Running With My Eyes Closed › Ten Writing Tips for Your Mad Men Spec

Jill Golick has some tips for writing a mad men spec. 

Here’s the rundown:

1. Beat out between 14 and 19 juicy sequences to lay down two or more thematically related plotlines A Mad Man spec has to carry a weighty theme; you want to say something about the nature of being human.

2. Put in about twice as many A-story sequences as B sequences. If you want a C, devote three to four sequences to it.

3. Write a tease that draws you in with drama bimageut doesn’t provide any direct clues as to where the story is headed. This should be a nice long meaty sequence, like Adam killing himself at the beginning of the episode about the Rejuvenator.

4. Include plenty of bank shot sequences that speak to theme but don’t necessarily drive the plot forward. These sequences help to set the stakes by showing us the lives of incidental characters. Joan’s reality as a single woman having an affair with a married man sheds light on what’s at stake for Rachel if she sleeps with Don. Harry’s pleading with his wife to let him come home warns Don and Pete of the consequences of choosing work over family. Dr Wayne tells Don that Betty is consumed by petty jealousies just before he catches Roger hitting on her and takes his revenge.

5. Don’t over tell it. Mad Men scripts invite viewers to figure out what’s going on, they respect their intelligence. They also trust that the structure and technique of the script to tell the story. We see Don catch Roger hitting on Betty. We see him give a few dollars to an elevator man. We see Don and Roger slurping down raw oysters and booze. And when they get back to the office, the elevator is out and they have to walk up twenty-three flights. Nowhere is it spelled out that this is a carefully planned act of revenge. Don’t spoon feed the audience.

6. Throw in an insider 60s reference or two: Dr Scholl’s, Desi and Lucy’s second divorce, Bob Newhart’s first comedy album. A lot of Mad Men is in the details.

7. Write some witty, educated and intelligent dialogue. A scene with agency men bantering back on forth is the perfect forum. Or give Roger a chance to wax poetic. Rachel is also great for historical and cultural perspective. These characters are smart and educated and not afraid to show it.

8. Include a 60s product in need of a campaign. And allow Don to come up with a pitch that is not only brilliant but sums up the human condition. “Advertising is based on happiness.” “The Carousel lets us travel around and around and back home again.” Of course this also needs to resonate with your over all theme.

9. Hit us on the head with a little racism, sexism or something else that nails the different value systems between now and the 60s. Make us uncomfortable and squirmy. Then in a counterpoint it with something that reminds us how similar we are. Think of Sterling with the twins — what a sexist. Then he keels over — we’re all flesh and blood. Think of Don saying of Rachel, “I’m not going to let a woman speak to me like that” and then promptly falling in love with her.

10. Provide an ending that is totally unexpected for TV and yet reveals the true nature of the character and seems inevitable.

Check it out here –  10 tips for writing a Mad Men Spec. She has really done a spectacular job deconstructing the series for writers including writing scenes that don’t necessarily push the story forward but parallel another story and speak to the theme of the episode.


and other home truths that drive you mad…..



3 responses to “Running With My Eyes Closed › Ten Writing Tips for Your Mad Men Spec

  1. Jill’s website is great! THanks for the link to her tips. Can’t really agree with all of them though. Mad Men is certainly not formulaic.

  2. Bravo Jill. I have written screenplays for films for many, many years, but was inspired by Mad Men to write a TV spec. I found your notes extremely helpful. Any idea how I can get my hands on some sample scripts? Would love to be put on your newsletter… if you have one. Thanks. LGB

  3. Yes…I found the tips very good too. Thanks for posting them Colm.

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