Tales from the Writers’ Room, Part 3: How an Episode of TV Gets Made

People often ask me how a writer’s room works. Do all the writers work on episodes together, like a snarky, eight-headed hydra, or do we toil away in solitude, typing until our fingers bleed?   The answer is neither, and both. Though I can only speak for Bones specifically, the following essay will walk you through the basic steps of how an episode of television gets made.

Step One: Pitching a World

There are eight writers on staff at Bones, and we each come to the table with a plethora of episode ideas. Some are more issue oriented, like “The Lost Love in a Foreign Land,” which dealt with human trafficking. Others take a peek inside a unique world, like “The Geek in the Guck,” which was about video games and gamers. The creator of said ideas then pitches them to our head writer, who takes a chosen few to the show-runner, who gives one of them a green light. This moves us on to…

The dudes, deep in thought inside the BONES writers' room.

The dudes, deep in thought inside the BONES writers’ room.

Step Two: Breaking the Story

Once we know the world we’re dealing with, we start breaking the story in the writer’s room, with the writer responsible for that episode leading the charge. At Bones, we typically have no more than four writers breaking a story at a time so that every voice has a chance to be heard. If you compare scriptwriting to house-building, breaking a story is a lot like putting up the frame. Using the A-story (on Bones, this is the murder case) as our driving force, it is our job to “beat” (plot) out all six acts scene by scene. When it comes to writing an episode of TV, this is the part that requires the real heavy lifting. Taking a concept and a few vague character ideas and fleshing that out into a dramatic six-act drama is no easy task. Yet on Bones, we do this 22 times a year.

Step Three: The Writing Process

Once the story’s been pitched to the show-runner and (hopefully) approved, writers are sent off to outline. We have approximately one week to transform the beats on the white board into a more formal, readable story, which then gets sent to the network for notes. Once the network approves, we’re off to script and have two weeks to deliver a “Writer’s Draft.” On Bones, each writer is responsible for writing two episodes per season, with freelancers and the show-runner filling out the rest. Also, if we choose, we are allowed to write our outlines and scripts from home. #PajamasAllDayLong


A hint of the episode title for #1020. Plus, Emily’s Silver’s manicure.


Step Four: Rewriting

If you’re a writer, you already know that writing is really rewriting. And in the case of TV writing, this concept takes an added dimension as it is truly a collaborative process. Being rewritten by the show-runner is not only common to TV writing, but expected. And while it’s crucial to stand behind what you’ve written, you never want to be married to your own words. Ultimately, the show-runner is the voice of the show, and his or her revisions are an opportunity for learning. I am constantly in awe of Bones’ show-runner Stephen Nathan’s wit, pathos, and depth of understanding of the show’s characters. Also, he writes faster than any human I’ve ever met.

Step Five: Prep

This is the stage where you think you’re done, but really you’re not, because prep (pre-production) brings up all sorts of questions and issues that necessitate script changes. Sometimes, those changes are big, like adding a whole new scene or changing a location due to scheduling issues. Other times, it can be as a small as correcting a single word of medical jargon. But pretty much every day during prep, new script pages are distributed in varying colors, marking what has been changed. Prep is also when we cast our actors, find locations, and determine costumes and props, which is my favorite part of the process.

Step Six: The Shoot

On Bones, we have nine days to shoot each episode and the majority of this time is spent on our standing sets of the Jeffersonian lab and the FBI (on Stages 6 and 9 at Fox Studios) with one-two days spent on location. Writers are encouraged to produce their own episodes of Bones, which means spending as much time on set as possible. If you’ve never been on a film or TV shoot, the days are long and the pace is slow—then suddenly fast. But the cast and crew are amazing, the atmosphere on set is fun and friendly, and there are always lots of snacks. Sometimes, one of the actors will have a question about what you’ve written, which usually leads to a rewrite on the spot. This can be slightly stressful, but I find these changes always make the show better. Plus, writing on set under time pressure makes me feel like a real TV writer.


Shooting Episode 1016 on the Fox lot.


Step Seven: Post-Production

This is the part where everyone’s hard work turns into an actual episode of TV. Editing is really the show-runner’s domain, so I haven’t spent much time in post, but my office is right across from it, so I have the torture pleasure of hearing each episode come together before I watch it on TV. 😉


I think I’ve answered the most commonly asked questions here. But if you have any others, feel free to put them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get to them as soon as possible.



Filed under Bones, David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, TV shows, TV writing, Writers' Room, writing, writing advice

Tales from the Writers’ Room: Part Two

So, we are getting ready to shoot my second “Bones” episode. As I mentioned before, seeing something I’ve written turn into an actual thing is one of my favorite parts of the process, even when it’s only trash.


Prop trash: better than regular trash.

If this weren’t exciting enough, the props department brought in a food stylist to lead a “show-and-tell” of all the food we’ll use in this episode. I didn’t actually taste any of it, but Ian, our props guy did.



Spoiler alert: this pizza burger is not the murderer.

Spoiler alert: this pizza burger is not the murderer.


Ian digs in to "The Everest" while director Alex Chapple captures the moment for posterity.

Ian digs in to “The Everest” while director Alex Chapple captures the moment for posterity.

I can’t tell you much about this episode, but I will reveal the title here:  The Big Beef in the Royal Diner.  It airs April 2nd.


Filed under Bones, TV shows, TV writing, writing, writing advice

Tales from the Writers’ Room: Part One

One of my favorite parts about writing for TV or film is the magical process of seeing my words come to life. In reality, it was a very talented props person named Ian, and not magic, that made the centrifuge I wrote about on Thursday appear in the entryway of our building Monday morning. But unless I end up winning Powerball, scriptwriting is probably the closest I’ll ever come to that genie-in-a-bottle moment: your wish is my command.  I hope I never become too world-weary to appreciate how special this feels.

So, I called this blog “Tales from the Writers Room,” but the truth is, I’m not actually spending much of my time in the writers’ room these days as I start to prep my first Bones episode. However, I do hope this kicks off my (sporadic) blog about the super awesome job of writing for a network television show.  For the uninitiated, Bones is a drama that airs on Fox, 8pm Thursday nights.


Some props, including a piece of the centrifuge, which will end up looking a lot more magical (and bigger) when the show finally airs.

At Bones, the writers each produce their own episodes and are encouraged to be involved in the producing process.  We are lucky.  Not all TV writers get to have a hand in production.

Location scouting.

Shall we shoot a scene here? Nah.

Here we are on a location scout.


How ’bout here? Nah.

One of the scenes in my script calls for a bunch of animals in the Ookey Room.  Cue the animal parade…


Director Tim Southam auditions a cat.


Director/iguana whisperer.


Now he’s just showing off.


Seriously, someone give this guy the directing gig for Dr. Doolittle 6.

It was like one of the animal shows you hire for a kid’s birthday party. Except I was at work, getting paid for it. 😉


Nibbles the Raccoon needs you in the conference room. ASAP.


Best. Meeting. Ever.



Filed under Bones, books, movies, YA, writing, David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, screenwriting, TV shows, TV writing, Writers' Room

Can Harvesting Human Body Fat Solve the Oil Crisis?

That’s the premise of GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT, a dark, daring, and hilarious new novel by author/filmmaker Pamela Corkey.  Read my interview with her below.

You'll DEVOUR this book.

You’ll DEVOUR this book.

If I had to place your novel in a genre it would be really difficult, so can you tell me, in general, how are people categorizing it? Science fiction? Drama? Fantasy? Dark comedy?  Literary fiction, or satire with literary fiction underpinnings. It’s not quite “laugh-out-loud funny” enough to be categorized as humor, but it is a comedic satire, not a stark social satire the way you would think of Aldous Huxley or Chuck Paliniuk. It’s lighter than those works but darker than Irma Bombeck. By a mile.

Were any of those writers on your mind? Aldous Huxley, in particular?  No. Actually, I hadn’t read Brave New World when I started working on GDP. I read it while I was writing the book just coincidentally. Now, after reading it, Brave New World had a huge impact on me and my thinking in general, but there’s no connection to Gross Domestic Product for me.

Something that everybody who’s read the book probably wonders: harvesting human fat to solve the oil crisis — where did that completely outlandish premise come from?  I think it was just the natural trajectory of a train of thought. You hear about people adapting their car engines to be able to run on the fat from deep fryers — they go collecting that stuff from fast food chains — and I thought, well, what’s the difference between the fat of a peanut, the fat of a chicken, and the fat of a person? Once that thought struck me, I considered the fact that we also have this often-commented upon obesity issue in our country — so it all just unraveled from there.

I think that’s one of the brilliant things about the book — it takes these two conundrums that we face in our modern world and they dovetail.  Right. I discovered as I was writing the book that it was really all about, “What if we solve all our problems. Then what?” Stories are based on conflicts, but I’ve often been tempted to push past conflict and see what is there to say once they have been resolved. What about society when it’s done addressing its shortcomings? What is the meaning of life if we don’t have struggles? What would we do with ourselves? I don’t know if I answered that question in the book, but it was constantly at the back of my mind while I was writing. What would happen to the human animal if it didn’t have to struggle and strive or exert any effort? What then?

That would bring me to the three main characters: Frannie, Derek, and Treyshawn. Why these specific people?  Early on, when I was just sort of playing around with what would happen if we really could use human fat as a fuel, I wondered who would get rich and what problems it might solve. And one of the first things I imagined was that poor communities that have a much higher rate of obesity and who struggle the most, those would instantly make out like bandits. Poverty would be eradicated. American poverty is not generally made up of a lot of emaciated people the way it often is in other countries. It’s a lot of big people. So I came up with a character who would recognize the opportunity that existed in his own poor community and have the smarts to exploit it.

And that’s Treyshawn.  Yes, that’s Treyshawn. Because he is naturally skinny, he himself can’t participate in the process, but he can see how to exploit it. I didn’t want him to be a villain, even though he’s taking advantage of the situation — I wanted him to be resourceful and caring. I came up with this character who, at the start of the story, is already taking care of everybody. He was born with his eyes wide open and darting around, looking for trouble and trying to preserve himself and those he loves from danger. And I wanted somebody who was immune to the desire to slack off, who didn’t have any impulse to slack off. Treyshawn is just a whirring little engine of industriousness and resolve.

Right. He’s an admirable character. Of the three, his story is the one that gives us something we traditionally expect from stories in that he follows an arc where he overcomes challenges and hurdles and become stronger and wiser. You chose him explicitly to be the one to grow and change rather than then the other two.  Well, none of them really change dramatically. They all come to an understanding with their world and themselves. I guess you’re right though – Treyshawn’s circumstances certainly change a great deal.

And he also gains a lot of self-confidence that he doesn’t have at the beginning.  Yes. Absolutely. That’s absolutely true.

Can you talk about the other two central characters?  Of course. There’s Derek. Derek was actually the first character that coalesced. I wanted somebody who would be in the middle of the media-pop-cultural whirlwind of this initiative — the introduction to the American public of Project People Power, which is the name the government creates for the fat-to-fuel program. So it seemed fitting that he would start out as the fattest man in the world. In the book, Derek starts out completely bedridden, living in a trailer, and then he gets a very extreme and dramatic liposuction that sucks him down to the size of a normal person and he’s put in commercials to popularize the program. He’s not even remotely ready for it. I have a great tenderness for Derek and deep sympathy for his inept attempts at assuaging his pain and fear in this life.

Yeah, and what I would ask you then is, Derek and Franny — you put these poor guys through hell. They’re smart and funny people and they’re characters that a lot of your readers might identify with, even though they might have some problems that are extreme and pathetic. What would you say to someone who said, “Oh, I wish that Derek had more agency or some kind of way to get out of this horrible situation he’s been put in,” or maybe, “Why can’t Franny grow or be stronger-minded in the end?”  Because that isn’t who they are and it wasn’t what I wanted to explore. I tried to give those two characters a happy ending because I’m a sucker for that, but I didn’t want to be disloyal to them or completely manipulative and unrealistic about the psychological profiles I’d created. These three-dimensional characters came to life in my imagination — it’s just not what would happen to them. It would be completely out of character for them to grow in those ways. Franny does a lot of two steps forward, one step back, but in the end I try to reward her. I love her because she’s the idealist who can’t bear to live in this world.

And she struggles when everybody starts to give into this marketing campaign.  Yes, because it’s the antithesis of everything she holds dear, philosophically. Even though that philosophy is made up for a fantasy franchise. She’s trapped in a very mundane life, so she uses her imagination to try to create a simulation of a different world in pure denial of reality.

The place where Franny and Derek do get to have some fun is The Realm (their online game). It seems as if, when the story goes there, Franny and Derek get to escape from their lives, and we as readers can also have fun and fly a little bit, because it’s not so heavy like the rest of the chaos that surrounds them.  Which is exactly why fantasy worlds are so popular, why people are so drawn to games. A game is just a conflict with no real consequences. A simulated conflict with simulated danger and simulated triumph. It’s a lot more compelling than real-life triumphs like, “Oh, fantastic! I found a good parking spot,” or, “There are $212 extra dollars in my monthly paycheck so I’m going to be slightly less pinched.” The triumphs in our actual lives don’t often reach such heights as they do every single day in games like World of Warcraft or a video game like Grand Theft Auto. Most people want to live full lives and just don’t know how. Franny is a person who refuses not to live as full a life as she can, if only in her imagination. Most grown-ups give up on their imaginations. Look at the adults in our lives who are dorks who stay invested in childish dreams of adventure and we look at them with pity or mockery, but there’s something to be said for the life force of a person who refuses to give up on their make-believe world. It’s both sad and beautiful to me.

So have you or do you participate in online gaming?  I don’t. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t get into it enough to for the illusion to take hold. Writing is what I do instead.

There’s an aspect in your writing that I love, and that is the level of detail that creates a sense of these places and the characters that inhabit them and always makes me think, “She’s been there. She knows folks just like this.” Have you been to these places you describe? Do you know people like these.  Of course I do, yeah. In parts and pieces. I’m a big Star Trek fan and when I was younger I loved it enough to go to conventions, but I didn’t go to conventions like a normal dork. I remember one time I dressed up in an Original Trek sort of 60s mod alien outfit of my own invention and several people at the convention were like, “What episode is that from?”

You’d just made it up?  Yeah. It was inspired by those campy alien babes, but the conventioneers couldn’t wrap their heads around that — to them it was like I wasn’t doing it right…I do love alternate realities. I do love imaginary worlds.

So, back to the online gaming: do you think that the things you describe, like the cybersex stuff — does that actually happen?  Yes. That happens a lot. It’s not something that I have personal experience with but I do know of people who have. People have gotten divorced over virtual cheating, so having consensual text-based sex or jerking off to somebody else’s prompts — that’s real.

It’s just that combining it with the sci-fi/fantasy stuff seems really over the top, but I’m sure you’re right.It happens constantly. Thousands of people are doing it right now. As we speak, thousands of people doing it in the greater Houston area.

In this book, you’re pretty fearless about tackling topics that other people would consider unmentionable. Anything from farting to deeper social taboos we’ve been socialized to stay away from. Why is it that you decide to go there?  Because I’m a 12-year-old boy. I find those things funny. I think farting is funny. I also find that the most interesting thing is the stuff that nobody wants to talk about. That just seems so obvious to me. If I were in a situation, in a business meeting, say, and somebody had a booger hanging out, the first thing I would say to the person to my left, if I knew them well enough, would be to point out the booger. I find it endlessly interesting to poke at the invisible boundaries that society puts around us. Because they’re so flimsy! They’re so easy to breach. Another reason is I’m concerned that perhaps other people aren’t noticing these things and some of them are really important. Pretending they’re not there is keeping us apart. Because if you say that Bradley has a booger, so what? It humanizes him. If you tell Bradley he has a booger and he laughs and asks how long it’s been hanging there, then you become closer to each other as human beings. But if Bradley gets really uptight and gets upset, then you know that his sense of self-worth is very fragile and you know that you’ve humiliated him and then you’re not friends with Bradley anymore or maybe you treat him more gently.

Yeah, but when you’re writing a book, nobody’s going to get hurt.  Well… that’s not true, but it’s tru-ish. I think that I want to say to Bradley, “Hey, man, don’t be so upset about the booger thing. It was hilarious — there was something to pay attention to while we were going through all those dry, boring numbers.” I want Bradley to know that I see his booger and I like him anyway. How can we be really be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts? Or our humanity, our frailty, the little weaknesses that plague all of us from the moment we’re born.

I want to take the quote, “How can we be enlightened beings if we don’t acknowledge our farts,” and crochet that onto something.  Be my guest. I do have a copyright on that, but I hereby grant you permission. You have to send me a picture of it though.

What’s next for Treyshawn and for the world? And what about you, personally? Are you planning to start a new novel?  What’s next for Treyshawn is I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I envision him coming back with an incredibly brilliant scheme to rescue the planet from itself. But I have no idea. See, that doesn’t need to be a book. There’s no story there. There’s just Treyshawn being awesome. What’s next for Treyshawn is greatness.

Do Franny and Derek have a baby? Yes.

And what’s next for you? I’m working on a web series right now, but I plan to write another book. I have three different story ideas that I am developing and have notes on and I can’t decide which one to devote the next several years to. I think it’ll be the one that seems like it would be the most fun world to spend all that time in.

Thank you for writing this delightful novel. You’re welcome. And thank you for your time and the thought you put into this.

Click Here to purchase GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT on Kindle for only $3.99.  

on the train

Author Pamela Corkey, jammin’ to some tunes.

Pamela Corkey is a film professor at Hofstra University, a director, and the author of numerous screenplays. Her debut novel, Gross Domestic Product, which was recently released on amazon.com and will soon be available in print as well, revolves around the premise that the United States has solved the oil crisis by harvesting human fat, and explores how this development affects the lives of her characters and the social fabric of the country. 

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Less is More


I like cereal.  I think most people do.  In my house we usually have around seven or eight boxes going at any given time—a few twig-like whole-grain brands for me, some corn-syrup-laden-cartoon-character business for my husband, and a couple of vaguely healthy kid-friendly cereals for my son.  Theoretically, we could all eat the same kind of cereal (Honey-Nut Cheerios the most likely intersection of our collective sweet spots) but with so many options on the market, why bother to compromise?

The other day in the grocery store I counted 164 kinds of cereal.  And I’m not including hot cereals.  164!  Now, I’m all for having choices, and I know that I’m privileged to live in a country where I have the freedom to choose exactly which cereal best fits my individual needs, but there’s a fine line between abundance and, say, piggish overindulgence.

I think living in a culture that offers too many options is the hardest on our kids.  The average middle-class American child is bombarded with choices at every turn—whether they’re forced to choose between a selection of intellectually stimulating afterschool activities or flavor combinations of Extreme™ wild berry juice.  And we grown-ups play into this, working hard to make sure that each option flashier and cooler than the last.  No wonder today’s kids just want to zone out in front of their video games, or that so many of them have ADD.  For a child overwhelmed by abundance, the experience probably feels similar to being plunked in the middle of Times Square. With so many flashing neon lights vying for our attention, how do we choose where to look?


I think the real problem is,  in a culture of infinite choices, kids don’t really need to make a choice at all, because if the thing they’ve chosen for themselves doesn’t end up working out, there’s always another option, just around the corner.  Download a new song, then decide you don’t like it?  Big whoop. Move on to the next band.  Want a pair of sparkly, pink and green high top sneakers?  Just Google them. Chances are, they probably exist. We have so many options in today’s consumerist culture that the moment of reflection when making a purchase is no longer necessary.  Why think when we can just have.  But who ever makes a good choice for themselves when they’re dining out at the all-you-can-eat buffet?

And I can’t help but wonder if this kind of carelessness has an impact on other stuff in our lives, like the mortgage crisis, or divorce rates, if Americans have just become so accustomed to making disposable choices, we’ve lost our ability to stop and reflect about what it is that we truly want.

Don’t get me wrong; I like having options as much as the next guy.  But, I’d be hard pressed to find a reason why any store needs to offer 36 (yes, this is a real number) different kinds of toilet paper.  Though, in all fairness to my fellow Americans, there are about 36 different types of ass-holes.

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Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas

Today, we’re celebrating the release of a great new book on screenwriting,  Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas, written by Hollywood script guru Julie Gray.  I had the privilege of being able to interview Julie about her new book and how it can help aspiring screenwriters find success. Personally, one of my favorite parts of the book are the Fun Facts and exercises at the end of each chapter. Julie knows just what lessons are most valuable for budding screenwriters, and she presents them in a concise, encouraging, and easy-to-read way. 
There are a lot of screenwriting books on the market, tell us why we should buy yours.
 Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas is the first screenwriting book EVER to combine both screenwriting tips, theory, do’s and don’ts AND an explanation of how Hollywood readers evaluate scripts as well as advice about how to get an agent, how to know if you’re even ready for representation and how to keep running this marathon even when you feel totally dispirited. It really is a very holistic handbook to screenwriting that goes way, way beyond bullet-pointed lists or specific genres.
What’s the biggest mistake new screenwriters make and how can they avoid it?
Not testing their idea before they write. Not really making sure this IS a movie, that the idea is fresh, original and unique, that it has the dramatic legs to make a whole feature film. Screenwriters can avoid this by really checking out the idea carefully; comparing it to other films, writing up a premise line in three parts – 1st, 2nd, 3rd act – making sure they have a theme that is relevant and up to the minute, making sure the idea is specific and yet very universal. The book has a large section on idea testing. 
What advice would you give to the screenwriter struggling to break through?
I hate to say this but…… write and write and write and write. And by writing I mean not only scripts but ideas, premise lines, treatments, short stories. Really immerse yourself. And watch movies by the dozen. Really familiarize yourself with the breadth and the depth of what is available on film – use what has come before you for inspiration. 
Name your five favorite screenplays.
Ordinary People, The Salton Sea, American Beauty, Slanted and Enchanted (unproduced Christopher Columbus project), the Last Boy Scout. 
CLICK HERE to pick up your copy of the Screenwriter’s Atlas: 
Julie Gray is the director of the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon as well as the Just Effing Online Screenwriting Salon and writes for The Huffington Post, The Times of Israel and Script Magazine. A long time script and story consultant, Julie has taught at Warner Bros., Oxford University Student Union, San Francisco de Quito University in Quito, Ecuador, The London Screenwriter’s Festival and the West England University in Bristol. Currently a resident of Tel Aviv, Julie is working on her memoir, Eat Pray Kvetch. 
You can learn more about Julie at the Screenwriting Salon: http://www.justeffing.com/online-screenwriting-salon/
Here’s a sample page!


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Need a Soulful Escape?

My friend Em Falconbridge is hosting this delicious women’s retreat. In Bali! I can’t make it this year, but maybe you can…  For more info, check out her website.

6a00d8341c5d1653ef0192ac60e586970d-800wi 2013-08-18-1 6a00d8341c5d1653ef01901ea16fa5970b-800wi

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