Wednesday, October 27, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Jed Seidel discusses "Missing Persons"

Jed Seidel's second writing foray into the Terriers universe came with last week's "Missing Persons".  He was kind enough to grant us another interview, discussing the episode that dealt with the relationship between Hank and his sister Steph and the mystery surrounding an amnesiac kid.

Pasha: “Missing Persons” played the reality of having a family member with mental illness very well, in my opinion. How did you research this before writing the episode?

Jed Seidel: There were a few books floating around the writers room, but at this point Steph was a well established character and we played off of that. Karina is such a wonderful actress and her chemistry with (real life brother) Donal is so great, we all really relished writing those scenes.

Pasha: What was the reasoning behind writing Steph out after only a handful of appearances?

Jed Seidel: She was always considered a guest character. We wanted to play the reality of her illness, it seemed inevitable she was going to be more than Hank could handle.

Pasha: Why do you think, of all the things she could have hallucinated, Steph imagined a child playing across the street?

Jed Seidel: I think being with Hank made her regress to a simpler time, her childhood. Actually, in the teaser, they both regressed back to their childhood selves, it just went a lot farther for Steph. I always liked the idea that the schizophrenia didn't really surface until she was an adult, so she had already lived a life of relative normalcy.

Pasha: This episode marked the first time Hank and Britt argued. How much of what Britt said about Hank do you think he meant?

Jed Seidel: To me, they're like a married couple and there's always going to be petty resentments. That fight scene is something Ted Griffin added at the last minute and Donal and Michael really tore into it. But the underlying emotion for Britt was definitely his confusion and anger over Katie's distant behavior.

Pasha: How did the story of the dissociative kid develop in the writers’ room?

Jed Seidel: I heard a story on the news about a grad student who had gone overseas and taken this anti-malarial drug and lost his memory. I've always wanted to do an amnesia story and I liked that there was some factual truth to it. I pitched it to Tim Minear one morning; he has a great internal barometer for what makes a good story and he really liked it so I figured i was on to something.

Pasha: Compared to the last episode you wrote where all the characters were getting on, “Missing Persons” showed Britt and Katie and Britt and Hank to be at odds with each other. How did this alter the writing experience compared to your first Terriers episode?

Jed Seidel: We knew a lot more about the characters at this point, which made the scenes a little richer. And we were shooting episodes at this point, so the writing schedule was rapidly compressing and there was a lot less time to write!

Friday, October 22, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Angela Kang discusses "Ring-a-Ding-Ding"

Prior to becoming a staff writer on Terriers, Angela Kang wrote many short films and was on staff for the NBC show Day One.  Angela subsequently wrote the Terriers episode "Ring-a-Ding-Ding" where Hank and Britt are given the task of finding a missing ring.

Pasha: I believe you did some work in shorts. What was your career path like from those to Terriers?

Angela Kang: I actually started by writing fiction and plays. I got a B.A. in English and Theater from Occidental College, and had some short stories and poems published and several plays (and a couple of film shorts) produced during and after my undergrad years. Eventually, I went back to school and got an M.F.A. in Screenwriting from USC. While I was in film school, I had a couple more shorts produced, and also became immersed in the TV world by interning for Private Practice/Grey’s Anatomy and participating in the CBS Writers Mentoring Program.

From there, it was a pretty typical process of submitting sample materials and getting agents and going out on meetings. I was staffed on a show coming out of grad school – the sadly short-lived Day One for NBC. And I was fortunate to get the job on Terriers right after that.

A bit of Terriers staff trivia: I was Jon Worley’s T.A. for a course at USC. And Ted Griffin visited that class as a guest speaker. It was cool to end up working with them both professionally!

Pasha: How has writing for a television show like Terriers differed from your previous writing? Was it a big adjustment?

Angela Kang: Most of my previous writing was done solo, so I’d say that’s the biggest difference; Terriers was incredibly collaborative every step of the way. As with any job, there’s a learning curve, but working on a TV staff is an amazing experience. I really feel like the collaborative process is very empowering and gratifying. I’ve participated in a lot of team-based jobs and creative endeavors throughout my life, so the group vetting/working process is one I respect and trust. There was great generosity of spirit in the Terriers writers room, and working on that staff has definitely made me a better writer.

Pasha: Let’s talk about “Ring-a-Ding-Ding”. Who came up with the case for this episode and what was the process of breaking this story like?

Angela Kang: The idea of a stolen heirloom that went through a series of trades originated with Ted. We referred to “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” internally as “Hot Rock” because it was a bit of an homage to the classic heist movie of the same name. But in the process of breaking the story, the initial concept changed from a fairly light-hearted romp (there was a version where the guys got into deep shit – literally; they were trapped in a septic tank) to something that took a much darker turn emotionally (the cancer/infidelity angle was inspired by the John and Elizabeth Edwards/Rielle Hunter story). Ultimately, the case went through a few different incarnations with considerable input from Tim Minear and Shawn Ryan before we settled on the version that felt right.

Pasha: More than any other episode, “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” seemed to have quite a few twists and turns where the viewers’ expectations were constantly played with. How easy is it to structure something that intricate?

Angela Kang: All of us on the writing staff are fans of detective fiction and/or thrillers, so from a purely technical standpoint, twists and turns aren’t too hard to structure when you’re familiar with the genre. BUT -- the really challenging part (and what we spent the majority of our time on) is making sure the twists felt earned. There’s a huge difference between story turns that are motivated by character, and red herrings or cliffhangers that function purely as plot gimmicks or “moves,” as Tim calls it. I hope above all else, that the version of the story we ultimately told felt emotionally true.

Pasha: The last scene has been getting a lot of praise for how raw and honest it was. Is it easier writing emotionally charged scenes like that or did you find yourself spending more time over it?

Angela Kang: First of all, I have to say that getting to work with actors of the caliber of Donal Logue and Laura Allen is such a privilege and a blessing. They could make the phone book sound like Shakespeare. The scene feels raw and honest because their performances are so raw and honest. And you have to imagine that the scene was shot in a small diner jam-packed with crew members (who are all fantastic, incidentally) and extras and equipment and curious bystanders outside. Take after take, Donal and Laura laid their souls bare as if no one was watching. They are fucking rockstars.

Specifically in regards to the writing: Shawn likes to say that sometimes, writing fast works to your advantage because your first instincts are often right. Mostly due to the pace of TV production, I actually wrote the first draft of that scene relatively quickly; you just don't really have the luxury of writing ANYTHING too slowly. But of course, there was an important revision process before it became what you saw on screen. I’d say the biggest change came about in response to a note from our executives at FX, who wanted it to be crystal clear that Katie wasn’t date-raped. That was an incredibly valuable note, and proved to be one of the keys to making the scene work.

What I found most interesting about that scene was that Hank was the person Katie turned to, despite his close relationship with Britt. Obviously she needed to turn to him from a story view point, buy why do you think she chose him from a character standpoint?

Angela Kang: One of the things I loved in Ted’s pilot episode was the fact that Katie and Hank seem to have a trust and friendship of their own, separate from their relationships with Britt. She’s a little bit Etta Place to their Butch and Sundance, except Katie and Hank are completely platonic. They can confide in each other and they do (Katie about wanting to have a baby, Hank about his schizophrenic sister, etc).

So when we started talking about Katie’s arc in this episode, it felt natural that she would go to Hank. She’s hit rock-bottom, and that’s a place Hank knows well. In that final scene, my point-of-view was that from a character standpoint, Katie honestly believes until the last few moments that Hank is going to advise her on how to confess to Britt. It never occurred to her that some “bro code” would end up being broken as a result of this conversation.

Pasha: Finally, Gretchen’s fiancĂ© was surprisingly likeable in spite of the fact the audience is predisposed to be on Hank’s side. Was it hard walking that line with his character?

Angela Kang:
Surprisingly, no. Romantic rivals in stories are often portrayed as complete assholes, but credit our Executive Producers for never wanting to give Hank any easy outs. If the fiancĂ© is a dick, Hank can mess with him all he wants, and it can be justified away. The fact that Jason is nice gives Hank so much more to struggle with internally – guilt, feelings of inadequacy, his genuine desire to see Gretchen happy. Hopefully, that conflict makes for interesting drama in this episode and down the line.

Friday, October 15, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Leslye Headland discusses "Manifest Destiny"

With a background as a playwright, Leslye Headland's first job writing for television was on Terriers.  Leslye was kind enough to answer a few questions about her episode "Manifesr Destiny."

Pasha: I always think it’s interesting to find out how people break into TV writing.  What’s your story?

Leslye Headland: I was an assistant at Miramax and the Weinstein Company for over six years.  When I decided to leave that job to pursue writing, I returned to theater which was my major at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.  I moved to Los Angeles and started working with the IAMA Theatre Company on a series of plays called The Seven Deadly Plays.  It was this series, specifically my play Bachelorette, that got me an agent and attracted the attention of FX and the creators of Terriers.

Pasha: “Manifest Destiny” was the first episode to carry on immediately where the last left off.  How did this inform the breaking of the story?

Leslye Headland: From what I remember we dealt with them very much as two separate episodes despite the fact that they were a continuing storyline.  Of course there were things introduced in "Fustercluck" that we knew we would continue to explore in "Manifest Destiny" and obviously we had to solve the Lindus problem.  But overall, it felt like the beginning of the rabbit hole as opposed to a two-parter.

Pasha: How much freedom do you have when writing an episode that’s part of the ongoing arc?

Leslye Headland: A lot.  The entire experience of writing for Terriers was a liberating one.  We were always encouraged to write and pitch storylines to the height of our intelligence.  We were always reminded that the people watching the show were smart and well-versed in TV tropes and it was always about raising the stakes and strengthening the characters.  So writing for an ongoing arc was never about the "moves" of the plot but about what emotional turn Hank and Britt were going to take next.

Pasha: This episode, more than any other thus far, highlighted Hank and Gustafson’s complicated relationship.  What is your interpretation of this relationship?  Why is Gustafson so tolerant of Hank after everything that’s happened?

Leslye Headland: From the beginning, one of the goals of the writer's room was to realistically portray a recovering alcoholic's relationship with those closest to him.  I think a lot of the time alcoholics are these repentant souls trying to win back the approval of those they've hurt.  And I think Hank is definitely doing that.  However, I think it was also important to us to show that it's not that simple for characters like Gustafson and Gretchen.  They were there for so much of Hank's drinking and as a result find it hard to draw boundaries or completely cut Hank out of their life.  In a very deep way, they are involved in Hank's drama whether they want to be or not.  And if you've been cast as the supporter or enabler in the past, even once the addiction is being treated or the alcohol removed, it tends to be hard to relinquish your role in the addict's life.

Pasha: How hard is it writing someone as off-kilter as Steph?

Leslye Headland: I love Steph.  Especially once we knew we were going to have such a fantastic and versatile actress.  It was a lot of fun to write along the adage that just because a character is crazy doesn't mean they're wrong. 

Pasha: Although Hank vowed at the end of “Manifest Destiny” to drop the case, this episode very much seemed like a set up for the rest of the series.  What can you tease for the next few weeks?

Leslye Headland: I don't want to give too much away but it all comes back to the title.  Once Hank catches the scent of something rotten... it's hard for him to it let go.

Friday, October 8, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Jon Worley discusses "Fustercluck"

Jon Worley is new to television, with Terriers being his first writing job in the mediumJon was kind enough to answer a few short questions about "Fustercluck".  Enjoy!

Pasha: Terriers is your first writing job in television. What was your path like to getting it?

Jon Worley: A very traditional path. Writing my ass off, meeting whoever would meet me, and, of course, male prostitution.

Pasha: “Fustercluck” marks the return to the ongoing storyline of Terriers after two standalones. What was the story breaking process of this episode like?

Jon Worley: The title could possibly refer more to the story breaking process than the episode itself. Without exaggeration, there were about 17,000 versions of this story pitched. We spent more time on this one than on any other single episode. In one, Steph chopped up Lindus and hid his body parts all over the house. In another, Hank and Britt gave up the P.I. biz entirely and opened a Quizno's franchise in Carlsbad. (That first one of those was real.)

Really, though, it was very tricky to balance the very personal Steph story with the stakes-y Lindus story that opened up the world of this larger conspiracy that would last the rest of the season. It was a process of fine-tuning over several weeks and many drafts.

This episode marked the death of Robert Lindus, who seemed set to be a major player in the larger arc of the show. At what stage was the decision made to kill him off?

Jon Worley:
Early on. The fun of it was taking a guy who seemed to be the big bad villain in the pilot, and revealing that he's sort of a pawn in a bigger and much more nefarious game. So instead of his death being a victory, it's a huge complication that pulls our guys even further down into the rabbit hole, and opens up this season-long conspiracy.

The question wasn't so much whether we'd kill him, but how. There were drafts where his superiors had him killed and dumped at Hank's house -- an attempt to frame Hank. In one iteration he literally choked on a chicken bone. We finally settled on this very sudden car accident that at first doesn't seem to be very serious. Anyone who read about Natasha Richardson's death knows that people with head trauma can appear very lucid in the short term, but die within an hour of the impact. So we did a play on that. It allowed us to have two big shocks -- the car crash, and the death an act later.

Pasha: While Lindus may have died this episode, we were introduced to Hank’s sister, Steph. Steph appears to be both a genius and riddled with psychological problems. As Britt’s dog seems to be a source of responsibility for him, the same seems true for Steph and Hank. Was this the intention with Steph’s introduction and will we be seeing more of this?

Jon Worley:
It was an idea early on to give Hank a crazy sister. I mean, in the very first scene of the pilot, Hank thinks he's going senile because his milk's disappearing -- that was Steph.

So yes, she is meant to give Hank someone very real and very emotional to care about and feel responsibility for. He's this character who tilts at windmills and in some ways feels responsible for the safety of Gretchen, a woman who has moved on with her life, so giving him this immediate responsibility felt right. But more than just being a responsibility, she becomes a very interesting character in her own right. She continues to be a major part of the season -- she's not in every episode, but she remains very important.

Pasha: Steph is played by Karina Logue, Donal Logue’s sister. How did this bit of casting come to be?

Jon Worley: She was always the 1st choice. Shawn Ryan had worked with her on other shows, and she just felt perfect. Having that sort of sibling intimacy in real life came across in their scenes together. It worked. I think the episode really comes alive when Steph shows up -- kudos to Karina for really throwing herself into the role, doing the research and all.

As a writer, how easy do you find it transitioning from the more character oriented scenes to the more intricate heist sequences such as the one in “Fustercluck”? They both seem to require very different parts of the brain.

Jon Worley: Well, luckily, in a writer's room, you have many types of brains. Luckily Ted Griffin has a bit of experience with heist sequences, and this was a heist I think he'd had in his back pocket for a while, and it just sort of fit here. Heist aside, the mix of intimate character moments, comedy, and the extremely tense piling-up of unfortunate events toward the end -- that mixture really appealed to me, and was very challenging and fun to fold into this story.

Pasha: Now that the big arc of the show has really kicked into high gear, can you tease us as to what we can look forward to in the next few weeks?

Jon Worley: I'll just say that episode 8, which I co-wrote with Phoef Sutton, takes place mostly south of the border.