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Spotlight Interview: Beth Schwartz, Showrunner – Part 2, All things “Arrow”

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I’m excited to be back with part 2 of my incredible and informative interview with Arrow showrunner Beth Schwartz! If you missed part 1, be sure to check it out here. Today, I chatted with Beth about many different facets involved in creating this successful, long-running show! Let’s dive in…


Let’s talk about Arrow – It will soon be ending its 7th season, which is amazing – congratulations! 

Thanks!

I saw you speak on a writing panel at Comic-Con a few years ago where you talked about mapping out the emotional journey of each character for the season, before diving in for specific episodes, etc. You’ve been with the show for its entire run – how has the writer’s room continued to top itself season after season while remaining grounded in the characters of the show

It definitely gets more challenging – not necessarily emotionally, but plot-wise in terms of ‘what haven’t we done?’ But I think it’s an advantage to have characters and a show that goes on this long because people evolve, and there are all sorts of life challenges that you’re faced with. We’re always evolving and going through changes, and so are our characters. We bring in new characters that challenge them, we bring in old characters that remind them of who they were. So it’s really amazing because you get to go in deeper with them instead of just on the surface.

That’s a big part of why I’m drawn to television, both as an actor and as a writer – living with the same character, changing and evolving with them. I love that.

I partially outsourced this q from twitter – How does your room write and develop such fleshed out villains that really challenge the heroes, yet still have their own agency?

We’ve had amazing villains-of-the-week as well as big bads, and we tend to flesh them out in terms of how they’re going to directly affect Oliver and what he’s going through. It’s not just some random villain that does cool stunts, because we’ll always have that – but they have to somehow emotionally affect our hero for it to really be impactful. We also always like to have our villains be the hero of their own stories so they’re not one-sided, but they’re more nuanced and they have their own back-stories and reasons for becoming who they are.

Re: being a showrunner – What have you learned about running a room from the various shows you’ve worked on? How do you choose to run your room?

I think the most important thing is creating a very safe environment. The best rooms I’ve been in, everyone feels really comfortable with each other. It can get really personal. You want to feel safe, and the person who creates that environment is the person running the room or the showrunner. That’s super important, to have that safe environment where you can pitch freely and not worry about anything.

Another thing that’s really important about running a room is to make sure that you’re not shutting down everyone’s pitch. Even if you don’t like it, you have to learn a certain language to allow it. You don’t want to be that person who’s just like, “No. No. No.” because that pitch could grow into something else. Greg Berlanti is SO good at that – I learned that skill from him. Make your writers feel valued, because that will produce good work.

And then just having fun. Really, just having a good time. I think any room that has that chemistry where you can laugh and pitch jokes as well as pitching work – the best work comes out of those kinds of rooms.

As you’ve been casting the show, are there any particular traits or talents (besides a potential physical likeness to the character) that endear you to one actor over another during the audition process?

I’m a person who goes by my gut, in everything in life. We see many talented people, and there’s something that just clicks when you know it’s that right person that fits the role. It’s not one particular thing that they’re doing…It’s hard to explain. When they come in and read your lines, you’re like “Yes, that’s it!” Even if it was a character who you maybe pictured completely different in your head. I think for me, it’s less about what someone looks like and it’s more about what they bring in that audition that just feels RIGHT.  

I just shot a role on The Big Bang Theory

Congratulations! That’s awesome!

Thank you! That’s another show that has been on forever, and it got me thinking – what is your advice for guest actors who are joining a legacy set like Arrow for a day or week? How can they do their job well on this set that is –

A well-oiled machine, yeah. We shoot in Vancouver, and our actors are so welcoming to our guest cast. I think that’s a huge part of making anyone who’s new on set feel welcome and comfortable. The only advice I would give is ‘come prepared.’ Because if you don’t, that’s not a great look. As a showrunner, we’re eventually going to hear about it, and if you’re holding up time, that’s not great even if you end up doing good work.

I think that would be it. You should just have fun. If you’re excited to be there — you know, the crew and cast is there every day –

So you’re bringing in fresh energy.

Yeah! It’s nice because you’ve got someone from the outside excited to be there, and it sort of re-energizes everyone. I don’t think you need to play it cool, you can be excited.

That’s good to hear. I’m not one to hide my excitement. Happy dances are usually involved. 

I think that the more positive energy, the better!

I love your #ArrowTextsFromMom, especially as someone whose parents are not at all involved in the entertainment industry. How did that start?

I don’t even know. Both of my parents are my biggest fans – they are just amazing and so supportive, so any show that I’m on, they will watch EVERY EPISODE. My parents are the last parents you would think would watch a comic book show, so it’s kind of funny. And they’re SO into it, they love it. So she would text me when she’d watch an episode, and they were very Mom-type texts. I thought it was hilarious and I thought the fans would get a kick out of them. She doesn’t come from a well-knowledged comic book history, so it’s really just her watching it without any of that context. And now she has a whole following, which is very funny.

I know Arrow is ending, but 8 years is a fantastic run! What is it like to know that you’ll be ending the show on your own terms? That you can really wrap up the story the way you want to tell it?

I’m really excited to have been on a show its entire run. Before I was on Arrow, getting another season was a luxury. We’ve been so fortunate. We’ve been in this bubble, because we just always knew we were coming back. So I think in the same way, knowing that we get to wrap this up without having the surprise end of a season suddenly being your last season is SO rewarding. Creatively, it allows us the freedom to write to that end, and most shows don’t get that.

That’s always something that I thought was really hard when you’re on a show and you don’t know if you’re coming back. You sort of have to write it like it could be your last season, but you also don’t want to write something that isn’t what the story’s asking for. So I’m really excited, because I’ve never been in this position before where I knew I was writing for a last season.

I saw Jenna Fischer’s instastory about her last day on season two of Splitting Up Together. They don’t know if they’re getting a season three, so everyone was saying goodbye kind of tentatively.

Yeah, it’s such an emotional rollercoaster and we’re all lucky because now we KNOW it’s our last season. I think every day on set is going to feel nostalgic. Everyone gets to really have that ending – not just creatively, but personally, with all of these people that we’ve worked with for so long.

Emily (who plays Felicity) has announced that she won’t be coming back for S8. As a storyteller, how do you balance the myriad of things that are out your control, whether it’s an actor leaving or getting pregnant, having to write around a broken arm, whatever it is – how do you stay focused on the story you want to tell while still remaining flexible to the inevitable changes and challenges?

That’s actually a really good question, because I feel like a lot of people don’t ever think about that. Everyone who works on a show is a real person and real life things happen to them. For me, if life things happen, that’s the most important thing. Creatively, we’ll come up with the solution to work around it – that’s never been a problem. Sometimes you have to think a little more on your feet, but at the same time, I always want people to take care of their lives first.

Nice. That’s great!

Yeah, it’s true, though. You figure it out. You have to live your life first, and then the show works around it.


I am here for ALL of this! So many great insights 🙂 We’ll be back next week with the third and final installment of our chat, and in the meantime be sure to check out the Arrow season 7 finale TONIGHT at 9/8c on the CW!

Sarah J Eagen

About Sarah J Eagen

A Writer, Actor, and Choreographer, Sarah is currently a staff writer on the sci fi audio drama The Veil from Voxx Studios. She co-wrote/produced/acted in the short Soledad, which screened on the Disney lot as part of the Alliance of Women Directors/Shoot Em Up collaboration. She wrote/starred in the webseries Magic for Muggles based on Harry Potter, and the scientific short "The Interview", based on her graduate school research in Genetics and Virology. Sarah was a finalist for the Women in Film/Blacklist Episodic lab in the fall of 2017 & the NYTVF Script Comp in 2018. One of her scripts was performed live by the Parsec award-nominated podcast Once Upon a Wine. Sarah was seen as the helpful paralegal Carol in CBS's action comedy Rush Hour, and had the pleasure of sharing the screen with funny lady Kristen Schaal in the feature film Austin Found.