddamned TV writer.
  • April/May – Joined the WGA and had the honor of paying the initial fee!
  • May – The loquat tree down the street was savagely pruned back. Many wept.
  • June/July – Toiling away in the writers room. Many friends begin to suspect we are being held hostage (meaning, we don’t see much of our friends).
  • July – San Diego Comic Con! I finally see my friends! Attend the panel for the show with a packed Ballroom 20.
  • August – Sent to Vancouver to our set for the first time to oversee production of episode 304. Unexpectedly extended stay for a week to cover the first half of filming 305 (total visit: 16 days)
  • September – Sent to Vancouver the second time to cover the second half of 306, all of 307…and then extended to cover 308 (total visit: 27 days)
  • September – “Emma Approved” the digital series Julie and I wrote 7 episodes for WON A FREAKING EMMY!
  • October – Julie and I are assigned to write episode 313, our first episode of television!
  • November/December – Head back to Vancouver for production of our episode…I get extended to oversee the first half of 314 (total visit: 17 days) I spent 60 days in Vancouver in 2015.
  • December – Hiatus begins. Holidays arrive. 2015 ends.

So. It was a busy year for us! In the coming weeks, I have posts planned about the following topics:

  • Life as a Staff Writer – Things no one really prepares you for, and I probably will fall short too but will try.
  • Set Visits – A practical guide for writers who visit a film or TV set
  • Writing an Episode of TV – Lessons learned, hopefully to help you learn
  • Social Media and Fandom: The Sequel – SO MANY NEW LESSONS! (With charts and graphs!!)

Those are just a few of the things I’m cooking up for the next two months. My goal is a new post each week starting the week of January 18th (I’ll see if I can throw something on the blog next Monday, but I’ll be traveling next week, so may not have time to finish the first of these posts) and it is likely that these topics will cover multiple posts each, because I do get wordy.

If you’ve any other notions of what you’d like to see me talk about, leave me a comment! Happy to try to answer any and all writing questions I can!

Here’s hoping we all have a great 2016 — Make the most of the time you’ve got. Get writing!

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 5, 2016

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – Conclusions, Part One

When I took over the management of the social media for ‘The 100′ Writers’ Room, I honestly didn’t know what my approach would be. I had observed dozens of other writers’ room accounts, all with different styles of interaction. I looked back at what had been done with the account thus far and found that while some of the tweets were absolutely things I would do, I felt we could do more.

After the many months of running the social media for the writers’ room and looking at the data, I have come to some conclusions. Let me remind you that these are MY observations, and are by no means comprehensive or even valid for others. I base my conclusions from my own experiences, and another person doing the exact same job as I did may have very different conclusions to draw. Still, I hope that within these conclusions there are perhaps common themes which provide clarity on how TV shows should manage their social media footprint going forward.

Every show has its own style and its own objectives with their writers’ room account. That led me to the first question — why do we have the account? Why do shows feel compelled to have a presence in this specific way?

The first and most basic argument is, “everyone else is there too.” And they’re right — in the last three years there has been a major increase in the number of TV show writers’ rooms with their own accounts on Twitter. I wish I could lay specific data against that, but it would be a challenge. I’ll shortcut to one prime example, the writers’ room account that has set the template for almost everyone else in one way or another, no matter their style or goals: “Pretty Little Liars.”

Numerous articles (The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, USA Today) and even an episode of Sundance TV’s “The Writers Room” have detailed the strategies the team behind “Pretty Little Liars” have employed to become so successful in social media. They are consistently on the cutting edge of where their audience is, recently going on SnapChat to engage the fanbase in new ways. Whether they know it or not, most shows are following the PLL model — live tweet with cast and writers, Hashtag trending topics, Instagram, Facebook and lots and lots of devotion to engaging with the fanbase. The result: great ratings. It’s genius and pretty obvious — find ways to motivate people to watch the show live while it’s airing. They made it feel like a giant party that fans did not want to miss each week. They are part of a larger whole, which includes the creative team behind the show! Since the Nielsens as a standard of TV viewing aren’t going anywhere just yet, finding a way to maximize the impact for advertisers is important.

If the account is intended as a one-way dialog, a way to just disseminate information, that could be done with a blog with the comments closed. But the nature of social media is in its name — social. It didn’t feel right to just serve as a way to tweet out factual information — when the show is on, who wrote the episode, retweets of reviews… those things are good and necessary components, but why don’t more accounts actually interact with the fanbase?

The most interaction you usually see from writers’ room accounts happens around live-tweets, either for one or both coastal airings of the show in question. Often the account serves as a way for the creator or the writer of the episode to provide running commentary while the episode airs. Sometimes they’ll retweet others, particularly actors or other creatives who work on the show, but usually those are held to a minimum.

The vibe of a writers’ room account very often takes a cue from its audience. A show like “NCIS” with an older fanbase isn’t as likely to engage on Twitter with the creators of the show (though, it’s good to point out that ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ has certainly done more with their account than the other franchise shows had done in the past). Some shows love to post photos. Other shows tweet out script snippets or teasers. Others engage at the level of soliciting and retweeting fanart. All of these felt like completely valid ways to interact with a fanbase for our show, but it still didn’t feel like enough.

The audience for “The 100” is primarily a young, female audience. As I researched shows with similar fanbases, I started to find some interesting similarities…

  • Trending topics. Shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Teen Wolf” were very strong in this arena. I took a lot of cues from what these two shows and a few other CW shows were doing with their accounts as evidence of something that was already working. Specifically, I found that shows that were able to rally their fans to hashtags and trending topics and were able to capitalize on it.
  • Fan Art. This was a key ingredient of accounts for shows with similar fanbases to “The 100.” Sharing fan art tweeted to the account was something most of these rooms did, particularly “Once Upon a Time” (through co-creator/co-showrunner Adam Horowitz) and “Arrow.”
  • Q&As. Planned or impromptu Q&As were a great way to solicit interaction with the fans, and often was a great way to accomplish multiple goals, which I will expand on later.

I also wanted to have a home base for info that I was sharing through the account. One fan, who I will refer to as “Fan Zero” was heavily influential in convincing me to put “The 100” Writers’ Room on Tumblr. As I’ve said before, this was a little bit of unexplored territory — other than official accounts for all the CW shows and some NBC shows, I couldn’t locate a single writers’ room that established a presence on the platform. We’d be the pioneers, and I would be the one to determine if Tumblr was a viable conduit to the fans.

“Fan Zero” was the only fan account I could find that was followed by the Writers’ Room Twitter account when I took it over. Of course, I wondered if it was in error, and I soon discovered there was a reason we were following her. She was an early adopter to the show in the first season, there from the start and fiercely committed to what the show was trying to achieve, particularly in the portrayal of our female characters. She’s thoughtful and respectful in ways that differentiated her from the other fans I saw talking about our show in the early days of my dive into the fanbase. It wasn’t long before I struck up a dialog with her about the best ways to provide outreach to fans, and she had no shortage of opinions.

She gave me one opinion I really sparked to — that Tumblr was critical. I’d had my own Tumblr account for a few years, but hadn’t really utilized it, as I’ve always had this blog and only really saw Tumblr as another distribution method for my blog posts (with an occasional reblog of some of my friends’ posts and liking them), so at first I was skeptical that this was really the right social media platform for the writers’ room. But I wanted to have a clearinghouse, a searchable place for people to find answers to past questions and any other tidbits we posted. For that, it felt ideal and because the setup and user interface were so easy and intuitive, it was a no brainer. The worst case scenario: I’d use it for a few weeks, no one would find it, care or follow it and I’d abandon it and go back to twitter. At that point I wasn’t aware of the demographics or any of the user statistics for Tumblr, so I didn’t realize I had jumped right into the heart of where our fanbase was living…

Tumblr is not for every writers’ room. I’m saying that now, because the last thing I think a show should do is think they can reach their audience through Tumblr the way I did for “The 100.” The shows that are massively represented on Tumblr with fans are “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock,” “Supernatural,” “Pretty Little Liars,” The Vampire Diaries” and “Once Upon a Time,” among a few others. Our show seemed to fit the profile — international cast (with players from UK, Australia, US, Canada, etc), a young target audience, and very pretty people.

The outlier to this was NBC’s “Hannibal” which mystified me, but once I understood why it was successful, I understood the key to Tumblr. (And I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.)

Tumblr is about two things for fans (and let’s be honest, mostly fangirls): ships and progressive social change.

If your show has a lot of potential for relationships in various combinations, it’s probably well represented on Tumblr. One of the things I realized our show was not capitalizing on was the popular “shippers” choices — and the number one ship was far and away Bellarke — Bellamy and Clarke, the yin and yang of the show.

Something had really captivated them in the first season with those two characters, and the popularity began to explode as people shipped them together and started creating gifsets of the subtlest looks and movements between them to bolster their argument that they were THE OTP of the show (fangirlspeak: OTP = “One True Pairing”). The showrunner was adamant that he was not gearing the show to that relationship; it was well known by the writers of season one who carried over to season 2 that the ship was gaining popularity, but given the edict of Jason Rothenberg, the showrunner that the show was about survival over romantic pairings, those fans who were becoming obsessed with the duo were going to be left out in the cold. My realization: ships will keep your show afloat, but they can also sink it if the shipping wars get overheated.

The other major interest of Tumblr users is progressive social change. They are all about seeing lots of representation in the media for various groups which have been and continue to be under-served — POC, WOC, LGBT (persons of color, women of color, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered). These are girls who are personally offended if the show even tips a hand at misogyny or racial bias in any way. This was in many instances the one Achilles Heel I had in dealing with the fanbase, and this is the tip of the iceberg of a much larger discussion, so I’m tabling this for later as well.

So, back to “Hannibal” — why was it the outlier? Why was it so wildly successful on Tumblr when it has an older demographic? It had to do with the LGBT community. Bryan Fuller, the creator of “Hannibal” is himself an openly gay man, and he has had a distinctive style with all of his television shows. None of his shows have provided quite the homoerotic subtext and insinuation as “Hannibal.” That subtext was a huge driver — a majority of the “Hannibal” fandom revels in the fantastical pairing of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham as lovers — something that is not at all true in the show, and yet is a staple of the fan art and fan fiction on Tumblr. The creator and writers don’t stifle this creative interpretation, and in fact seem to encourage it to some degree. The graphic nature of the crimes depicted in the show certainly also make for incredibly fan art and gifsets, but the spark of that fandom, its core is that relationship between Hannibal and Will — romantic or not. This squared with what I had learned about Tumblr — it is predominately progressive, inclusive to all gender, sexuality and color. While there are occasional divisions between fans within a fanbase, the “Hannibal” fans appear to be harmonious whether they enjoy the show as it is presented or for alternate interpretations.

If Tumblr is like stumbling into a book club that’s been going for 5 years for the very first time, Twitter is like zipping by the watercooler all day. Quippy one-liners and the occasional thoughtful discussion (segmented into 140 character chunks) co-exist in the Internet’s great message board. You put your thought into the ether and people respond or don’t. They favorite, or don’t. They retweet, or… you get the idea.

Tumblr was a great way to have a repository of longer posts and some of the photos I tweeted as well, but Twitter was valuable in other ways. Conducting “live” events is far simpler on Twitter. Live-tweets and Q&As generated a lot of “impressions” (which is internet-speak for how many people likely saw your tweet), more than when we would tweet out information about showtime, photos or links to Tumblr posts. Live-tweet with the episodes and Q&As, whether impromptu or scheduled provided a forum for fans to interact and engage in a more immediate way. They didn’t have to just like or reblog something on Tumblr, they could tweet back to us and interact with each other. Finding other fans of the show was as easy as searching our main hashtag (#the100), and very often fans would actively seek out people who were looking for new shows to watch on Netflix and recommend “The 100” to those people!

So why did I branch out to Instagram and Vine? This was part of the experimentation phase. Also part of my experimentation was creating an “in-world” tumblr and twitter presence for Mount Weather. In “The 100” it is established in the pilot that the kids sent to the ground are to make their way to Mount Weather, where the Ark survivors believe there will be food and supplies they can use to survive. Unfortunately, they landed 20 miles away and due to events of the 1st season… well, let’s just say their arrival at Mount Weather was surprising.

Inside they found a culture that had been there since the bombs fell, some 97 years earlier (and still far in our future — about 140ish years total). Since we spend time in Mount Weather, but we don’t really get a chance to experience life there, I thought it might be fun to create a fictional blog with announcements, memos, etc, as episodes air and coinciding with events in those episodes. Sadly, the best stuff never got posted (and in honesty, I never got far creating the future posts for after I was done working) — because most of the Mount Weather story happens in the back half of the season, after I finished working on the show. Had I thought through my plan further in the beginning, I’d have planned to queue up the posts on Tumblr and automate their posting with the show day and time. Automation in all things would have made my life easier, but I tend to be very old school — a shift stick in an automatic world — and I preferred managing things and posting live. I would call the in-world blog a failure, in part because we only got about 500-600 followers on Tumblr, and even fewer on Twitter.

The show wasn’t ready for transmedia, I guess.

As for Instagram and Vine, as I stated in my numbers post, I think there’s potential for each platform, provided you know what content you will posting there. While you can do a lot of content as it comes, posting on the fly, some things require forethought and planning. Impromptu photos and videos are great, and of course can feed to Twitter/Tumblr easily enough, but I was constantly challenged with what to post there.

I have no idea if there is any point in going on Pinterest. Given the more visual nature of the platform and the fact that we as writers’ are more literal, I think it’s a pass for us. Snapchat? Who the heck knows. It may be useful for transmedia endeavors, if you get into that, but I didn’t test the platform to really understand the uses or the audience.

In the next post, we’ll talk about fandom more broadly and how it is created and thrives in social media. Also, other less heady stuff. Maybe cats.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on February 5, 2015

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