Saturday, April 28, 2012

'On Writing' with Julie Plec...

"What makes our job so complicated is that we obviously have supernatural stakes-- the death toll is reaching a hundred, danger at every act break, and villains and people battling for life and to rescue the loves of their lives-- and in the middle of all of that, we’re still intent on telling a very human story about very human people who live in a small town and go to a high school and who are falling in and out of love and dealing with issues with their parents and issues with their friends and falling in and out of love and dealing with questions of loyalty and friendship and family. The day that we lose sight of that, I think, is the day that we have to take a step back and fix ourselves because that means the balance has shifted too far to one side, and we’re not doing what we need to do."

The wisest of words from writer and executive producer Julie Plec about her current fan favorite CW series, The Vampire Diaries. In all honesty, though, that mentality of knowing what your work is at its core and holding onto that at all costs is what separates the truly great writers from the ones who are making it up as they go along. Both always show through in the material, and the former, as evident with The Vampire Diaries, always creates a richer, fuller, more actualized world to which its audience holds on just as hard.

Nothing about Plec's job, or the stories she has chosen to tell, is easy. Yet with her fast but never frenetic pacing and deep emotional arcs, she manages to set the bar higher not only for herself but any writer who may follow her in the genre and format. Perhaps through no fault of their own, newer supernatural series are finding themselves constantly compared to The Vampire Diaries, especially in tone, snappiness of dialogue, and intelligence of exposition (or hopefully, lack thereof), and time and again, they are falling short.

What sets The Vampire Diaries apart from all of the other shows in the genre is just how high the stakes are raised. Sure, the ability to have you laughing along with a Damon quip one minute and bawling your eyes out over a character death the next is unique to Plec, too, but it is really her attitude that truly no character-- not even "one, two, and three on the call sheet"-- is truly, permanently "safe" that breeds the most realistic world.

"You have to have the risk that somebody can never be seen again or the death doesn’t matter," she pointed out.

Plec's writing immerses her audience in the world of her characters through beautiful character moments set on the backdrop of some crazy and dark times. Those are the moments-- more than any epic fights or mythology reveals-- for which she finds herself fighting hardest.

"When you hand the script over to production, and they read a script that’s too long, too many scenes, and impossible to shoot with the schedule, and they see a line that says ‘Everyone gathers...' which is two lines of a fifty-page script, that’s the first thing they say you’ve got to get rid of," Plec admitted.

"That’s the equivalent of, like, a seven-page day. 'It’s expensive; it will take six hours too shoot; it’s everybody; we can’t schedule it.' And I don’t do this very often where I pitch the ‘I’m the boss, shut up,’ but [I do say] ‘Guys, I’m telling you! This one little two-line thing is the heart and soul of this episode. And one of the heart and soul moments of the season. It’s going to stay, so figure it out.’ And...they always do. That’s what makes our show so special."

But her dedication to them-- and her determination to include them in the first place, when so many other writers are about pushing the plot along at all costs-- are what makes her so special as a writer, as well.

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