November 14, 2005
The following are words and phrases that are frequently used in the writers’ room at Veronica Mars. I’m feeling lazy and missing my old teacher-life, so I thought I’d define my new world for this week’s update. Although most of these terms are probably common to the industry, there’s a chance that other shows use the terms differently…or that the VM writers have just invented them. That’s what we do …we make stuff up.
Vocabulary Specific to Writing
a-story-the main story of a single episode (“Veronica investigates the effect of teacher’s crack addiction on midterms,” or “Wallace seeks Veronica’s help in finding his Moroccan love child.”)
act out-the end of any one of the four “acts” of the show engineered to create suspense just before commercial break. It’s all about the money.
arc-the plotline of any story or the path a character follows over the course of a season (last year: Lilly Kane’s murder; this year=the mysterious bus crash; next season=aliens abduct Sheriff Lamb).
b-story-any secondary story within an episode—usually one that furthers a relationship or a slower-moving storyline, like the sheriff’s election or the “romance” between Logan and Kendall.
beat-any plot point in a story: “Veronica trolls the red-light district seeking the transvestite puppy-smuggler”; “Duncan opens the secret vault and gasps.”
Bivouac Buddy-the camouflage-print outdoor shower hanging in our parking lot for use after our Tuesday-Thursday mid-day work out break.
break story-to meet as a group of writers and develop an A-story, B-story, C-story, etc. and break the stories into beats while simultaneously recalling 38+ years of combined pop culture knowledge, consuming pounds of candy and quarts of soda, and exchanging some of the most vulgar, distasteful, and completely hilarious information and jokes known to humankind.
c-story-the third, and relatively small, storyline in an episode; often details about the bus crash in the case of Veronica Mars. In my life, the c-story is Cathy Goes on a Date.
“coffee-up, m************”-Rob’s call to the writers to come to the room to break story. Definitely a joke; definitely just a VM thing.
cold open-the first 8-10 minutes of the program before the title sequence that introduces the reader to the A, B, and C stories, and prepares them for that “We Used to Be Friends” song by the Dandy Warhols that we’re all so sick of by now.
McGuffin-Alfred Hitchcock’s term for the device or plot element that catches the viewer’s attention or drives the logic or action of the plot and seems important to the characters, but later turns out to be insignificant. John Enbom understands this way better than I do; I never seem to quite get it, even with examples.
mislead-a clue that goes nowhere, but which the audience believes for a brief time (usually a false suspect; in my life, the words “I’ll call you”).
pitch-a noun or a verb used to describe the act of tossing out ideas at the table, in my case, an abbreviation of “shitpitch,” because that’s what I usually feel like I’m doing.
reveal-we use it as a noun for the moment when a truth is exposed to the audience: “the reveal will be that Veronica learns the cheerleader stole the bake sale money to buy a neon thong.”
roomtime-the period of time we spend in the writers’ room, breaking story. Anywhere from an hour to a day, depending on where we are, script-wise.
title sequence-the montage of images at the beginning of the show when the series regulars are introduced and the actors’ names are given.
WP-short for Writer’s Problem- A joke around the writers’ table—when we can’t think of a solution to a plot problem as a group, we just say “WP,” teasing that the writer assigned to the episode will have to solve it when they go to script.
Vocabulary About Production
above the line/below the line-the location of one’s names in the credits for a script. “Above the line” refers to writers, producers, editors, and actors. All assistants and others are “below the line.” Welcome to the Hollywood caste system (get it? “cast” system?)
back nine-the final nine episodes of a 22-episode season. We just turned the corner, writing-wise, and are currently working on these final scripts. It feels a little weird, because the audience is back on episode 6, and we’re far, far in the future, story-wise.
bottle episode-an episode designed to be filmed all in one location, (almost always the set), in order to save production costs. A pain in the ass to write. Totally limits our storylines, so we can’t, say, send Veronica on a senior trip to Tahiti or anything.
CGI-computer generated images. Guess what? We didn’t really send a school bus full of screaming kids off a cliff!
dailies-DVDs of all of the takes of the scenes filmed each day delivered to the writers. Usually boring to watch, since the same scene is filmed over and over from different perspectives. But it’s also kind of fun, since the Camera Sees All—actors screwing around, swearing, etc. And occasionally, we get to watch a juicy scene, like Logan and Kendall romping on the sofa, before it’s edited for television.
foley-sound effects that imitate the sound caused by the movement of an actor.
gaffer-the head electrician on a set. “The origin of the term "gaffer" is the subject of some debate but it is usually reported to come from early film days when studios relied on natural sunlight for lighting. Large sections of canvas roofing were opened and closed using long "gaffing hooks".”
grip-grips are in charge of anything that needs to be hung (not including network execs), attached, mounted (don’t say it) or connected to any surface of the set.
jump the shark®- “The defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on...it's all downhill. From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.” The term "jump the shark" was coined by Sean J. Connolly, in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in 1985. The expression refers to the telltale sign of the demise of Happy Days, when Fonzie actually jumped over a shark on his motorcycle. We talk about the phenomena in the room sometimes, joking about a character jumping over a toy or painted shark (the show’s Balboa County baseball team is even called the Sharks), but we’re also seriously conscious of the danger. Check out www.jumptheshark.com for exhaustive details.
magic hour-the optimum time for filming romantic or magical scenes due to warm or soft lighting (usually a golden-orange hue); also called the golden hour. We try to avoid this is our show…lest we turn into Dawson’s Creek.
MX-shorthand for “music effects”; writers don’t include these notations in their scripts, unless they are Rob, because he’s the Main Man when it comes to music.
playback-when the producers, sound editors, and writers watch an episode that’s just been finished; the only changes that can be made after playback are minor sound alterations. Writers get to go to playback for episodes they’ve written—it’s the first time you get to see your name on the screen, so es muy divertido.
SFX-shorthand for “special effects” or "Sound effects"; not a term usually used by writers in scriptwriting; usually a production issue.
sides-scenes from an episode used for audition, or scenes written especially for an episode. Often the source of spoilers.
spoilers-information leaked about future episodes. Some particularly avid fans love being privy to spoilers, and collect them from crew members and actors who auditioned, but in general, it’s considered bad form to spoil.