Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the other, though… I feel like it was breaking my heart, sort of, in the middle of the season, where it was, these kids witnessed their friend die, and no one’s… she’s clearly having a… someone reach out to her. Where are her counselors? Because you sort of see her struggling with, not only coming undone from this version of herself, that she’d been performing, but also this very real, traumatic thing that happened to all of them, which, some of them are handling better than others. And then, the other thing with Cooper I really enjoyed was, because I feel like you got to see him realize that there’s this version of himself that he’s been performing, that has been serving him very well; that it’s, this other thing, that feels very dangerous, is the better thing, where it seems like my life is perfect right now. But actually, this other thing, that feels like the wrong thing, it feels better, is a really beautiful thing. Yeah.
Erica Saleh: Yeah. I love that. And I think there’s a real question, knocking on wood, that we get to keep exploring this, but is there a version of his life where the star athlete and the out kid get to-
Geri Cole: Be the same person?
Erica Saleh: Live the same life? Yeah.
Geri Cole: Man. Well, I do want to follow up on that a little bit more, but I also want to talk about, there were lots of references, or I thought, I was picking up on, to John Hughes; also to Bayview High. I was, “Wait a second.” So many different… did you guys? It sounds like you were in the writer’s room, just sort of, “Can we put this here? Can we put this here?”
Erica Saleh: Yes. We definitely all talked about our favorite teen movies a lot. I think the most obvious references are all to The Breakfast Club, but I think our film language also references Hitchcock a lot, which is not teen cinema. But I think we were trying to be very aware of the influences and the references and what we’re growing out of, in the same way that these kids are defined by all of the TV they’ve watched, all of the movies they’ve watched. Of course, so are we, as TV writers and filmmakers.
Geri Cole: Almost even a meta thing of “We’re all teens.”
Erica Saleh: Yes, yes. I think we are.
Geri Cole: Yeah. I’d to talk a little bit about your career. And then I’m going to come back because I do have a theory about the show that I want to test with you.
Erica Saleh: Yes.
Geri Cole: But you started as a playwright.
Erica Saleh: Yes.
Geri Cole: And you said, also, there were some playwrights in the room. Can we talk a little bit about that, switching over to screenwriting, if it was something you always knew you wanted to do, and/or if you just sort of found yourself there, and the differences between the two?
Erica Saleh: Yeah. I don’t know that I always knew. Truly, I feel like I always knew I wanted to write. And it took me a while, a while, in college. I went from thinking I wanted to be someone who wrote fiction to realizing I loved theater and realizing that getting to work with actors and create something in space, was more exciting to me. So really, really fell in love with theater and was all about playwriting. Did grad school for playwriting. Moved to New York and was in some… there are a couple, there are quite a few actually, really wonderful playwright groups for young writers, that I did. And that community was everything to me, and I was having so much fun. And I also wasn’t getting… I had a lot of short plays produced.
I had a lot of full length plays that had hundreds of readings and never a full production. And I think, at some point, it started getting a little frustrating. I wanted to reach a larger audience, and I love TV. I’ve always loved watching TV. And so, it did at some point, occur to me, oh right, this is another way to tell these stories. And I think I was at the beginning, but not the very beginning, when I started seeing some other playwrights dip into TV. And I think I was on the earlier side of what now just seems like every New York playwright I know is also writing-
Geri Cole: A TV writer?
Erica Saleh: For TV. I really hope to get to a point where I’m doing both more actively. I haven’t really had the time to devote to developing a play, in quite a while, but I’m still writing plays that are just waiting. But yeah, I think it’s a really fun transition. It’s such a incredibly lucky thing to get to make a living writing, which is not something I was experiencing, writing plays. It’s such a amazing thing to have something that the world gets to see. And yeah, I think doing both is so much fun. Sorry, that was a long-winded answer, that didn’t really answer the question.
Geri Cole: That was a perfect answer. I was wondering, do you feel like there are some stories that will come to you, and you’re, “This needs to be for the theater; this I see on a stage,” versus…
Erica Saleh: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that there’s a question of scope. I think that something so wonderful about theater is that, I think, you can tell these really contained intimate stories. And I think, as a playwright, I really tend toward smaller casts and people being stuck in a room together, all the things that make theater theater. I think one of the biggest differences between TV and theater is how long a scene gets to be. I love, in theater, that part of the challenge is writing 10, 20 page scenes, really just letting people sit in the reality of being in a room together. And I feel like in TV, if you get away with a two or three page scene, you’ve really done something.
Geri Cole: Oh man. And so, you were also a writer on Michael Rauch’s Instinct, which, if folks don’t know, is a police drama, but where the main character is gay. And so, I was wondering if there were lessons from that writer’s room, because also, there are a lot of queer story lines in One of Us is Lying, and if that helped you adapt?
Erica Saleh: I would say, certainly, there are lessons from every writer’s room I’ve been in. And Instinct was so much fun. And actually, a writer in that room, has turned into a great collaborator and great friend and was the writer’s assistant on Season One of this show and wrote an episode. And I think you just pull people and talent from every room you’ve been in. But I think, in terms of telling inclusive stories, it just feels like, for a young adult TV show, I wanted to put forward the world that I see. And I think that having multiple queer characters, gay characters, characters that are exploring their sexuality, just feels true to what being a teenager is.
Geri Cole: Feels like the truth.
Erica Saleh: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.
Geri Cole: Yeah. So actually, talking a little bit about things that you learned from other writer’s room, let’s talk a little bit about your process. Are there skills and/or practices that you’ve developed over the years, that you feel have served you? Or you’re, “Meh, this is a good…”
Erica Saleh: Yeah, I think so many things. I think one thing, that I’ve been learning over the years, and that I’m starting to get more comfortable with, is just remembering that every time you sit down to a new outline or a new script or to breaking an episode, every time it feels, at least to me, like, how are we going to pull this off? Do I remember how to put words on a page? And, of course, the answer is yes. But I really do have that kind of, what’s going on? Every single time. And I think I’m finally learning to just live with that and be, oh, there’s that anxiety, that’s not a real thing. So that’s been on a personal level. I think just the longer I do it, the more faith I have that I can do it.
And then, that allows you to just have more and more fun, if you’re not worried about being able to get the script done on time and knowing that you’re going to pull it off; I think it gives you the room to breathe and have some fun. On the script level, I had a show runner, Josh Friedman, who told us… it was for a show that didn’t end up going. But he told us, as we were writing scripts, “Our job is to write the best version of every scene possible,” which sounds sort of like… yeah, of course I want to do the best version. But as you’re writing, sometimes you’re, okay, I need to get this scene so that I can get over here. And the reminder to stop in every single scene and think about, what is the funniest or strangest or most visually striking version of that? Every single one. “There’s never a scene that’s just to get us to the next beat,” is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
And then, I think also just, in the process, remembering how important every single step is; taking the time, in the room, to explore tons of options. And maybe you’ve hit on the right one, but just then saying, “Okay, we’ve got this on the board. What if we did this instead? Let’s just really make sure. Let’s get all the ideas out there, so that you can feel really confident that you love the idea you have.” And, probably, little bits of all those other ideas or going to make their way into that scene, in some way. And I think, just treating every step as very important.
The blue sky step, so important. Then, as you’re breaking, for me, in this room and every room I’ve been in, when I’m going off to write an outline, I really want us to have broken that episode, so that I know exactly what my job is, when I go off to outline. So really doing the work, in the break, of knowing what the story is. And then, in the outline, really doing the work of seeing what every scene is, so that when you get to script, that should be the fun, easy part.
Geri Cole: Man, this is all so much good advice, but I especially love the first thing that you said, because it’s so true, where it’s, just having faith that when you sit down to the empty page, where it’s, it will happen.
Erica Saleh: Yeah, yeah-
Geri Cole: You will get something… yeah.
Erica Saleh: It wasn’t a fluke that you were able to write yesterday or last year. You’re still essentially the same person.
Geri Cole: Yes. But all that is really fantastic. Really fantastic advice. A question that I like to ask everyone a lot, on the podcast, is about success, the idea of success, because I feel like, in creative professions, it’s such an elusive feeling. But then, occasionally, oh wait, am I in it? Is it happening? So I’m curious about what your feelings around success are. And especially because this feels like a success, feels like you’re in success. This show’s amazing.
Erica Saleh: Thank you.
Geri Cole: What do you think of success?
Erica Saleh: I remember, very early in my TV writing career, being in LA. And I was staying on the east side, and I had a three o’clock meeting in Santa Monica, and I was driving back to the east side at five o’clock. And I remember thinking to myself, I want to get to the point in my career where I can say, “No” to a rush hour meeting in Santa Monica. That’s when I’m going to have made it. So I’m still waiting to get there. But that, I think, is going to be a clear sign of success.
Geri Cole: Wow.
Erica Saleh: In a more serious way, I think getting to make stories you care about, with people that you love creatively and love collaborating with, is, to me, the biggest thing one can hope for. And that has happened on this show. We have such a amazing creative team, and all of our writers, our whole crew, our actors, they’re people you want to show up to work with every day. So that feels like great luck and great success.
And then, I think for this project, I do feel like, yeah, it feels great. I feel like there is success to this project. Do I, as a person, feel like I have hit success? Who knows? But I do think it’s been fun watching the show and watching people respond to the show and seeing people like it and just thinking about all the little fights along the way, or all the little things that you wanted slightly different and then watching them being, oh, it’s great. It doesn’t matter. It matters while you’re making it, but just letting those feelings of, is this exactly the way I pictured it? fall away. And I hope that I can carry that forward to be, there’s not a right answer. There’s not a way to make this scene great. That’s part of the process, is watching it evolve. And the audience isn’t going to know the tiny little thing that you were thinking could be slightly different. It doesn’t matter. The success is people seeing it and liking it and hopefully taking something from it.
Geri Cole: Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. I also always try and often remember, it’s going to be what it ends up being. And everyone doesn’t know all the thousand different versions of it. But there’s so much beauty in that because there’s such a collaborative process, that it’s, I actually maybe don’t know what this looks like, in the end. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Erica Saleh: Yes. I love that.
Geri Cole: So, okay. We’re running a little bit out of time, so I do want to ask you about my theory, which I actually don’t know… you probably can’t answer. And then, I was thinking about it this morning. I was, is this actually? Probably, absolutely not. But if you feel like you can’t answer, just blink twice. [crosstalk 00:28:40] Simon’s not dead. This is my theory. Simon is not dead. I feel like he faked his own death.
Erica Saleh: I would say, how do I know? I won’t know until the writer’s room decides what we want to do in Season Two and Season Three. I’d say, Simon’s definitely dead in Season One.
Geri Cole: Is he? The whole time, I was, “Simon’s not dead.” This is clearly Simon, who I also hated. One part, during the series, I was feeling, I think, some sympathy for him. And then, another part, I was, I’m glad they killed him. But then by the end, I was, he’s not. He can’t be dead. There’s no way.
Erica Saleh: I will say there are definitely people on Twitter that you can lean into that theory with. You’re certainly not alone in that theory.
Geri Cole: Because I was, there’s no way he let himself get played like this [crosstalk 00:29:30] But then, I was, there’s also no way that… his mother’s the mayor, and they wouldn’t have buried an empty casket. And so it’s… yeah, it’s a very…
Erica Saleh: It’s a key thing.
Geri Cole: Ah. Yeah, I was, “Do you know?” No. Don’t know yet.
Erica Saleh: Don’t know.
Geri Cole: Maybe he’s not.
Erica Saleh: Yeah. We’ll see. We’ll see, I suppose.
Geri Cole: Well, thank you so much. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see more.
Erica Saleh: Thank you so much. This was so, so fun.
Geri Cole: That’s it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writer’s Guild of America East and is hosted by me, Geri Cole. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stockboy Creative. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. You can learn more about the Writer’s Guild of America, East, online at wgaeast.org. And you can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at wgaeeast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.