How the Transparent Writers Room Works

From left: Kathryn Hahn and Jay Duplass in Transparent. Photo: Jennifer Clasen/Amazon Studios

Jill Soloway is the creator of Amazon’s Transparent, which returns for a second season on Friday, December 11.

Our writers room is like children in a preschool, playing around. There’s so much love in there. My sister’s a writer on the show, Bridget Bedard, Our Lady J, and Ali Liebegott — we have a bunch of brilliant minds, and we’re all challenging each other all the time. Someone will say, “I dreamed about the Pfeffermans last night,” or “I was driving and I had this image come to me,” or “I watched this movie and I felt like we can do something like this.” We come from an intuitive, emotional place, as opposed to other TV shows where you might be thinking about joke-writing or odd situations to put the characters into. I learned that from Alan Ball [from Six Feet Under]. He treated the writer’s room like the Fisher family was in the middle of the table, and we could all tune in. That’s us. We, like the Pfeffermans, are souls out in the world, and we get to tune in.

When we write, we have very specific rules — no cell phones or computers in the room. I’m really into boundaries as a way to create space for a lot of freedom. We have a grid on the board where we arc out the entire season as if it’s a five-hour movie. The first two episodes are the first act, and the last episode is the last act, and the middle is the rising action, structured just like a movie. We really adhere to the grid, putting a story in each box that acts as a rising action. We work in 50-minute chunks and then we take 15-minute breaks, during which we’re really paying a lot of attention to each other. We don’t actually work for that many chunks per day, usually four, but they’re really intensely focused chunks.

I’m all about a humane process — we don’t work really long hours — and respecting the artists’ time, too. They know I’m not going to stick around and talk about my own life for hours and hours and hours just because I can. A lot of times you’ll be beholden to a showrunner who just wants to hang out in the writers room all day, and if you’re a writer, you might have kids or a family, a place you need to be, or your own projects. And of course you need sleep. A lot of writers rooms are set up where there’s a team of draft horses that are waiting to come and be ridden by a showrunner, at the showrunner’s will, for however long. In other rooms I’ve been in, you don’t get told what time you’re going home, or you may write a whole bunch of stuff that gets thrown out. There’s this traditional way where your dignity can be at risk. But there are a lot of writers rooms that are great — really communal and cooperative. Obviously I learned a lot from Alan, and there are a lot of showrunners who want to respect the writers and their time. We have strict boundaries so we know when we’re working and we know when we’re not; we’re not just sitting around all day.