Jay Faerber on Making the Leap to TV With The CW’s Ringer
Fans of comic books and the Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring dual-identity thriller Ringer might have noticed a familiar name in the credits of The CW series: Jay Faerber. The writer of comics books like Near Death, Noble Causes and Dynamo 5 recently made the move to screenwriting through a studio training program.
Ringer follows the exploits of a pair of estranged sisters named Bridget Kelly and Siobhan Martin. After catching up with her sibling in the season opener, Siobhan, who is in trouble with the mob, awakes to discover Bridget is missing. So she assumes her sister’s identity, and intrigue ensues.
With the drama returning at the end of the month from midseason hiatus, Spinoff Online caught up with the very busy Faerber to talk about getting the gig, the difference between writing for TV and comics, and meeting the cast.
SPINOFF ONLINE: How did you wind up working on Ringer? It’s your first screenwriting credit from what I can tell.
Jay Faerber: Last year I got accepted into the Warner Bros. TV Writers Workshop, a kind of training ground for TV writers. A lot of studios and networks have them, and Warner Bros.’ program is one of the most well-regarded. Each year thousands apply, and they take around 10 people. The program lasts about seven months, and once you successfully complete it, the head of the workshop arranges meetings for you with various Warner Bros. showrunners in the hopes of getting you staffed. I met on a few shows — mostly pilots that didn’t end up getting picked up — and ended up getting an offer to join the Ringer staff. And I’ve been a staff writer since we started the show.
How has writing for TV differed from working on comics?
There are similarities, of course — both mediums require you to think visually, and tell a story with more than just words. But as collaborative as comics is, TV is 10 times more collaborative. Instead of just talking with an artist about how you envision a scene looking, you have a meeting with half a dozen department heads.
The writing itself is much more collaborative, as well. At any given time, our writers room has as many as eight writers, plus a writers’ assistant. We all work together to break an episode, then the writer assigned to that episode goes off and writes the outline, and then the script. So the actual writing is fairly solitary component, but we talk out each episode in great detail; it takes a week, on average, to break an episode.
Has the more communal nature of writing for television taken some getting used to after the more solitary task of writing comics?
It does take getting used to. And it’s interesting watching what strengths different people bring to the process. Some are great with big picture ideas — they can pitch out big, “we should do an episode about this” — type ideas. Others are great at taking those big ideas and seeing how they’d beat out over a six act — five acts and a teaser — structure. Others are great at charting a character’s emotional arc through an episode. And when you’ve got people with all those strengths working together, it’s like a Justice League of Writers.
Your first episode was the eighth, called “Maybe We Can Get a Dog Instead.” What were you working on up to that point?
I’ve been involved since the staff was assembled. Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder created the show and wrote the pilot, and it was shot in New York before the show was picked up. So when the staff was assembled the pilot was already finished. It was our job to look at the pilot, as well as the series bible Eric and Nicole had written, and figure out where to go from there. So the first two weeks or so of the season was us just sitting around in the writers room, talking in broad strokes about the overall season, and what we wanted to accomplish. Then we started zeroing in on the first handful of episodes.
The show has so many twists and turns and so many elements. How do you all physically keep track of all the beats? Is there a giant time line or wipe board in the writer’s room?
Our writers room has white boards on three of its four walls. Two walls continue a kind of chart that tracks what happens to each character in each episode. As the season has progressed, of course, those boards got more and more crammed with information. The other wall is where we break a new episode, hammering out beats for each storyline and then finally blending all the beats together into a cohesive episode.
Has there been a particular character or characters that have given you trouble when writing?
Not really. I think all the characters are fun and interesting. If anything, sometimes we have to exercise restraint about some characters, since the show is about Bridget — and Siobhan, to a slightly lesser extent. All the stories should impact the twins in some meaningful way.
Have you gotten to meet any of the cast members? If so, what was that like?
Yes — we have the good fortune of shooting the show here in L.A., and our writers room is on the same lot where we shoot. So the writer of an episode is on set when the episode is shot. I’ve met the whole cast, and they’re really great. Sarah Michelle Gellar is amazing, and you can see why she’s a TV star. She’s not only a great actress, but a smart actress. She knows how TV works, and because she’s a co-executive producer, she can help make creative and production decisions.
A lot of comics writers have writing for TV and movies as a goal or a next step in their career. What kept you writing comics even after getting the gig writing for Ringer?
I’ve never viewed comics as a stepping stone of any kind. I write comics because I love comics. It’s a collaborative process like TV, but there are fewer people involved and, when doing creator-owned work, I have complete creative control. I’ll admit that Ringer takes up a lot of my time, so it’s harder finding time to write comics, but I’ve been able to get Near Death out every month and hope that continues to be the case. I can envision a time where I’m no longer producing a monthly series, just because there aren’t enough hours in the day. But I can’t imagine ever giving up comics entirely.
Ringer returns from holiday hiatus on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.