Of the remaining 12 or so episodes, how many are you the credited writer for?
I’m credited for just one more, 317, which is the “Law & Order” episode.
Did you come up with the idea of having a “Law & Order” episode, or is that something that was floating around the writers’ room for a while?
Yeah, it was floating around for a while. I know that I’ve been obsessed with “Law & Order” for a long time, and I talk about it in the room a lot, especially “SVU.” And I know Dan loves “Law & Order,” especially the original. We sort of based ours on the original years, the Jack McCoy years, seasons four through eight. I actually scheduled my classes around the show in college because I was so obsessed with it. But it’s not like we just go, “We wanna do this” and come up with the story later. Usually, we have a story or something we need to accomplish in the overall narrative that leads to using a certain style. I think this one was a combination. I was up in the rotation, and Dan said, I want you to write that one, and we were thinking that one was going to be the “Law & Order” episode. So we had to come up with a story that would necessitate us picking that departure, conceptually and stylistically. I think it was really fun to break the plot of that episode, because it was like coming up with a mystery. Think of it in reverse and then halfway through the episode, you split from the cop drama to the law drama. And it’s such a good format. I kind of cheated by picking that episode because it was really like you know that formula is going to work. It’s already been working for 16 years on television, so you already know it’s going to be great. And then Rob Schrab, Dan’s friend and writing partner, directed it, and he was just awesome and instantly got the feel of “Law & Order” and made everything look very pretty and New York. That’s an exciting one.
How long is it, roughly, between the time you’re given a writing assignment and when the episode starts shooting?
It depends. Towards the end of the year, it’s very compact. And a lot of the time towards the end of the year, for time reasons, people don’t go home with the script. We group write them. Or we’ll take scenes and split them up and then we write all together. But I would say, on average, we usually spend a couple weeks breaking the story. Once the story is broken, we have an outline and someone writes for a week, and we bring back the writer’s draft, and usually it’s another week or two before it starts being filmed. Like I said, towards the end of the year, we start breaking the story Monday, we have a draft done by Friday, and it start shooting the following week. But sometimes the story breaking takes a really long time for whatever reason. The Halloween episode last year, “Epidemiology,” took a really long time to break.
Do the larger concept episodes take longer to put everything together than a “normal” one?
Not by rule. Some of the really low-concept episodes took a really long time to get through, even something like the moving day episode from this year. It took a while to break that. It’s three different stories all intersecting, so something like that will take a long time, whereas “Law & Order,” for instance, that story broke kinda easily because you already know the format, kinda already know what markers you need to hit. So even though it’s kind of conceptual, it was easier. Something that’s a mix is like the My Dinner With Andre episode [“Critical Film Studies”], where there’s this highly conceptual element to it, but it’s also two people sitting down and having a conversation. Those take a very long time because so much is relying on you keeping the audience’s interest while you’re just having two characters talking.