The 11 Laws of Showrunning Notes

I was introduced to this paper by David Perell on Twitter and took notes on it a while ago. I thought I would share my thoughts on it and how it relates to my current job and how to become a “showrunner” of your own life and projects.


THE FIRST LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU, STOP MAKING IT ALL ABOUT YOU

Are you strong and secure enough in your talent and accomplishment to accept the possibility that other people – properly empowered by you – can actually enhance your genius… or will you cling to the idea that only you can be the source of that genius?
The people that work under you are there to use their skills to showcase you through their own expertise. The team is there to support the showrunner. Allow them to showcase their abilities which in turn makes you look better. By empowering them to produce quality work you get a quality final product.

THE SECOND LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – KNOW YOUR SHOW AND TELL EVERYONE WHAT IT IS

Loyalty to an employer begins with the knowledge of what the job is. Loyalty comes from knowing that your bosses have your back both in the form of giving out the information necessary to do what you do and do it right, and the empowerment to use your own abilities to improve on the baseline.
Know the vision that you want for the production because as the leader it is what the team will use. Don’t allow yourself to leave it up to each member to decide the unifying vision. Articulate as best you can what you want, then let the team run free while having the idea as an underlying inspiration. The vision or idea must be the base for which the team can build.

THE THIRD LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – ALWAYS DESCRIBE A PATH TO SUCCESS

“Do not leave a meeting without letting everyone there know what they are expected to do/deliver next.”
The number one problem with meetings is that most can be done over an email. After talking for 30 minutes to an hour there needs to be a set schedule and deliverable that each member is responsible. Building upon the second law, ambiguity is the enemy. Allowing the team to dictate what they need to do without direction ends up with a botched product. Be clear, concise, and open to discussion for a path forward on the next step of the process for each team member.
When you define the problems, you not only control the direction of the enterprise, you also free your staff to do what they do best: dedicate their unique skills to their solution.

THE FOURTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – MAKE DECISIONS EARLY AND OFTEN

Your job is to make ideas come to life. The first step is to commit. Commit early. Commit often. Make committing the same as breathing: you might as well do it now, because you will have to do it eventually.
Most importantly, the sooner you make a decision, the sooner you will know from your crew what is achievable, and the sooner they will be able to expand upon – and use their talents to – elevate it. The time you spent not deciding is time you rob from your staff’s ability to make whatever the object of the decision the best it can be.
The team knows it’s abilities once they are given a definite answer and schedule. The decision you make will allow them to give a better answer because it is the leader who is making it. To reiterate: Ambiguity is the enemy. Postponing a decision leads to wishing it was made sooner.

THE FIFTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – DO NOT DEMAND A FINAL PRODUCT AT THE IDEA STAGE

How, then, if you do not come from a lifetime of conference and teamwork, but find yourself forced into collusion with a writers room – whom you need, if for no other reason, to generate the sheer volume of material the show demands – do you develop this skill? The answer is trust. You take the leap of faith that the professionals you hired can execute on the page what is shorthanded on the board.
At the end of the day as the project leader you are the big picture rather than the details guy. It’s easy to ask for what your “vision” of the deliverable to be and not get exactly what you want. Allow the team to work without restriction and trust that they will align with the big picture you are selling.

THE SIXTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING WRITE AND REWRITE QUICKLY

Your show’s scripts, as written – or rewritten – by you are your most effective tool in your performance of the Second Law. You can’t talk to everyone at all times, and eventually, you have a responsibility to take your talk from the theoretical to the real.
A script ultimately represents the concretization of your voice and gesture.
Your best ideas will survive criticism,
Executive decision power is the most useful tool in your arsenal when managing projects. Debate is good in a vacuum but does not function well in reality. At the end of the day a decision or change needs to be made and doing so quickly allows the project to move forward. As a script gets rewritten it solidifies the message you are trying to get across. The best ideas withstand the beating that review gives, and will be the selling point of the final product.

THE SEVENTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – TRACK MULTIPLE TARGETS EFFICIENTLY BY DELEGATING RESPONSIBILITY

This is why conveying your vision clearly – making sure the work of the writers room reflects it first and foremost – and delegating the conveyance of that vision to others is so important. You are in the business of telling stories: you must strive to free your mental bandwidth to make sure they are your first, and final priority.
Maximize the supply of your decision making power by leaving minor decisions to others you trust. Your job is conveying the big picture and vision, not to micro manage. Once you have the team firing on all cylinders, check up and ask what they need help with rather than putting your hand in their work. As long as communication of the “vision” is clear it’s best to get out of your team’s way.

THE EIGHTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – RESIST THE SIREN CALL OF THE “SEXY GLAMOROUS JOBS”

where you can be tempted to start taking things apart before the theme music plays – watch it in your office with the editor and the episode writer. Have a thorough discussion with them as to whether the scenes are telling the story (concerns of style and flair can wait until the story is solid) while an assistant takes notes, and then send the editor off to perform the notes.
Another part of looking at the macro instead of the micro. At a Macro level, make sure the final product gets the message you want across. The details can be worked by different departments. While being meticulous might seem sexy and the hustle and grind is nice to show off and suffer, it’s not going to add value to the final product.

THE NINTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – EXPECT YOUR STAFF TO PERFORM AT VARYING LEVELS OF COMPETENCE

give your staff accurate and specific information about what you want, and constructive feedback as to the how and why (and yes, describing to them WHAT to write counts – don’t think they will resent your telling them exactly what you want the scene to look/sound like), and you will see marked improvement from script to script.
Veterans don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time out. The veteran looks at the board and recognizes the ten different ways the game can go from that point to a win, or a draw, or a defeat.
Have a balanced team that has veterans as well as newcomers. Create an environment that promotes questions being asked yet allows the veterans to utilize their experience in the field. Be as accurate and as specific as possible to prevent wasted time in the feedback and review process. Improvement of errors or miscommunication between review and submission is the goal.

THE TENTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – DELIVER GOOD AND BAD NEWS EARLY AND OFTEN

Transparency streamlines your life. Being transparent before anyone can be transparent for you means you control the narrative. Giving bad news before they crash land means no one can claim surprise at a bad break.
In short, when everyone knows the truth, no one can be surprised by its arrival. When it comes from you, no one can say that you lost control.
Make sure when something good or bad happens that you are one of the first to know and distribute. Become the funnel for which this news travels and be in a position of power to respond. The optics of this is to show that you are aware and in control rather than giving the illusion that you did not know what was going on.

THE ELEVENTH LAW OF SHOWRUNNING – SHARE CREDIT FOR SUCCESS TO A FAULT

The wonderful thing about credit is that it’s not a finite resource. The more credit you give, the more credit you get – for being a genius and hiring a great staff, for being a good boss and a nice person.
At the end of the day it’s a team effort. Know your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and composition. Give credit to where they improved and/or delivered above and beyond expectation. The grunt work was done by your team and in giving them the spotlight satisfies their need to be acknowledged and promotes further success for the next job.

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