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Posts Tagged ‘HouseOfCards’

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.