Monday, February 4, 2008
Erica Messer ~ Before and With Debra J. Fisher
copyrighted by Jill Davidson 2008
I'm currently in the process of writing an article about Erica Messer and her writing partner Debra J. Fisher for 'Adopt a Writer'. Because their answers to the preset questions are so imformative I've decided to also post the questionaires. Here is Erica's form. :)
Full name: Erica Cramer Messer
Hometown: Lived in Washington, D.C. for years before moving to Ocean City, Maryland
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland
Jobs prior to entering television:
Since living in LA, I've always worked in television somehow.
Whether it was temp work for the Casting department at Fox Broadcasting Company or my permanent position as the assistant to the Vice President of drama series at Fox. I used to talk to Deb Fisher on the phone when she worked at “Party of Five.” I wanted to get back into the production world – it’s what I loved in school – and Deb told me that P05 had an opening for the writers’ assistant position. Before I knew it, I was working there with some amazing writers. Of course there was Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman who created the show, P.K. Simonds, Mitch Burgess and Robin Green, Lisa Melamed, Tammy Ader… all great people and talented too!
Before the days of La La Land, I had many trades. My first paid gig was as a babysitter for families in the neighborhood. I was 14 and had a younger brother so everyone knew I could manage their toddlers too. I never knew how valuable that job was until I had kids. So wish we had a babysitter in our backyard! I was also a licensed manicurist in the state of Maryland throughout my college years. I worked at a popular salon in Ocean City called Headlines. After that, I worked as a bartender at an amazing pool bar (yes, the kind where people swim up to the bar and never leave which makes you wonder about how they got rid of all that booze they were consuming). I was a hostess in the winter time since there wasn't much use for a pool bar when there was snow on the ground! During this whole time (my college years), I also continued to nanny for a few families. My husband tells me I was always working. Sometimes three jobs a day. I guess all of those trades have helped me wear the many hats that I’ve worn during my tenure as a television writer. So, that was my life before moving West and following my dreams.
Q: Most people really don't understand exactly what a writer/ producer does. Could you describe the writer's production responsibilities?
A: It varies from show-to-show. On Criminal Minds, each writer is encouraged to produce their own episode. This means you are the expert of your episode and are there through every step of the way. When prep begins and the meetings are back-to-back, you need to know your script better than anyone else. If your intention wasn’t clear in the script, it is your job to make it clear. If someone has an idea that would strengthen your script, you are thankful that you’re on a great show where everyone wants to make the best product. From prep, you continue onto the actual shooting of the episode. Getting to work with our crew is awesome. They are the best. The heroes of our show. After the shoot, the episode goes into post-production. The editor turns in a cut to the director and then the director turns in his/her cut to the producers. Once all of the producers watch the cut and give feedback, the writer of that episode joins the editor in the cutting room to get the episode ready for the studio and network. Their notes are incorporated, post-production does the rest of their magic with the score and then you get to watch!
Q: Once you have a Criminal Minds script, how long does it take to complete pre-production things like casting guest stars, finding locations, etc?
A: Guess I kind of answered this in a long way, but for the most part it’s a 7-day prep.
Q: What are your post-production responsibilities? How long do you have between filming the script and having it "ready for prime time"?
A: This varies throughout the year, but ideally we have a 3-week post schedule.
Q: How did you become a writer?
A: It’s always been a part of who I am. In 4th grade I wrote a book called ‘Pickleberry Place’ about a land of pickles but the king was a cucumber. I was looking for the inherent drama even back then. Most of my writing in college was for documentary work in which I also directed and edited those projects.
In 1997, I wrote a spec for “Ally McBeal” and got a lot of feedback from those “Party of Five” writers I was talking about earlier. I wasn’t sure what to do with the spec, but thought writing another one would be a good idea. Then the development executive for Keyser/Lippman Productions pitched an idea for a screenplay and she suggested Deb and I write it together. We did. It’ll never see the light of day. We knew we wanted to write in television and the best way to do that is to write television samples. So we did that. “Once and Again” was our first spec, which got us our literary agents. Then we wrote “Sex and the City” and off of those two scripts we met JJ Abrams for “Alias.” We were thrilled to get our first job writing on that show. It was an amazing introduction to the world that we’re working in now…
Q: What's the most fun part of working on this on Criminal Minds? What part do you dislike the most?
A: It’s always talked about in business that success comes when you have the right product, process and people. After a few years of looking for this, I’ve hit the jackpot. Criminal Minds has been all of those things and more. It’s hard to single out the best part, but I’d have to say it’s the relationships I’ve made with every single person on this series. Ed Bernero encourages us to all know one another because we’re in this together. What part do I dislike? I’ll let you know when it happens.
Q: Considering the subject matter of Criminal Minds, how do you keep from taking the show home with you at night?
A: At first I took it home. And still do, in some ways. But it doesn’t bother me as much now. It’s like a medical student who doesn’t see the blood anymore. The psychology of these criminals fascinates me and if I keep it clinical like that, I’m okay.
Q: Criminal Minds actors seem to work well together on screen. Does the same synergy exist among the writing crew as well?
A: We’re all very different, but manage to get along incredibly well. There’s a lot of laughter and happiness even though we write one of the darkest shows on television.
Q: Criminal Minds uses a number of special effects to show thought processes, etc. What is involved in writing and producing scenes with special effects?
A: The key is to be as specific as possible and have numerous conversations with the director about the shared vision. Most of the visuals involve a green screen effect which begins during the shoot and gets massaged throughout post-production.
Q: What do you think most viewers misunderstand about what it takes to write and produce 22 episodes of a top rated, primetime network show like Criminal Minds?
A: Not sure of the misunderstandings, but I think people are always surprised to hear about how long the process takes to produce a single episode.
Q: Deb asked “What would you be if you weren’t a writer?”
A: My immediate family has a history of civil service to this country. From local law enforcement to FBI, CIA, NASA and State Department, they’ve all tried to make our world a better place. I’d love to follow in their footsteps and become a real hero instead of just writing about them.
copyright 2008 Jill Davidson