WandaVision’s Jac Schaeffer on Creating a Family-Friendly Writers Room
Schaeffer penned a personal essay about working while raising two little kids.
WandaVision showrunner Jac Schaeffer has a lot to be proud of. She created a hit series for Disney+ that has garnered a staggering 23 Emmy nominations, she pushed the MCU into uncharted creative territory, and she gave us Kathryn Hahn singing “Agatha All Along.” And while working on Marvel’s first series for Disney+, Schaeffer was also raising two young children.
As a first-time showrunner who had never been a staff writer (practically unheard of in the industry), Schaeffer has an opportunity to create a writers room where working parents could thrive, and where women writers didn’t have to choose between parenting and pursuing their career.
In a personal essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Schaeffer discusses how she ensured that the writers could work reasonable hours which allowed them to get home in time for dinner with their families.
This may seem relatively basic, but in Hollywood, long grueling hours are the name of the game. Both in writers rooms and on set, the schedule can sometimes spread to 12-14 hour days. And it’s been this way for ages, as Hollywood has long been run by men, many of whom were not primary childcare providers. But as more women attain positions of power within the industry, they are reimagining the Hollywood grind to function for working parents.
“Every showrunner I discreetly approached for a cheat sheet told me to run it how I wanted to run it. To my surprise and good fortune, my partners at Marvel felt the same way. Visions of a utopian working environment filled my head: a culture of respect and inclusion, big ideas and even bigger feelings, clarity of purpose, lots of laughing, and … a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. workday.
It still makes me sweaty to see those hours in black and white. Trained as I was to demonstrate my commitment to work by pretending I had no commitments at home, I was sure my wonderful co-executive producer Mary Livanos would laugh me out of the building. She didn’t (she’s wonderful). But it was a gamble: Could we be focused and brilliant enough to meet our deadlines and still get home in time for dinner?”
To make this dream a reality, Schaeffer recruited writers with very specific parameters, requiring “an unusual POV and a kind soul.” She then writes glowing praise about her writers and celebrating everything they brought to the series. She admits that they had some all-nighter sessions during crunch time, but overall the writers room was a balanced, supportive environment. And this was largely thanks to (and not in spite of) her being a mother. Schaeffer continues:
“Two and a half years later, I can now see that all the things that terrified me worked entirely in my favor. With no room experience of my own, I created my fantasy. With no precedent at Marvel Studios, I had their support to be daring in this first foray into television. And as it turns out, being a mother was my best asset on this job. It made me organized, commanding, empathetic and nurturing. More than anything, it’s how I connected to Wanda. She’s a powerful woman under immense pressure who just wants to do right by her children. I know her fear, I know her anxiety, and I know her love.”
She concludes by writing, “The room was healthy and the work was good. It’s possible to have both. We made a show that resonated with audiences around the world, and most nights I still made it home in time for dinner.” After so many stories of dysfunctional workplaces and cruel, abusive bosses, Schaeffer proves that you can be kind and empathetic and still create terrific television. What a concept.
(via THR, image: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
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