UpDates: Writing the Series

So as we lead up to the July premiere of the first episode of “First Dates,” I thought I’d start to give you a long overdue look into the making of this web series. As such, I had to come up with yet another interesting name for such a series, and in this case it’s “UpDates.” Get it? The series is called “First Dates.” We have a (soon-coming) companion series called “Worst Dates.” And now we have a written series called “UpDates.”

In “UpDates,” I hope to give you a look behind the curtain, so you can see that while it’s not completely filled with feces, it is indeed a pretty big mess, and one that my co-creating partner and I have managed to navigate, while also being the ones responsible for said mess. But I digress…

Pre-Production: Writing 

Let me take you back to the end of last summer. I took off work the last week of August, as is my new custom, and I spent the first four days of that writing “First Dates” with Talibah. It was a pretty intense four days. In that time span, we managed to complete 7 of the episodes, which is completely astounding given that we went into that week with no real structure for the show.

So how’d we do it? With a little something I like to call planning.

For those of you who don’t know it, I’m a big fan of TV. In fact, I really don’t think I’d be as “good” of a person as I am if I hadn’t watched and learned so much from television. Today, we like to say that TV and video is making our kids dumber and less adept to the society around them. But for me, I learned a ton by watching as a kid. I learned that the environment was important, that we should always respect people that are different from us, and that if you want a date for the prom, just ask. Better yet, I learned that writing for television is no joke, and that if you truly want to have a great story, you have to know how it’s going to end before you even begin, which obviously requires an immense of planning so that you can find realistic ways to get from point A to point B.

So it’s with that premise that I began planning for “First Dates.” I took out a spreadsheet (how very MBA of me), and I began to think of how I wanted the story of “Samantha” to end. In my head, I had been thinking about this series for over a year, so I had a good idea of what the episodes would focus on, but I had never given much thought to a prevailing theme, story arcs or surprise revelations. But by using my superior excel skills, I built out a model that allowed me to insert different story arcs, see where they could overlap, see how many episodes they would last, and ultimately, plug them in to how I saw Season One ending.

Once I knew how the story would evolve over the course of 10 episodes, I had to figure out a format for the episodes. Perhaps my decision here was a little premature or even outdated, but having come from a childhood of watching comedies, I guess I was still of the mindset that a comedy has some type of formula to it–much like Seinfeld, Martin, Curb Your Enthusiasm and How I Met Your Mother. That said, dramedies like Girls, House of Lies and Orange is the New Black, have really changed the notion that there has to be a certain formula to get the laughter out of an entity meant to span many episodes. Additionally, web series like Awkward Black Girl and High Maintenance have particularly spurred web creators to be more free form with their comedy since the episodes can be shorter and you’re not usually churning out 26 of them every year.

Still, I went with the more “antiquated” notion, believing it is still very relevant, and very challenging, as some of my favorite comedies, like Modern Family, still go with a seemingly consistent and formulaic approach to each of their episodes. In developing “the formula” I struggled, because I knew the episodes had to be under 10 minutes, and I was also confined to “dating scenarios”, which means I had to extrapolate humor from a rather serene and immovable setting. Additionally, I had to study up on some of the basics of writing. During those first 2 days off, I did a lot of research on how to structure a story, making sure I included all elements of establishing a narrative, while trying to think outside of the box to do so because of the aforementioned restraints on our web series. I won’t tell you what this “formula” came to be before the episodes come out, but needless to say, there is a consistent pattern of events in each episode, but hopefully, I manage to not make it so obvious by “fooling you” with bits and pieces of story arcs waived in between the situational humor that the “formula” attempts to create.

But once I had a formula in place and my story arcs all laid out, writing was easy. I don’t want to make this creative process to come across as too formulaic, but once I had those two elements in place, my creative juices were at their best, because now I could focus on how to connect the two pieces. So the real creativity in our writing process wasn’t coming up with the story arcs or the plot of each episode, but it was in how we get from one story arc to the next while still making sure we made each episode an entity of its own—and of course, trying to make it funny. And when I could just allow myself to be creative within a framework that I had established, the words flowed onto the screen. And before you knew it, I had 7 episodes in 4 days, and we would go on to finish the last 3 episodes a few weeks later.

All that said, not nearly as much planning and thought went into the writing of this blog post. I wanted to tell you how crazy long pre-production was, but I have spent over a thousand words telling you about the writing process. I guess we’ll get into other aspects of pre-production in the next post. Until next time, subscribe to our newsletter and get even more updates on the series!

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