Episode 17: The Powers That Be
Our first special double episode! Elizabeth grills Flourish on how the sausage gets made. Topics covered include how a TV show gets picked up for pilot, how a pilot turns into a series, how casting decisions are made, whether network executives really ruin everything, and a whole bevy of listener questions about the entertainment industry! Plus get ready for your new favorite ship, Alex/George on Supernatural With Vampires.
As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
Whovian Feminists take on the Bernie vs. Hillary meme, of which this is an example:
Enjoy unimpressed Hillz, á la Mallory Ortberg’s articles:
And Hillary who needs wine:
The Powers that Be’s Fanlore page says that one early fannish use is in 1976! And “The Idiots In Charge” is the mean version (TIIC). Elizabeth likes that one. “Secret Masters of the Universe” is a variant of the more frequently used “Secret Masters of Fandom” (but it’s funnier as “the universe,” SO). Also see “smof,” “smoffing.”
The East Los High unaired pilot isn’t online so we can’t share it with you all, sadly.
Flourish’s instincts about how Teen Wolf got made were right: MTV thought “that movie is really on brand for us,” went and got the rights, and then figured out how to attach a showrunner to the project.
If you want to get pissed off at how badly women are introduced in scripts, go look at the femscriptintros Twitter and at the woman who started posting bad casting calls before him, @castingcallwoe!
If you’re interested in learning more about how complex and difficult to fix the process of casting really is, there’s a great (if old) article from 2012 in Slate about it.
JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot’s casting quota is described in more detail in this Hollywood Reporter article!
It’s not just bullshit that writers are paid pretty well in Hollywood (if they have jobs and are members of the Writer’s Guild of America): you can take a look at the guild’s minimum pay rules. It’s not like writing in another industry, at least if you can get the job in the first place!
Flourish heard so many stories about actors who were written off productions because they were a pain to work with, you don’t even know. She basically had to physically restrain herself from going into details.
Then we answered a bunch of questions, but we answered them so completely that there weren’t show notes to put there!
Seriously just drop a line to @flourish who is probably going to write a dissertation on why more fangirls should get involved in the entertainment industry and specifically scriptwriting…!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, Episode…
FK: Is it 17?
ELM: I hope that’s correct, cause I just said it.
FK: Wow. Our next podcast will be able to vote, sort of.
ELM: (laughs) Yeah, let’s make it about—
FK: Just in time for this election!
ELM: Yeah, let’s make it… just in time, in two weeks, just in time. When will this nightmare be over?
FK: I don’t know.
ELM: I have to say, I have really appreciated some of the like fandom adjacent content in this election, I put some in the newsletter today, I don’t know if you happened to see?
FK: It was so good.
ELM: One was a tweet (laughs) it was that picture of Chris Christie like, simpering, with something like, “When you’re trying to convince the Dark Lord you’ve been loyal to him the whole time.”
FK: (laughs) I swear to God that’s a hostage situation.
ELM: No, and then the other one, which was perfect, I don’t know, have you watched Doctor Who?
ELM: So the other one was from when Trump won Super Tuesday, and that look on his face, obviously the best meme I’ve seen in a long time, was the content around that. But someone tweeted about how he looked like Lucy Saxon, who was the wife of the Master who—wait, spoiler, can I say spoiler?
FK: You’ve said spoiler, so skip like 30 seconds ahead.
ELM: Spoiler from, like, a decade ago, Lucy Saxon who seems really checked out and weird, the wife of the Master, and then eventually winds up shooting him, like, yeah. It’s—
ELM: It’s literally the same look on his face, it was absolutely delightful. [FK laughs] I’m worried about him though.
FK: I am too! Actually, I know it might not be cool to say this, but the thing that—
ELM: Go ahead!
FK: —that at least the latest debate gave me was Hillary Clinton’s interns’ gif game? Because they are on fire on Twitter. The Hillary gifs?
ELM: Oh yeah, I saw you retweeting some Hillz. So.
FK: Uh, because those gifs are the—she’s so gifable. She’s extraordinarily gifable and those were great gifs.
ELM: It’s weird, it’s actually it’s funny because she does seem like, she’s had some great meme content over the years. Like, you remember Texts From Hillary? And she, like, ran with it, you remember this?
FK: Yeah she did!
ELM: And so it’s like—
FK: Whereas it’s not clear that Donald Trump has ever, like, actually sent an email. He apparently gets the HuffPo printed out for him.
ELM: (laughs) I like how you’ve already moved on and it’s just Trump and Hillary in your mind right now.
FK: Well, Bernie can’t actually get the electoral math, so I think it’s reasonable enough for me to have moved on to Hillary space.
ELM: It’s interesting to see in the last week some people have moved on into just, we’re not even gonna talk about Democrats anymore…maybe we shouldn’t go too deep into politics in this podcast.
FK: I mean…
ELM: Cause I was gonna say though, cause I was really annoyed by that meme that was going around. And actually I, I put something about it in the newsletter a couple weeks ago. Whovian Feminism had a really good post about it. That meme that was like, Hillary vs. Bernie, you’ve seen this one?
FK: Yeah! That irritated me.
ELM: Yeah, and it would be like, so, if anyone hasn’t seen it, it would be like “Star Wars!” and the joke would be, like, Bernie giving some cool in-the-know response to some pop culture thing and then Hillary—oh, I remember, the one was something about Harry Potter. And then Hillary’s response was “I’m a Hofflepomp!” or something like that. And I get it, you don’t think she’s cool. But in what universe is Bernie Sanders, like, a cool hip guy? He’s like an old man, you know?
FK: I mean, it’s funny, because both Bernie and Hillary’s campaigns have done good jobs of engaging with fandom. The first way I heard about Bernie Sanders was he had his people, his people were out at San Diego Comic-Con where we started this podcast!
ELM: Oh yeah I have some pics with some Berners from Comic-Con!
FK: I do too! And they were protesting, counter-protesting the every year, like, hyper-Christian, you know…
FK: …you-will-burn-in-Hell protesters, and they had a sign that said “Bernie Sanders is a motherfucking wizard,” [ELM laughs] and my reaction to that was, like, he does know, like, clearly the people who like Bernie understand what Comic-Con is.
ELM: Or, that’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. It could be that his supporters are more likely to know what Comic-Con is.
FK: Right, I think that that’s true. I think that those things are true, but then again you can’t say that Hillary is not…she talked about Texts From Hillary, I’m pretty sure.
ELM: She did! She did one!
FK: She actually clearly knows what that is, so you can’t really…that meme made me mad. Because it was all about your grandma not being cool but your crazy uncle being cool.
ELM: It was frustrating to me because I really love that Whovian Feminists post because it was like, yeah, this is kinda sexist. You know? It was very blatant about it. When I reblogged it, I reblogged a version of it that was like, both the answers were like “We’re older folks, and we don’t know what you’re talking about, and we’re also very busy. And I appreciate that you want to relate to us, but like, we really don’t know what you’re talking about.” You know?
FK: Yeah, that was great.
ELM: (laughs) It’s just like…it’s true! So.
FK: It’s a little true! But you know what’s, one of the funny things, not to get too far down this hole, but one of the funny things about Hillary’s gifs is that they’re all very specifically relatable as a woman. Like all those great Benghazi gifs that are just like, “There are men talking, and they’re just gonna talk.”
ELM: Oh, during her, like—
FK: And I’m just gonna sit here and be like, when are you gonna stop talking.
ELM: During her what’s it called, Congressional hearings. Oh my God, every look she made during that was delightful.
FK: It was just golden! And I was like, I know exactly what that is. That’s the thing that happens when there’s some guy, like, nattering on, being dudely, and we’re being quiet and polite because there they go…
ELM: It’s like every Mallory Ortberg, you know, the art…!
FK: That’s exactly it! It’s Mallory Ortberg’s like, Women Trying To Read In Art, you know. And also the gif, the other gif that I posted that was her listening to Donald Trump on a conference call and drinking some wine? I was like “This is me on every conference call where a guy is saying something stupid. I’m just sitting here drinking my wine.”
ELM: Do not listen to this, Flourish’s clients and coworkers.
FK: We can’t include that! [both laugh]
ELM: No, we can! Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it!
FK: OK! Well, I’ll say this. My clients and coworkers never say anything stupid enough. It’s the other conference calls that I take sometimes where I need to drink wine in the middle of them. I’m just digging myself a deeper hole.
ELM: Yeah, you really are. It occurs to me that we haven’t even mentioned the topic of this episode.
FK: That’s true, and the topic of this episode is The Powers That Be. I’m actually in Los Angeles right now, at my job, and I have been going around—
ELM: Amongst the Powers That Be!
FK: Amongst the Powers That Be, and I have been getting different people’s perspectives on the questions we were sent and also the questions Elizabeth is going to ask me…
ELM: Go back. The term The Powers That Be.
ELM: Because not everyone in fandom might know about this, or everyone outside of fandom interested in fandom. So Powers That Be is a shorthand for the people who make the content that you, like, fan about. Right?
FK: Right. As compared to the Secret Masters of the Universe, who are the people who run fan conventions.
ELM: This is a term I just learned and I think one that not many people who are not con-goers will know. Yeah. Not Secret Masters of the Universe, which only is ever going to make me think of Fifty Shades of Grey.
FK: I’m sorry. I know, I know. Actually, that’s a problem.
ELM: Fifty Shades of Grey made me think about that when it came out. I was like “Why is this about, like, an Edward who runs a convention?!” And then I was like “Oh, right, it doesn’t mean that.”
ELM: Please write, please write that AU right now.
FK: Do you want me to? I might.
ELM: Yeah! Christian Grey runs a fan convention, an old school sci fi fan convention?
FK: I’m gonna write Christian Grey running an old school fan convention.
ELM: Thank you so much, Flourish.
FK: I’m totally gonna do this.
ELM: Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
FK: Back to the topic at hand.
ELM: Powers That Be, shorthand—honestly, a shorthand that, this is probably gonna ruin my fandom expert cred, whatever that means, but I hadn’t encountered that term until a couple years ago.
FK: Yeah. I don’t think it’s actually that widely used. I know that it’s—
FK: I think people know what it is, but I don’t see it all the time in conversation. I actually first encountered it in an Anne McCaffrey novel, weirdly enough. It’s like a classic sci fi thing at least to the extent that it was in Anne McCaffrey novels in the 1970s.
ELM: I mean, the Powers That Be is an expression that has existed for a very long time outside of fandom.
FK: Right. But in this case it seemed like it was a—
ELM: As a stand in for a God or gods.
FK: In this case I’m pretty sure it was based out of a wink-y—I’m pretty sure it was in use in sci fi fandom.
ELM: Well, great! We haven’t researched this in any way so if we have no idea where it originated…
FK: We’re just spitballing shit.
ELM: The first time I ever encountered it was when I was reading some books about Supernatural where they use this phrase a lot, but I was like, in Harry Potter I think people talk about JKR, they talk about her as a stand-in for any decision that’s being made even if it wasn’t just this, like, solo authorial intent.
ELM: And I guess that’s kind of what I’ve seen in my other fandoms, I was in Torchwood fandom and people talk about RTD, people love these initials, Russell T Davis, who was the showrunner. He wasn’t making every decision. And then in Sherlock we have Moftiss, which is Moffat and Gatiss ship—I don’t ship that…
FK: Thanks for clarifying.
ELM: But, uh, just in case you’re wondering.
FK: Just in case.
ELM: But it’s hilarious because people say “Moftiss think this, Moftiss think that,” and it’s like, OK, you know, I think they do have a lot of creative control compared to your average show—
ELM: —but it just creates this kind of, like, weird…it’s a weird shorthand for, like, an authorial god figure who is—
ELM: —creating all these things in the source material that you just don’t have control over. That’s what it feels like to me.
FK: Completely. Well, I think that’s not entirely unplanned, you know?
ELM: You think Moftiss want us to think they’re some sort of shadowy God figure?
FK: I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I do think, so, if you’re talking about who created a show, who made a show, whose baby the show is, it’s a much better story to talk about a single author figure, and so for instance when you’re looking at PR, right, there’s gonna be somebody, the creator of the show or maybe the showrunner if it’s not the same person, who’s going to be kind of anointed to be the figurehead.
FK: And that’s for a variety of reasons, but I think from the industry side, it’s mostly to do with the fact that you need to determine who’s going to be going around and speaking for the writers, right, in some sense. Speaking for the creative vision of this.
ELM: Do you think this comes from auteur theory? I feel like an asshole for even saying that term. I know it’s serious, whatever, film studies. Sorry…sorry…you know, there’s this whole idea of the elevation of the showrunner in television criticism or television writing, because there are these structures that have been put in place to talk about film as, like, the director’s vision, and you know, as the director as author of the film text, right? And so—
ELM: —and so this veneration of the showrunner—
ELM: —as the director with a vision.
FK: Well, I think that it probably is partially that. I think that it’s at least as much just that it’s convenient, yeah? I know that you wanted to talk a little bit about the process of making a show…
ELM: We’re gonna do it, right? We’re gonna talk about it.
FK: We’re gonna do it! And I think that once we get through that everybody will be like, you know, yeah, fuck this, I’m just gonna talk about Moftiss now. Because it’s really complex and it’s weird and it’s hard to hold in your head and, like, you never know the details of the interior of what’s going on because it’s so political, and no one’s gonna tell anybody in the industry much less anybody who’s not in the industry, right? Cause it’s a private, basically it’s an office argument, you know? A lot of decisions get made as a result of what are essentially office arguments. Except that there’s like, outcomes that result in your favorite character getting killed. But from the industry perspective you have to think about it like, that asshole down the hall is trying to do X and I hate him so I’m going to—
ELM: Is this the way, when I ask you all these questions you’re just gonna be about petty infighting, is that what you’re promising me?
FK: I mean, sometimes.
ELM: (laughs) OK. So, how about we take a quick break and then let’s talk about the Powers That Be. I kind of want to frame this as a hypothetical show and a hypothetical fandom. Do you think that you are up for the challenge of ’splaining to me?
FK: I will try to ’splain to you as best I can.
ELM: I’m putting you on the spot, so I’m really looking forward to this. And so after that we can field some of the questions that we got from listeners and read some of the comments about the Powers That Be.
ELM: Alright! So we are back. And I’m ready to grill Flourish.
FK: I’m ready to be grilled.
ELM: About her area of expertise.
FK: I’m not sure this is my area of expertise, but anyway, it’s the area I work in, so.
ELM: Do you want to offer up a disclaimer in advance?
FK: Well, OK, so I’ve worked on some TV shows and I did reach out to a bunch of people I know in the industry to make sure that everything I’m saying seemed like it was about right, but it’s really kinda complex, as I think you’re gonna see, so if I say something and it’s not your experience or…
ELM: I think one thing that’s worth mentioning is that it’s not gonna be my experience, because the shows that I’ve been in the fandom of are British.
FK: I think that’s a really good point. Even though I talked to one British producer to look at this, we were definitely talking about the Hollywood system. So I don’t know if this is how it works in Nollywood or Bollywood, I know their film industries, I assume there’s also television coming out of there, I don’t know how it works to make K-dramas in Korea, so—and certainly it’s different in the UK. So.
ELM: I guess that’s a topic for another day, if anyone from the BBC would like to tell me why they’ve hurt me so much. [FK laughs] You have my email address, it’s out there.
FK: Yeah they should, they should get in touch.
ELM: So let’s say that I am not only a fan of British source material. Let’s talk about my future fandom.
ELM: Show X. I don’t even know it yet but this is my next fandom.
FK: Alright, Show X, you don’t even know it yet but it’s your next fandom.
ELM: Let’s make it hypothetical. So, let’s say, alright, we’re looking in the future, we’re a bit omniscient here, Show X is going to be, I don’t want to name any networks but maybe a network with a lot of teen oriented programming.
ELM: You can imagine maybe one or two networks I’m thinking of.
FK: It could have a C and a W in the name, possibly, I don’t know? It could be—
ELM: It could be a network that was once dedicated to playing music videos but has since completely abandoned that pursuit as well.
FK: It could even be a network that recently went through a major rebrand and is now trying to speak to #Millennials.
ELM: It could be a Christian, it could be a part-time Christian evangelical network, yes.
FK: So it’s on one of these, but what we’re clear about is that this is not on a cable network, this is on network TV?
ELM: I think it should be a network—well, then, it can’t be MTV or Freeform, so. Whatever. Hypothetical show. Let’s just say it’s on—
ELM: We’re not talking Mad Men. It’s not a prestige drama kind of thing. We’re talking about something that’s gonna create a fandom. OK. First of all, where is this show coming from? Whose idea is this? Did some plucky young white man say, “Oh, I’ve always wondered about this incredibly boring idea”—I’m so cynical already about this fictional show that I’m gonna grow to love.
FK: You don’t need to be cynical! We can pretend it’s, like, a Shonda show if you want, and not be cynical about it.
ELM: No, I think we should be serious about it and say it’s a show which Tumblr fannish transformative activity happens, like, your next—like, major source of fanfiction, fanart.
FK: OK. So fundamentally there’s two basic ways this show might begin its journey to life. The first one is the way that I think most people think of when they think of a show which is there is some writer out there, he or she—but statistically probably he—has been working as a writer almost certainly on other shows for awhile, and is now pitching a show of their own. In which case, he is going to be basically going around and trying to find partners to make the show with him who can do…well, I’ll get into who those partners might be in a moment, but he’s got the idea, he’s got, like, the pilot script and he wants to go and get this show made, right?
ELM: But he needs partners. He networks, he’s been networking his whole career—
FK: He’s been networking his whole career.
ELM: He’s been finding other people who’d be willing to—
ELM: —be his equals or backers or both?
FK: Let’s talk through the pieces, actually. Before we even get to the second way a show can come to be we need to be clear about who the players in creating a show are. So let’s think about Buffy, right?
ELM: Wow, you’re gonna use one of my fandoms.
FK: I’m gonna use one of your fandoms. I picked—
ELM: My only American media fandom I’ve ever participated in!
FK: In fact, I specifically picked this one! I thought about who I would talk about—
ELM: You thought about me!
FK: —in order to make it relevant to your life.
ELM: Thank you.
FK: I did, I thought about you. All right. So Buffy.
ELM: Wait, wait a second. Before you talk about Buffy, that was 20 years ago. Oh my God, that was so upsetting to say out loud.
FK: The process is still essentially the same.
ELM: Really, it hasn’t changed? So—
FK: It’s changed in certain ways, but the fundamental process is the same.
ELM: So even though the end result is going to be drastically different in the way it’s consumed, discussed, fanned about, but you’re saying the way it’s conceived has not changed in two decades.
FK: Yeah, fundamentally.
ELM: OK, OK. Please continue.
FK: OK. So what happens is, right, you’ve got your writer, in this case it’s Joss Whedon, the show creator. And Joss comes up with the idea for Buffy. Actually, in Buffy’s case he’d already done a movie about it, but in this case we’re gonna pretend it was out of nowhere, because it’s just easier about it from this example. He is going to need a producer to team up with to make the show happen. And what happens usually is, if you’re senior enough you’re gonna be the producer. You’re gonna come up with your own production company and be the producer on this show, because the producer is the showrunner, the boss of the writer’s room. And that’s what Joss did, in fact. His production company is called Mutant Enemy.
ELM: Grr. Argh.
FK: Grr. Argh. So the other possibility is say you’re a really junior writer. You don’t have what it takes to be a showrunner, but you do have the great idea, you’re the show creator.
ELM: Wait, go back. You don’t have what it takes because you don’t have the experience, you don’t have the contacts—
ELM: —the combination of those two?
FK: The combination of those two. So in that case you’re going to have to partner with somebody who’s more senior than you, and you might be co-showrunners or they might actually be the showrunner even though you are the creator.
ELM: Hmm. Wait, how does that shake out in terms of how much money you get in the end? Are you screwed if you’re younger and you have a great idea?
FK: Well, you certainly have to give up a slice of it.
FK: Because all of a sudden you have a co-showrunner.
ELM: Right, OK. The fewer connections and the less experience you have the less you’re gonna get out of this.
FK: Like with most things. Although you’re not gonna be, assuming it’s a successful show no one is gonna go home crying at the end of this, you know what I mean?
ELM: They might cry for other reasons, honestly.
FK: They might cry for other reasons, but probably not for not getting compensated if it’s a successful show.
FK: OK. So the next step is gonna be the studio. And the studio is essentially a production partner. So your producer or your showrunner, the production company, Mutant Enemy, right, they’ve got people, they’ve got experience, but they don’t necessarily have things like a library of costumes, or studio space, or they may know casting directors but they may not, possibly. They may not have somebody directly in mind for that. So they’re going to partner with a studio that has all those things. And here’s where it gets confusing. A lot of networks also have studios. But just because something is made with a studio doesn’t mean it’s gonna go on the same network. So Buffy is made, the studio is FOX. But the network Buffy ends up on is Warner Brothers, WB.
ELM: So how does that work? Was it offered to FOX network?
FK: I have no idea whether it was offered to them or not, what I do know is that WB—well, I actually didn’t look up exactly how this shook out, but I’m assuming because this is how it would normally go—that WB put up the money for a pilot to determine whether they wanted to order a full season of it. So what’ll happen is you have your idea, you have your producing partners, you go to the network and you go “Hey network, we want money to shoot a pilot of this show.” And what you’re gonna do in the pilot is you’re gonna pick a director who’s going to set the tone for the show, you’re gonna cast your main characters, and at the time that Buffy was shot it was slightly more common to have an unaired pilot, but today almost all pilots are the first episode of a show. So that’s one thing that’s changed.
ELM: Really? I’m thinking of my last fandom, Sherlock has an unaired pilot. You’ve seen gifs of it, I’m sure.
ELM: The gayest thing that was ever on television.
FK: Right. Some shows, I mean, like, East Los High has an unaired pilot.
ELM: So it’s not completely—
FK: It’s not impossible. But, but, by and large, most shows. Because obviously it’s expensive to shoot something and then not air it, right. The benefit to it is that sometimes you have to recast between the pilot and the actual run of the show. So for instance if you have a pilot and everybody is like, “Well, this show is great but we hate the lead actor,” or if you have a pilot and then more likely everybody is like “This show is great! Let’s get this guy,” and the you didn’t contract him to be available and when you want to start shooting he’s doing something else, then you’re like, “Well, shit, we have to recast now.”
FK: So that doesn’t happen very often anymore because everybody has sort of figured out that you should write contracts so that your lead actors have to be available when you’re gonna shoot.
ELM: Gotcha. Before they even film the pilot.
FK: Before they even film the pilot. When they’re cast in the pilot.
ELM: OK. Well, I think that that’s a good segue into the next question that I have, which is who’s doing the casting?
FK: OK, well this actually—
ELM: Am I jumping the gun? Do you have more to say?
FK: You’re jumping the gun a little bit, because after I’ve gone through all of this stuff, right, you can understand that one way for a show to start is from the writer, but another way for a show to start is from the network.
ELM: Mm, OK, gotcha.
FK: OK, so most shows, I think—I’m not sure that’s true. But a lot of shows start from a writer’s idea, right? Or occasionally it’ll be like, some actor set up their own production companies, it might be an actor’s idea, potentially. Another way this might start is that networks are really, networks care a lot about their programming. And this is where we get into the question of demographics. So a network might say, “We want a show that fits in this sort of slot.” In which case they might commission showrunners or writers that they already know very well from having worked on previous shows and say “Hey,” you know, “we want you to go and come up with a show that fits these criteria.”
ELM: So that’s the way that we get incredibly boring vanilla recycled content created by people who’ve known each other for years.
FK: To some degree.
ELM: Sorry. I’m coming from a place of extreme cynicism, clearly but yeah, if you’re like “We’re gonna go commission,” that’s the thing, it’s not like they’re gonna go and look for fresh talent, right?
FK: No, but sometimes it is like that, right? So for instance sometimes they, one thing a network might do is they might say “We have looked at this and we’ve discovered that we don’t have any Latinos in our audience, we need something that appeals to a Latino audience, let’s go find somebody to write something to appeal to a Latino audience.”
ELM: I like how when you say that, literally the thing I think is the other side of the cynical coin where I’m like “Oh, so then they go and pander.” You know? It’s just like—
FK: I mean, I’m just saying the thing is that sometimes it is just like, “Hey, let’s have the same recycled stuff,” but sometimes it’s like, “Here’s a gap that we need to fill and no one’s pitching it to us, because of”—there’s a lot of reasons why no one might be pitching that. Because they’ve never accepted it before, or because you know, like, because frankly people get squeezed out of the industry pretty quickly if they don’t have a lot of class privilege—
ELM: Yeah, people who aren’t white dudes are not going to be able to reach the point where they can continually pitch. They won’t be in the room.
FK: Yeah. All of these reasons. So sometimes a network seeking to do that can be a really good thing.
ELM: Alright, I’m gonna be slightly less cynical.
FK: Well, it’s worth being cynical about. This whole thing you can be cynical about, it’s OK.
ELM: Thank you!
FK: So anyhow, those are the sort of two directions it might go, right. You pretty rarely will get, I think most commonly you’ll have a network basically putting out the call being like “we want to make sure that we have this kind of show with this,” so sometimes that’ll happen—actually I suspect that that’s what happened, I don’t know for sure but it could have happened with Teen Wolf, MTV owns the rights to Teen Wolf and they’re like “We want to develop the rights to this movie for a TV show,” right. They go get the rights to do it and then they figure out how to develop it for TV. Again, I don’t actually know that that’s the way Teen Wolf went around, because I didn’t actually do research for this, but it could be.
ELM: Yeah. It just feels to me from even the small bits that I’ve heard, it sounds like a lot—I remember listening to all these people at Comic-Con and they were talking about buying up the IPs for various comic books—
ELM: —and it doesn’t even, they could develop a movie or TV show that has literally nothing to do with a comic book except it has the name and you can say it once was a comic book, you know?
FK: That’s totally a thing that people do.
ELM: It’s so weird for me to think about it!
FK: But there’s also, like, so the other thing you have to realize, right, is that IP libraries get traded around. What are IP libraries? They’re like, for instance, like, all the scripts that didn’t get made into movies. Or someone has been going around buying up comic rights and it’s like a giant pack of comic rights. So people will buy these for millions of dollars and then they own this huge wodge of potential projects that they could develop. That have already gotten some way down the thinking path.
ELM: That’s really interesting.
FK: Which is nothing like what happens in publishing, right. (laughs)
ELM: No. You don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars to spend a huge wad of ideas. No! It’s not anything like publishing at all in fact!
FK: Yeah! It’s totally different!
ELM: Oh you weren’t being sarcastic! It’s nothing like publishing.
FK: I was not being sarcastic!
ELM: OK! (laughs)
FK: I was being really clear—(laughs) I was trying to say it’s totally different!
ELM: Yeah, no, it’s totally different, that’s fascinating. (laughs) I’m glad that you don’t think—
FK: No! but I mean—
ELM: —that’s how publishing works!
FK: —I think this actually relates to some of what we’re probably going to get into later about how people think about stories.
ELM: It’s true. So we’ve got our idea.
ELM: We’ve got our boring white guy making the show.
FK: And at this point we’ve got a—
ELM: I’m takin’ this away from Buffy, we’re back in our hypothetical.
FK: Yeah, that’s OK! We’re back in our hypothetical.
ELM: The WC network, we’ve got it.
FK: So at this point if I understand it correctly we have our idea and we’ve got, um—
ELM: Yeah, it’s about, um, it’s about vampires, it’s just set in a high school with some vampires
FK: OK, our high school vampire show.
FK: That’s nothing like Buffy or The Vampire Diaries.
ELM: Or True Blood or Dracula or Twilight.
FK: OK. So for whatever reason we think this is gonna sell because I guess vampires are cool again.
ELM: People love—(laughs) That’s in fact some shade! They’re cool again, they’re back.
FK: They’re cool again. And they’re back, and, um, in fact it’s already gotten ordered, a pilot’s been ordered by a network. So we’ve got a budget for a pilot, right?
ELM: Yes. Yes.
ELM: They think this is the next great hit. Who is casting this shit and who is—I’m so down on our new show! And who is writing the pilot, and who if anyone is being hired to start to write and plan out a potential set of episodes?
FK: OK. The showrunner is the one who is planning out the episode arc for the first season and writing the pilot, probably.
ELM: His name is Joe.
FK: Joe. Um, Joe who is the showrunner remember, Joe is the writer for the pilot and Joe is also the person who’s—it’s Joe’s production company that’s associated, Schmutant Schmenemy. Um, or whatever, right?
ELM: No no, Schmutant Shmenemy, that’s right!
FK: It could also be Schmad Schmat Schmarry, or any number of other wonderful schmroduction schmompanies. Um, anyhow, so Joe is both the writer for the pilot and is also the producer, the executive producer certainly. And Joe is going to, Joe has some money from the WC, and Joe also has a studio partner which could be basically anybody, right, it could be FOX, it could be ABC, it doesn’t matter. So what’s gonna happen next is Joe is going to hire a casting director and also a director-director to direct the pilot, right.
So the director for the pilot is going to set the tone for the whole series, so this is why you’ll often see a famous director do just like the first episode or two, like Bryan Singer did House. And that’s because they’re going to set that tone. Then the casting director is the person who’s actually going to be doing the legwork of the casting. But they’re going to be basing that legwork off of the script that the showrunner wrote for the pilot.
FK: So in scripts you’ll have all sorts of different approaches to the way that you describe characters, and it’s really hard to do it well.
ELM: Well, I’ve seen that Twitter account about the way that women are described, so…
FK: Right. So that’s an example of the worst of it, right? And sometimes you get descriptions that are entirely about personality traits, sometimes you get things that are about physical traits. So if a script is written that has physical trait descriptions in it, that can determine how someone is cast. Because if it says that Josie is an African-American woman, then the casting director is going to say “OK” and they’re going to go and cast African-American women, right? Specifically they’re going to bring in African-American women who are gonna be sort of the short list. They’re gonna look at a lot of people and they’re going to determine, OK, who’s gonna come in and who are we gonna really narrow it down to.
But the thing about that is, right, so there’s a lot of people who have input on this process. Obviously the showrunner and the director have a lot of input, because they’re the people who are, you know, really creatively in charge of the pilot and the showrunner is creatively in charge of the whole show. But you’ve also got potentially studio but mostly network involvement in this, so for instance famously Gillian Anderson on The X-files was Chris Carter, the showrunner’s choice, but the network, FOX, wanted her to be played by a busty blonde.
FK: And they lost, because you don’t have to agree with everything the network says, but Chris Carter had to really fight for that, had to go to bat for it. So there’s that aspect of it, right. So for instance, even if your writer described a multiracial cast and the showrunner agreed, if they’re different people, and the director was on board, and everyone else agrees this is really important, and the casting director found great people, and you all agree on a great slate of actors, it’s still possible that the network will be like “look, this is never going to series if you don’t have a White lead,” right.
ELM: OK. So, I mean, I guess my question would be, like, what if in the script there were no defining features, if it’s all a bunch of personality traits, who says “OK, this is gonna be a bunch of white people.” Is that the laziness of the casting director or the showrunner, is that the networks saying—you know, how does this happen?
FK: It’s definitely not the network at that point.
ELM: It’s not like they’re ready to cast multi-racially just out of their desires and then some dude in a suit comes in and says “FYI, based on our demographic research…”
FK: I mean, that doesn’t sound very likely to me.
ELM: This is what it’s like in my fanfiction about the networks, though.
FK: Yeah that doesn’t seem like what is most likely to me, that’s not realistic. I think what is most likely to happen—
ELM: How does it keep happening, though?
FK: OK. So one thing, there’s a lot of factors in casting, right. So obviously one factor is just who the casting director, how the ads for people are written. Because a lot of times if you write an ad and you say “no ethnicity specified,” people aren’t even gonna try and come if they’re not white. Because they’re gonna figure from the past—
ELM: That’s really fuckin’ sad.
FK: —there’s never been anybody cast who, like, when it says “no ethnicity specified” that means white. So sometimes there’s legitimately a problem in the sense of, like, people aren’t gonna bother, sometimes people do bother but what that really means is that it is coded that they want a white guy but they don’t wanna say they want a white guy, sometimes it’s that no one intentionally wants a white guy but the fact is that there’s—and I really do believe that this is true—it costs a lot of money to make it as an actor. And so people who are privileged financially get to have a lot easier time.
So think of it this way, right. You’re a young actor, you have to go around to a lot of auditions every day in the middle of the day. How do you hold down a job, right? Traditionally you’re a waitress or something, maybe you drive Uber, but that’s really tough even if you’re, like, a waitress, because what are you gonna do, are you gonna leave your shift so that you can—
ELM: Sure, at the drop of a hat, right.
FK: So it’s easier if you have money. So traditionally privileged groups, like, have a lot more opportunities to get behind the camera—not to get behind the camera. To get in front of the camera, to do all this. And so this can result in, there’s always great talent out there of every ethnicity. But sometimes there’s a shallower pool of talent. So sometimes you’re trying to cast a show that has a very specific, like, age range or whatever, right? It’s very possible that that year all the really experienced talent of the ethnicity that you’re looking for in the age range that you’re looking for, they’re already working. They’ve all got other commitments. Because they’re doing whatever it is that they’ve already agree to do, or they’ve been picked up by that hot new thing because everybody’s decided that demographically this group is the one that they really need to appeal to this season. Whatever it is, you may just not have a deep talent pool of those people because they’ve been pushed out earlier down the line.
ELM: Yeah but that seems crazy to me that there’d be a finite group of people—I understand you specify by saying “experienced,” but…
FK: But then you compromise. Because there really is a thing, right?
ELM: I understand that experience is valuable, I just think it’s insane to say “oh, well, every actor who’s not a white person is not available right now. They’re working.”
FK: That is legitimately sometimes—well, it’s not every actor. But when I say experienced, what I mean is this: some people are really good in front of the camera and a lot of those people are never gonna become actors that are successful in Hollywood because they didn’t think to do it, they don’t want to do it, they didn’t have the money to support themselves until they got their break, right?
And so if you have more people who can’t support themselves until they get their break because there’s not enough parts for them, because they’re not financially privileged and able to stick it out, whatever, then yeah, you’re going to get to a situation where you’ve got all the new people who have come in and are trying to make it and are not very experienced, some of who may be great in front of the camera, some of whom may not be, and then you’ve got the ones who are successful and are highly in demand, right?
ELM: I don’t know.
FK: Hand to God, I have seen this happen.
ELM: I just—
FK: Here’s the real thing that gets to this, though. And this is my real point, right? I’m talking about a character with a very specific ethnicity, right. A character who is, say, listed as being Korean. And it’s really important that this character is Korean and is played by a Korean actress, right. In the case you’re definitely going to find a Korean actress who is less experienced and you’re going to cast her. Because you need a Korean actress. She’s specified, everyone agrees this character has to be Korean, for sure, 100%. It doesn’t matter, she’s getting her big break that day. Alright?
FK: Now here’s the problem. What happens if the character is listed as “no ethnicity specified,” and everybody sort of had an idea that they wanted a Korean actress, but it doesn’t say anywhere that she has to be. Then you see a bunch of Korean actresses, none of them seem to be the perfect person, none of them are quite as good just because they’re not as experienced or they’re not as good of actresses for this part, right? I mean, separate from anything else, right? And then you start thinking, “well, we could cast her a different ethnicity.” And that ethnicity is probably white.
FK: Again, just because there’s more actors, because it’s easier to be a white actor. So it’s this vicious cycle, right.
ELM: Right, well, that’s the thing too, to say “\Oh, there’s not enough people of a given ethnicity with enough experience,” but it’s like—
FK: It’s a vicious cycle!
ELM: And if “no ethnicity specified” is default white, so then people of color are not gonna get the roles, and they’re not gonna get the experience.
FK: Yeah! It’s totally vicious. But what I’m trying to say is it’s not necessarily—when you see, even in a case where a character is like “no ethnicity specified” and they end up getting cast as a white person, it’s because of the ennui of the entire industry.
ELM: This is fucking tragic.
FK: It’s not necessarily that the casting director was an asshole, because they may really literally have looked at a bunch of actors of a bunch of different ethnicities, and they may have been like “Yeah, but none of those people were right, this person is the right person,” and in their experience that’s true, but it’s not because there aren’t potentially great Korean actors and African-American actors and Bahamian actors out there, it’s just that they’re not getting the chance.
ELM: And it’s not because of that thing that exists in my mind where some evil middle-aged white man in a suit comes in and says “This is what we need because it seems that affluent white men ages 24-35 prefer this kind of person.”
FK: That happens too, but I think it usually happens earlier in the process. If you’re having a pilot that’s supposed to appeal to 18-34 white men, and that’s really really really what the network wants, they’re probably not going to order your multiracial and female oriented show to pilot. So if you’ve gotten to the pilot stage that’s probably not happening.
ELM: Oh my vampire show is gonna be—it’s two brothers. They’re very close, but they’re just brothers. OK.
FK: Uh huh.
ELM: In high school.
FK: I like how invested in this fictional show you are. Anyway, what I’m trying to say with all of this is that yes there is actual racism on the part of individuals and there is racism on the part of the system that leads to this, but it’s tough because when you try to put your finger on the point in a casting process where it happens, it’s very rare that there’s, like, a bad actor—a bad actor, yuk yuk—a person who you’re like, “Yeah, everything was going fine until that douchebag came in,” you know? [ELM laughs] The system is stacked against it.
So that’s part of why it’s really important that people like J.J. Abrams are calling specifically for, you know, send me more people of color. Send me more women. You know, it’s really important that things like Hamilton—I mean this is not Hollywood, but Hamilton is specifically calling for parts to be cross-cast as far as gender goes—
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: And ethnicity as well, not specifying except not white. Because those are, that’s the only way to break the cycle, right.
ELM: Alright, this seems like a good time to take a second break.
FK: OK, see you on the flip side!
ELM: OK. So. Supernatural With Vampires, on the WC network, is being made.
ELM: It stars a hundred white people and all of them are straight.
ELM: Look, Flourish—
FK: I don’t, I don’t actually believe that that is realistic to shows that are being created and cast right now.
ELM: Right now.
FK: I don’t! I think that there’s been a strong push—
ELM: Two years ago.
FK: —away from that. I think they’re still dominantly white, absolutely, but I don’t think that that show would be a hundred white people and no people of color. I really don’t believe that.
ELM: Every time I see a show that seems like it’s aimed towards youths, like a poster on the subway, all sorts of networks, I see a bunch of white people and I’m like “This show is so boring.” And usually if it’s not specifically about a woman it’ll be like, one woman and a million guys.
FK: Now that I believe. That I think is probably true. And I do think, I think there’s still a problem with—I don’t think that it’s perfect, but I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s literally gonna be an all white cast in show, in this show.
ELM: In Supernatural With Vampires.
FK: I don’t believe that Supernatural With Vampires is gonna have an all white cast.
ELM: Yeah, there’s a sassy gay Black best friend.
FK: I believe that that could be the badness of it.
ELM: Hit all the notes right there.
FK: Yeah, all the notes at once.
ELM: Don’t you worry about it. OK. This show is so great that it hit the air, everyone loved it, really what everyone was looking for, instant hit on Tumblr, all my friends just started reblogging these gifs for Supernatural with Vampires.
ELM: I was hooked, so it became my new fandom. Here’s where my questions really—here’s where I have to dig in deep, talk about the Powers That Be. Because I wasn’t really thinking about this show before I joined the fandom. I don’t care about the Powers That Be. You know.
ELM: Before they be. [laughs] So let me see, what are some things that my Powers That Be are doing that confuse and frustrate me. Well, you know, here’s one: the lead of Supernatural With Vampires is in the middle of a love triangle.
ELM: He seems to be interested in this one woman, but then he’s got this really intimate bromance.
FK: Uh huh?
ELM: With not his brother, this is not actually Supernatural. And so the show starts promoting it that way.
ELM: Like who will he pick. The showrunner winks about it at Comic-Con, tweets about it, says “Check out that tension between Sam and”—oh no, that’s Supernatural— (both laugh) “Alex and George,” right.
FK: Alex and George, OK.
ELM: You know, in actuality he will probably—he will wind up with a woman. I don’t want to make this all about how Hollywood is racist and homophobic, because that’s not how I feel, but. Basically my question is who’s making these decisions, who’s deciding to promote it this way, what is the showrunner thinking, I know you can’t speak for showrunners…
FK: OK, so these decisions are super complex.
ELM: Can you break it down, or is it too complicated?
FK: I can break it down. I can totally break it down. OK. So the first thing that could be happening is it’s possible that the showrunner has actually written this in intentionally. And the reason I’m saying this is look at Hannibal. Hannibal is definitely a show that is 100%—
ELM: But Hannibal is the exception.
FK: Hannibal is the exception, I’m just saying it’s possible.
ELM: Wait, pause before you say your—here’s what I really want to know from you, Flourish. Do you think queerbaiting as a concept exists?
FK: Honestly? I do not think that any showrunner is intentionally—I think they are doing things that everybody in fandom would call queerbaiting, I don’t think that from their perspective it is queerbaiting. I know that that’s the stupidest non-answer but here’s what I mean, OK? I have spoken to several writers who have worked on shows that have more or less teased their slash fandoms, right.
ELM: Who are aware of them.
FK: Who are completely aware of them! You would have to be an idiot not to be aware that there is something going on.
ELM: I think that some of these people are idiots, but continue.
FK: Don’t say that about my colleagues!
ELM: You don’t know them! I think some people who make—
FK: How do you know I don’t know them?
ELM: You don’t know them.
FK: The first thing I would say is that I think it’s pretty impossible not to know about fans’ interest in slash pairings. Not everybody knows about it to the same degree, I think that almost nobody, like, there’s a few showrunners who actually do interact with and are interested in their fan bases in a deep way but most people are just too damn busy to check Tumblr, and that’s a fact, right. And so they may or may not know, like—
ELM: I wish people on Tumblr would keep this in mind! Do you not see this? It drives me crazy.
FK: Seriously! It’s incredibly—
ELM: This is, this is a thing I remember when third series of Sherlock came out and they were like, “Have they been reading Tumblr?!” And it’s like—
ELM: And I remember this one post going around that was like, “I’m sorry. We have been waiting two years for a freakin’ three episodes, we have thought of a hundred fifty million different possibilities, it’s not surprising that—“
ELM: You know, like. There’s only so many permutations of what can happen.
FK: There’s definitely, the thing is, right, there’s definitely somebody working on every show who is reading Tumblr who is not the social media people, right. By the rule of how many people work on each show, remember, you’re talking about like, it takes like three or four hundred people to make a television show, more than that. So out of all those people there’s definitely somebody who’s reading Tumblr on there, but it’s probably not the showrunner, right.
ELM: Yeah, it’s like there’s definitely one person on every show who reads all the RPF by the actors and then reads it out loud to them.
FK: I don’t think that happens every time, but I’m sure that it happens more than we want to admit. [ELM laughs]. But I mean, some people—
ELM: Best boy grip. (Both inexplicably laugh.)
FK: You just love the term “best boy grip,” by the way.
ELM: I can’t get over it.
FK: So what I would say is this. They know that the ship exists, right. And they see it as one of a wide variety of ships that are things that fans are interested in, right. Oftentimes there’ll be like, you know, four or five different ships that all seem to them to have about equal interest, because there’s different parts of the internet that are interested in different things. So people on Twitter are talking about this het ship, people over here are talking about this other ship, and the ship that the showrunner has envisioned from the beginning of the show may be something that literally no fan is interested in.
FK: It’s quite possible, right. So out of all of this, they’re probably gonna look at this and they’re gonna go, “Hey, our fans really like this relationship between these two people, let’s throw ‘em a bone, they’ll like that,” right?
ELM: That’s so depressing. Yeah, I understand.
FK: Because the way that they’re thinking of it is, you know, “People respond positively when this happens, they like it, wonderful, let’s give ‘em something that makes them happy!” So it’s from this, this is why that I say they don’t consider it queerbaiting, because the attitude is definitely “I’m telling a story that I wanna tell, but if I can give you a little bit of whatever you want within that story, I’m gonna do it, because I love you,” you know, it’s a gesture of love. It’s not helpful from a fan perspective…
ELM: That’s quite literally what baiting is, though. The idea of throwing you a bone? Like…
FK: I totally get it! But it’s not… I get the impression that when people say “queerbaiting” they get the idea that it’s like, somebody in a tower steepling their fingers being like, “Ha ha ha, we’re going to convince all the people on Tumblr that they should watch this show, but really, we won’t give them what they want!” and nobody is thinking in those terms, you know? It’s not a ploy by the, it’s not like a ploy by a network to be like “We’re gonna get those sweet Tumblr interest—” it’s not how it’s happening!
ELM: I think that there might be some people who think of it that way, but I think there’s plenty of people who think of it exactly the way you’re describing—
FK: In which case it’s happening. In which case it’s absolutely happening.
ELM: And that’s not great. The unfortunate thing is, and I’m not saying, I’m not here to argue on behalf of everyone who accuses—I definitely think that there are plenty of times when people throw around the term “queerbaiting” because they get, and this is not a positive thing to say about fans but where it’s like, people are resentful that their ship’s not happening on screen, right?
ELM: And that’s hard, because not every ship’s gonna happen and I guess I come from a more old-school place of assuming none of my ships will happen ever [FK laughs] and that’s not great either, that’s whatever. But I, I think that there’s something deeply problematic about saying, like, “Yeah, we’ll throw them a bone but it’s not gonna happen, blah blah blah,” but like—it never happens, you know?
FK: I see what you’re saying—I see what your saying, again, that’s not true because Hannibal, the “it never happens” thing.
ELM: Yeah, but it wasn’t explicit!
FK: They weren’t like having wild monkey sex, but they definitely committed romantic suicide off a lover’s leap while staring lovingly into each other’s eyes in a scene that was also shot with a kiss, so like…
ELM: SPOILER! SPOILER!
FK: Yeah, I think it happened! And everybody in Hannibal fandom agreed that it happened, more to the point.
ELM: Yeah, that’s true. But that’s one exception, with a gay showrunner.
FK: Exception that proves the rule, but I would say about that—well, I mean, no one was asking for Willow and Tara, but my point being—I agree completely with you that the behavior happens. That people write shows, they see fans liking a pairing, and they’re like, “We’re never gonna do this pairing in the end but we’re gonna throw them a bone,” which is definitely what people would consider baiting for sure. But it’s important to realize why people respond so strongly on the industry side with “This isn’t queerbaiting, this isn’t baiting anybody,” because they see it in the context of “We give fans all sorts of things that they want. We give people fan service all the time, we give them fan service to do with het ships that are never gonna happen…” So they don’t see it in the structural context of there’s never the queer relationship or there’s only on, like, one show. And that’s a problem.
ELM: Do you think that that’s because there’s a lot of, the majority of them are not queer? People who are making these media?
FK: For sure! We definitely see, just as you see improved representation in race when you see writers’ rooms being more diverse and you see improved women’s representation when you see women in writers’ rooms, I am a hundred percent sure that if there were more queer people making media then there would be less queerbaiting. But then, you know, it hasn’t helped Moftiss.
ELM: What do you mean, because Tiss is gay?
FK: I’m just saying, it’s not a guarantee.
ELM: Look Flourish, we don’t know how that show’s gonna end, so…
FK: Uh huh, uh huh.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, that’s a big thorny trash pile of a conversation to talk about—
FK: We don’t need to get into that. But you see what I’m saying, right? It’s, yeah. But there’s a lot of questions about why things happen, why do particular ships happen. Fundamentally they happen or not, it’s the showrunner’s decision. That actually is the showrunner’s decision, but sometimes it can be affected by practicalities that are out of control.
ELM: OK, tell me if my idea of, like, network executives making decisions is a realistic one. Because when I think of the Powers That Be, I imagine, like, a well-meaning writer just typing away and then some asshole studio executives coming in and being like “Here’s what you actually need to do because of market reasons,” or these whatever the fuck I don’t know. These advertisers think this. Is that a deeply cynical, unrealistic view?
FK: I actually think there’s a lot more sort of soft power and negotiation involved in this than you’re thinking. So for example, right, fundamentally, if a show is not what a network needs or wants it’s never going to go to pilot, and if it’s not that, it’s never going to go to series. But…
ELM: Wait, pause that. How does a network decide what it needs or wants? Is it based on gaps in the market, is it based on past performance of other shows…?
FK: All of the above.
ELM: Because coming from the publishing industry, so much of the, like, shit that gets produced in the publishing industry is based on past performance.
FK: Completely. It’s both.
ELM: “It’s like blank meets blank!” and you’re like…
FK: That’s absolutely it.
ELM: “It’s like Harry Potter meets Girl on the Train!” and you’re like this is trash, I can’t.
FK: It’s totally, it’s market, it’s past performance and it’s also what they need in their programming lineup, right. So for instance if you’re like “Well, we have these spaces cause these shows didn’t get renewed.”
ELM: So you’re saying when Supernatural and Vampire Diaries go off the air my Supernatural With Vampires—
FK: Is gonna have a little more room to be there.
ELM: That’s really great to hear, honestly, because I’m developing it right now. Alex and George, they’re just a great bromance, though.
FK: [laughs] But the point is, the first step is, if you’re a writer and you’re writing something that’s unmarketable in the sense that it doesn’t fit in with what any of the networks are envisioning, it’s not ever going to get a pilot, so it’s just never going to come to anybody’s consciousness. So that’s actually the first rung, so you’ve already got, like, quite a lot of things ruled out from that, right? For a variety of reasons.
Then, throughout the process of development, basically—alright, the way that scripts get written, the way that a story gets broken is this. The showrunner comes up with the ideas, the fundamental ideas of the season, right. Sits down in the writers’ room, the writers’ room as a whole breaks the story together, meaning they sort of figure out what’s gonna happen in the episodes, a general sort of line of what’s gonna happen. Then individuals go off and write scripts on their own, then they come back and edit together. This is a typical writers’ room, right.
So then when you’ve got a set of scripts everyone feels pretty good about, it goes for notes. And then notes are gonna come from other people who are involved in the production, which includes the studio and includes the network. So you’re gonna get back network notes that say things—and that’s the point at which your hard power thing might come into play. Right? The network notes might possibly say, “Can we not have the character smoke, because that is not gonna please our advertisers.” “Can we not have the character do this. Can we have the character do this because we really think that we’re going to get so and so to buy a bunch of ad time and that would be nice.”
ELM: So how much of that? Or is it really a case by case basis?
FK: It’s really a case by case basis. It’s super case by case. And to be honest most of the notes are going to be intended for—like, for whatever perspective they’re coming from, the notes are gonna be intended to be, they’re really honestly mostly intended to be—they’re trying to make the show appealing in one way. They may be totally misled, but they’re not sitting there being like “let’s destroy your vision” because they wouldn’t have ordered it to pilot and to show if they didn’t basically buy into the idea, right.
ELM: I’m just thinking it’s—maybe they’re getting better at this but it seems so, I’m just thinking about Supernatural. How that show is, you know, conceived and pitched and everything and cast, with the idea that it was a show for men. And just in my mind…
FK: It was! But that was an idea from the showrunner too, I’m sure.
ELM: No, yeah! Everyone! Yeah that’s true. I shouldn’t just blame the network.
FK: Everyone has an imagined audience, right. You can’t just blame the network for that.
ELM: I would like to, though I’m giving writers too much credit.
FK: It’s like, you’re giving writers way too much credit in this.
ELM: I like to blame assholes who make six figures as opposed to, like, sad writers.
FK: Writers are not always sad.
ELM: Alright, happy writers who don’t make very much money.
FK: Showrunners make plenty of money.
ELM: Look, this is my hypothetical Supernatural With Vampires showrunner, he’s been struggling—
FK: No, OK, hold up! He may have been struggling up to this point, but as a showrunner he’s not gonna be in the same way. And one thing that I would say about this—
ELM: Good for Joe!
FK: —when you are a writer, that’s true. The individual writers who write each episode, they don’t get a lot of say in this process. They get told what to write by the showrunner, they write it, then they get notes from a lot of different people, and they fulfill those notes. And what’s more, it’s unprofessional for them to say if they disagree with the showrunner. Nobody thinks it’s OK for a writer to say “Yeah, the showrunner made a terrible call there.”
ELM: Yeah, but that’s really bad, because maybe some showrunners need some constructive criticism.
FK: They get pushback within the room. They absolutely get pushback within the room. There’s a discussion that happens. But at the end of that discussion what comes out is something that was done by a team of people and maybe the person that was on the lowest run of the team—but that doesn’t mean it’s professional to go slag all the other people on the team. All I’m trying to say is, right, if you wonder why it is that writers all seem to hold the party line, it’s because that’s considered unprofessional behavior.
ELM: Do you think it’s unfair of me to say that it feels like a lot of television shows, I’m gonna use the word “feel” like seventeen times in this sentence, that a lot of television shows feel like they’re written by committee?
FK: They are written by committee. They’re completely written by committee.
ELM: So you don’t think that’s an unfair statement.
FK: That is not an unfair statement. That is literally what happens when most television shows are written. They are written by committee.
ELM: Do you agree that that’s not great?
FK: No, I don’t agree.
ELM: You, wait, logic.
FK: I don’t think that’s not great. I don’t think they should feel that way, I think that if it feels like it gets written by committee, that’s a problem.
ELM: You think that’s great.
FK: But realistically, just about every show out there—I think that that’s a sign of a bad show, it’s not a sign that the process is necessarily bad.
ELM: Well, I mean, I also think about this from the context of, like, British shows are written differently, so I’m thinking about the difference. That’s not to say that every British show is good or better, but it can feel very different. They have different sets of problems, but I just, that’s one issue I have with a lot of American shows.
FK: Well, I don’t know what to say about that. Every American show that you see pretty much is written by committee, so if you like an American show and it doesn’t feel like it’s written by committee, it’s because the committee was doing their job.
ELM: OK. Alright.
FK: Even shows that have a super auteur director, he’s still taking notes from a hell of a lot of people. A super auteur showrunner. Right, like Mad Men.
FK: I happen to know that he rewrites almost every script. I think maybe even literally ever script.
ELM: That’s very micromanage-y.
FK: It’s super micromanage-y. But, he still has to take notes from people.
ELM: Yeah yeah yeah.
FK: So there’s a lot of feedback that goes into every show.
ELM: That’s interesting, do you think that we’d get better television if that wasn’t true?
FK: No, I absolutely don’t.
FK: Because I think that having the multiple voices and views on it, there’s so many people who are already involved I think that that’s what it takes to make a script good.
ELM: Yeah but you’re describing multiple voices that are all reinforcing each other. They’re not challenging each other.
FK: They are challenging each other, absolutely they’re challenging each other. They’re challenging each other in private.
ELM: Oh, so you’re only saying they won’t do it in public.
FK: I mean, there’s absolutely arguments in private. But when you put out that show in public it’s something that you all did together.
FK: It’s not professional to be like “Well, that asshole is the one who killed off that character.”
ELM: Yeah, right. I understand that.
FK: So this is what I’m trying to say, there’s a lot of politics that are behind the shows but you don’t see it because it would be really unprofessional behavior for people to take their, like, office politics and put them on Twitter for everyone to see. That would be horrible. We don’t actually want that.
ELM: Before we segue into our listener questions, that brings up—
FK: I didn’t say the other thing I was gonna say about this.
ELM: What were you gonna say?
FK: The other thing is, there’s some practical decisions that have to get made just entirely because of—actually a lot of things get made, because of actors’ schedules. So for instance, right, like, I would be shocked if one of the reasons that the thing that happened on The 100 happened wasn’t that the actress just took a job as a regular recurring character on Fear The Walking Dead.
FK: Now, I’m not saying that they couldn’t have written it in a different way. There’s plenty of ways to do it, to deal with that other than what they did.
FK: But one thing was certain from the moment that she took that job, was that she was not going to be returning and there was not going to be warm and fluffy feelings forever and ever on that show.
ELM: Yeah, I—this is a longstanding issue, I actually once wrote an article about this. Uh, about the decision to, not that this was what happened on The 100, but the decision if an actor wants to leave to kill them as opposed to just letting them leave.
ELM: It’s just, I think that’s narratively lazy.
FK: Well, we can think about it however we want, but the point is the character’s not gonna be there. So if it breaks up your ship, it’s not necessarily that the showrunner wanted the ship to be broken up.
FK: Or that anybody wanted the ship to be broken up, it’s just that the actor wanted to do something other than be stuck with this show right now, right.
ELM: I mean I think that there, I’ve seen lots of instances over the years where it’s not the actor’s decision.
FK: That’s true, too. That’s true in the majority of times, I’m just saying that we don’t, you don’t necessarily know unless you’re following exactly when the actor signs what deal, right.
ELM: Right, right. I’m just, I’m thinking about one-half of my OTP, my previous OTP was killed. And they were like “What?” They got the script and they were like “Are you fucking kidding me?” You know.
FK: But there’s other reasons within that too, you know. Like, I have no idea when—there’s lots of things that can happen right. Maybe this person is a pain to work with, right.
ELM: Oh no. This was entirely done for narrative reasons in this particular instance.
FK: Oh, that’s true too! I just—
ELM: To create man pain, it’s really important.
FK: It’s always to create man pain. It’s always to create man pain.
ELM: No, and they talked about it afterwards. No doubts about it. He wanted to stay, he was really sad. He continues to record audiobooks as, you know, as if his character’s still alive.
FK: Aww, that’s sad! Anyway, I mean, all I’m trying to say is, there’s plenty of times when characters get killed off for narrative reasons, because the showrunner wants them dead, whatever. Right? Or because the showrunner doesn’t agree with the ship, whatever. But there are also plenty of other times where the actor was an asshole and smelled like cheese and nobody wanted to be around him and so we killed him, because we don’t want to have that actor on set anymore. Or the actor is so great that she just did a movie and is huge now so of course she’s leaving, she doesn’t want anything to do with us anymore.
ELM: Yeah this is actually a major—the reason I hated The Hobbit from the start was that I was watching Being Human, the British version, at the time that Aidan Turner was cast—
FK: Ohh, and you were like “It’s dead, it’s gone now.”
ELM: And he couldn’t do both! He had to go to New Zealand! And so I was like, deeply resentful of it, like—and he does not look like a dwarf. I just couldn’t get past it. He was way too tall and way too pretty.
FK: Yeah. What I’m trying to say though, is similarly sometimes writing decisions get made this way too, you know? Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a script and been like “Yeah, um, this all, this thing? This beautiful location you’re talking about? That’s happening inside the character’s bedroom right now because we cannot afford that fucking location. It’s just not.” You know? So like, things happen for narrative reasons but things also happen for money reasons, because they have access to something cool, right. Tons of things get written in just because, like, “Hey guys guess what, my cousin owns a horse farm! You wanna write about horses?” Like, “Yeah, I wanna write about horses!”
ELM: Oh my God, if this is what’s fueling our television.
FK: Sometimes this is what’s fueling our television. Production realities.
ELM: “My cousin owns a horse farm.”
FK: Well, OK, I’ve never actually heard of that exact thing happening.
ELM: Actually, that’s the reason there’s the stables on Supernatural Vampires. Scuse me, Supernatural With Vampires.
FK: Right, it could be.
ELM: Yeah. That’s where they exchange steamy glances over the horses.
FK: But you see what I’m saying. Sometimes things are taken away because of production realities, and sometimes we get gifts because of production things.
ELM: Flourish. I don’t think you are as excited about Supernatural With Vampires as you should be.
FK: I am 100% sure I’m not as excited about Supernatural With Vampires as I should be.
ELM: OK, I think this would probably be a good time to take a break before we go to a couple more listener questions.
ELM: And we’re back! So we asked on Tumblr about people’s thoughts about the Powers That Be.
FK: We did.
ELM: And we got some interesting thoughts and questions. So let’s start with earlgreytea. So she asked us two questions, if you’re familiar with earlgreytea68—
FK: I am!
ELM: Amazing fic writer and I in fact had drinks with her tonight, this is completely unrelated.
ELM: Yeah this is completely unrelated. So she has two questions, and one of them—the one I want you to answer is not this one. The other one I love, which I’m just going to read for the hell of it. This is a question to the Powers That Be. “Do you like/love your characters? Do you want them to be unhappy? Does it pain you to do horrible things to them or do you try to detach from them because you know you don’t have as much control as you might want?”
FK: The answer is that you, that people detach from them.
ELM: But I love—she and I were actually debating this tonight and recently on Twitter, like, I really enjoy angst and an angsty ship and angsty fic and she hates it. And so I just imagine her just being like, “Do you want your characters to suffer?!” Just imagine. But anyway, that’s one of her questions…
FK: I actually think it’s reasonable to say here, right, the big difference as far as I can tell the difference between being a writer for TV and film versus being, like, a book writer, is that in TV and film any attachment you have to your characters and your ideas gets beaten out of you at the first opportunity.
ELM: That’s really depressing, but I believe it.
FK: It’s not depressing, actually. I think it results in, I think working in the TV and film industry, working in the entertainment industry has made me a better writer. Because it’s enabled me to detach from, like, being offended by people’s criticism, and it’s enabled me to think about the needs of the story as opposed to the needs of my woobie. And there’s no way that people—
ELM: But haven’t you ever been edited or critiqued in the context of being a writer, like, outside of this context?
ELM: Haven’t you ever been in a writing workshop or had an editor read your writing and say things to you…?
FK: Absolutely, but the editor is not a person who is…very rarely in my experience, right, like, people will say things to me that are negative but I don’t necessarily have to listen, whereas in…
ELM: Oh, but you’re not writing for money.
FK: Yeah, that’s true.
ELM: I mean like, I just think that what it sounds like, and it’s not like I write fiction and have that edited by someone professionally, but I do write other things and have them edited and it’s not the kind of relationship that you’re describing. Editors don’t exist in the realm of publishing to beat your ideas out of you, you know?
FK: Well, they don’t beat your ideas out of you, your ideas are the most important thing. But the point is, look, you write this script, right. Actually you’re writing a script that someone else came up with the idea for, unless you’re the showrunner, in which case you come up with an idea and somebody else writes the script, and you’re like “This isn’t exactly what I envisioned, shit.” And you have to decide whether to micromanage them and rewrite their script or whether you’re going to live with it, right.
And then there’s rounds of notes, and the notes have a variety of different things, a lot of which do have to do with production realities, separate even from the mean network people who potentially are telling you to do things like make Scully a busty blonde. But, like, you know, the reality is you have this beautiful set piece that was set on a horse farm and it turns out your cousin’s horses all got sick and you can’t shoot there—
FK: And you have to do a quick rewrite, and now there’s no horse farm—
ELM: Flourish, you’re ruining Supernatural With Vampires!
FK: Right, and that’s really depressing, right? But there’s no way, the show must go on, you have to shoot, we’re not gonna be on a horse farm, right. And that’s different, right. You can have a horse farm in your novel.
ELM: Yeah, this is why books are inherently superior to film and television. We solved it! [FK laughs] Sorry!
FK: Elizabeth, I hate you so much right now. Anyway, you get what I’m saying.
ELM: Yeah I do! This wasn’t even the question I was gonna read from earlgreytea!
FK: Gosh, I’m sorry.
ELM: Here, wait, I think you already answered it, LOL.
FK: Well read the question anyway.
ELM: She writes, “I assume a lot of the decisions are dictated by ‘market considerations.’ How does the market get defined? What sort of research is done to determine what the market wants and desires?” No, actually, you didn’t answer that, but we have talked a little bit about that.
FK: I didn’t answer that. So this is actually exactly what I work in.
ELM: This is your job.
FK: Traditionally the way the market gets defined is in these very broad demographic categories that frankly, are stupid. They’re not stupid for every reason.
ELM: I’m thinking about this disclaimer at the end of the thing that says “the opinions expressed in this podcast” blah blah blah.
FK: Well, I say this to people all the time in my job. It is literally part of my pitch to be like “These things are dumb and wrong.”
FK: So here’s the thing, right. When there were very few, there’s three things that are happening, right. You have ideas, you have distribution, and then you have an audience. This is all, like, this is the flow of any entertainment TV, right? So in the past there was very little distribution, because you have X number of channels, you have X number of films that are getting out every year, and that’s basically it. In the past, what would happen is, you would put your TV show on these networks and they would be paid for by advertisers, and the advertisers would basically need to figure out how to send advertising messages to all parts of the US population that pay them money.
So that’s how you end up getting things like “males 18-34” as a demographic group. Realistically. Or if you’re gonna be nice “African-American males ages 18-34.”
ELM: That’s a nice—oh.
FK: That’s about as—
FK: —granular as you’re gonna get, right? Because you’ve only got so many shows that are on the air and so you need to make sure that you’re reaching broad swaths. So that’s how people have gotten into the habit of thinking of what the demographic for a show is, right. But the reality is that that’s, today, there is no more distribution problem. I can distribute something, I can shoot something on my phone and distribute it in 20 minutes. And I can have a 10 minute short that’s distributed, right. If I chose to, I could shoot and create, you know, a web series on my own, and I could distribute it without anybody’s help, right?
ELM: Flourish, are you offering to co-produce Supernatural With Vampires as a web series?
FK: That is not something I’m offering to do. (laughs) Not at all.
ELM: What if I did a Kickstarter and I raised a ton of money?
FK: I will do almost anything for money. I love money. [ELM laughs] Then yes. Point being, there’s now a ton of distribution, so there’s a lot of ways people can, you know, spend their time, and everybody has a finite amount of time, we don’t suddenly have eight more hours to watch our web series and snap our chats. And whatever the fuck else we’re doing—
ELM: What’d you just say, Grandma? [laughs]
FK: [laughs] Snap our chats! So now it’s a lot more competitive, right? Because the market is fractured into different interest areas. And that means that you’re not seeing demographic groups as a whole watching individual shows, you’re seeing, like, anybody who likes watching dragons watching Game of Thrones, and that might be a 13-year-old girl and a 65-year-old grandma and a 17-year old-boy and a 20-year-old genderqueer person and who knows, right? And they might all be from different class backgrounds, they just all love dragons.
FK: So that’s totally against any, the traditional way of thinking about demographics. And that’s because we can sort of find our groups now, right.
ELM: And be interest-based.
FK: Absolutely, it’s totally interest-based. So more and more people are starting to think in this way but it’s a slow transition, particularly since the way that advertising is sold still depends on those older, traditional demographic numbers. See Nielsen ratings. People will do all sorts of different kinds of market research, it really depends; there’s not one standard way that everybody does it, but a lot of times shows will be conceived without any thought to market research, if a writer is just gonna write a show they’ll conceive of a show without a thought to market research particularly. Sometimes they’ll see a space and go for it, but mostly it’s not like they’re sitting there and going “Oho, and then I will create,” you know, “the nerd who is going to be an ace girl because that will appeal to Tumblr.” They’re not thinking like that.
ELM: Flourish, they would never think of that.
FK: Well, you know, I’m just making an example of some pandery thing that someone might come up with. But they’re not doing that, right. What’s, the place where it happens is when you sell things to pilot and to series is when you have a network that’s thinking like, okay, who do we need to appeal to, what kind of shows do we need to appeal to them.
ELM: Hmm, OK.
FK: Because among other things, writers don’t have money to do marketing surveys, like, it costs a lot of money to do that.
ELM: You just told me that writers have tons of money.
FK: Not when they haven’t had a show yet.
ELM: Not in advance.
FK: Not in advance, and also, when I say writers have a ton of money, writers might make six figures, they might make a bunch of money more than that, but like, they don’t have tens of millions of dollars the way that wealthy studios and wealthy networks do.
ELM: That’s how much it costs to do market research, tens of millions of dollars?
FK: No, but it helps to have it.
ELM: OK I’m just curious about how these things shake out.
FK: It doesn’t cost tens of millions of dollars, but it might cost $100,000 to do a really serious study, possibly.
ELM: OK, that was very interesting, I think that answers the question. OK. So the second question we want to ask also comes from a friend of the show, I think most of these come from friends of the show, this came from F Yeah Copyright, the blog that Heidi co-runs, Heidi Tandy. I’m not sure if it came from her or her blog partner. So F Yeah Copyright essentially asking, they’re saying that they have mixed feelings about the Powers That Be, but it’s interesting that it no longer seems like a monolith the way it has in the past, talking about how there’s so many more fan-to-pro showrunners, talking about Moffatt, JJ Abrams, and then also saying that it’s also people who work in production and PR at the movie and TV studios. Bunches of creators and producers are fandom insiders and Power That Be outsiders. As there’s movement between the two groups, does that mean they aren’t separate groups any more? That’s interesting.
FK: I mean, I think that they are separate groups, in that if you are in fandom…I mean, maybe one is a subset of another? Or a superset of another?
ELM: I mean, like: J.J. Abrams isn’t a fan anymore? Can you be a fan and also a content creator? And where are the lines? Is Rainbow Rowell a fan?
FK: Am I a fan?
ELM: What content are you creating, Flourish?
FK: A lot of things that I can’t talk about right now, none of which have been embraced by fandom as of yet, but…?
FK: I was a producer on East Los High, does that make me not a fan?
ELM: I was trying to use more exciting examples than you, but we can do you if you want.
FK: Well, the reason I want to do me is that I think that it’s different than J.J. Abrams who’s like—I think this is really the question, like, J.J. Abrams is incredibly famous and his life is way different than mine or yours would be, in the sense of having a lot of fame and power, at least as much as anybody who’s a producerly type can have, who’s not in front of the camera.
ELM: You mean like it’s different because if we ran Star Wars they’d just all be gay. Every character’s that. They’d all be gay.
FK: I mean…BB-8 can be, like, ace or something. I don’t know the answer to that question. I think it’s harder to answer if you bring it closer to home. I think it’s easy to say “Well, J.J. Abrams can’t be a fan, because J.J. Abrams has a ton of power and a ton of money and is in charge of all these major fan franchises, so he can’t be a fan,” because he has too much, the power differential is too much, right?
ELM: Mm hmm.
FK: But there’s also a lot of non-J.J. Abrams end casts, and J.J. Abrams could be a fan of something that he doesn’t have any control over, right?
ELM: Sure, yeah. Going on boards somewhere. He could be on some subreddit right now arguing about something.
FK: He could be on some subreddit right now, like, arguing about Kanye or somebody. [ELM laughs] No one controls Kanye! Kanye controls Kanye, right?
ELM: So, actually this is interesting, let’s use you as an example. I’m thinking back to that episode where we had some disagreements of your perceptions of that show that you worked on, do you remember this?
ELM: I don’t want to turn this into some kind of therapy session, but, like, it did seem that you kind of had a point where you were questioning “Am I really—now that I’m on the inside, how much of a fan am I now?”
FK: I do think it’s different because there’s some things that can never be unseen. I can never think the same way I used to think about queerbaiting before I talked to people and understood how they viewed it—just from their, until I was around that.
ELM: But I also—I’ve heard about this, I’ve had these conversations with television writers too, and it made me more angry with them.
FK: I think it’s not just about talking to people but also about being involved in a process and feeling from the inside what the challenges are and the way that it works and so forth. To some degree it probably makes you defensive about your complicity in it, and I guess that that would be the cynical way to think about it would be “Well, you just went over and you’re complicit now in all that terrible bullshit,” but another way to say it could be, like, “Now you understand what is actually facing making these changes,” right, or “What is actually the problems that appear,” and you can’t think the same way about it. And I think that that also goes for things like, you know, hanging out with celebrities, or whatever? When you meet a celebrity—
ELM: Yeah, right, cool.
FK: Whatever it is! [ELM laughs] I’m just saying you see somebody, and they’re not the thing that’s on the pedestal anymore, and it’s a different relationship. I think that anybody who has interacted with any famous person has experienced this to some degree, right.
ELM: Sure, I just had drinks with earlgreytea68.
FK: Sure! I mean actually, I would say that—
ELM: She is not gonna be pleased when she hears me say that, we actually discussed that tonight.
FK: OK. Well, but I mean, I wanna say, this does have to do with fandom people. Fandom people are the same way, right. Like you see that with BNFs and all of this. BNFs insisting “Well, we’re just—it’s just a friends group, guys!” [ELM snorts] But it’s not just a friends group. It’s the same thing writ larger.
FK: So I don’t want to say “Oh yeah, it’s totally, people are just fans. They’re just fans. They’re just like us!” Right?
ELM: Yeah right?
FK: But at the same time I don’t want to be like “They can’t be fans, they can’t have any loyalty to fandom, they can’t have any understanding of what this is,” because that would be wrong as well.
ELM: Alright, good answer. So why don’t we take one more break and then we can take the last couple of questions.
ELM: OK, so Imaginary Circus [sic—actually Kyrieanne] asked a few questions, but the one that I thought was the most interesting was, “Something I hear in fandoms is ‘I trust the writers/showrunners’ or ‘I don’t trust them’ to handle with care and respect a beloved character or thorny plot. How is trust built by some powers that be and eroded by others?”
This is very interesting to me as someone who has a very wary, somewhat untrustworthy relationship with showrunners whose shows that I’ve been in the fandoms of.
FK: I kind of find that hard to answer, because I think that the answer is already built in, and like the reason that people don’t trust showrunners to handle a character well is when the showrunner does things that they disagree with, right? Or like that they wouldn’t want to see, or that don’t seem good to them, right? Like, that’s how trust gets eroded. And when you like what a showrunner is doing, you like their past, like, the way that they’ve treated a character, the way that they’ve treated plots, you’re like, “I trust them to the next thing.” So I mean, I guess the answer is, like, be a good showrunner? Like, write good things?
FK: And have your writers’ room write good things. Or let me rephrase: have your writers’ room write things that fans like?
ELM: Yeah, but like—
FK: And are in support of.
ELM: But you don’t…like, I hate the term “fan service,” because I think it’s usually not used correctly.
ELM: But like, as much as I get angry about decisions that, you know, writers make, and television shows—you can’t write a show based on what the fans want all the time.
FK: Right! And nobody does that, and that’s why…I really don’t think that people do that. I don’t think that most, if any, showrunners—
ELM: How do you feel about the term “fan service”? Do you dislike it as much as I do?
FK: I dislike it because it seems to me…I think, I mean I think that occasionally it’s used inco—I think occasionally it can be used correctly.
ELM: I think in its original conception as a term, the idea of, like, you’re gonna stick a lady with big tits into the middle of your video game or whatever, right? Like that’s the original definition of fan service.
FK: Right, or sometimes I think that it can be used, for instance, like if you include specific nerdy callbacks to things that particular. I think that there are times when the term “fan service” can be correctly used, but I think that it gets overused a lot, in a similar way that Mary Sue gets overused.
FK: I definitely think that most creators are not thinking about the fans first and foremost as they write a show, and I think that that is specifically because they don’t want—they know that already, shows are written by committee, by and large, and that if you added in all the fans in the world to make a committee of everybody who watches your show, it would definitely be shit.
ELM: It would really…that would be a bad show.
FK: It would be a really bad show.
ELM: Yeah, that would be a nightmare show. Well—
ELM: So what about the creators now who—I mean, not just now, I mean this was obviously happening, you already brought up Buffy, they were doing this too—what about the ones who are listening to what the fans are saying?
FK: Well, I think that it’s hard not to listen to some degree, right? And I think that—
ELM: I don’t know!
FK: Different people—
ELM: I don’t google my name anymore. I stopped doing that a few years ago.
ELM: Because there was a time when I would click on, you know, you used to, some…they took away a lot of this functionality, but you can still do it, you can click on the Twitter icon on your article and go back and see when that link has been tweeted.
FK: Oh God.
ELM: So I would do that, and I would see what people are saying, and then I would see…you know, mostly positive, “Oh, it’s so great, it’s so great.” And then like, one person would say something obnoxious and I’d be like, “Oh…” You know, and like, I wouldn’t, like, do I respond? No, like, because I—
FK: Never read the comments.
ELM: I dwell, like I sought that out, too. I went there. You know? And so like, I find it’s something that you can train yourself out of.
FK: I don’t think—I’m not saying that people google themselves, I’m saying that there are people whose job it is to, like, interact with folks on social media, and they know, and that information trickles through, right?
FK: And I think that there’s that person on the set who’s like—there’s an actor who’s, like, really addicted to social media, and they hear everything and see everything, and then that trickles around and people sort of have a sense.
ELM: Yeah, but there are some showrunners who—
FK: Now people miss things, right? But like, it’s hard to live in a total bubble.
ELM: Yeah, but I think there are some showrunners who…they’re not googling themselves, but they are, like, going into it. You know?
ELM: I mean…
FK: I agree. Completely.
ELM: That doesn’t seem great.
FK: Well, I mean, I would say this, which is that fandom is the first to say, “Never read the comments,” but also the first to say, “How do you not understand that all of your fans want X and that we’re all gonna leave you?” Right? It’s like, you sort of have to pick one, right?
ELM: Fans are so selfish. Fansplaining! [laughs]
FK: I’m not—I mean, I’m not saying that this is not a totally human thing to want and feel, and—
ELM: It’s true, it’s true.
FK: —and that both things can’t be true, because it’s true that, like, you know, it’s a bad idea to read the comments and we all know this, but at the same time we all also really want the thing that we want to be heard.
ELM: I don’t. I’m just going to write my own fanfiction.
FK: You are very, very rare in this instance, I think.
ELM: People put themselves on their little matrix! Plenty of people were anti-canon.
FK: There still are plenty of people who are anti-canon, I’m just saying.
FK: I think what I’m trying to say is the way trust is built is when people do things that you like and the way it’s ruined is when people do things that you don’t like and I don’t know anything beyond that to say, because obviously like, some creators listen to fans and do what fans want, and then that turns out to not be the right thing.
FK: Some creators don’t listen to anything and, like, they magically know what’s right for the show and it’s great.
FK: Others have no idea and they walk off a cliff not knowing it’s there, right? Like, it’s, I don’t know what to say about that. Other than that it’s a difficult question of whether to read the comments or not, and whether to take the advice that’s in the comments or not.
ELM: Yeah, no, I think that your point about it being, you don’t want a committee of all the fans in the world is a good one.
FK: Yeah, that’s—
ELM: You don’t want that.
FK: That’s a bad—nobody wants that. Literally nobody wants that.
ELM: Maybe like Occupy Wall Street?
FK: Occupy Wall Street might want that, and we see how well the human microphone worked. [laughter]
ELM: OK we’ve got one more question, from Meredith, our old friend Meredith…go ahead, Flourish. Say her last name.
FK: NO! Because I’m gonna get it wrong. Always always.
ELM: Try it. Try it.
ELM: You got it!
FK: I just did the thing that felt the most not-like what I was going to do.
ELM: That’s amazing. Levine.
FK: I don’t know how this got so ingrained in my brain in the wrong way, I’m so sorry, Meredith. But I’m trying.
ELM: Meredith Levine, who asks, “Does fandom benefit from having a contentious relationship with the powers that be? If so, how?”
FK: I think that…all right, I’m gonna say it. I think that fandom does benefit from it. And here’s how I think it benefits from it:
ELM: If so, how?
FK: Almost everybody that I know who writes fanfic—and maybe other people have different viewpoints, but I don’t know—have those things that they’re like, “Yeah, it’s perfect, I don’t need to write anything for that.” For instance, right, like—
ELM: Wait, within the fandom that they’re in, or something else?
FK: Yeah, so OK, so here’s an example, right? Like people in X-Files fandom also love Scully—Gillian Anderson, she is not her character—in The Fall, right? Gillian Anderson’s in The Fall—
ELM: Scully in The Fall, OK gotcha.
FK: The Fall is great, and you know, a lot of those people feel like, I don’t need to write stories for The Fall. I don’t need to write fanfic for The Fall. I love The Fall already. It is great.
FK: So they don’t write fanfic for it!
FK: And there’s not like a huge Fall fandom, that’s not a thing. Like, some people write—there is some fic for it, there’s some people who are into it, a lot of people are into Gillian Anderson particularly, but no one would ever say that it was like, a major fandom.
FK: Whereas X-Files, which has flaws coming out of its ears, and has since almost the very beginning, right? Has a huge fandom, of people who are super-dedicated, no matter how many times in this abusive relationship we show up, and, like, you know, something bad happens and everyone gets mad. Right?
ELM: Well, I mean, it’s hard, because I feel like that can be a little of an apples-and-oranges comparison.
FK: They’re all apples-and-oranges comparisons.
ELM: It’s true, it’s like a big…fruit salad. Thank you, Ben Carson.
FK: Anyway! All I’m saying is [laughter] all I’m saying is that I think that a lot of people, for a lot of people writing fanfiction has to do with things that are unfinished, or things that are imperfect, especially when they’re talking about a scripted thing, so I’m not talking about a bandom, obviously, which has a different kind of source text, but yeah, so I think that, I think that fandom grows out of fascination and frustration, and if the relationship with The Powers That Be is too smooth, there’s not that frustration element, so you don’t get the same kind of, like, really engaged and active and creative fandom.
ELM: How would you explain Star Wars? New Star Wars.
FK: : I think that people have a lot of things that they were mad about the old Star Wars for, I think that there is—
ELM: I don’t, I don’t—the people I see, people around me, on Tumblr who are into The Force Awakens, I don’t think had any feelings about the old Star Wars. They just got really excited by the new one, and—
FK: Yeah, OK.
ELM: —are kissing J.J. Abrams’s feet for making such an exciting new product.
ELM: But that’s interesting. It’s an interesting thing to watch.
FK: But I think that there’s also, like, tension within there, right? There’s a question: is Finn/Poe going to be real? If it’s not, there’s going to be a lot of people who are real mad about queerbaiting, right? Like, there’s—
ELM: I mean the only people I see are, like, people who like General Hux and his cat, so…
FK: [laughs] I mean, but you see what I’m saying, right?
ELM: That’s me.
FK: There’s like Reylo and drama, like is there supposed to be tension between them, probably not. I mean, so to some degree I would say that’s like internally fandom-generated drama, but I think—
FK: —that particularly as you get to movie two, people whose things show up are gonna be happy, and people whose favorite things don’t show up are gonna be mad, and I think that you’re probably going to actually see a lot more blossoming fic and so forth from the people who didn’t get what they wanted.
ELM: But there’s so much fic, it’s like exponential, you know, you talk to Destination Toast, or you look on AO3. It’s incredible.
FK: Star Wars also has incredible market penetration. I mean, more people—
ELM: Flourish, talk to me about market penetration.
FK: Oh yeaaaah baby, penetrate my market. Um…
ELM: [laughs] No, you don’t have to.
FK: I’m serious, though, right? Like, Star Wars is incredibly, like, everybody saw Star Wars. Almost everybody, even the people—
ELM: I saw it twice, and I wasn’t even in love with it.
FK: Right! And you didn’t, right—so you know, to some degree, I also think we’re looking at economies of scale here.
ELM: Yeah yeah yeah.
FK: Because like, Teen Wolf did not—Teen Wolf does not reach the same number of people that Star Wars reaches, right? Like, proportionally to the number of people—
ELM: Are you saying mothers aren’t bringing their daughters to see Teen Wolf?
FK: Right. I mean, I’m just saying, I think that to some degree we may be misled a little bit because of how, how, how many people saw Star Wars, right?
FK: I mean even if only like a tenth of a percent of people wrote fic, that would still be, like, bigger than—
FK: All other fandoms.
ELM: All right, I think that’s a very rational way to think about it.
FK: But I mean, you might be right. It’s possible that there’s, like, some things that people uncritically love and, like, still want to write fic for it?
ELM: Yeah, I mean, I also think that, like, if we’re gonna go back to talking about the diversity elements of it, I think there has been a huge, you know, people have been clamoring for interesting, diverse characters, and they got ’em, and so they want to explore them, you know? It’s a very, like, earnest fic prospect, kind of.
FK: That’s very true. That’s very true.
ELM: So. It can be all of that. Plus some problematic—what’s the tag? The choking tag? On tumblr—Twitter—the choking tag on AO3.
FK: [sigh of indeterminate emotion] Uhhh.
ELM: Oh! It’s called, I believe it’s called “improper use of the force”? [laughter] Popular tag amongst Jedis. Fine. It’s fine.
FK: That’s amazing. That’s amaaaaaazing.
ELM: Yeah I’m gonna go write some Kylux fic right now. Gotta go.
FK: [laughs] I think the summary of all of this basically is that the thing that people most underestimate within the process of sort of what happens in making a TV show is not accounting for production realities and for the degree to which everything is done by committee, and then weirdly, conversely, also not giving enough—like, simultaneously giving too much and not enough credit to the showrunner, right, for figuring out. Like, it’s weird to say that you’re doing both, but like, both things happen.
ELM: Right. Yeah, but I mean, like, I mean I don’t want to throw fans under the bus, but it’s not surprising, right?
FK: Well it’s not surprising at all because it’s a really complex system that is purposely opaque, right? Like I said, there can be a million arguments in the writers’ room. Writers’ rooms are supposed to be free spaces for people to argue, that’s the ideal. But then the moment you get out of the writers’ room, everybody has to agree that they did the best job they could, and this was the best, and they all support the showrunner. Like that’s how it works, right? Because that’s professionalism. So yeah, like, you’re not supposed to see behind that curtain.
FK: So it’s not surprising that people don’t know all of the ins and outs, even just of the writing process, because they’re not supposed to.
ELM: But i mean, I guess the question is, in the end, does it even matter?
FK: I don’t know that it does if you’re not actually, like, intending to get into the entertainment industry, but here’s something I would say: I think it matters from the perspective of people trying to get into the entertainment industry, because the entertainment industry is very insular in a lot of ways, and it’s very based on who you know, and how you get involved. I think that one of the reasons that change has been so slow is to do with that.
FK: And I think that it’s better—like, I mean, I always wonder, and I say this to people all the time, why is it that more fanfic writers are not writers for TV? Because all of the things that you need to do to learn to be a good fanfic writer work really well in the TV space.
FK: You need to be able to collaborate with other people on their visions for a project and see it from many different perspectives—fanfic writers are great at that, right?
FK: You need to be able to match tone—fanfic writers can do that. You need to be comfortable with constructive criticism and so forth—not all fanfic writers are cool with that, but there’s a lot of areas, there’s a lot of communities that are, and people do take, like, beta-ing seriously, in a way—
FK: —that I think, like, a lot of aspiring novelists do not, for instance, if they haven’t been through a creative writing program.
ELM: I still am not sure who these novelists are that don’t get anyone to read their stuff.
FK: I mean, people…
ELM: We’ve already had this argument, but…
FK: Well I’m thinking specifically of, like, Diana Gabaldon talking about her characters being raped, or whatever, right? Like, I’m thinking of that kind of reaction, where clearly there’s like, this emotional connection with the characters that should not persist. She feels, like, she talks about the characters lead me to do this and this and this, and like—
ELM: Oh! Tons of writers talk like that, but like…
FK: That’s what I’m talking about!
ELM: Oh, but that’s…completely divorced from whether they’re going to take constructive feedback.
FK: I don’t entirely…I mean I guess so. I don’t see that as—usually when people start talking like that in the context of, like, TV and film writing, that starts meaning that they’re not going to, like…
ELM: Yeah. I—
FK: They’re not going to do what the showrunner wants them to do so they’re going to get fired.
ELM: I won’t deny that that language is very precious, but I think you have to—it’s a very rare professional writer who doesn’t get edited.
FK: No, I don’t think that people don’t get edited. I just think—
ELM: And I don’t mean copy editing. I mean edited.
FK: No, no, I agree, I agree, I just think that it’s a different—I just think that there’s fewer voices involved in it, and that it’s a different process, and that there’s more of a romantic vision of the writer, and the novelist’s space, and that a writer is more likely to be actually the creator of their own thing, as opposed to the average writer in TV and film who’s writing somebody else’s ideas.
ELM: I can’t wait till we have our “How a Book Gets Made” episode.
FK: I can’t wait either! I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot of things and probably discover that I’m wrong about all of my thoughts on this, like…
ELM: Not necessarily. But you’ll learn. You’ll learn things.
FK: I will learn things! I can’t wait to learn things. I’ve got a whole list of questions for you about how a book gets made.
ELM: I learned so much today, so I feel like this will be ideal. Anyway, you were saying that—I understand what you were saying, that the point is that more people from fanfiction don’t enter—
FK: Right! People in the fan world don’t tend to enter—people say that they aspire to be novelists when they write fanfic. They rarely are aspiring to be, like, scriptwriters. I think that that’s a shame. People who write fanfic I think would be great scriptwriters often, and I think that they would do a lot for increasing the diversity of Hollywood, and I think that also the only way that—I mean, I know it sounds terrible to say, like, “The only way this is gonna get made is if you do it!” because that’s, like, dismissing all of the structural reasons why things don’t get made, but I do think that there is something to say about opening those doors and having people, like, aspire to it, right? Having people be interested.
So yeah, I think that it would be better if more people understood, like, a lot of fans understood—a lot of fans understand the way that you, like, pitch to a publisher, or the way that you get an agent or whatever, right? People at conventions go talk to agents, go learn about how—I mean, I’ve never done it, but there’s whole chunks of things at conventions about how to get your book published, right?
ELM: Well, so, that’s a really good question, because I’ve—yeah, I’ve never been at a thing, even at things like Comic-Con, definitely, but I mean you go to BEA, Book Expo America, there’s plenty of panels where agents talk about what they do.
ELM: That doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly hard to get an agent, but.
ELM: But they still will not—
FK: You know what it is, right?
ELM: They don’t secretly guard that knowledge, whereas I…how often do television writers have a “here’s how you’ll wind up in the writers’ room” panel?
ELM: You know?
FK: But it’s not—I don’t think that anybody’s like, “Oh, we’re gonna keep this information from the plebs” like, that’s not the attitude, it’s just—
ELM: Right, so, why is it happening?
FK: …it’s just very internal—well, I think there’s a lot of reasons, but I think that…I think that it’s cultural, and I think that it’s…I think that so much gets done in the entertainment industry that’s based on networking. And I think that networking is fundamentally, like, it preserves structures of power and it perseveres people who are within the industry, right? There’s a reason why you have industry families, where you dad worked in it, your mom worked in it, your sister works in it, right? I’ve known people whose entire offices have been staffed by folks who they went to high school with. It’s not that people are jerks, if you’re coming from outside, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just that it wouldn’t occur to people that, like, it was hard to get into this industry, because they’ve never been on the outside of it. I don’t think that’s universally true. But I do think it’s true of more people…especially in the behind-the-scenes world, than really want to admit it.
FK: Yeah, I think that having a conversation about this in fandom, and I think that more fangirls, specifically, or fan people who are not dudes—
FK: —to be broader, thinking about this and aspiring to this as a career is a good thing. Especially given, like I said, we don’t have this distribution problem, it’s a better time than ever to break through this ceiling, because you can basically prove out that you’re good at some of this stuff, right? Like, you can write a web series, and even if it’s kinda, you know, got low production value or whatever, you can show somebody, like, “Hey I wrote this thing, and it got produced, and look, it’s got low production value, but the writing’s good!” Right?
FK: You can show that to people. You can build—you know, you can build a following in that way, and you can get jobs through that, in a way that has not been open to people in the past. So, I think this is my way of saying “FANGIRLS! COME ON! JOIN ME ON THE OTHER SIDE.”
ELM: This is a very inspiring note to end on.
FK: OK. I’m glad.
ELM: No! I’m not kidding.
FK: There should be more of us. Really. Really there should. And there’s no reason why there can’t be.
ELM: OK, so Flourish’s email address so you can send her your résumés [FK laughs] email@example.com. [laughter] So I can read it too, I just wanna see. OK Flourish, this has been incredibly fascinating.
FK: Well I’m glad that you were able to put up with me talking so much. We’re gonna have to do this again, except about book publishing, so that I can ask you all of the things that I don’t know about that.
ELM: Look, this episode, this was my idea. My idea was to interview you for an episode.
FK: You’re right.
ELM: So don’t give me any of this, “You had to put up with my talking.” I actively chose to hear you talk.
FK: Aw, that’s so—that’s so sweet of you.
ELM: Look, I thought, you’re very knowledgeable and it was very illuminating.
FK: I’m glad. And, you know, people actually should send an email or whatever, you know? Hey. Fangirls helping fangirls, I guess?
ELM: Yeah, I mean, I guess—
FK: I can’t guarantee how much help I’ll be, I don’t have a million jobs to dole out to everybody, but I’m totally, I love to to talk to people and, like, if anybody’s interested in getting into the entertainment industry, be able to connect them to people or give advice or whatever.
ELM: All right. So, write to Flourish.
FK: All right.
ELM: And if you don’t want to work in the entertainment industry but you still want to write to us, please do.
FK: You should do that.
ELM: And if you have more words in you and you actually enjoy the show, we wouldn’t say no to more iTunes reviews.
FK: Always helpful.
ELM: Or at least ratings.
FK: Reviews are great, though.
FK: We love those especially.
ELM: Yeah, so thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed, and…should we end the show now? Should we just wrap it up?
FK: OK, let’s end the show now.
ELM: [laughter] No that’s not a part of it! That’s not a part of it!
FK: All right, I think it’s time to go, so…I will talk to you later, Elizabeth.
FK: [from down a tiny well] Why are you laughing at me.
FK: [now incredibly close to the microphone] STOP LAUGHING AT ME ELIZABETH.
ELM: Yes, I do think it’s time to go, so thank you again, Flourish. Keep making, like, TV and stuff.
FK: [laughter] Thanks. You’re my number one cheerleader and fan.
ELM: Yeah…OK. Goodbye.
FK: [laughter] Bye.
FK: The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.