Alison Tatlock, screenwriter and playwright, described the demanding work of writing episodes for TV shows like hit Netflix series Stranger Things and HBO drama In Treatment at Schwartz Performing Arts Center Monday evening.
“There are two main elements of writing TV,” Tatlock said. “The first part is the writer’s room, and the other part is the solo writing of the script.”
Detailing the creation of Stranger Things, Tatlock said the first six weeks of the process took place in the writer’s room, where she and the other writers “sat together around a big table and we banged out the story.” The work involved was endless, Tatlock said, describing how “day after day” was devoted to creating an arc for the entire season.
“Once we had a sense of the season, we figured out beat by beat episode one, two, three, four, all the way through the end,” she said.
During this process, some writers begin to “peter out” of the room to write their own episodes, according to Tatlock.
“I had to write an outline, which went through several stages of notes,” she said. “Once that was signed off on, I wrote the script, and I got notes and notes and notes, and then I rewrote the script.”
Stranger Things was also “a bit of a stranger thing” because the same directors — the Duffer Brothers — produced nearly all the episodes, according to Tatlock. Directors switch on most sets, making it necessary for the writer-producers to assist with production to keep the tone consistent, she said.
“Usually the director is a director-for-hire coming in for just that one particular episode,” she said. “So the writer-producer is the keeper of the show.”
However, in the realm of casting, the writing staff has limited influence. This process is driven by the show’s executive producers and Netflix has “the final word,” Tatlock said.
The show’s original script — which only included white child actors — prompted several “conversations about diversity,” according to Tatlock. In the end, four white child actors and one African American actor were cast.
Another element of Stranger Things that changed in development was the show’s title, she explained — the series was originally called Montauk, based on the conspiracy theories revolving around government-run experimental stations in Montauk, New York.
Although Tatlock is still at the beginning of her career, she said she is already beginning conversations about creating her own television series.
“It’s just early conversations of that, but even just having those conversations, I can kind of feel the tickle of it in a way that feels exciting,” she said.