Pamela Eells O’Connell is a script writer and executive producer for the new Disney Channel show “The Suite Life on Deck.” She has also written and produced shows in the series “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” “The Nanny” and “Family Matters.”
A group effort
Pamela said the difference between writing a TV script and writing a book is that a script is written with many other people. “A book exists in your head, and the only other person you might have to consider is the editor.”
She said: “When writing a film or TV script, you need other people to bring it to life, including actors, directors and set people. There are about 100 people working on a TV show.”
When writing TV comedies, she said:
“You sit in a room with unbelievably funny writers. I might say I think it would be funny if Zack and Cody become super heroes. Then you pitch (or present) your idea.”
Then the writers start thinking of what could happen with that idea. Each writer contributes his or her ideas. The group of writers has to come up with a funny story that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
When the network approves the idea, a smaller team of writers from the group writes the new episode. The rest of the writers work on the episode being filmed at the moment.
Writing for TV
Pamela said the biggest difference between writing for movies and for TV is that in TV, the writer is the executive producer, or the boss. In movies it is different. There the director is the boss.
Everybody reports to the executive producer in TV, she said. “Costumes, props, art direction on the set, what an individual set looks like, the music, everything, comes to the writer for final approval.”
When writers work on a script, they do not just write the plot. They write the dialogue, or the conversation. They also write the action directions, giving the actors suggestions about when and how to move.
Pamela said: “Writing a script is so spectacular because it’s like playing house, only real people are your dolls.”
Pamela did not plan on being a writer when she was a kid. But, she said, “I loved reading from the time I was 2. I loved reading, loved film and loved TV.”
She said when she was a kid she never knew you could make a living writing for television. Writing for TV did not become her dream until she was an adult.
After college, Pamela became an assistant director in a TV network news department. She then decided she wanted to become a comedy writer. She watched old TV comedies to study how writers made people laugh. She wrote a script and tried to sell it.
Joys of writing
Pamela said the greatest joy of her job is that “I’ve spent the last 20 years surrounded by people trying to make me laugh. And I’ve been trying to make them laugh. The result of all that is we have hopefully made a lot of people all over the world laugh.”
One downside of being a script writer is job security. Writing for TV can be a risky business. But, she said, for her it is worth it.