Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Open Letter To Ryan Murphy and 'The Glee Project'...

Dear Ryan Murphy:

I have held back on commenting publicly about this because as the episodes of The Glee Project went on, it was mostly everyone around you pointing out the fact that the point of the show was to find a new kid you "could write for." You didn't really say it yourself, and so I didn't want to call out the wrong person. But now that the first season is over (and a second season seems imminent), I wouldn't feel right if I didn't get this off my chest so at least I could say I tried when inevitably nothing changes for next year.

From one writer to another, I must point out that that is exactly what you are, or at least claim to be. A writer. Sure, you're a producer, too, but there would be no show to produce had you not written the script first. Without the words-- without the characters and their stories to share-- there is no show. That is ground zero; that is the jumping off point. Everything else on top of that, including what actor gets cast in each role, is just the icing and adornments on the cake. But all season long on The Glee Project the message has been the opposite, and I just can't take it anymore.

I understand that as a writer you are limited. Hell, so am I. There are just certain characters I can't write authentically because I did not have certain experiences, and even with ample research, my execution could still fall short that of someone who actually went through what I am trying to fake. I am sure you feel the same way at times. But that is all the more reason to create very specific and distinct characters first, and then find an actor you feel could best bring that person to life. Because a character should feel like a person on the page before there ever even is someone standing in front of you in the room. Because for most writers, their characters will never make it off the page; you are truly fortunate with how much Hollywood has taken a chance on you.

In every episode of The Glee Project someone-- usually Robert-- would point out that there were certain contestants you felt you could more easily and comfortable write towards, which indicated that you didn't already have a plan in mind, not only for this particular character, but also for season three of glee in general. And while that may seem all nice and fair in terms of giving these contestants equal starting points (because you're starting with nothing), it is not fair to get an idea for a character based on one specific contestant and then pigeonhole only that particular person in the role.

I give you my prime example of Cameron: you said you loved his unique story of connecting to his faith and sticking with his moral convictions. I agree: it is a fascinating character type-- one that glee lacks, but one that television lacks in general these days (or most days, really). But it does not have to be Cameron or no one, and I fear that since Cameron was eliminated, that story idea died with his dreams of appearing on your FOX show. Why not resurrect them? Why not give the storyline to someone like Mercedes, a character you have kept on the backburner for two seasons, seemingly because she is one you just don't know what to do with. I get it: you didn't grow up an African American girl with a talent bigger than her suburban town but not all the confidence to match. But that's okay. You can still make her interesting; you can still develop her beyond a stereotype. And yet, season three is around the corner and as of yet you still have not.

Please note that this letter is not to express upset with who actually won The Glee Project but rather what you may (or may not) write for them simply because of the molds they fit in real life. Glee presents itself as an underdog show, sure, but also one about allowing kids to be whoever they are, free of molds and stereotypes. I believe your actors, in their daily lives, should get to do that, too. But they are hired to play a character, not simply play a version of themselves. The true measure of an actor's talent is the ability to step outside one's self-- to get out of one's own head-- and fully embody a character. Any character. And you'd be doing a huge disservice to every single contestant that auditioned, not to mention all of the others aspiring out there, to reward someone for doing anything less.


laura said...

Must disagree. Sometimes you let the actors inform the characters and in so doing wind up with truly special ensembles. April Webster auditioned thousands of actors for JJ Abrams when he was casting Lost. They used generic sides and had only the thinnest concept of who the characters were because they wanted the actors to be the only person who could play that character. "Hurley" was described as a thin man in his 50s before Jorge Garcia came in and did something so special that JJ and Damon completed re-engineered the character. Ditto more than half the cast..."Jin" and "Sun" were created for Daniel and Yunjin, who auditioned for Jack and Kate.

I'm not saying Ryan Murphy isn't being silly when he says he doesn't know how to write for someone. But I think your open letter is equally narrow in your writer-belief that the characters must always be born on the page first. Television is alive. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

danielletbd said...

But in all of those situations, there was a basic idea for who a character was first. I'm not saying the idea can't change, but I think you're missing the point of my piece: if you don't have the idea first, you can't call yourself a writer.