Get Adobe Flash player

Write On

Interview: Beau Willimon, ‘House of Cards’

beau_headshot_(2) copyThe debut season of House of Cards (Netflix) was political drama at its best. Now, viewers are waiting to see what House of Cards’ writing staff concocts for Francis and Claire Underwood in the show’s highly anticipated second season, which goes live on February 14th. (Watch the season 2 trailer here).

House of Cards is nominated for “Drama Series,” “New Series,” and “Episodic Drama” at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards. Tickets for the February 1st Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony are available here.

The WGAE Write On Blog interviewed House of Cards creator and writer Beau Willimon, who will also be a presenter at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony. Here’s what he had to say:

Congratulations on House of Cards being nominated for multiple Writers Guild Awards. One of the awards you’re up for is “Episodic Drama” for the show’s first episode. Do you mind telling me a bit about your writing process?

The most important part is hiring a bunch of wildly talented writers!  I have a great staff – brilliant minds and tireless workers.  We spend 6 weeks breaking the season grid – all of the major story-lines and how they will progress over the course of 13 episodes.  Then we shift to breaking and writing individual episodes.  We’ll spend about 2 weeks breaking an episode, culminating in an outline.  If I’m not writing the episode myself, I’ll assign it to one of my writers.  They’ll have a couple weeks to write a first draft, then I’ll give notes.  They get an additional week for rewrites, then I take over and give every script my pass.  We repeat this process in a rolling fashion, beginning to break the next episode as soon as a writer heads off to write the previous one.

It takes us about 8 months total to write a season, so there’s some overlap with production.  Often we’ll make big changes to the grid along the way, or come up with a better idea for a script several weeks after it’s been written – so there is a constant ongoing revision process.  And that continues right up until the table read and even rehearsals.

I’m a strong believer in getting the actors’ and director’s input.  Listening to their thoughts and answering their questions usually makes a script better.  And I want them to feel as much ownership over the story as we do.  At its heart, making television is a deeply collaborative process – from the writer’s room to set and eventually the editing bay.  Ultimately I have to make the decisions, but the more I can involve everyone, the better chance we have of achieving sophistication and subtlety.

In addition to being a nominee, you’ll also be a presenter at the New York Ceremony. What do you think makes a good awards show presenter?

Excellent posture, clear enunciation and sparkling eyes.  The first two I was supposed to learn in elementary school, but I was more interested in beating Super Mario Bros. For the third I’m hoping there’s VFX in post.

What propelled you to make the move from working in politics to writing about politics?

I was always a writer – before, during and after I worked in politics.  It wasn’t as though I moved from one field to another. Political campaigns were never really a career for me. I worked for candidates I believed in, because I honestly wanted to see them get elected.  But it wasn’t my vocation.  It was sporadic – intense periods where I’d disappear from my everyday life for a few months and work around the clock until Election Day.  I was drawn to the pace and energy, the adrenalin, and the thought that – in my own small way – I could make a difference.

A lot of people think I’m cynical about politics because of Ides of March and House of Cards – but the opposite is true.  I’m very optimistic about what government can accomplish when it’s populated by the right people and working well.  I just temper that optimism with a good dose of realism – the fact that power can often corrupt and leadership often requires people to have a flexible moral spectrum in order to be effective.

What do you think the best piece of dialogue Francis Underwood has spoken on the show?

I’ve always been fond of “The nature of promises is that they remain immune to changing circumstances.”  One of the more amusing lines is “I despise children.  There – I said it.”  And another one of my favorites is one that Francis didn’t come up with, but which he quotes, stealing from Oscar Wilde: “A wise man once said: ‘Everything in the world is about sex, except sex; sex is about power.”

Many politicians make cameos in movies and television shows. What show do you think Francis would make a cameo on?

I’d love to see him make a cameo on VEEP.  VEEP is such a well-written, well-acted, viciously funny and satirical sharp show.  And it would be a blast to see Frank go head to head with V.P. Meyer.

Whose writing – or what films/shows – grabbed your attention in 2013?

I loved The Top of the Lake.  The commune story-line especially grabbed me.  It’s so original.  Of course Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad never ceases to amaze.  What a glorious final season.  American Hustle was pure brilliance.  But what blew me away more than anything in 2013 was Vinterberg’s The Hunt.  The writing, acting and direction were so compact and gut-wrenching – not a single frame wasted.  It’s as close to a perfect movie as I’ve seen since Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others.

If you could write a scene for any fictional film or television character throughout history, who would it be?

I think it would have to be Falstaff.  500 years later we’re all still grasping to touch the wonderfully impossible high bars Shakespeare set in both comedy and drama.  And Falstaff is his greatest creation.  He a mixture of humor and heartbreak, largeness and smallness, the prosaic and poetic – everything that The Bard did so well.  Falstaff is an entire universe – the best and worst of humanity with all the complexity in between.

In terms of more modern characters, I’d have to say Al Swearengen from Milch’s Deadwood, Bubbles from Simon’s The Wire, and GJ from Campion & Lee’s Top of the Lake, because she’s such a compelling, delicious freaky enigma.

Interview: Gary Lennon, ‘Orange Is The New Black’

gary lennonA smart, dark comedy set in a women’s prison that features a magnificent ensemble cast? Count us among the millions of people who binge watched Orange is The New Black (Netflix) and absolutely loved it.

Orange is nominated for “Comedy Series,” “New Series,” and “Episodic Comedy” at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards. Tickets for the February 1st Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony are available here.

The WGAE Write On Blog interviewed Gary Lennon, a supervising producer and writer for Orange. Here’s what he had to say:

Congratulations on Orange is The New Black being nominated for “Comedy Series” and “New Series” at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards. Can you talk a bit about the writing process for the show and how you personally like to work?

The writing process for the show was fun. We all sat around the writer’s room and told crazy stories, often personal ones and plenty of them wound up in the first season of the show. Jenji was wide open and receptive to bold and innovative stories. She assembled a group of writers who were outside the box, sort of from the island of broken toys and that led to plenty of strange personal storytelling and laughter and sometimes tears. Once a story area code was decided upon, then we all set around and broke the story together and then finally an episode was given to one writer to write, but ALL of the episodes were designed by the entire writing staff.

My favorite way of working on an episode is to talk about a theme and then riff on that theme and our characters and develop a story where our characters can live truthfully under imaginary circumstances. I know that I have had a good week in the writer’s room if I leave on Friday and know something new about one of my co-workers that I never knew before and it should be juicy.

What piece of dialogue/scene from the first season is your personal favorite?

My personal favorite scene in the first season of Orange is The New Black is the scene between Miss Claudette and Piper in Episode 4, where Piper defends herself for the first time to her new roommate, Miss Claudette.

It’s the ‘cut me some slack’ speech that Piper delivers to Claudette. I like that scene because it really shows Piper’s growth as a character, it moves the plot forward, reveals character and it was funny and emotional. I think it was one of the first turning points for Piper and earned her some well-deserved respect. I felt like it was her first big step in not being a tourist in prison anymore, but in fact, she was going native.

If you were to go out with any of the characters, who would it be and why? What do you imagine the topics of conversation would be?

If I were to go out to dinner with one of the characters from Orange, I’d want it to be Taystee.

Taystee would make me laugh and  would want to talk about sex, food and good times which are three of my favorite subjects and I feel like we would have some friends in common and then she would want to go dance all night long and maybe not sleep at all.

Without giving anything away, what can viewers expect from the upcoming second season?

I assume season 2 will be more laughs, more flashbacks and more surprises.

Whose writing – or what films/shows – grabbed your attention in 2013?

My favorite TV show and writers of 2013 are Vince Gilligan/Breaking Bad, Henry Bromell/Homeland, Glenn Mazara/Walking Dead  and Howard Korder and Terrance Winter/Boardwalk Empire…..ohhhh, and Julian Fellowes/Downton Abbey. I love me some Downton!

Fave 2013 Films – 12 Years A Slave/John Ridley, Her/Spike Jonze, Blue Jasmine/Woody Allen.

If you could write a scene for any fictional character throughout history, who would it be?

I’d want to write for Oliver Twist – I’d like to see the man he’d become. Or Terry Malloy from On The Waterfront.

Interview: Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields, ‘The Americans’

TheAmericans1The Americans (FX) is a Reagan-era drama that follows two undercover KGB officers, brilliantly portrayed by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, as they infiltrate Washington, D.C. By day, the couple lives a fairly innocuous suburban life. At night, they will do anything – ANYTHING! – to gather intel for their homeland.

The Americans is nominated for “New Series” at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards. Tickets for the February 1st Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony are available here.

The WGAE Write On Blog interviewed the show’s creator and executive producer Joe Weisberg and executive producer  Joel Fields. Here’s what they had to say:

Congratulations on The Americans being nominated for “New Series” at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards. Can you talk a bit about the writing process for the show and how you personally like to work?

We spend a lot of time taking walks and talking about character and theme before we break story… then we walk more as we talk about story. The colder it gets, the faster we walk and the more motivated we are. Fortunately we work on the East Coast… otherwise there might not be a show. We and our writing staff rely heavily on our network and the other producers we work with who are great creative partners for us and often provide perspective that helps us see the work in new ways. We try to have every script be both an expression of the individual writer’s passion and voice while at the same time having the entire staff weigh in and provide creative support and insight.

What piece of dialogue/scene from the first season is your personal favorite?

JOEL: Elizabeth beating the shit out of Claudia actually brought us to our feet in the editing room, chanting, “KGB! KGB! KGB!”… but the real moment that resonates from that sequence is the scene after, where Philip and Elizabeth walk out of the safe house and confront the cracks in their relationship, and the meaning of trust, love and betrayal.
JOE: Gregory leaving the safe house after refusing to be exfiltrated to Moscow, and then Philip and Elizabeth going to their separate cars, acknowledging each other’s decency in the middle of their painful separation.

What are the key things you need to remind yourself when you’re writing scenes with Elizabeth and Philip?

That’s easy: they are not self-aware or articulate. They feel strongly, but aren’t necessarily in touch with their feelings, so often they have to be expressed in unconscious, non-linear ways.

Season 2 of The Americans debuts on February 26th. What can you tell us?

In Season One, we struggled a lot as we figured out what the show was. This season we started in a very clear place and, for better or worse, we’ve followed that singular path all season. We hope you like it!

Whose writing – or what films/shows – grabbed your attention in 2013?

We’ve been so busy with the show that there is a lot waiting for us to watch after wrap! That said… Joel binged on Breaking Bad, we both loved Game of Thrones. We both watch and love Justified. Joel watched every episode of Masters of Sex and loves escaping into The Mindy Project. Joe has been watching Veep and an Israeli show called Srugim. Joe loved Saving Mr. Banks, which Joel can’t wait to see during hiatus. We both loved Captain Philips and Her. Billy Ray: would you like to write an episode? Spike Jonze?

If you could write a scene for any fictional film or television character throughout history, who would it be?

JOE: NYPD Blue.
JOEL: HILL STREET BLUES… Joel gets to call Steven Bochco for advice from time to time, for which he is eternally grateful!

WGAE Hosts Park City Send Off Party

Last night, the Writers Guild of America, East opened its offices for a send off party for those heading to Park City for Sundance, Slamdance, and the Independent Spirit Awards. The event was sponsored by Variety.

The evening featured short remarks from WGAE’s president Michael Winship and executive director Lowell Peterson, along with acclaimed screenwriters Jeremy Pikser, Mary Harron, Darci Picoult, and Stu Zicherman. The speakers shared advice and stories from their own Sundance experiences with the few dozen local filmmakers in attendance, many of whom will be heading to Park City for the first time.

2014 Writers Guild Awards: Final Voting Now Open

Awards Letterhead 2013.inddThe FINAL voting period to determine the winners for the 2014 Writers Guild Awards begins today for the following categories:

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
COMEDY SERIES
DRAMATIC SERIES
NEW SERIES

Vote online at: https://eballot4.votenet.com/wga/login.cfm (Your login is your last name and your password is your 5-digit member ID number.)

The deadline for casting your votes is FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2014

The Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony will take place on Saturday, February 1st, at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.  Tickets are now available here.  Thank you to our sponsor ScreenCraft.

2014 WGA Awards: Screen Nominations Revealed

Awards Letterhead 2013.inddThe Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced nominations for outstanding achievement in writing for the screen during 2013.

Winners will be honored at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards on Saturday, February 1, 2014, at simultaneous ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York City. Tickets for the Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony are now available here. Additional information on the awards show can be found here.

Here are the screen nominees:

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • American Hustle, Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell; Columbia Pictures
  • Blue Jasmine, Written by Woody Allen; Sony Pictures Classics
  • Dallas Buyers Club, Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack; Focus Features
  • Her, Written by Spike Jonze; Warner Bros.
  • Nebraska, Written by Bob Nelson; Paramount Pictures

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • August: Osage County, Screenplay by Tracy Letts; Based on his play; The Weinstein Company
  • Before Midnight, Written by Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke; Based on characters created by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan; Sony Pictures Classics
  • Captain Phillips, Screenplay by Billy Ray; Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty; Columbia Pictures
  • Lone Survivor, Written by Peter Berg; Based on the book by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson; Universal Pictures
  • The Wolf of Wall Street, Screenplay by Terence Winter; Based on the book by Jordan Belfort; Paramount Pictures

DOCUMENTARY SCREENPLAY

  • Dirty Wars, Written by Jeremy Scahill & David Riker; Sundance Selects
  • Herblock – The Black & The White, Written by Sara Lukinson & Michael Stevens; The Stevens Company
  • No Place on Earth, Written by Janet Tobias & Paul Laikin; Magnolia Pictures
  • Stories We Tell, Written by Sarah Polley; Roadside Attractions
  • We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Written by Alex Gibney; Focus Features

The final voting period to determine the screenplay and series winners for the 2014 Writers Guild Awards will begin on Monday, January 6th.

Writers Guild Awards Tickets On Sale

awards INVITE POSTER

The Writers Guild of America, East today announced that members can RSVP for the 66th annual Writers Guild Award East Ceremony. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, February 1st, at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.

The ceremony will be hosted by comedian W. Kamau Bell. Presenters include Robert Carlock, Kate Mulgrew, Lawrence O’Donnell, Archie Panjabi, Wendell Pierce, Frank Rich, Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Beau Willimon, with more to be announced.

David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme, will receive the Ian McClellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement.

James Schamus, the award-winning screenwriter of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and co-founder of Focus Films, will be presented with the Evelyn F. Burkey Award for bringing honor and dignity to writers.

The Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony is supported by Screen Craft.

Writers Guild members can RSVP here.

For more information on the awards, please visit wgaeast.org/awards.

Interview: David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

David GuggenheimThanks to our partners at The Black List and their bountiful blog, Go Into the Story by Scott Myers.

David Guggenheim broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. With several other projects in development and having made the Black List twice (2010, 2012), it’s safe to say Guggenheim is one of the hottest action-thriller screenwriters in Hollywood today.

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “You know, I just love the craft of constructing a story, coming up with movie concepts. That’s the fun for me. Just you and a blank page and you’re just coming up with stories.”

Part 2: “I love spy movies, and that’s my favorite genre to work in. And what I like doing, is taking a piece of a movie, that’s usually isn’t the focal of the movie, and blowing that up, and saying let’s do the movie from that point of view.”

Part 3: “For me, the best action movies are always the character‑driven action movies and they’re the one’s you always remember.”

Part 4: “Obviously, for the sake of the read, you want the action to jump off the page as much as possible, but what’s more important than the actual choreography is to come up a fresh way figuring out how the characters got into the action scene in the first place and how they get out of it.”

Part 5: “I think in a spec you need to make sure you’re hooking your reader in that first 15 pages, and that it has a strong enough concept. Because your concept it what’s going to set it apart.”

Part 6: “I will take any idea and I will try it. I may not agree with it when it’s given to me, but I always give the idea a chance, and I’ll try it.”

Please stop by comments to thank David and ask any questions you may have.

David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.

So… That Happened

By W. Kamau Bell. Originally posted here.

So… that happened.

That is one of my favorite lines in the history of film. It is from David Mamet’s brilliant State and Main. It comes out of the mouth of Alec Baldwin’s character right after he totals his car and the underage girl he was — and shouldn’t have been —with runs from the scene of the crimes. Alec casually looks to the person who witnessed the whole thing and says, matter of factly, “So… that happened.”

I always took that to mean, “I don’t know what the fuck that was exactly, but it happened. And now we all just have to deal with it and move on.”

Yup, Totally Biased has been canceled.

So… that happened.

Although what DID happen with Totally Biased has happened thousands of times in the history of show business… nay the world. It goes like this. Person gets job. Person works hard at job. Person loses job. My whole career I’ve seen talented comics get opportunities that I thought, “WOW! That is definitely going to be the THING for her!” And then I’ve seen that thing not become the THING. This is just my time for that. I thought Totally Biased was going to be my “THING!” I worked hard to make it so, and it didn’t happen. So now I get the chance to find a new “THING” and to see how that goes. That’s amazing. The show was canceled. I’m not canceled. 99.999% of stand-up comics don’t get this far. If I’m really lucky, what we did on Totally Biased will be remembered long after it stops airing. Heck, my mom is still mad that they canceled Frank’s Place. (Google it. It was great.)

The one thing I truly hope is that whoever the next comic is to be considered for a show doesn’t get judged by my lack of… you know… still having show. I hope John Landgraf and the beautiful people at FX (and FXX) continue to take chances on the underdogs. Their batting average is kind of amazing. I hope this doesn’t bum them out too much.

I am very proud of Totally Biased. The Lindy West / Jim Norton debate was amazing. For the rest of my career I will chase the highs of Sikh vs Sheikh. Hell, I got to talk to Rachel Maddow for nearly TEN MINUTES! I learned I like talking to random people on the street about real things; (I will be more proud of Anything to Say to a White Guy than anything else I do in my career.) Also I got to have one of my heroes, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, write me a theme song. I was able to work closely with the comedy Jedi Chris Rock. And, above it all, I was able to employ some awesome comics with original voices. Many of whom are my friends… and who will hopefully forgive how crazy I have been the last several months.

There are so many people who worked on the show. So many talented people who have much more experience in TV than I have (not hard to beat since I had none before this.) And they humbled themselves to pull in my direction, even when they sometimes had no idea where we were all headed. I appreciate all of their support. I will never forget it.

Most importantly, when Totally Biased was at it’s best it gave comedic voice to people and issues that do not often get that space on television. (I am overwhelmed by the love the show is getting now.) I tried. I really tried. And I’ll keep trying somewhere else.

Who knows what the next thing will be? (Seriously, who knows? I need a job. — Kidding… Mostly.) I am literally boiling over with ideas, and I can’t wait to get started. I am excited to get back into stand-up in a big way. I can’t wait to get my voice back. Many of you who watched Totally Biased have only seen a sliver of the real me. Check out my Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross for a more distilled version. But until then, I will see you on Twitter, Facebook, and in a city near you. I have a lot to say.

Thank you for your support. And still remember to stay totally biased.

Now, I’m gonna go update my LinkedIn profile.

Kamau

P.S. Bring back Frank’s Place.

I Love My Writers Guild of America, East

By Amanda Cole

A couple of nights ago I was at a small film get together hosting Derek Cianfrance (writer/director of Blue Valentine). He used phrases like “I thought I was cursed” and “people thought I was delusional” about making his first movie. This language oddly made me feel better, then as I was bitching to him about my own personal film curse and delusion – which if you are ever going to bitch and moan to a well-known successful writer/director, friends, he was an elegant pick- he told me master marble makers used to strike at marble 1,000 times with a hammer and it would look the same. Then they would strike that 1,001st time- and blammo! It would crack. Then I went home and wrote 20 pages of my newest screenplay. I love my Writers Guild of America, East. Thanks for making that happen.