Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Greg Iwinski

Promotional poster for ANDOR

Host Greg Iwinski talks to Tony Gilroy about ANDOR, how his music career influenced his work as a screenwriter, why empathy is the key to imagination, the similarities between being a showrunner and a dairy farmer, and more.

Tony Gilroy is a writer, director, and showrunner known for his numerous screenplays, including THE CUTTING EDGE, the JASON BOURNE franchise, and his 2007 acclaimed directorial debut MICHAEL CLAYTON, for which earned received Oscar, BAFTA, and Writers Guild Award nominations for Original Screenplay.

Currently, Tony is the showrunner and executive producer of the Star Wars series ANDOR. The show, which he also created, serves as a prequel to both the 2016 spin-off ROGUE ONE as well as the original 1977 STAR WARS film. The Writers Guild Award-nominated series follows Cassian Andor, a Rebel spy during the formative years of the Rebellion, and chronicles his difficult missions for the cause.

ANDOR premiered in September 2022 and is in production for its second season. Season one is currently available to stream on Disney+.

Greg Iwinski is an Emmy-winning comedy writer and no-award-winning performer whose writing includes LAST WEEK TONIGHT and THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT. He recently finished writing the first season of GAME THEORY WITH BOMANI JONES on HBO, and can be found on Twitter @garyjackson (external – opens in a new window)

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Speaker 1: Hello, you’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. In each episode, you’ll hear from the writers of your favorite films and television series. They’ll take you behind the scenes, go deep into the writing and production process, and explain how they got their project from the page to the screen.

Greg Iwinski: Hi, I’m Greg Iwinski, a TV writer and WGA member, and host of this episode of OnWriting. Today I’m talking to Tony Gilroy, the creator, executive producer, and showrunner of the Star Wars series Andor, now airing on Disney Plus. He’s also written numerous films including The Cutting Edge, The Jason Bourne films, and Michael Clayton, which earned him Oscar and Writers Guild Award nominations for original screenplay. Just a heads-up, this episode is full of Andor spoilers, so please see it first and then come back. Hello, Tony.

Tony Gilroy: Hello, Greg.

Greg Iwinski: Good to talk to you again.

Tony Gilroy: Nice to see you.

Greg Iwinski: Yes, good to see you. Let’s jump into Andor first, because this is the explosion. Last time we talked, it had not come out, and now it’s a huge hit. As you know, I’m a huge Star Wars person, super into it, and I feel like my friends who love Star Wars watch it. My friends who didn’t really watch Star Wars before this watch it. It feels like the Clone Wars audience, the Yellowstone audience, and the HBO Sunday night drama audience have all jumped in on this thing, and it’s exploded. How has the reaction to the show hit you, and has it had any impact on making Season 2?

Tony Gilroy: The first part is the easy, I mean, it’s kind of what… For this audience, and we should just… I mean I love this conversation because we could just go right at… I mean, everybody listening to this thing is just sits in a room. I mean, what do we do? Sit in a room, you spend most of your life sitting in a room, and you’re trying to keep yourself there, and you’re trying all the games you play to motivate yourself, to keep yourself going, right? I’m angry, I’m jealous, I’m glorious, I’m whatever the thing is. And one of the things is anticipated affirmation. Oh my God, someday I’ll be affirmed. And I’ve certainly had both experiences over the course of my century long career here at this point. You get great things and getting slammed and whatever, but this was unique in every way because it rolls out for 12 weeks. It went on for three months. So every Wednesday it was like another Vicodin.

I mean, it was just really, really kind of… Oh, you say humbling, even that sounds like bullshit, but it’s like it was really, really affirming, and so many people got so deep into what we were doing, and all the stuff that we thought was tertiary and deep and stuff that we thought maybe wouldn’t be uncovered for a long time. And I’m not talking about Star Wars stuff. I’m talking about behavior, and plot, and stuff, and whatever, and I can’t tell you it was really… I had a very buoyant emotional fall because of the show. Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: And you’ve had films come out and you have opening weekends, you have previews and that stuff, but with the reaction being spread over that much time, what were there moments that then the editor and the showrunner view comes in, and you hear people at episode four reacting and you’re thinking, “Oh, well, in six I would’ve done this, or I would’ve changed this in the 10.” You have more time to have a give and take with the audience over those weeks.

Tony Gilroy: I can’t think of anything specific where we had any regrets or alternate versions of things that we wanted to do. I can’t think of anything specific like that, and I can’t really think of in any way that it probably influenced this part two, season two, it probably influenced it in ways that I’m not even aware of because I became much more conscious of the audience. I mean, your relationship with the audience really changes. When you’re movie writer, maybe you go out on opening weekend and tour the theaters when your movie’s playing and look at the audio, whatever, or maybe you have a screening or you’ve been subjected to a wonderful or horrifying focus group along the way. So the audience has a threatening and mysterious aspect to it, but all of a sudden in this, the audience becomes so much more revealed than… I don’t have a Twitter account, but I’m not ashamed to admit that while we were coming out, I was checking it every day to see what people were saying. I mean, why wouldn’t you, I was like, “Wow.”

And all of a sudden, you have this completely different relationship with the audience. So some of that must leak through to what we’re doing now. There’s probably some things that I heard along the way that I took to mind, but I can’t think of anything specific, and I wouldn’t want to pinpoint something like that for season two. But what a trip, it’s very unusual experience, and particularly to have… I’m at the downhill side of my career in that sense. I mean, certainly chronologically. So it’s quite a cool thing to have something so brand new happen in your life.

Greg Iwinski: Well, and you’re kind of doing something in a new way, at least with what we’ve seen with these big shows. I was just like, We do not have to get into the whole math of it, but three episodes, then three episodes, and then Arc and a Mini Arc.” So the Prison Break is three episodes and the bank robberies three episodes. When did you realize, oh, I’m going to write it this way. I’m going to have the writing team write it this way, where it’s like these… They’re not mini movies, but they are, you think of it as that Prison Break is a great prison break film on its own. This is a great bank robbery on its own. When did you think, “Okay, these episodes are going to get broken up into these separate distinct chunks”?

Tony Gilroy: Everything that happened on this, it was really a long-term evolving process. You start running down what would five years ago be like for this guy? And where do I want to end up at the end of that year? And sketching and sketching and sketching. And then I think when we went in the beginning, I mean, it’s a huge amount of prep work before we got anybody else involved. But I think in the original thing, it was eight episodes they wanted, and then at some point because of economically we suddenly said, “Oh, we want 12.” Because we’re shooting in Europe, because we’re shooting in England, and I’m not a big TV guy, so I didn’t have a lot of experience. And I think they do this in the States somewhat, but over there the system is you have blocks, blocks of three.

And the producer Sanne Wohlenberg, who’s been with me right from the very beginning on this, that was her battle plan. We would do, “Okay, if we’re going to do 12, we get a director for blocks of three.” So suddenly we had four blocks of three. As the story is sort of coming together, you’re kind of going like, “All right, well, you know what? Let’s lean into this idea. Let’s do this.” I didn’t lay out perfectly. We didn’t want to force it because as you know, there’s three that go together, and then there’s three that go together, and then there’s a really interesting seventh episode, and then we do a deuce, and then we do another deuce at the end. But the production mandate in many ways coalesced the idea of that because the same director is involved. So yeah.

Greg Iwinski: I think that ties into the stuff you’ve talked a little bit about more in that, I don’t want to say film Twitter, but there’s a lot of people who don’t write, who talk about writing in a way that makes it seem like it’s purely the writers. All of our wishes and dreams have made everything come true. And so you can read into it exactly what a writer meant. The example I always use is Indiana Jones and Raiders shooting the guy in the sword fight, and it’s because he is sick. And somewhere out there, someone wrote a film thesis that was like, “What does it say about Indiana Jones that he would shoot him?” And you’re like, “Yeah, he was sick. We just got to make it.” And so to have these big artistic choices, sometimes it’s like we just had to do it that way.

Tony Gilroy: All we had was clay.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah.

Tony Gilroy: We had brown clay, so we made everything exactly. Now I know.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah, it’s like that’s the reality of what we had because you’ve said, I’ve seen this story in some interviews of like it was made, we were going to do it five seasons, five years, and then there’s this moment of you and Diego Luna being like, “Oh, we’ll die.” And I want to talk more about what is the moment that you realized that we can’t do five seasons, five years, and was that when you were writing? Is it after that? And was that scary or was it maybe freeing of, “Oh, I don’t have to do this five times”? What is that like when you’re like, “Oh, man, we can’t do this that many times”?

Tony Gilroy: Oh, man, the terrorists of fear on this show is, that’s a whole essay unto itself. I mean, tiptoeing through this, I mean the amount of naïveté and then probably some arrogance that incepts something like this is looking back on it now, I mean, it’s almost laughable what I thought in the beginning because in the beginning I thought, “Oh, well, we’ll do this thing, and I’ll block this out, and I’ll get these guys, and we’ll come in for a couple days, and we’ll knock out these scripts.” And then I went to London. I was going to direct the first three. So I had the first three episodes written. I had them written to a certain place. I thought they were okay, but I was going to direct them. So I was in pre-production, and I was over there, and we’re fighting about money, and what’s the style of the show, and a lot of different things.

And I was, what? Three months away I was in prep and COVID hit, and then, oh my God. I mean, those part of me was relieved when I went home, oh, that’s the end of this. I don’t have to do this anymore because at that point, I had glimpsed how big the white whale was. At that point, I was like, “Oh my God, this is really going to be crushing. And then we tiptoed back in and then I said, “Well, I’m not going to direct. I can’t direct because I can’t come back for COVID, and I don’t want to die for the show.” And the things were very restrictive at that point, and no one knew if they could. And so I started all summer as we were tiptoeing around, I rewrote my three, and then I rewrote Danny’s three. I just started rewriting. I just started going, and then we started to build up momentum to production.

And there was a pattern that was in place then, and there was a way of doing it on Zoom. I’d never been on Zoom in my life. And all of a sudden, basically I am pre-running the show from wherever I am, and it’s working, and I am spending all my time prepping and prepping and prepping. And then quite honestly, just non-stop writing for an entire year and a half, just upgrading all the time. My fear about the show was epic. Many different times during the show I was like, “This is the worst decision I’ve ever made.” I’ve ruined my life. I had a really good hole and I got out.

It’s like Frederick Forrest on the boat, don’t ever get off the boat. What did I do? And I’d say there were many, many mornings I woke up wondering if what I’d done and if it was really worth it until we really started to put it together in a sense. And we finished shooting and we kind of started looking at it, and we started to go, oh my God. And about a year ago I started to think it was worth it, but I’m not sure if that’s a long answer to the question, but it would be really wrong to underestimate the quantity and variety of doubt that I had during this.

Greg Iwinski: So that moment is subsumed into a larger, it seems like wave of moment of terror, the shortening it down season wise.

Tony Gilroy: I had the daily terror of just writing in general that we all have experience. You can practice that at home on your own anytime you want, then you have 800 people working for you, 700 people working for you, everybody looking at you, everybody waiting, and you can’t turn around, and you can’t turn back, and you’re in. And it’s kind of like in the prison, it was really easy to come up with the idea of one way out because there was really… We had teachers, but there’s really only one way out. You got to fight your way home and that becomes your navigating principal and you hope that you’re constantly making good decisions. But, man, I was humbled by the scale of everything that we did. I have to say along the way.

Greg Iwinski: I mean, I think some of the best advice I’ve gotten in my career was I’ve been lucky enough to write at some late night shows that were fairly successful, and someone coming to me and going, “I want you to know that a dream job is a job, and it’s okay to remember it’s a job, which will mean it will be hard or it’ll be scary, or it’ll be… Just because it’s a dream job doesn’t mean you walk in every day like hub. Paths are opening before me.” And that letting it be work still helps that-

Tony Gilroy: Yeah, the thing here is that you can’t ever… It’s just this Catherine wheel that keeps spinning, it just doesn’t stop there’s no… I mean, it literally is, I don’t know… I have a friend who owns a dairy farm, and I used to go up there and I grew up in… And I go there for a couple weeks every now and then and work. And a dairy farm is just, man, you got to milk the cows twice a day there. There’s just no choice. It’s not an option whether you have food poisoning, or whether you have a broken leg, or whether you don’t feel good, or whatever, you got to go do it.

And the show is like that. It doesn’t stop. You can’t stop. You can’t fault, or it doesn’t matter. You got to stay on top of it. And if you fall behind, I mean, I don’t know if you watch any… I’m not a surfer, but I love to watch surfing. I was surfing and they just had the big wave. And I don’t know if you watched the big wave thing, the Eddy thing in Hawaii, man, it’s like a wave. You either stay on it or he gets on top of you, and that’s the choice. It’s one or the other.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. My dad worked in Ag and ran a liquid fertilizer company, and I just remember the days where it’d be like, it’s 12:30 in the morning, you have to go put 20,000 pounds of liquid bag guano fertilizer on this truck to go to Modesto, and it’s got to go now. And you’re just like out there just… Yeah, it’s the clock turns and…

Tony Gilroy: Oh, yeah. So-

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. That’s-

Tony Gilroy: … there’s the relentless quality of that. And then you realize you’re in that, but also, I mean, I don’t want to… I mean it’s just I should love in what I just said with the joy of this constant creative absolute maximalist creational experience every single day. And it’s not just writing when you’re doing this because we’re all designing and building, and every sideburn, and every belt, and every weapon, and every single corner of every… So it’s just this maximalist imaginative experience. And so your imagination just turns into this muscle that just gets so strong, and it’s so satisfying that, and it’s so joyful to hide out there.

So it’s also the show becomes a really big sanctuary and a safe place to do that. And the joy of that is amazing. And also, again, to the audience because, man, I can relate. I mean, you’re not just sitting in a room your whole life. 80% of the shit I ever wrote never got made. Best stuff I ever wrote, never got made. I mean, the best stuff is I think is sitting on the shelf. But now, every single thing that comes off my desk has a final ghost into an actor’s mouth with an actor that I love, and a director that I respect, and people that we… So everything that comes off here. So that level of gratification, it’s improved my writing too. I mean, I think it made me a better writer.

Greg Iwinski: Well, I want to talk about you in writing and maybe not adaptation, but coming to an existing world because the Bourne movies, I obsessively love those movies. The fights, the dialogue. So whenever he says something amazing on the phone and somebody hangs up and freaks out, all of it, it’s so much fun. But you talk about, like didn’t read all the Ludlum books, didn’t take that and say, “I’m going to turn all the books exactly into the films, it’s that core piece of like, okay, this dude’s forgotten that he’s the super spy. What does that mean, and what does that mean to him?”

So in coming to Star Wars, when you came the first time with Rogue, how much of the world, you’re not adapting, but you’re coming to a place where there’s a world, and there’s rules, and it works like this, and it’s happening at this place in time. So how much Star Wars, “Did you know when you decided to say yes and jump into rogue stuff, and then when you came back, you’ve already made some Star Wars, you’ve contributed to that giant pile of lore. How much had you changed in knowing that or diving in, or is it just, I’m telling this story about this guy when I need to know bigger world stuff, the story group’s there, and I can go to Wikipedia, and I can pull from that. I think, how has your relationship changed”?

And I only say that because there’s this tiny micro clip of a podcast where you talk about the Gorman massacre, and the Star Wars internet goes insane because they’re like, “Oh my gosh, he’s one of us. He knows the deep cuts.” And so in terms of that, when you’re coming to this thing, it’s not adapting, but what is your relationship to that world of fiction already? Very long question, I bought.

Tony Gilroy: No, no, it’s simple. I mean, with Rogue. Rogue was a gig. Rogue was a gig. I worked on it. Kathy came to me the summer before they started shooting, and I worked on it. I looked at the script and I thought they were in really bad trouble, and I think that they thought they were in trouble. And I worked on it for a couple weeks then, but my father was passing away at that period of time. I said, “Kathy, I only have a couple weeks. I could work on this because by the end of the summer, my father’s going to be in hospice and I know it… it’s just I can’t do it anymore.” So I worked on it for a couple weeks and made some pretty… Was in the act of making some pretty big changes to it.

And then I needed someone else to take over, so I suggested that she brings Scott Burns on because I knew Scott and Scott’s good friend, and I talked to Scott and he was in agreement about the direction that I was going. And Scott came in, and we sort of feathered over for a week or so. And then they went off, and our suggestion was, “Hey, shut the movie down and get a grip on it.” But they couldn’t do that, and they started to roll with it. And I didn’t pay any attention to it till the following spring. I mean, literally, I had so much else going on, and my father did die, and all of this other shit happened. And all of a sudden their phone was ringing, they were like, “Oh, man, can you come and look at our cut?” And they hadn’t solved the problem of a rolling production and a chaotic situation. Anyway, so that was a fix up gig, that was just come in and like, “Okay, you could do this, you could do this, you could do this.”

How much of the patient do you want to change? And that grew over time, and that’s about as much about Rogue as I want to say, as I kind of tiptoe away from that. There’s nothing really good there for me, but that’s the parameters of what happened there. But in doing it, I was with it till the very end. And yeah, I learned a lot about Star Wars doing that. I mean, I learned a lot about what I needed to learn, and at least in a customs way in what I needed to know for Rogue. But when I came back for this, I know a great deal about five years of history. There’s a five-year period that I get to curate, which is from the point that our show begins to the… I know it’s no secret. The last scene of our show will be the first scene of Rogue One. We’ll be walking into that. There’s not no mystery there.

So that’s a five-year period. I have to be incredibly knowledgeable about that five years. Then I have to have the calendar for that. I have some canonical things that I can’t avoid. I have some things that I can pervert or not pervert, but I can actually play with and do something interesting with and say, “Oh, you thought it was this or this is how it was reported, but this is actually what really happened.” Some really interesting things like that we can do. We do that every now and then. But I’m pretty up-to-date on… I started pretty up to date on that, along the way over the last, I mean, I’ve been three years now. I’ve got another two years in before we finish.

I’m a canon establisher at this point. I mean, my relationship with Pablo Hidalgo, who is the curia out at the Vatican at in Lucas film, I think on Rogue, our relationship was very tentative. And I don’t even know, I don’t think he liked me very much on that. I’m not sure. That was like… But we’re great. And so I use Pablo. I do use Wikipedia. I have a big… Our company in Pinewood amongst even our department heads is split between people who absolutely have zero Star Wars experience and came on with none. And there are some people who are just stone cold Shiites. I mean, they’re all in.

So there’s times I can ask Moen, our VFX a supervisor, or can you ask somebody else here? There’s people I can call there for a simple question. If it’s something that’s more Talmudic, I’ll call Pablo. There’s times I find errors and fix them. There’s things I’ve found along the way that were like, “What? No, he can’t have that because he’s not supposed to be there, and this is supposed to be that.” And so particularly as we get into the second half because I’m really closing in on more canonical, well known events at that point, but I’m not outside the community any more I don’t think. I think I’m in it.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yes, I think establishing canon is definitely… it’s puts your foot in that.

Tony Gilroy: I’m going to have 24 hours of canon by the time I’m done.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Well, yeah, no, that’s a great… That’s-

Tony Gilroy: I’ll put that up again.

Greg Iwinski: … a huge chunk.

Tony Gilroy: Yeah, I’ll put that up against some of the other-

Greg Iwinski: Yeah, take that, George.

Tony Gilroy: Well, put me in a battle with George. That’s great. No, no, no. All right. But no, I went from being an interloper and a carpet bagger to being a legislator. Yeah, exactly.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. This is a little bit more about the reaction than the writing, but Andor hits on a lot of themes that are very real world. And you’ve talked about all the different revolutions over time and what is a revolution in those things, which I think it hits on things that are timely because it hits on things that are universal. Any story of someone taking on their unjust boss, a lot of people will relate to that across time. And the moments I think about are in episode seven Andor gets arrested basically for nothing because he looks like someone who’s running away. And I had a white friend talking Star Wars with me, and he goes, “Wouldn’t that be horrible if that was how America was?” And I had to go, I said, “We have to stop. We have to stop talking, right? We got to think about what you said.” And he waited and went, “Oh my gosh.” But that idea of, “Oh, right, that is timely to now for some of us.”

Tony Gilroy: Shopping well tourist.

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 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.

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