How many people can say they’ve skyped with Brad Falchuk ’93, co-creator and executive producer of the hit television show “Glee?” Probably not many aside from 15 students in Associate Professor Elisabeth Lyon’s Film Analysis I and Film Analysis II classes who had the opportunity last week. Falchuk answered their questions about the creation of “Glee,” what makes the show work and what advice he has for aspiring screenwriters.
Much like the eager students seated in Albright Auditorium, Falchuk found his true passion when he was in their place – literally. “Where you are sitting now is where it really clicked for me.” During one of his film classes with Professor Lyon, Falchuk realized that he wanted to pursue writing and producing – or storytelling as he calls it. Falchuk went on to become an English major with an emphasis on theatre and credits his education at Hobart and William Smith as the “foundation of what I use everyday.” While at HWS, he wrote a play and did an independent study with Professor Lyon where he turned the play into a film. “That film,” he says, “got me into graduate school at the American Film Institute.”
From there Falchuk did not just become a TV writer, director and producer overnight. He explains that it takes talent, hard work and luck, but “the first two take care of the third.” At least that was the case for him. After studying screenwriting at AFI, Falchuk wrote some spec scripts (sample episodes of existing TV shows) that he then sent to agents. He advises anyone who wants to break into the industry to do the same. These led Falchuk to numerous jobs writing for TV shows such as “Mutant X” (2001), “Earth: Final Conflict” (2001-2002) and “Veritas: The Quest” (2003) before he was hired by Ryan Murphy to work on the first season of “Nip/Tuck.” This relationship proved to be invaluable as the pair went on to create “Glee,” along with Ian Brennan.
Falchuk explains that he wanted to do something lighter than “Nip/Tuck” and Fox wanted a musical show to follow “American Idol.” Brennan came up with the idea for the show based on his own experience in a high school glee club and the three soon became the brains behind one of the most talked about TV shows of today.
Falchuk explains that “Glee” is successful because of how he and the other co-creators put together the parts or tell the story. Falchuk defines the four main components of storytelling as conflict (a strong problem), arc (the character’s journey), tone (comedy, drama, etc) and characters (the people going on the journey and how they react). He constantly thinks about these elements when working on “Glee.”
Storytelling is crucial when writing and producing a TV show, but “you cannot have everything planned out,” Falchuk proclaims. He has an idea what will happen at the end of each season, but is not sure how the characters will get there or what will happen on their journey. He also explains that he and the other creators typically know the trajectory for the next four episodes but they like to have room for discovery. They want to see what works and what doesn’t. They typically write each episode in a matter of four days. When they are pressed for time, they can write an episode in a day and a half.
Given the nature of “Glee,” Falchuk, Murphy and Brennan have to consider the relationship between the story and the music. Falchuk explains that “Glee” is successful because “the comedy and drama come first and the music comes out of it.” He goes on to say, “You have to care about the characters and then what they’re singing.” Plus, “Glee” works because it focuses on songs that people are familiar with; the show is not only shaping pop culture but also borrowing from it.
So how do they pick the music for the show? Falchuk mostly credits Murphy for that. Falchuk says that he is a big Bruce Springsteen fan but otherwise doesn’t know many of the songs before they are used on the show. He hopes that Springsteen will be featured somewhere down the road though.
Although themed episodes (such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Rocky Horror Picture Show) top the charts in terms of the number of viewers, Falchuk admits that he much prefers the non-themed episodes, which allow for more character development. With that said, Falchuk explains that season 1, episode 10 “Ballad” is his favorite episode thus far.
Falchuk spoke largely about the season one finale titled “Journey” and students were given a copy of this script prior to the skype session. Falchuk stated that his favorite part of this episode was the intercut between Vocal Adrenaline performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Quinn having her baby. Falchuk explains, “When we were writing the episode I just saw it.” The pairing allowed us to “make a grand moment very intimate and a very intimate moment very grand.”
During scenes like this, the “Glee” creators run the risk of being cliché, but they seem to hit just the right level of emotion and performance to wow viewers. Falchuk says this is due to talent. “The combination of all the choices put together make a show. Your talent is going to push you towards making choices.” These choices, Falchuk explains, are what make up the journey.