I'm Margaret Dunlap, AMA!


(Margaret Dunlap) #21

Oh man, I hope you’re enjoying the new one! State of Decay 2 was my first video game and a ton of fun, though a very different process than anything I’ve done before.

It’s a very particular kind of creativity. Because it’s a sandbox game, you’re trying to write lines that are fun and character-specific, but that won’t get annoying when the player hears them multiple times. Happily, I’m just left-brained enough to enjoy the challenge.


(Margaret Dunlap) #22

waves back Thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve had the benefit from good mentors at all phases of my career and I try to pay it forward when I can.


(Pia) #23

What does a sandbox game mean?


(Jane) #24

Do you think you have to be in LA to be a (paid) writer of web series and TV? or are there other cities now where you can get your start? Maybe New York or Austin or Vancouver maybe?


(Jaime Lancaster) #25

Hi Margaret! I’m an aspiring producer and I was wondering what it means for you to have been a writer-producer! What kinds of things were under your producing purview for those projects?


(Jaime Lancaster) #26

I think it means open world, right? Like there are lots of ways to play the game that aren’t necesarilly all a part of a single linear quest? Like Skyrim. Or maybe I’m totally wrong- I don’t play video games as much as I used to!


(Margaret Dunlap) #27

Hey there, no worries! I can’t get into a ton of specifics about SoD2 just because I don’t want to push the limits of my NDA, but I can tell you that I got the gig when I was recommended for the job by another writer I had worked with on something else. Another example of networking paying off in unexpected ways. That, and being open to an unexpected opportunity.


(Pia) #28

That makes sense! it’s a sandbox so you can build your own fun rather than an obstacle course with one start and one end…


(Blair Hunter) #29

Fair enough! Can you talk about the process itself, then? Like, is it a matter of there being a PLOT POINT with CHARACTER A, B, and C, and then you all write dialog for those three characters about the PLOT POINT and then… I guess have like four or five outcomes depending on lines of dialog? I’m confusing myself lolol. I’m just really curious how you balance writing with mechanics of not having just one linear story.


(Margaret Dunlap) #30

Hey there! The shows I’ve worked on (also including Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, so exciting!) have all been run on a pretty standard writers room model. The staff breaks the story together, then the writer of the episode goes off to outline, lather, notes, repeat.

On Lizzie Bennet and the other web series, we wound up with a model similar to what you’ll see on animated shows. The room would get together to break the arc of the episodes we were shooting on our next production date, we’d assign the episodes and because they were so short, just send the writers off to draft. They’d come back and we’d ask for revisions, or or if it was close (which I usually was) Bernie or I would just do a showrunner pass to make sure we were keeping the voices consistent.

I think I’ve got my breaking in story elsewhere in the threads, so I won’t re-hash that here. :slight_smile:

Favorite squirrel? Gotta be the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!


(Chris Hadley) #31

@spyscribe What advice/suggestions would you have for any writer/producers who find themselves having to take on greater responsibilities (casting decisions, scheduling, finding studio space, working with crew, etc.)?


(Jerome Keith) #32

That’s awesome! It’s one of my favorite zombie horror games to play. That is a good thing to know. I’ve always been interested in the process. How did you end up on the writing team for the game?


(Sunny Larkson) #33

Hi Margaret!! I’m a BIG fan of your work on all the Pemberley shows!! How did you and Bernie split up boss/showrunning duties? Did you guys have a set of guidelines for the two of you or did you just feel it out?


(Bri Castellini) #34

Answered a few Qs up :slight_smile:


(Margaret Dunlap) #35

The key to a webseries for me is that every episode has to deliver on the “candy” that you’ve promised your audience. In a comedy, the candy is a laugh, and if you can structure a good joke, that’s candy you can deliver in a short format.

Horror also workes well in short-form and anthology for similar reasons. Fear is a primal emotion, and if you can tap it for your audience, you’ve got them.

Straight drama can be harder because unless you’re really embracing the melodrama its effectiveness usually depends on your audience having a specific connection to the characters, which can be hard to build in a single 3-5 minute episode. I think one of the things we did well on Lizzie was that we hooked people in with the premise and the laughs, so by the time we got to the more emotionally weighty parts of the story later on, the audience had really invested in Lizzie and Lydia and their struggles.


(Jerome Keith) #36

Thanks Bri!


(Chris Hadley) #37

@spyscribe Was the impact that the show had on viewers because of the fact that Lizzie Bennet was based on adapted material, or because of the way you developed the characters?


(Margaret Dunlap) #38

If I were writing it as a standalone, I would avoid treating it like as act of something larger. IMO, you want every episode of a web series to give the audience something that’s satisfying, a reward for clicking play and sticking with you.

A/B/C is a lot for a short format, and more than I’d probably try to cram into something at that length. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Fineas and Pherb (cartoon, still on Netfix, I believe) has a full A/B/C in every 11-minute episode. It is some of the tightest and masterfully structured writing on television. Break down what they do if you want to see how it’s done.


(Chris Hadley) #39

@spyscribe :slight_smile: Thanks, Margaret! Now that you mention it, what are some other good examples of short-form screenwriting that you can recommend - including in web series?


(Margaret Dunlap) #40

The best networking advice that I stumbled into was to network with people you’d want to hang out with anyway. Most people can tell if you’re just hanging out because you want something from them, and few find that a compelling reason to go out of their way. In other words, make friends. Even if it doesn’t turn into anything professionally, at least you’ll have spent time with people whose company you enjoy.

That does mean putting yourself out there, but the good news is that through twitter and other social platforms, you don’t have to approach someone in person. Just be a person, treat the person you’d like to meet like a person, and don’t be a pest, or act like you’re entitled to anyone’s time. That usually goes a long way with most folks. :slight_smile: