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 fiancé 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 fiancé 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.


  1. I love Angela's description of the diner scene...."raw and honest".
    I LOVED that scene although I almost felt uncomfortable like I was intruding on a really private thing. So real feeling!!

  2. In Ring-a-Ding-Ding, I really liked the fact that the cancer victim was vengeful and rage-filled against her asshole husband. I hate the trope that cancer somehow makes people noble and forgiving. I like that the show never makes the easy choices when it comes to characters. This was a particularly good episode; just really great writing throughout and acted really well by the ensemble and guest cast.