Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsSoap

So are the 'Days' of her life: Hagerstown Community College adjunct professor writes for daytime drama

April 13, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Jeanne Marie Ford of New Market, Md., is a script writer for "Days of our Lives." She began working for the California-based soap as an unpaid intern in 1992.
Kevin G. GIlbert /

Murder. Affairs. Baby switching. Long lost relatives. Lovers torn apart. Lovers reunited. Back stabbing. Sex scenes. Flashbacks. These are the "Days of Our Lives."

Or least they're all in a day's work for "Days of Our Lives" scriptwriter Jeanne Marie Ford, 41, of New Market, Md.

Ford hadn't planned for her work life to be a soap opera, but she has had a career spanning more than 20 years in daytime dramas. Her job writing about the lives of the Bradys, Hortons and others in the town of Salem (we never really know what state Salem is in), has earned Ford a Daytime Emmy Award nomination in 2011 and a win in 2012.

She credits her love of daytime dramas to her grandmother.

"My grandmother lived with me growing up and she was a big fan of 'General Hospital' and all the ABC shows," Ford said. "She kind of got me hooked on soaps. Then when I was in high school, my best friend got me hooked on 'Days.'"

When Ford was a student at Johns Hopkins University, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do. She had thought of joining the Army to be a linguist like her father.

"I changed my mind a zillion times, but ultimately I really wanted to give writing a shot," she said.

She landed her first job in the soap world with "Days of Our Lives" as an unpaid intern right after earning her degree in psychology.

Her parents, she said, weren't thrilled that their daughter, was moving to California, where the show is filmed, for no pay.

But her gamble paid off.

"On my last day (at the internship), after I shipped all my stuff back, they hired me to be a writer's assistant," Ford said. It was 1992.

Ford said she was excited because "it was my dream job."

"It was so exciting to just meet the people," she said. "I'm shy, so I didn't go out of my way to talk to people. But it was cool to see them in the hall. And to hear actors saying something that you wrote. It was amazing."

She was a writer's assistant for "Days" for four years, but decided she wanted a change. She returned to Maryland. But in 1999, she made the cross-country trek again when "Days" hired her to be the continuity coordinator.

This time, though, she told them she'd move back - on the condition that they would give her a chance to write. In 2000, she was given the chance to be a script writer for "Days."

During her time until 2007, she did several types of writing for the show, including associate head writer, script editor, break-down writer.

TV writers, especially for daytime dramas, are often hired and fired just as quickly as ratings and management changes. So it's not if a writer gets fired, it's often when.

"It just happens," she said with a laugh. "The new head writer comes in, they clean house. Often they fire nearly everyone. You just never know when you're going to lose your job."

When it came time for her to be fired, Ford was eight months pregnant. She quickly was able to find a new job. When her baby was 4 weeks old, she was hired to another soap.

"I was hired for 'As the World Turns.' Then I got fired from 'As the World Turns' and was hired for 'One Life to Live,' then the writers went on strike," she said. "Ultimately, the guy who had fired me from 'Days' had gotten fired himself."

So Ford soon found herself back at "Days,' where she's been since 2008.

Although the show is filmed in California, Ford stays in contact by email.

One thing she'd love fans to know is that writers really don't have any control over the story arc. That is already decided by the head writer.

"(The head writers) do long-term and then they plot out week to week," she explained. "Even day by day, which is called a thrust."

For instance, she said, the current head writers are detail-oriented so they have a long thrust. They have a weekly meeting with the breakdown writers who get a thrust for each day of the week. And those writers will take the thrust and turn it into a breakdown, or what some shows call an outline, which is more than 20 pages, scene by scene on what will happen.

"We're all writing at the same time, so we're doing six breakdowns a week, six scripts a week. That way you know what's happening in the week since you're writing it at the same time," she explained.

Ford said the script writers get the breakdowns and they supply the dialogue.

"At each level, you don't have a lot of say of what goes in the script," she said.

She said fans will often complain that A, B or C should happen.

"I just don't have control over it," she said.

The script editor is the person who gets the scripts and it's that person's job to make the writing sound like a unified voice.

Ford said she can alter the shape of the scene, sometimes, but not even that much.

"Sometimes you can't even alter a line of dialogue at the end of the scene," she said.

One talent needed to write for a series that has nearly 360 brand-new shows a year is to be a fast writer.

"Each of us write one to two episodes per week and a script is about 6,500 words," she said, noting they're already writing for August.

And through it all, Ford said the script from start to finish is a team effort.

Ford is able to work from her home, which enables her to be home with her children, Kate, 7, and Patrick, 5. She's been married to her husband, Jim Ford, for eight years.

But being at home doesn't mean she's disconnected with the other writers. She said it depends on the job on how much time she has to spend in California. She said breakdown writers have a weekly meeting, some of which is over the phone. She said when she was a breakdown writer for "Days" she was the only one on the phone and everybody else was in the room.

As for script writers, they are usually in constant contact through email or phone. The other writers are also scattered all over the country.

Since 2008, when Ford wasn't typing away for "Days," she has been an adjunct professor at Hagerstown Community College. In between writing for the show, she earned her Master of Fine Arts in 2001 from Vermont College of Norwich University, now called Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches English 101 at HCC.

Through her work at HCC, Ford is a member of the advisory committee for the Nora Roberts Writing Institute. She'll be teaching courses for the Institute on television writing during the Institute, which will be Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3.

As for her work with "Days," for Ford, it's still a dream job.

"I guess because I grew up watching the show, times have changed obviously, but for my grandmother they were in her room every day," she said. "They were her friends, these characters. And to be part of that experience for so many people, is what's really cool to me."

Advertisement
The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|