By Elizabeth Quinn, WPTV ’15
On October 18, 2013 SFTV students participated in the first Roberto Orci/Melissa Blake master class of the semester: a live tweeting event with the writers and producers of the hit Fox show, Sleepy Hollow. During the live East Coast broadcast of the episode “John Doe,” the Sleepy Hollow writers (@sleepywriters) tweeted comments and Instagram videos to fans. Third year Writing and Producing for Television and Feature Film Screenwriting students were on site at the writers’ room in Burbank while other SFTV students watched the episode at Mayer Theater on campus. Fans and students tweeted their love for the show and Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane, tweeted “Sleepy Hollow Place. You do a great job. Thanks for an amazing show!”
Here are a few highlights from the Q&A, moderated live by Clinical Assistant Professor Karol Hoeffner.
Pitching a Series Idea:
Roberto Orci and Phil Iscove are the Sleepy Hollow producers and creators. Iscove delivered a simple pitch to Orci: “What if Ichabod Crane wakes up today?” and from there they developed the series and pitched it to networks. Orci added that the best pitches are like a story – “Think about your show as if you just saw it and how you would describe it to your friend. Make it like a conversation and talk about what makes you excited about the idea.” Orci told our future show creators that it’s crucial to have the first season of a show from pilot to finale mapped out. “A network wants to know that you have a focus, a direction, that you can see where your story is going.” And Executive Producer/Director Len Weisman reminded students, “They’re hiring you for your imagination. Don’t take it for granted that they can see what you see or are as excited about it as you are.”
Weisman talked about the challenge of maintaining a balance between the story details and mythology of the show. “We always take a serious point of view, but the lightness is in the journey of these characters. Investigating their story is the fun part.” Weisman likes to push the production team to make each episode like a mini-movie, to be as cinematic as possible and push it to the breaking point of ambition. As an executive producer, he thinks about his budget and tries to build around high production values when filming the show.
Writer/Producer and LMU Alum Melissa Blake talked about pairing the characters of Ichabod Crane (a white man from the 1700s) and Lt. Abbie Mills (a 21st century African-American female cop). “That pairing was in the script early on and it’s used as a way to explore the social morays of the time, as well as push the envelope of the reality of their relationship.”
Showrunner Michael Goffman compared staffing a writers’ room to assembling a baseball team – it’s not enough to just be a good writer, he said, “Your job on the staff is to find your role; what can you do that no one else can do that the showrunner needs?” Goffman added that when he hires writers, he always asks them, “What is your superpower?”
Actress Katia Winter, who plays Katrina Crane (Ichabod Crane’s wife from the 1700’s), ended the Q&A with advice that was short and sweet: “Write strong female characters – not just a filler character or someone’s girlfriend.”
You can watch Sleepy Hollow Monday nights at 9:00 PM on Fox. The show has been picked up for a second season. It follows Ichabod Crane as he is pulled two and a half centuries through time to unravel a mystery that dates back to the founding fathers.
Roberto Orci and Melissa Blake joined SFTV as Presidential Professors in 2012, and regularly teach master classes and mentor students.