Damon Vignale dropped in for lunch at the PSP last week. Damon is the creator and showrunner of the original crime-drama series, The Murders debuting on March 25, 2019. He was also a writer and consulting producer for The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, and writer and co-executive producer for Ghost Wars.
How did you break in to writing for television?
It was kind of a happy accident. I started out writing and directing independent features. On my first film I worked with a producer, Ron Scott, who many years later asked me to give notes on a comedy series he was producing, Mixed Blessings. He liked my input and assigned me three scripts. Ron showed me a pilot he was also working on, called Blackstone, and I knew immediately it was something I wanted to be a part of. When the show was greenlit to series, he hired me as a writer-producer.
You’ve just finished working on The Murders. It was your first time as a Showrunner. Can you tell us about that transition?
It was a big transition. Being responsible for everything and everyone is very different from being there solely as a writer. Handling the writing and production, you learn quickly to delegate.
Because I came up making independent film, and I also worked for numerous years as an Assistant Director on commercials, I understand production. I think that really helped.
The writing room is where I always feel the pressure because it’s where the story starts. If the work isn’t good there, it’s hard to turn it into something great farther down the line.
How did you coach writers to get the work done when you couldn’t be there?
Having a clear vision of the show you’re making is important. I’m also open with broadcasters’ notes, so we’re all on the same page. I relied on my writer-Co-EP, Karen Hill to oversee the writing team when I couldn’t. We worked together on Motive and she’s an amazing writer. She had been involved since development and her input was invaluable. I felt confident in her ability to drive the scripts forward and stay true to the tone and sensibilities of what I wanted the show to be.
What did you look for when putting your room together for The Murders?
I wanted to put a room together that had different voices. I didn’t want to create a space where we just pat each other on the back. Of course everybody in the room needs to be respectful, and buy into what the show is. That said, I try to bring people in with different points of view, different backgrounds, and different interests. I think we managed to do that with The Murders. It meant that within our crime drama, we were able to go after some really interesting stories and tackle some contemporary issues.
It doesn’t matter what room you’re in; there’s always that feeling of, “Wait, how do we do this, again?” You start with a blank page and it’s daunting knowing you have to turn out a season of television. For me, everyone’s voice is equal and the best idea wins. Writers come in with good and not so good ideas, and they all count. It shakes things up and starts a conversation that often takes you somewhere you never thought you’d end up.
Do you have any advice for TV writers trying to break in?
If you don’t have experience, then your original spec material really matters. Also, if I get a recommendation from a more senior writer, that’s going to carry some weight. At some point you are going to need someone championing you. If you have an agent, that’s great, but I think developing relationships with other writers and producers is helpful too.