I have just watched the pilot episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with commentary from “Creator” Aaron Sorkin and Director Thomas Schlamme.
Listening to them talk about the ideas behind the show, the practicalities of making a TV series in America and the delight of working with brilliantly talented people, it felt like a re-inspiration. I’ve admired Sorkin’s work since stumbling across Sports Night on the now defunct (in the UK) ABC1 channel. He has a mastery of ensemble work, something that shines through Studio 60 as well as The West Wing, and is theatrical in its style – apparently it is the major challenge for his director, Schlamme.
I didn’t take to Studio 60 at first – its setting of a TV show made it seem very inbred. Sports Night, of course was also set around a TV show, but the power structures he had there seemed decidedly to echo the structure of government and the show read to me like an analogy for politics. Studio 60 is was lacking in the overt analogical message.
However, having bought the box set of the one and only series for my wife, I’m newly rejoicing in the familiar skill and dexterity with which Sorkin and his collaborators build a story.
So to reflect the inspiration I feel having listened to his conversation with Schlamme and (to an extent) with me, I will put here half a dozen of the insights I remember perceiving:
- It is possible to give full credit to the talented people you have worked with without diminishing your own role in a project;
- If you’re interested in having a moral compass, set that compass into the heart of a character – not a lead role, but a supporting character who has undeniable integrity. This person is the soul of your story and the way you (and the audience know it) is that if the protagonist were to screw this character, everyone would agree that action was a Bad Thing. If they are good to that character, they are doing ok;
- The sound of 9 or 12 characters talking at once can be a Good Thing;
- Music can be subtle and still underscore the emotional arc of the story;
- The key to telling stories to audiences is to find a way for private conversations to happen in public places – and sometimes it’s true that the best way to have a private conversation is to have it in full view and hope that no one is listening;
- Lectures unlistened to are sometimes more greatly heeded.