I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with Shadowhunters writer Pete Binswanger, who broke down the writers room.
Music In the Dark: So readers can understand your contribution to each episode, and the writing process better, what is the difference between executive story editor, story editor, written for television by, and teleplay by?
Pete Binswanger: So this is actually two different questions. Staff Writer, Story Editor, and Executive Story Editor all refer to different levels of writer. These are all considered lower level writers, whereas Supervising Producer, Co-Executive Producer, and Executive Producer are higher-level writers. The higher-level writers usually have a bit more experience and are expected to provide a bit more leadership as far as crafting the story, but ultimately it’s the Showrunner (head writer) who makes all of the final decisions. Ed Decter was the Showrunner in season one and Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer took over in season two.
While some writers rooms can be very hierarchical, the Shadowhunters writers room was always super inclusive from day one. As somebody who started out as a Staff Writer (the lowest level writer), this was something I was extremely appreciative of. “Written for Television” and “Teleplay by” refer to what part of the episode a writer actually wrote. Any given episode is broken down into two parts – Story and Script. If you write both Story and Script that’s considered “Written for Television,” whereas “Teleplay by” means you only wrote the script. This can happen for all sorts of various reasons.
MItD: Was the decision made to vary from the books due to the differences in the mediums or for another reason?
PB: I think it was mostly just because of the difference in mediums. While there’s an arc to each season, we also wanted each episode to feel like it told a complete story. Although the individual story beats may have changed a bit from the books, our ultimate goal was always to stay as true to the characters as possible.
MItD: How much of Magnus’ character is written on the page versus the contributions from costume, make up, and the performance from Harry Shum Jr.?
PB: The script is the first step, and it’s an important one, but as with creating any character it’s always a group effort. Obviously Harry deserves a huge amount of credit for creating the TV version of Magnus, but every department played a role. You can’t have Magnus without his trademark makeup and clothes, right?
MItD: Many of the episodes you wrote contain important plot elements and a lot of moving pieces, like “Morningstar”, “Parabatai Lost” and “Day of Atonement”, and then “Bound By Blood” and “Alliance”, which also require setting up for huge episodes. How does that work for you as a writer as far as fitting the episode into the seasonal arc? Is the writers room as a whole involved?
PB: For Shadowhunters, we’d break every episode as a group. We’d start each season by coming up with a rough sketch of what every episode is going to look like. From there, we’d continue working as a group to outline every scene in each episode. This is called a beat sheet. It’s not until you’ve got an entire beat sheet that you’d actually get to start writing the script on your own. So the whole process is very collaborative.
MItD: Were you or the other writers surprised at the popularity of the “Malec” relationship? Did its popularity cause you to write more for those characters?
PB: I wouldn’t say I was surprised that people liked Malec, but I’m not sure I realized just how big the Malec fandom was before I started working on the show. They’re awesome characters, and both Harry and Matt did an amazing job bringing them to life. I can only speak for myself, but it was this more than anything else that made we want to write as many Malec scenes as possible.
MItD: Did you have a favorite character to write for or a favorite episode?
PB: Honestly, I loved all the characters. I can’t pick just one. It’s like choosing a favorite child. Can’t do it. As far as a favorite episode, I’m not sure I have one as far the entire series goes, but out of all the episodes I wrote I’d say either between “Parabatai Lost” or “The Powers That Be.”
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