At the Tennessee Williams Festival, I attended a panel discussion titled "All that Jazz . . . And Beyond: The Making of Treme." The panelists consisted of the creators and writers of the new HBO television series Treme, which will begin airing in April.
- David Simon, co-creator of the series
- Eric Overmyer, co-creator of the series
- David Mills, writer for the series
- Tom Piazza, writer for the series and author of two post-Hurricane Katrina books - Why New Orleans Matters and City of Refuge
- Lolis Elie, writer for the series and former columnist for the Times-Picayune
What struck me about this presentation was the high level of collaboration required when writing for a television series. The writers come together to contribute ideas and hash things out. A writer is assigned a specific episode, but it can happen that some (or much) of what he writes for that episode may need to be replaced with something someone else has written for a different episode. Clearly, the writers need to be flexible and to give up any attachment to their own work.
Writing for a television series is also quite immediate. Early episodes are airing while later episodes are still being filmed (and even perhaps being written). What actually happens on the set during earlier episodes may need to inform later episodes.
As I think about collaboration for a television series, I think of all the many levels of collaboration beyond the writers. One important but perhaps overlooked area of collaboration is collaboration with residents of the neighborhood where scenes are being filmed. We recently saw an instructive example of this in a March 22 article in the Times-Picayune, "Treme Crew Disrupts Uptown Area." The uptown area in question is not far from where I live - but far enough that I'm not within the disrupted area. I've seen the filming going on while out riding my bike, though.
Anyway, according to the Times-Picayune article, the owner of the home on the uptown river corner of Lowerline and Garfield Streets has allowed the Treme crew to use his home for filming several uptown scenes. He has been handsomely compensated for this, though the actual amount of money he received is not public knowledge. Meanwhile, the neighbors, who are not compensated, have to put up with reduced parking space, increased noise, and swarms of people all over their normally quiet block for a period of about ten days. Some don't like it. This is clearly an area of collaboration that television series producers have to consider.
NOTE: David Mills died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on March 30, 2010, two days after participating in this panel discussion and twelve days before the airing of the first episode of Treme on HBO. I believe that he will be watching over the Treme series from the spirit world. May he shine as a bright spirit in his new home.