Emmys 2012: Lena Dunham, Matthew Weiner and More Writers on Their Most Difficult Scenes
In a year when many nominated series' scribes were shut out, the lucky few on the ballot represent a widening -- and hipper -- notion of what constitutes quality storytelling.
LENA DUNHAM Girls, "Pilot"
I found the opening scene in which my parents [Hannah's] cut me off to be a challenge to script. My real parents always have been really understanding of my artistic pursuits (not financially but definitely spiritually), so channeling parents with a more traditional suburban approach was outside of my experience. Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner and I spent countless hours noodling that scene to give Hannah just the right launch into twentysomething ennui. The casting of Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari made writing suddenly easy because they bring such a particular comedy rhythm to the table."
MATTHEW WEINER Mad Men, "Far Away Places"
That episode had a very atypical structure, and we wondered if we could spend that much time with one character. I had, in the writers room, given this speech about Ginsberg [Ben Feldman] saying he was a Martian. I delivered it as Ginsberg. We knew that Peggy's [Elisabeth Moss] story was going to climax with that, and it was going to be their great moment of intimacy; he would distract her from her failure and bond with her in that strange way that people who feel separate do. Then, when we were writing the draft, I got the notes from the room, and the speech was like one sentence. We searched everywhere, and it turned out I had never pitched more than that one sentence: 'I'm a Martian.' I had a great version of it, but it turned out it had all been in my head in one way or another. It all had to come from scratch. Once I reduced the panic and tried to re-create it, it did happen. So, to me, it still has a magical quality to it."
MICHAEL SCHUR Parks and Recreation, "Win, Lose, or Draw"
For the first time, we did a seasonlong arc on the show about Leslie Knope [Amy Poehler] running for the City Council, so the season finale was a challenging one to write. I was very nervous about it because it felt like we really had to stick the landing. If you commit that much time and energy and you don't stick the landing, people will go, 'Yuck!' They went on a long journey with you and you didn't pay it off for them. So I knew we needed lots of twists and turns, and it had to be very dramatic and showcase the range of Amy's acting ability.
I wrote two endings because we weren't sure whether we wanted Leslie to win or lose. We debated it for three weeks before we shot the finale and then settled on the version we wanted so I could polish off the script. I constructed it in such a way that it was easy to make a last-second choice about what happens with the election. We could get all the way to the end and swap out a concession speech for a victory speech. I was 99 percent sure we'd go with the version where Leslie wins, but the point of the episode wasn't to show whether she won or lost. We wanted to play on the theme that nobody can do anything alone. I wanted the real emotional punch to be about her realizing that win or lose, she had a wonderful life with wonderful friends who selflessly helped her achieve her goal, and the result was secondary.
We took a big risk. Our show is a little ratings-challenged, so we said if we treat this as the last season, how do we want to go about our business? And we got the reaction I'd hoped for. People seemed to find the ending satisfying. We just knew it was going to either be a series or a season finale, which lent another subtle aspect to it all. If we didn't get a pickup, how do we want to go out? Having her win the election, which was her childhood dream, it would either be a nice way to end the show or a great way to open up a new world to her for the next year."
MJ The biggest challenge we faced was the fact that we were letting go of one of our most beloved characters, so it was important to tell a compelling story that honored both the character, Lane Pryce, and the actor, Jared Harris.
AJ There was an emotional component to this because Jared was part of our family, a beloved character and a friend of ours. It also was tough knowing you're doing this and can't spill the beans to the actor. Holding onto all this information was emotionally difficult for us.
MJ Jared was a professional about it when he found out. We brought him into the room and got to express our sadness and gratitude. He brought so much to the show, and it killed us to kill him, but it was in service to the story.
AJ He joked with us and said, "Thanks for ruining my career."
MJ The trickiest scene was the one where Don confronts Lane about his embezzling. It was tough for a number of reasons. From the standpoint of the show, it was about Don, so how can you create a scene where he's justified and believable and real, and you don't fear the audience won't like him anymore? It was important for Don to tell him that this was the worst part and talk about starting over. He also had done shameful things and found a way to pick up and carry on.
AJ It was such a heavy scene and required such a great performance from Jon and Jared, which clearly you see when you watch.
MJ We knew it would be powerful, and we monitored the public reaction to it on some level anyway. Some people hated us for the episode, and some loved us. But the truth is, on this show, anybody could die at any time.