- The writers’ room for season eight of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” kicked off remotely, for the first time, on April 20.
- Cocreator and showrunner Dan Goor spoke with Business Insider about how the writers are adapting to remote work and keeping the creative energy up.
- The writers have recreated their physical office spaces, such as the couch room used for brainstorming and the computer room used for script rewrites, on the video-conferencing system, Zoom.
- Some staff meetings are shorter. And senior writers are checking in more often.
- The writers’ room is also trying different tricks to improve camaraderie; one day everyone pretended to be frozen when one person joined the video call.
- “I’m conscious of the fact that this is weird and we have to be attentive to it,” Goor said. “There’s a lot of, ‘we’ll figure it out’ still.”
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Before social distancing, a typical day in the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” writers’ room would start at 10 a.m. with a planning meeting that included a lively discussion of what to eat for lunch.
“We spent 25 minutes choosing our lunch in a very complicated Rube Goldberg-esque way that we had developed,” said Dan Goor, cocreator and showrunner of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” an NBC sitcom about a New York Police Department precinct.
“That involved spinning ‘Wheel of Fortune’-style wheels, vetoing choices, and generating a giant pot of veto money – because it costs money to veto a place – that people try to win,” he said. “I mean it was really like an elaborate thing.”
Today, those morning meetings are about two minutes long.
Shorter catch-ups are one of many changes made to the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” writers’ room, which started for the show’s eighth season on April 20.
Goor described to Business Insider how he’s adapting to running the room remotely and reimagining the writing process, which was previously “very much a process that involved proximity.”
A normal day in the ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ writers’ room now means shorter meetings but more frequent check-ins
The “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” writing process used to rely on its 16-person writing staff, including writers’ assistants and production assistants, working in close quarters over long days.
Where the TV writers might have spent 10 hours on a couch together brainstorming a season-eight story arc for characters, and new parents Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago, before the coronavirus pandemic, the writers are now all working remotely.
Their physical office spaces – like the couch room that was used early in the writing process to discuss the characters and story arcs; the computer room, used for script rewrites; and the bullpen, where the writers convened- have been recreated in the video conferencing system, Zoom.
Instead of meeting at 10 a.m., splitting up at 10:30 a.m. into two to three small rooms (with closed windows), eating lunch together in the office, and then returning to those rooms to work until 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at night – here’s what a typical day looks like in the remote writers’ room for season eight:
- 10 a.m.: Senior writers meet via Zoom to discuss what they want to accomplish that day, and who should run and should be in each virtual room
- Shortly after that, the writing staff meets for about two minutes and the day’s plans are announced
- 10:30 a.m.: Writers separate into the various virtual rooms and brainstorm ideas
- 12:30 p.m.: Break for lunch
- 1:30 p.m.: Writers reconvene in the separate rooms, and senior writers may hand out assignments for the afternoon
- 3:30 p.m.: Five-minute, close-of-day check-in with the full writing staff via Zoom
Work days have been shorter to help the writers adjust to remote work, Goor said, but he expects the work to get a little more intense as the team moves beyond the planning stages and into script writing.
Goor said he has to try to remind people to take breaks because it’s not as easy on video chat to slip away and recharge. He also asked the staff to text him, or a writers’ assistant, if they feel more comfortable doing so, if the group needs a break.
“I’m conscious of the fact that this is weird and we have to be attentive to it,” Goor said. “There’s a lot of, ‘we’ll figure it out’ still.”
Senior writers also meet a few times per week – which is more than they used to – to check in and discuss the general strategy for the season.
Looking for ways to keep the camaraderie alive
One of the things Goor and the writers are still figuring out is how to keep the creative energy up while working remotely. Some of the best writing ideas used come from casual chats on the couch.
Writing for each season starts with a “blue-sky period,” where the writers talk about the characters and start to lock in on story ideas for the season. That’s what the writers are working on now.
“I was most worried about doing that over Zoom,” Goor said. “If you’re blue-skying, it’s nice to kind of sit on couches all together and laugh and joke about life in general, and then maybe an idea comes out of it. And some of it was just generating camaraderie, which hopefully leads to better, funnier material.”
Goor said he expects the blue-sky period to stretch a little longer than the usual three to four weeks, in part because the writers are adapting to the technology and “weirdness of this new reality,” as well as figuring out what the world of the show will look like when it picks back up.
He’s also trying different tactics to build camaraderie in the virtual rooms.
He likes to ask the writers questions like, “what’s that picture behind you?” to get people talking about their lives. On his birthday, April 28, each of the writers changed their virtual backgrounds to something Goor-inspired, like a funny picture of him, or a still from his favorite TV shows like the Danish drama, “Borgen,” and Netflix’s “Money Heist.” One day, the writers all pretended to be frozen when one person came online.
“That was funny for 30 seconds,” Goor said.
Goor has noticed writers who joined the team this year have gotten comfortable pitching ideas faster than new writers have in the past.
“Everyone appearing in the same size box all at one time on everyone’s screen makes everyone equal in a way,” Goor said. “Seniority seems to matter slightly less.”
As for whether remote work could become permanent shift, Goor said he wants to return to having a shared physical space for the writers when it’s safe again.
But working on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” remotely has been as much of an escape for the writers in recent weeks as it has been for some fans watching the show.
“People have said on social media that they have really escaped into ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,'” Goor said. “Creating the show and pitching on the show can do the same thing … It’s been easier to escape into the show and talk about it in its own little bubble of a world.”