Greg Iwinski: Yes, exactly. And that was incredible. That ties into this writer theme, which is that about write what you know. And I think that a lot of people, I hear this a lot because I’m in these Black writing circles, and white writing circles, and all these things, but this idea of like, “Well, if I’m white, does that mean I can’t write anyone who’s not white?” And I think you’ve talked about too, and if you could talk more about writing what you know, having a wide but shallow experience, because I know white people like my wife or some of my parents who are white and they know part of the Black experience, they can write it because they know and live it through close friends. And just what that’s like for you in putting those themes in and drawing from your wide experience.
Tony Gilroy: I think now, after all these years, the fundamental, and I’ve said this a little bit in the last year, my stations of the cross are obviously imagination trumps everything. I mean, just for me, imagination is everything, and that that’s job one. But to be a dramatist, and I think curiosity is almost cousin to imagination in a weird way, and having a lot of curiosity about… Well, curiosity is sort of the glue between these two things actually, between imagination and what I think is really the singular key, which is empathy. I think this is really… I’ve come to realize that all of good writing is empathy, and the level of empathy that you have and that you develop or you were born with, or you worked on it, or you practiced it enough where it became something that you became… Or you realized how essential it was and you made it a priority for one of the first things that you think about.
But just natural deep empathy should allow you to at least try in a strong way, to get inside anybody. I mean, I don’t want to not… I’m not a Nazi. I want to write the best Nazis ever, man. You want to be in everything. I want to get in on the behavior, the beliefs, the insecurities, the fears. Now, I’d be terrified to try to write 30 pages of 17-year-old girl. I’d like, “Wow. I don’t know, man, I don’t know.” But I wouldn’t be afraid because I couldn’t… My fear wouldn’t be that I couldn’t understand what she’s feeling, what she wants, what she’s afraid of, all the things that I know that are coming at her. I’d just be afraid, am I going to get the voice right? Is my language not going to be dead on and perfect? Am I going to be caught up in that? And the practicalities of delivering a human being to the page, the mechanics of how they talk and whatever. But I’m not afraid of anybody… I can feel for, I want to write for.
Greg Iwinski: And I think that there’s a lot of… When you talk about the 30 pages or 30 minutes. Yeah, it’s understanding how much you know in depth. I think a lot about that. A dude working at one of those, the non-stop desk jobs in Tokyo right now, I know enough to write him as an eighth character in a movie, but maybe not as the main guy. Also, you want somebody to see themselves in those characters and not go like, “Huh, that’s another person’s interpretation of me.” You want that human to feel… The person you’re empathizing for, you want them to sit in that movie and-
Tony Gilroy: But not say at the same time, I wanted to take a good look at euphoria this year because I was fascinated how it looked. And everybody’s so disturbed by it, and anybody who had a 12-year-old daughter was just freaking out that their kids were watching. I was like, “Well, I got to see this.” So I put on, and at first I was like, “Oh, wow. This is… And the answer about, “I watched about three or four episodes.” I was like, “Man, I could do this. I can get this.” I mean, the arrogance that we have, and I’ve used this answer for the historical question, but I think it’s even smaller, people say, “Oh God, it’s all current, and this is about this, and this is about everything that’s happening in our world right now.” And I go, “We are so arrogant that we think all of the issues that we’re going through right now are brand new, and they’ve never been… And you could drop a needle any point in history and the same is going on.”
I also think that there’s a smaller version of that where there’s this arrogance where we think that what we think and feel, and what we’re afraid of, and what we want is so different than anybody else. We think we’re so unique. And I think if you can get past the wardrobe and the syntax, the syntax of dialogue is really tricky. That’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to get called out for being in the wrong key.
Greg Iwinski: Because even though in some ways that’s a finishing note, it is one that really matters to.
Tony Gilroy: I write from dialogue. So for me to plot and write, I mean, it’s my entry point, so it puts me at a little bit of a disadvantage because that’s how I start. That’s pretty much most of my process begins with dialogue almost all the time. So yeah.
Greg Iwinski: I’m going to ask you just one more Andor Star Wars question, which is a historical one, which is to me, and I know I’m not saying if this is based on it, but is there in Saw Gerrera, to me, that in all the historical things that point out at me, John Brown is the one that always pops. That I’m like, “That’s Star Wars, John Brown.” I love John Brown in this year. There’s a Frederick Douglass out there, there’s a Lincoln out there that’s sure. But he’s the like, “What if we just macheted all these guys? That would solve the problem.”
Tony Gilroy: Yeah. No, it’s five… This is from John Brown to pull pot is like, it’s not-
Greg Iwinski: It’s just who you’re hacking is really the only difference.
Tony Gilroy: Yeah. It’s how cheap is… Yeah. I know it’s a continuum, but yeah, I got you. Yeah.
Greg Iwinski: Yeah.
Tony Gilroy: I’m wondering, what about Saw Gerrera? What’s the question?
Greg Iwinski: I just say, he seems to me-
Tony Gilroy: Man, I love Saw Gerrera.
Greg Iwinski: Saw Gerrera.
Tony Gilroy: Let’s put it this way. I’ll be very disappointed if Saw Gerrera does not return in part two.
Greg Iwinski: Oh, man. He’s my favorite. That’s my-
Tony Gilroy: He’s a gas man.
Greg Iwinski: Okay. So talked a lot about that. I want to talk about process a little bit in the time we have left, it seems like you get asked about process all the time. There’s all these interviews, all these things. What’s the secret to this? What do I do to do this? And something that really resonates with me that it feels like a lot is that a lot of this is intuitive and inspired. It’s like you can’t teach imagination, you can’t teach this stuff, and that it’s about getting yourself to write and to do this, but the spark of it isn’t something that you can teach it. It’s coming out of your voice. Do you think that comes out maybe of starting in music that you didn’t start in a writing class where it’s like, “We learn like this, we learn like this.” But you start in music where it really is an intuitive space?
Tony Gilroy: I think they’ve proven that even if you’re not musical, that kids that are taught music and really have music in their lives when they’re really, really young benefit in all kinds of ways. I think that the stripping of musical education in America from public schools and the rest of that, it’s almost like getting rid of pre-K. One of these… Why would you not spend the $6 on that right now because it pays billions of dollars? I really do believe that… Yeah. And I think that music for me because music for me wasn’t… I did have to go to piano lessons, and I did have recitals when I was a kid, and I hated it, and all that, but then there was a gap. But then when I started playing rock and roll, and then it was self-motivated, and you’re immediately not just doing music, you’re not just figuring out what you like and how to reproduce it and mimic, you’re not just figuring out how to have discipline about something, but you are absolutely forced to work with other people.
You want to be in a band, this band, that band. So the collaborative project mentality is pushed on you. I think that has a big value. I don’t want to spend too long on this, but I mean, I think tempo and dynamics are just critical to how we make films. And my brother John has been my editor, and he’s been my brother Dan’s editor, he’s made… I’ve never really done anything without Johnny. And Johnny was a pretty good musician himself. And man, that’s one thing I will be proud of. We are dead on tempo. We both have… We’re in the pocket, and when we go to do music or we do anything else, every composer that comes on our thing goes, “Wow, I started writing for this. And I realize you’re like, we are.” And so dynamics and tempo and the music of how the story gets told is very powerful.
I don’t know about the other thing. I mean, I don’t know about why you can think of stuff and not… I think if you have a little bit of it, you can make it work. And look, again, I told my son this or something at one point, I mean, I remember trying to write songs, and I must have been about 19. I was living in Boston, and I was tired of working for all these other songwriters, and I thought, “I’m going to write songs for myself and start my own band.” And I remember spending a weekend after trying to write songs saying, “I’m not going to leave the apartment until I write a song.” And it was one of the most depressing experiences. I mean, it’s vivid for me now. I don’t remember. I just came up with nothing. I couldn’t think of it.
I came out with nothing and I really was like, “Oh my God, I have nothing to say.” It’s just such a horrible feeling, and it sticks with me now. And the idea that I could be that person then, and if you put me in a room now, I’ll write a song. It may not be any good, but I’ll write, I’ll come up with something. But I had no game. I had no game. I had no access to those neurons and whatever. So I think you can build it up. I mean, I think if you’re tone deaf, you’re tone deaf, you should probably do something else. And then the other thing is the rigor of just… I’ve come out of the belief that every scene has to be vivid. Things have to be vivid, and that’s my new… It has to be… There are no unessential scenes. There is no moment that is not important to try to make the absolute most of, or can we do it any…
And I always… How can I possibly do something I never did before? Or anything that presents itself in a normal way you kind of go, “Okay, we’re not doing that. Let’s do it the other way.” When we do the prison, we’re like, “Well, we’re only going to do prison if we could come up with a new prison because that’s something I didn’t have when I went to the room. I was like, “I’d really like them to go to prison, but oh my God, how are we going to do that?” And all the great prison material that’s ever been done. If we can’t do something better than we bet they’ll think of something else, but it’d be really great if he went to prison right here, and like, holy shit. It’s that kind of just constantly challenging to be different, to be vivid. But yeah, that’s a long answer. All right.
Greg Iwinski: And you’ve done a lot so much stuff that has action. I mean, Michael Clayton, not a ton of action, but a lot of intensity. But with action stuff and talking about knowing the location, knowing the details and that stuff, how do you use… And I’ve asked a couple different writer directors and writers of action about this, but how do you use action to show character? Because I think that sometimes you think there’s an audience mindset or you watch these action movies, and you think like, “Okay, this is exposition and character, and now we clicked into them punching, and then we’ll go back to character.” But how do you put that character and that stuff into your action?
Tony Gilroy: Well, I think that’s backwards. I think it’s the characters… If they come fully formed and they come fully… And you’re really wide open to what’s going on for them at that moment, that’s what people don’t do. That’s a lot of what doesn’t happen in the first, second, and third drafts of stuff that finally comes in at the end that makes things feel like they’re so… What can I say? What’s specific? I’m doing something right now. How can I just talk about this? I’m doing something today where it’s leading into an action sequence, and I have a character who is coming back, who’s about to take part of this place, and they’re in an elevator, and they’re on their way to the thing.
And the one character says to him, “How do you know this place?” And he says, “Well, I used to live here.” And the idea of what that means and what it means later on in the story, and the fact that you’re in it, as opposed to just two dudes riding up in the elevator, strapping up, getting ready to go, are you ready? Are you nervous? Are you ready? What’s going to be out there? Is it a trap? It’s like, “Man, I used to live here.”
And having your character be crippled for a moment by nostalgia on the precipice of an action sequence is, I think, what you’re talking about. I think you have to be a truffle pig all the time. And the truffles are what do people feel? And then people always don’t say what they feel. So is it something that they feel that you can find a way to get out of their mouth? What’s another good example? It didn’t really work out, but there was the car chase, and maybe I wanted to do it in Bourne, and then I didn’t do it, and I did, I do it again in Legacy.
I’ll give you a great example. Car chase, look at Night Crawler, that car chase in Night Crawler, it shot in one night. I think we shot Bourne Legacy car chase for a month. God knows how long. Billions of dollars. The car chase in Night Crawler is conceivably, arguably better. It shot it in one night. Why is it good? It’s good because Riz, Ahmed, and Jake are in the car, and there’s a huge issue between them as the thing is happening, they have a real problem in the car about what’s going on. And because there’s something that’s absolutely tense going on between them, it’s so vivid. The car chase just takes on this incredibly elevated bit of energy, even though it’s a very small contained thing. You got to just care about these people. You got to be with these people all the time. If you don’t care about… And you know if they’re fake, you know when they go fake.
Greg Iwinski: I think that makes the best action things richer. I guess, when the person is caring about something in it, but also when we feel like they have a reason for doing it or that they’re fighting through something that isn’t just this is the obstacle that’s smashed through, it’s like, “Well, you get a text that your wife is leaving you right before a bank robbery.” It changes the bank robbery.
Tony Gilroy: Yes, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean it’s all of that. Yeah. Yeah.
Greg Iwinski: I have two more questions in the time we have. One is that we talk about TV a lot, working in TV, but my friend who used to write for Tonight Show and does a lot of sitcom stuff now talks about how weird it is that fans of TV and of shows are now fans of the business and the process of TV and shows. You have fans tweeting about like, “Oh, it made this rating in the demo, or it had this many minutes viewed, or this thing got a producer.” Or you see one shot on set with a movie and it’s becomes a whole story. How do you think that impacts what we do? Or how does it impact the audience, maybe in ways that they don’t get in their expectations for shows and stuff? Because I know with Andor you have a thing where if a set photo leaks of Andor it’s going to be everywhere, and everyone’s going to go, “Well, this person’s talking to this person, which means…” And you’ll have three weeks of content podcast expectations.
Tony Gilroy: Oh, yeah. No, no, no, no. Believe me, I’m highly aware of that. I think it makes the bar a little higher to check in, you want to give yourself over to the show. It makes harder to give yourself over to the show when you’re sitting at home than in a theater. No doubt. Everyone knows that. There’s no denying that. I’m not going to enter the fray of, is cinema dead? But you definitely watch something different when you’re in a theater, when you’re trapped and you can’t get up, and was opposed you can get up and get a beer or do whatever you want to do. It’s a vastly immediately different experience. So that’s a challenge to checking in. And the other challenge to checking in is if movie stars didn’t use to say anything to anybody, actors, you never knew who they really were. They were who they were when they were there.
Well, now we know every goddamn thing about everybody’s liposuction, and who they’re wearing, and all the rest of it. So the actors themselves are diminished in the process of selling things and whatever. And then you have, as you said before, the making of, and the box office of. And even this really started 30 years ago with the Opening Weekends, when Opening Weekends became a big deal. But it just makes the bar higher, and I know how hard my criteria is. It’s really hard for me to check into narrative material, right? I see all that… It’s really hard. My instant tell is if it’s really bad, I start to see what it looked like on the page. I start to see the pages go by and I’m like, “Oh my God, how could you…”
So I’m really, really unpleasant, and I walk out all the time and I turn things off, but, man, when I check in, oh my God, I’m so happy to check in. It means it’s gone. So I mean, that’s what you want. So I think it really makes the wall, you got to climb over a lot higher, but I think it’s not going away. It’s the weather, man. You get an umbrella. What are you going to do?
Greg Iwinski: I think you’re so right because my wife writes novels, I write TV. But we’ll watch a show, and then every so often a show hit a place where she goes, “Okay, no, we’re talking about it.” Because most shows you’re like on IMDB being like, “Where did they shoot this? This city looks bad, this thing…” Or like, “Oh, this guy’s clearly going to…” And you’re just thinking like, “Oh, this is the pause episode in these six episode series because we need to…” And you’re dissecting it the whole time. And when a show is so good that… I’ll say this, I texted Beau after the last episode, and I say this as a compliment, I’m so mad at you guys, I’m so freaking mad because this is so good that the only emotion I could have is like, “Oh man, that was so good.” I was like just upset in the best way because it made me forget it was a show, forget it was a production, and I was just enjoying it, which was, I think that is the hot part.
Tony Gilroy: Oh, that’s the best. No, that’s the goal. Well, I mean, that’s best of goal. But I’m the same way. I’m the same way. And I yearn for that experience. I yearn to be taken away. I want it really bad, but I’m really off when it doesn’t show up.
Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Yeah. It’s so hard. I think about why most late night writers that I know, we all watch either sports or reality TV because you can’t deconstruct it really. You’re just like, “Okay, just give it to me”. It’s happening, whatever because as soon as it’s narrative. And for us, I know if you’re on the comedy side, if you’re drama, maybe you can turn to comedy and it’s fun, but for comedy, then you’re just going, “Ah, I could have written that joke. I could have written that-”
Tony Gilroy: That’s like my default, this first 48. If first 48 is on anywhere, any hotel room, I will just… That’s my narcotic because it’s just… Have you ever seen that show, The Murder Show?
Greg Iwinski: Yes.
Tony Gilroy: Yeah. I’ve seen thousands of them, and I just like, it’s so hypnotic, and it’s such a train of shit, and there’s nothing I have to… And everybody else is in trouble and I’m not.
Greg Iwinski: Yeah. It lets you do the click on the TV, click off your… Yeah. Yeah. It worked like… Yeah.
Tony Gilroy: Yeah, man, it’s definitely an Ativan.
Greg Iwinski: Yeah. And for me, that’s basketball. It’s like I turn on basketball, no scripts, no thinking about my career. Just watch guys twice as tall as me dunk. It’s great. One more thing is about process and writing. And I say this as a fan of action movies and also out of self interest. As someone who’s writing my first one, you gave this quote, I hate quoting you to you, but you gave this quote where you said, “I don’t want to hear anybody say, writers shouldn’t be directing. You have to be directing. I’m not interested in reading anybody else’s scripts anymore who aren’t directing the film they’re writing. Should be making a film and showing it to me on the page.”
Tony Gilroy: I said that recently. That was a new thing. Yeah, I believe that.
Greg Iwinski: So can you talk to me about coming to that realization, but also what does that look like? I mean, in my head, I’m thinking about being that kid in high school who’s going, “Okay, then juggernaut breaks through that wall, and then Wolverine chases him in the middle.” And I’m thinking about blocking out action scenes, but in directing, there’s so much more to that.
Tony Gilroy: No, but I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about… I mean, you can be the annoying version of that. And I’ve seen scripts like that where it’s like a medium size angle here and a… Fuck that. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about making it visually vivid, making sure that you understand all of the physics that has come up, and tell me with the energy of the scene, put the energy of the scene on the page. Which means don’t… I mean, that’s another thing. A lot of times people give you script. And I mean, I’ve seen a lot of this where you get even a script to fix and they’ve got a… There’s a whole page or a half a page or three quarter page slug of action. And I’m looking at that three quarter of page. I’m going, that’s six pages for me. That’s six pages. I’ll spread that out. I want air in my action. I want space, I want to control.
And you want to control the tempo on the page. You want the tempo of the stage directions and every little word, and comma, and dash that use, you want it to feel like if someone’s falling down the stairs, you want to feel like it’s falling down the stairs when you’re doing it. I mean, see it, man, see it and tell it to me, and tell me how it feels, and tell me how it’s going to go. But get out of the way, I mean, it should be all this white on the page. It should be spare, it should be… But I don’t want to read scripts where people didn’t see the movie that they’re telling me about because that means that the scenes aren’t vivid. That means that the scenes aren’t…
And I can’t tell you how many times. I cannot think of, “Okay, what am I going to do? I know what this next scene is about. And you’re avoiding going to… You had like, “Oh my God, you had a great run.” And then you get to this scene and you’re like, “Oh God.” And you spend the day, and then, “Oh God, I don’t want to go back to work.” And it’s really because not because I don’t know what scene is, but because I don’t have a hook on it. I don’t have any point of entry to it. And it’s as many times as anything, it’s either dialogue or sometimes it’s like, “Oh, man. Oh, it starts on the radio, it starts here. It starts on the handcuffs, it starts with this. It starts with that.” I’m seeing the movie.
Then I, “Oh, whoa.” Now I’m excited again. Now I’m into it. Now I can start again. But I don’t know, it used to be this dictum. I remember… I was always director saying, “Oh no, no, you should just write. It’s just an architectural drawing, and should just tell me before inside or outside.” “Really?” No, I’m not interested in that. I don’t ever want to write that. I never wrote that way. Even in the beginning I didn’t write that way. No one ever tried to beat me into that. There was a couple times, but I always wrote that way. I always was reporting on a movie I was seeing. I have to say that.
Greg Iwinski: That’s a great way to say it. And I guess that’s also why in Andor you started bringing Luke Hole, the production designer in. So as you’re seeing it and writing it on the page, you’re already building it.
Tony Gilroy: Oh, man, this is the apotheosis of everything because of all the writing stuff, he’s my primary writing partner, really, if you want to know the truth. I mean, I was on the phone today with Luke, and they’re shooting and he’s busy. I was on the phone with him three times today. I’ll be on the.. I have quite… He’s too late to call him now, but I have a question for tomorrow morning before it starts. The first thing I call in the morning is like this walkway, how long is it? And those elevators are… Where are… Everything we do, we have to build, and everything has to be. So to make the mental picture of where you are, and to make the mental picture of the spaces, and to understand if we can afford to do something or… Oh God, it’s just the design part of this is there’s not one single scene that we can do that we don’t have to have a conversation between he and I about what it is, unless we’re going back to a set that we’ve already been to before.
Greg Iwinski: And I mean, I think it pays off because Andor is, like I said, I mean, it’s an incredible-
Tony Gilroy: Well, he’s an amazing talent. And that was a big part of our challenge to Disney when we started because Sanne Wohlenberg who came in, she was sort of a shotgun wedding. She was presented to me as a producer, and she’d come off Chernobyl. She said, “Man, I got this great production designer.” And I thought Chernobyl was great. And I was like, “This is a really great challenge to Disney because they really want us to take a bunch of Star Wars people to be our production designer.” I was like, “No, we want the kid from Chernobyl. We want the 14-year-old kid from Chernobyl to be our production designer because it looks really young.” And they were, “Really? Okay.” And so, boy, that worked out. Wow.
Greg Iwinski: I mean it did. And you ended up with some… I mean, that prison set is iconic. All these other sets are these amazing locales, like you said, are put in cannon forever, and [inaudible 00:49:20]-
Tony Gilroy: And we don’t waste any money. I know it looks thick, but we don’t waste any money. I mean, it’s actually… Yeah, I mean, he built Ferrics, he built Ferrics, eight acres of Ferric existed for some months.
Greg Iwinski: That’s incredible. Well, unfortunately, we’re out of time, but I want to thank you so much.
Tony Gilroy: All right. Thanks to everybody who listened in, and thanks to the Guild. Thank you, Dana. Thank you, Jason. Thanks a lot.
Speaker 1: OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online wgaeast.org. You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening, and write on.