Sunday, August 5, 4:30 pm. Surely, this writer focused panel at the very end of the Rooster Teeth Experience (RTX) Austin 2018 wouldn’t be crowded. Wrong. To my amazement, even the writers for online entertainment hub Roster Teeth have fans who packed the extra-large meeting room at the Austin Convention Center during the last hours of RTX.
So, was this a party for all the writers on the block, or a party to celebrate writer’s block? I never found that out, but what the writers did share was what they were thinking of while creating their shows, their creative processes, and some failed ideas.
Writers and Shows
The panel was moderated by Chris Demarais, who was joined by Eddy Rivas, Miles Luna, Elyse Willems, Josh Flannagan, and Blaine Gibson. Typical of Rooster Teeth, while they are writers for some shows, they are also talent, directors, or technical staff on others. This explains the crowd.
Learning from your mistakes is important to writers. Luna shared a mistake he made on one of the most popular Rooster Teeth shows, RWBY (pronounced “ruby”). “I wanted to make a character more vulnerable so that the conflict would be more dramatic. I had her get stabbed in the knee,” he explained. “This didn’t work. It was as if Batman where to say, ‘I’d go rescue that person, if the Batmobile wasn’t broken.’ That’s not the way heroes work. They find a way.”
Gibson, known for his work on Lazer Team and The Eleven Little Roosters, talked about the requirements of sketch comedy. “In sketch it’s easy to come up with a lot of crazy ideas,” he said. “Hey, that guy poops in his pants. But if there is no statement made or purpose it falls flat. He poops in his pants. Why does he poop in his pants? Once I figured out that there needed to be a purpose for everything, it made my writing so much better.”
Demarais said outlines are important. “I start out with a detailed outline,” he said, “but when you get to the page, you sometimes realize it doesn’t work and you have to throw it out.”
Rivas agreed. “One time we had our whole season outlined,” he recalled. “Then we hit this spot where we realized this person would never do this thing we had them scheduled to do and we had to blow up the whole back half of the season. Let your characters guide you.”
Flanigan, who usually works on live action and animations such as Day 5, suggested using classic stories “under” what you were writing. He said that for Day 5 he drew both from the classic Greek story of Perseus and the Biblical story of Sampson and Delilah.
Demarais suggested that there was a fine line between writing what the audience wants and writing with the audience in mind. “If you are writing entirely for someone else,” he said, “there is no heart in it.”
Luna agreed, pointing to what he said was the difference in voice between Marvel and DC movies. He had praise for Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok. “But DC’s Suicide Squad,” he said, “doesn’t have a voice, it has twelve voices and they are all screaming at you.”
Flanigan said that the biggest lesson to learn as an individual writer was when to listen to other people. “You want feedback,” he explained, “but you have to trust yourself.”
Demarais brought up the issue of how to use feedback. “We get notes,” he said, “but sometimes we have to look for the note behind the note. The note points out a problem, but it’s up to you to address it in the way you want to as a creator.”
Gibson felt this was particularly true of comedy. He said, “It’s in your head. It’s funny, but someone else doesn’t know it’s funny until they see it.”
Elyse Willems, a member of Rooster Teeth’s Funhaus group, concurred. “It’s hard to convey in a script what the cadence or delivery will be,” she said. “There’s a scene where Spunky tells Tommy Steel that he has a driver’s license and that he’s a donor. Then we cut to the license and it has ‘Do Not Accept’ stamped over the donor area. That’s all about timing.”
The Audience, many of them writers, had questions for the panel.
One question involved a lady who said she was considering quitting her day job for full-time writing but wasn’t sure how to overcome her insecurity about her writing skills.
Flannagan smiled and said, “It sounds like you have the perfect qualifications for a writer. It’s always like that. Sometimes it helps if you go back and read an old script, and you might think, ‘Hey, that was pretty good.”
Luna encouraged her to learn how to deal with criticism. “Your work is not a representation of your value as a person. Creating art is being vulnerable and sending it out into the world and hoping people like it. You have to pick and choose what criticism you take to heart. If coming from a coworker or writer, it’s coming from a place that cares. And then, there’s the internet.”
That got laughs.
Flannigan added, “The best notes you can give someone is not ‘this sucks’, but, ‘this would be more interesting if….”
Another questioner wanted to know what the writers did to get motivated or get out of a funk.
Willems said that reading other writer’s memoirs helped her. “You see what they went through. I find the writings of Anne Lamott particularly inspiring,” she said.
Flannagan suggested, “Make it an event. If you are stuck on a script, print it out. Mark it all up. Let yourself reabsorb a project. Find what got you excited about it in the first place.”
You can find information on upcoming RTX events in Austin, London and Sydney at the Rooster Teeth website or Facebook page.