Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Greg Iwinski


Host Greg Iwinski talks to Michael Waldron, writer of DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, about the Harmon Story Circle, how the worlds of wrestling and comic books are similar, and the cultural obsession with spoiling things. (Speaking of which, this episode does contain some spoilers. Proceed with caution!)

Michael Waldron is a writer and producer who started his career in film & TV as a PA on the fifth season of the hit NBC sitcom COMMUNITY. After his time at Greendale Community College, he served as a writer/producer for the animated series RICK & MORTY – for which he and his colleagues received an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program, showrunner for the Disney+ series LOKI, and creator/co-showrunner for the Starz drama series HEELS.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is the latest feature film from the Marvel cinematic universe, and the sequel to the 2016 film DOCTOR STRANGE. The film follows the titular Doctor Strange as he teams up with a mysterious teenage girl from his dreams who can travel across multiverses. Along the way, the duo battles multiple threats, including other-universe versions of Stephen Strange, which threaten to wipe out millions across the multiverse.

The film premiered in early May 2022 and is now playing in theaters.

Host 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.

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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.


OnWriting Narrator: 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. Welcome to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. I’m your host, Greg Iwinski. Today, I’m talking to Michael Waldron, writer of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. We talk about the Harmon Story Circle, how the worlds of wrestling and comic books are similar, and the cultural obsession with spoiling things. Speaking of which, we do get into spoilers about Doctor Strange, so be warned.

Very cool to talk to you. Saw the movie. Loved it. I watched a ripped copy on my phone, and it looked great.

Michael Waldron: As it was meant to be seen. There or on a plane.

Greg Iwinski: Yes.

Michael Waldron: That’s how I was hoping people would watch.

Greg Iwinski: A phone on a plane, the high descent.

Michael Waldron: That’s exactly.

Greg Iwinski: But no. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or Doctor Strange 2, if you have less time, really cool film. I know you’ve done a zillion junket things. And you’ve also had a million people say, “You’ve done a million junket things,” and then try to ask you new questions. So hopefully, I will do that and ask you some things you haven’t been asked. But first off, okay, you started writing Loki when Endgame comes out.

Michael Waldron: Yes.

Greg Iwinski: Then, you jump over to Multiverse of Madness. Now, you are working technically on a Star Wars project, unannounced, whatever. But I guess, my question is this, have you come up with a boilerplate way to brush off friends and family who are trying to get secrets out of you?

Michael Waldron: Yeah. I mean, at this point, I guess I’ve been doing it long enough that they just know not to ask. I think my mom still gets a little bit, she’s still like, “Come on. What? Are you not going to tell me?” And I’m like, “No. You know what? I’m sorry, mom. Not even you.”

Greg Iwinski: Does she have TMZ on the speed dial? I mean she’s…

Michael Waldron: Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: It’s got to be safe to tell your mom.

Michael Waldron: My mom’s going to tweet who’s in the Illuminati, and she wants to boost her Reddit cred. So I can’t trust her.

Greg Iwinski: Ah, yeah. I mean, it just seems like with these kinds of projects, there are so many people poking at you to get stuff all the time, to get a character. There’s Instagram videos of just trying to get actors to slip about whether other actors are in projects. How much energy do you have to put into your work, not just being your own good work, but also staying safe from prying eyes?

Michael Waldron: Well, I guess it’s conversations like this one, press ones, that’s when I have to be the most careful. Typically, it’s like, all right, if I’m at dinner, nobody knows who I am. I’m not in too big of danger of anything slipping. Although, there have been times that I’ve needed to work on pages on an airplane or something. And I get paranoid. I’m like, “Wait. Who was behind me? Was that guy taking pictures? Is this going to end up online? Is that it? Is my career over?”

But I mean, I don’t know. I remember the first time I went to Marvel for my very first meeting on Loki. Everybody is always like, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe the NDA that I had to sign.” But it’s like, as you’re working on this stuff, you realize, all right, we’re all working our asses off. And you just, you want to keep it secret because you worked so hard and you know that it’s just going to be more fun for the audience if they don’t know what’s coming. At least, for some of the audience. I mean, I also understand some people, they want to be spoiled. That’s part of the fun for them. And typically, they’ll be able to find everything out and power through.

Greg Iwinski: Well, see, that’s something I want to ask about is, do you think that there’s some kind of a loss of anticipation, maybe culturally in pop culture, because you think about like, you and I are around the same age, Matrix comes out, Matrix 2, Matrix 3. Lord of the Rings comes out, the prequels. All these movies that you’re maybe getting a hint of something online, but there isn’t the same spoiler culture, so you are dying that midnight showing just with anticipation. Do you think that we’ve kind of lost an appreciation for waiting?

Michael Waldron: Totally, right? I mean, yeah, I guess that’s probably all of our culture, isn’t it? That we can just have everything all at once, including the plots of movies that we anticipate. I mean, I remember plumbing Ain’t It Cool News talk backs for like, all right, what’s going to happen in Matrix Reloaded? I was that guy. But I don’t know if I would’ve been doing that if I had known that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was actually a full description of the entire movie you can find now. You really can get it all if you’re willing to look. And I mean, I don’t really…

Greg Iwinski: It seems so unappealing to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer or just the kind of person I am, because it’s like, I would rather have a finished meal and not just sneak around, peeking into a bunch of ingredients. Just let me see the movie.

Michael Waldron: Right, right. It’s like, I was really looking forward to the new Top Gun: Maverick. And I had to really be careful with, okay, how much of this am I going to ingest before I see the Goose’s ghost comes back in a sea? By the way, that’s not a spoiler. Or is it?

Greg Iwinski: I will say we are going to spoil Doctor Strange in this interview, but I am not going to try to get any info out of you about future projects because as I’ve said, I enjoy anticipation. I will say watching, for Doctor Strange, I was skipping TV commercials, I was skipping any kind of teasers online because it’s like, don’t tell me who’s in the Illuminati. Don’t tell me that there is an Illuminati. I’m happy to go in blind and say, “Wow”. There were two different times I said “Wow” out loud in the theater to the stranger next to me.

Michael Waldron: That’s great. That’s great.

Greg Iwinski: It’s really great. I had three immediate reactions walking out of the theater, which was, this is a horror movie. It’s the type of horror movie where the monster chases you the whole time. Terminator 1 is like that. There’s always this thing chasing you. And that I’ve never seen a Marvel movie that took that established cinema aesthetic and put it into a Marvel space. How, when you were writing the movie, did you keep that kind of, the footsteps are behind you, badump, badump, badump? How did you keep that pacing going at the same time that you’re telling a story that’s like, hey, there’s a bunch of universes and a bunch of yous, and the what version of yourself? There’s two giant things happening at the same time. How did you make sure that you kept that kinetic energy of the monsters always chasing you?

Michael Waldron: You had exactly the reaction that we hoped you would have. So I’m glad to hear that. I think that I absolutely was thinking about Terminator, and T2, and Alien, and Aliens, and Jurassic Park as well. Those are my favorite kind of horror movies that are thrillers as much as they are… I wouldn’t call myself the biggest horror aficionado, but I love Terminator. So it’s like, whatever kind of horror movie that is, that’s what I love.

Well, first off, when you have Sam Raimi directing, the nice thing is, is you know that all the horror stuff is going to be great. I didn’t really have to do much, but just try to set Sam up, try to set him up to succeed with what he’s already so great at. And so that was like, all right, let’s write a chase through the tunnels with Wanda pursuing our heroes. And I know that that sequence is going to be incredibly thrilling because it’s a master of horror shooting.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. He really shines in that sequence. The idea that no matter how much you hurt the monster, you don’t stop the monster.

Michael Waldron: Exactly. And she’s on [inaudible 00:08:04]. And so suddenly we’re on set, and Sam’s got cameras on the backs of little dirt bikes, riding in front of Elizabeth Olsen as she runs through the sewer. And it’s like, great, that’s the dream.

As far as how do you balance the horror verse, the Multiverse of it all, I, at least, and I’ve had probably more experience now with the Multiverse than I would’ve liked to, between Rick and Morty, and then Loki, and now this, I really was just focused on the horror of it all.

When I think of the multiverse, those are just other locations you go. Those are locations you go that have cool character opportunities to show your character’s reflections of themselves, alternative lives, paths perhaps they might have taken. But it’s really ultimately no different. And I thought about time travel the same way. It’s just a location. It’s just like, all right, we’re going to another planet. And so don’t get hung up on “this is that complex of a sci-fi” idea. It’s just this is the location we’re going. It’s another universe. And that’s where our monster chase is going to happen.

Greg Iwinski: Right. Because then it flavors the scenes, but you don’t have to do all this math about, well, we’re in this universe and we have to build everything from scratch about how people… It’s just another place. That’s the thing about that.

Michael Waldron: Yeah. Because if I’m thinking about that, then the guy who walks in off the street is thinking about it. And the movie becomes inaccessible. And it shouldn’t be. And that was something that was really important to Sam.

Greg Iwinski: So this is a spoiler for the movie, but very early on, Doctor Strange buries a worst Doctor Strange in a planter on a Manhattan rooftop. And so you said in an interview that you had already, kind of script-wise, buried him there, and then later realized you could bring him back as Zombie Strange.

Michael Waldron: Yes. Well, if I said that, I misspoke. And so allow me to set the record straight.

Greg Iwinski: Okay. I’m not trying to “got you” you.

Michael Waldron: In fact, that was probably in a press day where I had no idea what I was saying. I think it was the idea that originally, that dead body didn’t come through the portal with America. And then the idea came to dream walk into a corpse. But it was like, how am I going to get that corpse to our universe? Oh, right. He dies right in front of America. Just have him get sucked through. And so it was one of those writing things where it’s like, oh, thank God. The table was actually already set. And I just didn’t realize it.

Greg Iwinski: Now, did you ever refer to that body as Chekhov’s corpse?

Michael Waldron: For sure.

Greg Iwinski: You set it up in the third act, it has to go off.

Michael Waldron: For sure. For sure. But ironically so, because it wasn’t part of a master plan. That was a relatively late addition, scripting-wise.

Greg Iwinski: Okay. This is a little more writer-y process-y, but reshoots happen on all sorts of movies, especially bigger movies as things change. But what is the writing process like for reshoots, in general, on big movies or TV shows or those? Are you coming back and solving story problems and rewriting whole new sequences? Are you going on set and solving things? What is the role of a writer in those big budget reshoots?

Michael Waldron: Well, it kind of, it depends and it varies, especially in a movie as big as this one. A lot of what gets reported as reshoots are in fact, a finishing of the movie. It’s really just additional photography that’s actually just completion of original photography. So for instance, we didn’t shoot almost the entirety of the Illuminati sequence until our additional photography stage back in Los Angeles. And a large part of that was actor availability and wanting to get as many people in the same room as we could. So my role there was you have the benefit of you’ve put the movie together around these unfinished scenes. And so, you can kind of hone them in, based on what you know the movie needs in a working cut. And so, I’m revising them based on that. And then, yeah, I’m there on set, the same as I was on set in principal photography, working with Sam and with the actors, just trying to keep things moving.

And then of course, there’s always built in, an opportunity to reshoot certain scenes if you feel like something wasn’t quite working or if you’ve had a discovery that maybe would help hone in a character motivation or a step in a character’s journey. Then you’ll go back and maybe you’ll write a whole new scene that you’ll shoot, or you’ll redo an existing scene. And it’s just, it’s no different than being on set originally. It’s just, if anything, you have a better sense of what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. You can be a little more surgical.

Greg Iwinski: So it’s not a process where you’re going, “Well, script’s finished. Now, you guys make it. There’s no more things we’re going to change.” You’re up right until the day, which is very similar to late-night. Until you’re out of time, you can keep writing and writing and writing.

Michael Waldron: Absolutely. We’re going to the very end, I was still writing ADR for Doctor Strange a month and a half before we released. And I love that. And certainly with these Marvel movies, it’s a very collaborative process. On the two things that I’ve made, fortunately, we’ve never had to do surgery on the projects. It’s always additive. It’s like, all right, these things are good. How do we help them take a leap? How do we make them even better? And so, yeah, I enjoy that part of the process.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I mean, coming from the late-night world that I’m from, the idea of being able to go, “Oh, I have one more good idea,” and squeezing that in is always so rewarding.

Michael Waldron: Totally. Yeah. And it’s very helpful because you’ve seen a cut. At the very least, you’ve seen an editor’s assembly. You know what’s working, what isn’t working. And you just, you fortunately have the resources to try and make things better where that feels really important.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I have a joke based question, based off something you did in an interview. You talked about talking with Sam Raimi. You, coming up with jokes, and him asking you on set, “Well, is it honest? Is this honest?” Could you talk a little bit more about, like Rick and Marty slings jokes. I’m from late-night, we’re just shooting jokes out. What you learned about honest jokes and what that means to you going forward.

Michael Waldron: Yeah, well, yeah. I think I talked about that. That was something that Sam heard from Alvin Sargent, the great writer of Paper Moon, who called him on that, because Sam, I think, and his brother had written a gag for Spider-Man in the elevator, in Spider-Man 2. And Sam said they were proud to show it to Alvin or something. And Alvin said, “It’s not honest.” I was like, “Oh, my God. Alvin Sargent’s saying that to you.”

And so I think that it’s always looking for the truth, as cheesy as that is, in every moment. Don’t sell out your characters. Don’t sell out the drama of the scene just because you know you could get a laugh, because it’s not always worth it. A line that usually gets a laugh in this movie is the bit about America doesn’t know who Spider-Man is, and it’s Strange and Wong trying to explain. It’s like, “This is kind of gross. What is a Spider-Man?” And America’s genuinely like, “Ew.” And that, that felt good because that was really rooted in truth. And her, here’s this kid who really, when you say, “Spider-Man”, she thinks, “Is that a guy? Is that literally a spider man?” And so those are the best kinds of jokes.

Greg Iwinski: I think that’s similar to something we talked about. We talked about a lot in Chicago Improv is that your characters are playing to the top of their intelligence. They’re reacting how they would normally react. And so you’re not, like you said, selling them out. You’re not bending them just for a joke, because I think there can be a thing that happens, especially in action stuff, where you build up a beautiful or interesting or human moment, and then you just kind of crush it because you can get a joke, and then move on.

Michael Waldron: Exactly. And especially in the Marvel world where there has been such an incredibly established action-comedic sensibility, it’s like, okay, well it’s my job to be… It’s humor and heart. And that’s the job here. But it really is a delicate alchemy. And I found you’re better off airing on the side of drama, let the comedy come organically. Anything that’s set up punchline, that I maybe think is good on the page, it always dies on the day. And the people who sniff that out the fastest are the actors because that’s ultimately who you might be selling out with a cheap joke. Typically, that means that one of the characters is being an idiot. And the actors, especially in the Marvel world, they’re real stewards of their characters. And they’ve been playing them over several projects with different creative teams. And it’s up to them to maintain continuity of character and voice and intelligence level. And so yeah, it’s good to trust them and trust their instincts on that stuff.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Okay. So a lot of Doctor Strange stuff that’s, I don’t even have time to ask all my Doctor Strange questions, but jumping around a little multiversal in your career, you are a huge wrestling guy.

Michael Waldron: Yes.

Greg Iwinski: I’ve seen. So I was Attitude Era. I was watching the Hell in a Cell, Mick Foley with thumbtacks in his face. Somehow my parents let me watch that. So I wanted to put a question in wrestling terms, which is that you’ve now done Loki and Doctor Strange. Now you’re moving on to other giant IPs. Is it a coincidence that your projects have the same person play the face in the heel? Or is that like a thing you’re drawn to? Both in Loki and Doctor Strange, he is playing both parts.

Michael Waldron: Probably not. I guess I could say, well, they’re just two multiversal time travel things. That’s the way it worked out. But I’m fascinated with duality, as I think every writer is. And I’m lucky to get to work in a world, in this big sci-fi comic book world, where you can actually confront alternate versions of yourself, the heroic version of yourself, the villainous version of yourself. I’ve said before that I wasn’t a comic book fan, but I was a pro wrestling fan. And it feels like it was just a step to the left. They’re the same.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. You have yearlong arcs, the same way you do in comics. You have big tentpole crossovers, the same way you do in comics.

Michael Waldron: Exactly.

Greg Iwinski: You have people die and come back to life. You have Vince get beat with the bed pan in the hospital, and then he’s fine. Or the limo explodes.

Michael Waldron: Exactly. You have pissed off fans all the time.

Greg Iwinski: Yes.

Michael Waldron: So, yeah, I think that there’s absolutely, I continue to be drawn to that. But I guess I also, I hope I can keep finding new stuff to do. With Loki, it was a villain coming face to face with the possibility of being heroic. And in Doctor Strange, it was a hero coming face to face with the possibility of being villainous. And those are two interesting things. I don’t want to just keep doing the same thing. I hope I can keep finding stuff that feels different in the same way.

Greg Iwinski: I mean, you put Nation of Domination in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Waldron: Yeah. Well, hey, man. I’m all for it. I’m all for it.

Greg Iwinski: So you grew up in Georgia. I lived in Atlanta for a little bit, just enough to enjoy food and culture, and then bounce out of there. But one thing I noticed was you made a show set in Georgia, about small town Georgia wrestling, the show, Heels, which I think is on its second season?

Michael Waldron: Yeah. I’m in Atlanta right now. We’re shooting Season 2, as we speak.

Greg Iwinski: And so, one, the way I describe the show is it’s Sports Entertainment entertainment.

Michael Waldron: Right. Right.

Greg Iwinski: But it stars Robbie Amell, who is Arrow from the Arrowverse.

Michael Waldron: Stephen. Stephen Amell. Stephen Amell. But yes, Robbie’s brother. Yes.

Greg Iwinski: Robbie’s brother, yes. And I loved the Arrowverse and the spinoffs of the shows. And to see this televised superhero stuff was so interesting. And now, he’s moved on to really carry this wrestling show, which, if you haven’t seen, is about a family and a small town wrestling circuit in Georgia.

Working with him, what has that process been like? Because it’s so different than the other things that you’ve done. It’s more grounded and human, even though the wrestling characters aren’t small life. The people are real people. And so what has it been like doing that? And then I guess the second question would be, do you talk superhero stuff with Stephen because you’re both superhero tentpoles?

Michael Waldron: Well, the truth is I’m probably much more comfortable writing Heels than I am writing big science fiction stuff. That might get me fired.

Greg Iwinski: Oh, that is not the spoiler I want to drop on this show, getting you fired.

Michael Waldron: But that character… Heels is a family character drama. And so, I have in Loki and in Doctor Strange, even though those were big superhero things, I’ve tried to just take my sensibility as really, I think of myself as just like a drama character writer, a character drama writer. And I’ve tried to do that in the superhero world.

So Heels, I love. That was the pilot I wrote that started my career way back when. I wrote it when I was a PA on Season 5 of Community. And so I love that show, and I love working on it. And Mike O’Malley, our showrunner is a tremendous writer. And it’s been a great collaboration with him, because that show was really my baby. And I had to pass it off because as Starz decided to make it, I was off doing Loki.

And so it was such a great lesson in collaboration to take the project that’s maybe the most… I wrote it when I was young, and it’s about wrestling, which I love, and it’s set in the kind of place that I grew up in. And so to take something so personal and to really have to learn how to give it away, but share it, that was such an important lesson for me in collaboration, which is what everything we do is. Everything is such a huge collaboration. So I love Heels. And I’m so happy that we have such a great cast. And I try to be on set with those guys as much as I can, just helping out.

And then as far as Stephen, he’s brilliant. We were incredibly lucky to get him coming straight off of Arrow. And that was a world where he was doing a lot of episodes per season of that show. And Heels, it’s a smaller episode order every season. And he gets to really flex his acting chops. And the guy is just a hell of an actor. And he’s not having to chew through an enormous amount of material. He’s getting to dig in on some really focused, great character stuff, and show that, yeah, he’s great at playing the superhero, he’s great at being the guy in the ring and everything, but he’s a hell of an actor and a hell of just a dramatic actor outside of all that, as well. But we talk about the superhero stuff and we swap war stories. We’ve both been through that meat grinder. But man, we’re lucky to have him.

Greg Iwinski: And like you were saying, and I think a lot of writers have personal projects that are their town or their life or the thing they love. And a lot of them don’t end up making it. But the trust required that you’re talking about. All writers have to collaborate with everyone else who takes a script and makes it a show. But it seems like it’s a very important lesson to learn what it’s like to have to go like, “Yeah, this is my baby, and I want it to happen.” But also it becomes everyone’s in that collaborating.

Michael Waldron: Totally. That’s what making anything is. And I had to learn that as a young writer who had never been on set before and never been through production. If you’re lucky enough to get hired and be in a writer’s room, you tend to think, “This is it. This is the end all, be all.” But it’s like, really, you’re just the first department on, in a lot of ways, because then you’re going to bring on an amazing production design department, and there’s going to be a cinematographer who has great ideas, and then your actors are going to have ideas. And the thing takes on a life of its own and formed by a million of your brilliant collaborators. And it’s your job to just take that original vision and fuse it with all of their good, oftentimes better ideas.

Greg Iwinski: I think that’s so true. In talking with young, late-night writers, and even with interns and people who are asking about, “How do I get into this?” I talk a lot about, you have to think as a writer and a producer. And not a producer, like “I’m a big boss, I’m in charge,” but going, “Do I know what a director does and has to do? What makes their job easier and harder for the props guy?” Especially in late-night where you have two hours to get this thing done. I can write the script this way, or I can tweak it 10% and it’s easier for every person I work with and it’s just as funny. Knowing how to do that. And I mean, late-night is the smallest scale. It comes and goes in a day. But I assume on larger projects as well, understanding how other people do their jobs and respecting their work helps you write in a way that already sets them up for success.

Michael Waldron: Totally. And that’s so well put. And I do think the most successful writers are writers who are also producers. Yeah. And that doesn’t mean that you’re Don Simpson, although that would be awesome, I guess, depending on your appetite to live like Don Simpson. But I think that understanding the way stuff is made and having respect for the entire process helps you out so much as a writer, as a creative. And that’s the nice thing. I think that’s why late-night is a great training ground because you’re just, you’re having to make stuff.

Kevin Feige said something great to me. I remember I turned in an early outline or draft of the first episode of Loki. And it was the bit where Loki escapes from the Time Theater, had just a much bigger run through the TVA. And I basically wrote it like a $250 million movie. And Kevin said, “At some point, we’re going to have to shoot this with cameras. And you have to be on the set.” And it was like, that was him being a great collaborator and reminding me to think like a producer, not just a writer, that we were going to have to figure out how to make this and then achieve it. And I think that if your first drafts can infuse that sensibility without capping your imagination too much, you’re just going to have a lot more success.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. A question about kind of in your career. I’ve worked on shows that are daily or weekly. Community, and Rick and Morty, and Loki, all of those are weekly shows. And there is now, with some places online, you’re dumping a whole season in one day. And what I want to know is not necessarily what you would change about a story, but would you change how you were writing this limited series or an arc or something if you knew it was all coming out as one piece versus being weekly?

Michael Waldron: Yeah, I think I would. It’s just, you have to be considering the audience experience in every step of what you’re doing. Otherwise, who are you doing it for? I guess it could be, you’re doing it for yourself. That’s good for you. But if everybody’s going to sit and watch it over the course of two days, they’re going to consume it differently than they did Loki, which was consumed week by week, where people had seven days in between episodes to sort of discuss online, speculate, whatever.

I mean, ultimately, I don’t know, would data say that it doesn’t actually matter? Maybe. Maybe all that matters is a compelling cliffhanger to make you either click next episode or turn on the TV next week. I think that the advantage of, and why I like at least how we’ve done it on Disney Plus, is it gives you an opportunity to create a conversation. It gives you an opportunity to sort of build a following and get people just talking about the show. And it’s something people are wondering about. Where is this going to go? It feels like a collective thing that people are experiencing together. Whereas if you’re watching a show that all gets dumped at once… Stranger Things is the greatest. I love Stranger Things. I can’t wait for the new season. I won’t really know how to talk about that show with anybody just until they’ve seen the whole thing. Because otherwise, where are we at?

Greg Iwinski: And you won’t know when they’ve seen the whole thing because it’s all out, and who sat down and binged it all.

Michael Waldron: Exactly. It’s harder just to… And so then it feels like maybe it comes and goes a little bit quicker. But again, Stranger Things has a huge cultural impact. So I don’t know. I think that there’s arguments for both, but I’ve enjoyed working in the weekly format.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I mean, I think I haven’t ever done anything that came out all at once, so I can’t always speak to that. But even the difference of doing five shows a week versus doing one show a week, I mean, just that level of how much are people going to get changes everything.

Michael Waldron: Right. I mean, I think, like anything, it’s an opportunity. Any sort of guardrail is a feature, not a bug. And you just, you figure out how to make it work for you. I think you can trust the audience to be a little more attentive because they’re just, “I’m going to remember what I saw in Episode 2 more, come Episode 5, because I watched it this morning, not two weeks ago.”

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I do also, like we had talked about with anticipation, I do love the forced anticipation, of being like… Because I remember when Lost came out and TiVo was brand new. And then 20 people in a house watching Lost would be like, “Ah, we’ll be back next week. Oh, we don’t know.” That frustration is almost pleasurable.

Michael Waldron: I mean, yeah. I think, yeah, you and I are the same generation. And I think that’s because of Lost, if nothing else, I’ll always prefer weekly because the electricity of a new Lost episode about to come on, there’ll never be anything like that again.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. It’s wild. I mean, I’m going to start with Celebration next week, and they’re putting out two Kenobi episodes, the first thing. And it’s like, “When are we going to watch them? We got to watch them in time so that we don’t walk around the convention, and everyone said.” There’s all this kind of like negotiating of time already happening because it’s like, are we going to be in a hotel room at 12:01, making sure we see them before someone says something?

I had another writer question, and this is actually funny. I have a picture of you on my desktop from before we have ever met or I knew I was going to interview you, because the Harmon Story Circle is, I mean, if someone’s looking up, “How do I write a pilot or a story?” It’s one of the big things that comes up. It’s a very well-structured, well-explained system of writing story. And I know that you came from the Harmon world of storytelling, and there’s a shot in the Behind the Scenes Documentary of Loki. That is you in front of a whiteboard, with two giant story circles for Episode 1. I don’t know if you know that’s in there.

Michael Waldron: Yes. Yes.

Greg Iwinski: But I froze that, so I could read every mark on the story to see what all of the notes that were said, where it’s like, oh, Loki does this or maybe he does this. And I just froze it, and I blew it up on my laptop and was reading. Oh, okay. What were all the potential little story circles? Because I’m, I guess, crazy. I don’t know. But the story circle is, obviously, I mean, you are a proponent of it. You’re using it in your shows. But in terms of like, there are writers who feel daunted by jumping into story. Even from the late-night world. Even writing a 30 minute pilot is like, uh-oh, this isn’t just jokes. From someone who has used it in multiple aspects, how does that help you jump into breaking that story?

Michael Waldron: It’s so helpful. And yeah, it’s all over the place online. Harmon did his own literal write-up of it. It’s on the Channel 101 Wikipedia. If you search it, it’s Chapter 4. It’s called the Juicy Details. Just search that. Harmon on the 101 Wikipedia. And he really breaks it down. And it’s just, first off, what’s nice is it really demystifies everything almost to the point that it’s like, oh, no story is special at all, which is what Joseph Campbell was doing, where it’s just every story is the same. Every episode of TV is the same. It follows a circular structure to some extent because that’s what our brain’s evolved to track and to understand and respond to.

And yeah, I mean, that was how we broke all the stories in Community, and Rick and Morty. And that’s how I broke all the stories in Season 1 of Heels. And that’s how we did every episode of Loki and the season arc of Loki. And that’s also how I broke Doctor Strange.

I don’t know if all my collaborators always entirely understand what I’m doing. I think oftentimes, they wish I’d use note cards instead, but instead I’m just drawing circles and I’m like, “It’s this. It’s this.” But it’s very helpful. And it just really helps you think about every story is essentially just a journey of a character going from a familiar place into an unfamiliar place, and then returning back to some version of that familiar world having changed. And then, there’s certain thresholds they cross along that journey that typically represent changes in story direction. And it’s just, it’s no different than Syd Fields’s book, Save The Cat! The different thing. You realize all that stuff’s kind of the same. It’s just, that’s my little version. And I like it because it’s easy on a whiteboard to just draw a circle, and it just feels good when it’s all working.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I mean, hey, it looked good in the Behind the Scenes Documentary.

Michael Waldron: Yeah, you’ll look smart, right?

Greg Iwinski: It’s like, you’re up there pointing, and there’s these two big circles. And someone’s like, “Loki has sex?” There’s just a bunch of random things on there.

Michael Waldron: Well, yeah. When Kevin Feige walks in the room, and I’m standing in front of the circle, and I got my glasses on, it’s like, “Hey, right. I know what I’m doing.”

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I have a last question. And it, again, is from an interview you talked about in making Loki, looking at the Steve Jobs movie. And that there’s this line about Steve Jobs being adopted, that adopted people are out of control at the most important moment of their lives. I was adopted when I was six days old. And that really struck me, that line in that interview, and really recontextualized my understanding of Loki as a character because of that truth of, if our lives are stories, you have new characters, new storylines, it’s all switched without you knowing, which, I mean, you have said that.

But to be put so well, one of the things that made me think about was that, again, I don’t know what you can say or not say, and I’m not trying to get you to say anything you can’t, but that you’ve been linked with making Star Wars, writing some Star Wars stuff. And for me, as an adopted kid who grew up in a desert city in Phoenix, Arizona, thinking about like, “Oh, I’m adopted,” staring at the sun in the desert. And loving Star Wars and finding this commonality there, that one of the beautiful things about Star Wars, especially where it is now, is that there are these questions asked about what family and legacy and destiny are and how they overlap. Who gets to be the hero? Is it the blonde haired, blue eyed guy? Is it this random? Is it an alien? Is it a person with different colored skin or different ability or different gender identity?

And it’s exciting to hear you talk about that understanding of adoption, of difference of being out of control of your own story. And so, as much as you can maybe talk about this, not specifically with your project, but with understanding Star Wars, how has that understanding of Loki, of what a hero is, what makes a hero impacted your storytelling and your understanding of heroism that you might take into Star Wars? I know it’s vague. I’m trying to make it as safe for you to answer as possible.

Michael Waldron: So an X-wing doesn’t fly through here and gun me down.

Well, first off, I’m glad that that resonated with you at all. And I can’t take any credit for it. That’s Aaron Sorkin. And that was the great Steve Jobs biography that he was adapting by Walter Isaacson, that he was pulling from. But I was struck by that. And I have always been fascinated by Steve Jobs as a character, as a mythological character, his obsessive need for end-to-end control, I guess. And I think the point that Sorkin was making in that movie was he was out of control at the most important moment of his life. And so he spent the rest of his life trying to exert as much control over everything as he possibly could. I guess I’m drawn to that in all of my writing. I wasn’t adopted, but I certainly spin my life trying to be in control of everything. All writers, that’s probably all of our…

Greg Iwinski: We’re inventing worlds where we are in charge.

Michael Waldron: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a foundational flaw for all of us. And so, that’s absolutely a commonality in all the protagonists that I find myself drawn to. Stephen Strange, you have to be the one holding the knife, his journey. And Doctor Strange 2 is letting go and giving America Chavez control and letting her be the one to save the day. Heels is about literally a wrestling auteur who refuses to compromise his artistic vision to the detriment of his family. And so, I’m fascinated by the stories of people who perhaps felt like they were denied control and will do whatever they can to take it back. And that can be anyone. Anybody can become that hero or that villain. And so, I think it’s an endlessly fascinating theme and element of the human condition. It is all about control. Every conversation is a power struggle for control. And I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. And I guess I’ll keep searching for it in everything I write.

Greg Iwinski: Well, I’m incredibly excited, coming from that point of view, myself. Excited to see what you make that expresses that. And that will be very cool.

One last thing, is there anything that you had hoped we talk about, that I did not ask you about?

Michael Waldron: No, man. This is a blast. You actually did it. I mean, next time, I want interview you. I want to know about what you’re doing. Let’s just grab a beer next time.

Greg Iwinski: Okay. Let’s do it. That’d be fun. As long as it’s some place where people can’t take pictures of stuff on our phones.

Michael Waldron: Right, right. Exactly.

Greg Iwinski: No spoilers.

Michael Waldron: No, this is a blast. Thanks so much.

Greg Iwinski: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks.

OnWriting Narrator: 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 at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on. t

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