Image courtesy Sydney Opera House
I sincerely hope no one came to the Bingefest Writers’ Room in the hope of learning about writing. However, if you came to hear a panel of writers discuss contemporary issues alongside a healthy dose of banter, you would not have left disappointed.
Hosted by writer and media presenter Gretel Killeen, the panel featured Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon, Please Like Me’s Josh Thomas, and Rosehaven’s Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor.
Pegged as “an adventure to find out what goes on in a writers’ room”, the hour long event was in all likelihood an extremely accurate portrayal of the writing process. And not in the ‘quiet room of productivity and solitude’ sort of way. The event promised the writers creating a “brand new show for you, on the spot!”, but none of the panelists did the homework required for this (classic writers).
From the start it was clear most of the room was here to see Dan Harmon. The audience whooped when he appeared onstage, and groaned en masse when Gretel Killeen clarified if his show was Rick and Morty or Rick and Marty.
Despite allegedly being warned to stay on topic, Dan Harmon made sure to wander far off into the conversational wilderness on more than one occasion. At one point he was describing how his home state of Wisconsin was the ‘mitten’ of America. At another point, he hijacked the conversation by writing an impromptu script about a man (Tom, 30ish, hot but doesn’t know it) at an anal sex club.
The banter between panelists gave way to discussing important issues in writing, such as how to create gender balance and diversity both on-screen and behind it. On a panel with a 3:1 ration of men to women, there was agreement that writing was still overwhelmingly male-dominated. Pacquola’s experiences writing for the Melbourne University law review highlighted the issues:
“It was to the point where I’d say a thing in the group and nothing, and the guy sitting next to me would say the exact same thing that I’d just said and everyone would laugh.”
“It was very upsetting but it taught me a very valuable lesson, because it made me write my fucking arse off.”
Diversity was another hot topic. It became clear that just wanting a more diverse cast or team of writers was not enough. While trying to cast Rosehaven, a show set and filmed in Tasmania, Pacquola and McGregor put out an open casting call but could not find anyone who wasn’t white (this will surprise no one who has been to Tassie).
For Dan Harmon, the real issue of diversity in the United States was one of class.
“…This unspoken fact that being a television writer in the states, is a lot like being a doctor, a dentist – it requires a support system. Way more than you have in a low income home.”
“It’s class not race which is the important thing.”
Next to Harmon, Josh Thomas was easily the best at captivating the audience. Coming of the back of another successful season of Please Like Me, Josh spoke about how one of the biggest lessons he’d learned was how to communicate an idea to TV execs.
“One of the big things I’ve learned in this show is how to communicate why I think something is a good idea. You’ve got to have your sales techniques down if you want to do a penetrative anal sex scene in a warehouse.”
For those who did come to the Writers’ Room in the hope of actually learning something about writing, they did not leave wholly unsatisfied. No doubt they found comfort in the fact that Thomas, Pacquola and McGregor all still wrote their work from their lounge rooms, with McGregor admitting he and Pacquola’s style of working was to:
“Play PlayStation for four hours and then half an hour improv.”
And as for Dan Harmon’s writers’ room?
“It smells like mustard, there’s LEGO [sic] everywhere.”