–We talked a little bit about how you became a writer on Justified in your video interview with Fred Golan, but how did you first begin to write? At what age did you start and how did you first get hooked?
I wrote my first story when I was 11, because I heard about a girl who got a book published at the age of 12 and was determined to best her. This did not happen, but I did end up with a 23 page rip-off of the Chronicles of Narnia. I kept writing short stories after that, and eventually combined that with my desire to make movies and wrote a screenplay when I was 16.
–What comics are you reading right now? What are some of your all time favorites?
I’m reading some of my friends’ comics like “Seven Percent” and “Killing Machine,” and I’m catching up on Walking Dead and Powers. My favorites are pretty typical, “Dark Knight Returns,” “Watchmen.” Also most of what Grant Morrison writes, like “All-Star Superman” and his runs on X-Men and Justice League.
–How would you say your affinity for comics influences your writing for Harlan and the cast of Justified? Which character would you most like to see in his/her own comic book?
I often see things through a genre prism, for instance viewing 310, “Guy Walks Into A Bar” as a super-villain origin story. Wynn Duffy could have a comic, for sure.
–What are some lessons that you’ve learned while shooting? What should a writer know before their first time on the set of their episode?
Make sure you understand the big picture, why each person is saying/doing what they are doing in that particular scene, because people will ask. Other than that just stay out of people’s way, but don’t be afraid to point stuff out to the director if you think they missed something. Just common sense.
–This episode takes place after everyone gets on the same page about Drew Thompson, but before he’s apprehended. What were the challenges of breaking this episode and stalling that get?
Mostly just keeping it from feeling like stalling for the viewer. Figuring out what we wanted to say about the various characters with this hunt.
–What’s your writing routine like? Are you a morning person? How do you balance family, writing, and hobbies?
I don’t have a routine. I write every weekday during hiatus, just normal 10-6 hours, but when the show is up and running I write at night, early mornings, whenever. Caffeine makes this possible. I don’t know that there’s a trick to balancing things, I just prioritize and do what has to be done at that moment, then figure out what has to be done the next moment, etc.
–What advice do you have for a person about to write a spec script in the hopes of getting staffed?
Make sure you fill out your portfolio. You can use the spec to try and get in fellowships, but you should have a couple of pilots as well. Prospective employers want to know you have more than one script in you and that you actually enjoy writing.
The cat’s out of the bag and Sheriff Shelby – sorry, make that Drew Thompson – is on the run! If you’ve been with us this far, loyal viewers, you’re going to want to see how this pretzel works itself out as season four heads into the home stretch tonight. (It’s a mixed metaphor kind of day.) The episode, titled “Get Drew,” was directed by seasoned pro Billy Gierhart, while plot shenanigans and clever turns of phrase were masterminded by the ever clever Dave Andron and the wisecrackin’ VJ Boyd.
Drew Thompson slips through the fingers of Raylan, Boyd, and the Detroit mob, and sets off a breakneck race to find him.
Make sure to read our interview with one of the writers if you’re looking to tide over your Justified cravings before next Tuesday.
–When did you first begin writing and what was your path to Justified?
I began writing at a pretty young age, starting with letters to camp friends, to short stories, to trying a novel in high school. I began writing fiction seriously in college, and haven’t stopped.
My path to Justified began with a satisfying career as a novelist, but wanting to move into TV. I watched shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Yost’s Boomtown and began seeing the possibilities in this form. Then I read Graham’s pilot of Justified early on, knew Elmore Leonard’s and Graham’s work, and saw it meshing very well with my own. When I watched it I knew I had to write for Graham. It took three seasons but I finally joined the team.
–As the new voice in the room this season, how do you figure out on the fly how you fit into the larger mosaic of the group?
Every show is different, every writers’ room unique, but I had the advantage of being a tremendous fan of the show, so felt very comfortable with the language of Justified. I saw very quickly that everyone wanted to make a great show, no matter who was new or a veteran, and they all made me feel very welcome. I pitched in however I could, whether it was research, story ideas, even writing on the white boards despite my messy handwriting. I began to see that my background in crime novels and fiction writing was an asset, and contributed with that perspective when I could.
–How did you find out that you’d be writing an episode this season?
Graham took me aside and said said it was time. Dave Andron had advocated for me to get a script. Then Graham told the room and they applauded, which was actually touching. I felt like I was a true part of the team then. Taylor Elmore welcomed me as a co-writer, and we were off.
–Did you feel any extra pressure since you were following an episode that killed off a major character?
Not especially. Of course I wanted to do a good job, and Taylor and I both felt a responsibility to Raylan, to make his response true to his character, but I feel like I was given a tremendous gift: I was empowered to co-write an episode of my favorite show. Not many people get the chance to do that. So, honestly, I had fun.
–There was a version of ‘The Hatchet Tour’ where Raylan carted Arlo around rather than Hunter. When that switch occurred, how did your approach to the episode have to shift?
That was before the decision to kill Arlo was cemented. Quite frankly the relationship between Raylan and Arlo mirrors the relationship with my father, so that version was extremely cathartic to write. Kafka once said that writing is the axe to break the frozen sea within us, and I did a lot of ice breaking. When we decided that Arlo was going to die we just filed that old version away, Taylor and I hunkered down and we re-envisioned the story from the new perspective. Again, you must remember how much I enjoy this show as a viewer, so all that it meant was we got to write a new version of the episode, and I relished that.
–What was the division of labor like between you and Taylor Elmore? Was it an easy collaboration?
Taylor and I write very similarly. I think he could’ve been a novelist in another life because he liked pondering and mulling character and story as much as I did. Basically we talked, emailed and kicked ideas back and forth, then just started writing. The most telling moment for me was when we unintentionally overlapped, and unbeknownst to us we ended up writing a line almost exactly the same way. That’s when we knew it was a good collaboration.
–How did the reveal of Shelby as Drew evolve? As a novelist with plenty of experience in the crime/mystery genre, what were your instincts telling you about this reveal?
This was a point discussed quite a bit in the writers’ room, and there were more dramatic and violent versions bandied about, but in the end we all thought that a quieter revelation in the aftermath of chaos would have the most weight. I guess my instincts were pretty in tune with the other writers — we all didn’t want to wait too long because that kind of trickery gets tiresome, but we wanted to do it justice, with an eye toward who Drew was and who Shelby is now, authentic and organic to the story.
–Can you talk about your experiences working on the set? What were some learning curves that were specific to this show?
I liked set, especially in the more remote areas because I missed being outside. I also marveled at the collaborative nature of the shoot, since everyone from sound, props, wardrobe, to the actors themselves, wanted the very best for the show. The only thing specific for this show that I wasn’t used to were the long commutes. One night I got caught in traffic and spent over three hours getting home.
–Which character’s voice is your favorite one to write?
They all have their fun aspects. Whether it’s Raylan’s wryness laced with his uniquely complicated undercurrents, or Ava’s intelligent yearning. But I do especially enjoy Boyd’s cadences and lyricism. He has a neo-Biblical lilt that comes for his wild upbringing and background, shaded with his father’s rawness, his own criminal past, the regionalism, the eclectic reading, and the fact that he’s a fascinating character.
–Why did you decide to make the jump from writing novels to writing for TV? Can you talk about the pros and cons of the switch?
I’ve written a lot about social and cultural issues as they relate to crime, family and community, and saw that this was being done so well on TV that I had to be a part of it. The Wire, Breaking Bad and of course Justified are not just great TV — they’re great literature. The forms — TV and novels — are not that different for me. It comes down to telling stories about compelling characters in unique and moving situations. It’s focusing a lens on a community and seeing what that reveals about all of us.
–You were here every day before Jeff and myself and from what I understand you are pretty prolific. Can you describe your routine and the habits you try to keep in order to be such a productive writer?
Writing is an integral part of my life. I love to write. I can’t imagine not writing. So it’s very simple for me to wake up and think about what I’m writing that day. I wonder if what makes it difficult for many people is that they’re thinking about the product: the story, the novel, the script, or whatever they’re working on and what the final product will be and what it will get them — writing as a means to an end.
However, I tend to think about the process — what I will learn about the characters, the world, the stories, and, ultimately, about myself in the journey of whatever I’m working on. When you relish the journey, it’s very, very easy to get up at dawn eager to see what happens next in the story. You can’t wait to get out of bed. Seriously.
–What advice do you have for a person about to write their first spec script with the hope of writing for TV?
Well, consider my previous answer. If you’re writing a script as a means to get somewhere else, you’re not writing a script — you’re writing a vehicle for another goal. My advice is to change your mindset. You’re writing a story that’s meaningful to you and hopefully to others, and you’re infusing it with something no one else can do or even approach; you’re writing with your unique voice and perspective. No one else has had your experiences and perspectives. What do you want to see out there that you can’t find? How is it uniquely yours, and I don’t necessarily mean autobiographical, but singularly your voice. Learn how to capture that in your writing, your characters, your stories, and enjoy the process. Embrace the journey and everything else will eventually fall into place.
This is it, folks: tonight your favorite good guys and bad guys suss out the identity of longtime fugitive Drew Thompson. It’s not the Harlem shake – it’s the Harlan shakedown! The episode is titled “The Hatchet Tour.” DGA-nominated Lesli Linka Glatter directed this one to perfection. The script is co-written by the dynamo Taylor Elmore and the splendiferous (yes, that’s a word) Leonard Chang, the latter of whom is making one heckuva Justified debut.
Boyd discovers he still has an Ellen May problem, while Raylan goes off-book to do some dynamite-fishing with unexpected results.
As always, click on back in a couple of days for new content. We’ll have an inspiring interview with novelist-turned-TV-scribe Leonard Chang. Take care!
–I usually start these interviews by asking the writers how they wound up on Justified and how they got started writing, and we’ll get to that, but I have to address something else first… HOW COULD YOU KILL ARLO? HOW?!
[Laughs] That was something that went back and forth when the story was being broken. It was actually changed in a late draft where he wasn’t going to die. There was going to be an attack on him where he turns the tables on his attacker and he survives the attack at the end. But I believe it was Tim Olyphant who really wanted to have an emotional Raylan scene in the episode. He really wanted there to be something where Raylan basically breaks down, so the best way that we could do that was to have Arlo die. So even though it had been talked about, the final impulse seemed like it was Tim Olyphant, and it just seemed to really work out.
–So it sounds like having Arlo die was one of the only things left to do to Raylan to give us new insight to his emotional state?
It probably would have had the most impact. Raylan obviously doesn’t get along with his dad. They have had their differences in the past, but he is still his dad. So when his father dies, it’s going to hit him. The only person I could see hitting him more would be someone like Winona. Or maybe someone like Art. But yeah, having someone like Arlo die would really get him in a different emotional space for the final few episodes of the season.
–Was Arlo’s death something that had been in discussion since the start of the season or is it something that came up only once the room was breaking this episode?
There was always going to be an Arlo hit somewhere…when we did the big [start of season] grid. I think it bounced around to different episodes, but I think as far as him dying, I don’t believe we really talked about him dying until we got closer to the episode.
–Was there a debate?
For pretty much anything there are going to be two schools of thought and this was a huge decision to make… [Graham] called Raymond Barry. Typically on a show when a character is a major character and he’s been around for a couple of seasons, the showrunner will call the actor and say, “this is what’s happening to your character.” And typically it’s not that you’re not satisfied with the actor, it’s just this is what’s best for the show and what’s best for the story.
–Circling back, how did you become the writers’ assistant on Justified and how did you come to freelance for the show?
I worked on a show called Hellcats with [writer/executive producer] Fred Golan’s wife Anne Kenny. Hellcats was canceled and there was going to be an opening here starting in the third season. Anne recommended me… I had worked with Fred before on a show called Raines. I worked with Fred and Graham and Taylor Elmore and Dave Andron, so he knew who I was.
As far as getting a freelance, I gave Graham a spec pilot I wrote last year right before we were beginning to wrap and he read it and he liked it. He said it was very well-written, but I didn’t know what was going to come of that. I didn’t know if there were going to be enough spots open for a freelance. So we’re three or four months into the season, and Fred calls me and VJ Boyd into his office and he says, “I just want to let you guys know that if there’s a story we have broken that speaks to you and you want to write that script, let us know and we’ll have you write it.” And as soon as VJ and I were leaving the office, VJ says, “does this mean you’re writing a script? Why didn’t you tell me?” And I said, “I didn’t know!” So I went back to Fred and I asked him, “Am I writing a script?” and he goes, “Oh yeah, we were supposed to tell you at the beginning of the season.” And then later on, like the next day, I’m in the writers room and Graham comes in to get his soda, and I say, “Graham I just want to say thank you.” He’s all, “What’d I do? What’d I do?” I said that I wanted to thank him for the opportunity to write a script. And he said. “Oh… we were supposed to tell you at the beginning of the season.”
–What was the division of labor like with your co-writer Ben Cavell?
We split it up by storylines. I had a hand in the storyline that involved Colt killing the drug dealer, getting the money, and dropping the money off at the shed at the baseball diamond. Then I had a hand in the Boyd storyline, and Ben wrote all the Raylan stuff, the great Ellen May-Shelby scene and anything that had to do with the Deputy Hitman. I had a little bit in the first scene with Raylan and Hunter and then a little bit in the scene with Boyd talking to Frank Browning and then the Clover Hillers at the end, but that was mostly Ben, too.
–Raylan really rescues Ava and Boyd in this episode. Is there a begrudging symbiosis on the horizon for them?
There’s still bad blood. There will always be bad blood between those two, no doubt about it. There might be an uneasy alliance but not to the point where they’re ever going to be drinking buddies… They might always have to work together to a certain extent but we’re not going to see the Raylan and Boyd Buddy Show.
–Arlo’s fight scene in the teaser was a badass way to go. Can you talk about how that sequence was conceived and how it evolved?
When we were originally breaking it, there was going to be an attack on Arlo in the prison. He was going to get shivved. And we were trying to think of a different way to do it because Arlo’s in Administrative Segregation, “Ad Seg.” Pretty much just protective custody. He’s in a different area than everyone in general population, so how does somebody in general population go and get Arlo out of protective custody? There are ways you’ve seen in movies and TV shows before. They’ll get him in the dining hall or they’ll get him out in the exercise yard or something like that. So I called up a friend of mine who works for a sheriffs department and I asked him the same question: How’s a guy in general population get a guy in protective custody?” And he said, “Well he can get him in the barber’s.” And I was like, “Really? There are no guards in the barber’s?” and he said, “No. The guards will pick him up from protective custody, take him to the barbers, and they’re not going to sit there babysitting. They’ll just drop him off and come back fifteen minutes later. The barbers they have in jail are convicts, they’re just convicts with a certain skill set and they’re all vetted.” It seemed like a new awesome place to have somebody go after him because you don’t really think about convicts doing mundane ordinary things like getting their hair cut or going to the dentist. And plus, we’re going to a place that already has scissors. He doesn’t have to bring in any makeshift shivs, which we’ve seen in countless movies and TV shows.
–It seems crazy to me that they allow inmates to wield sharp objects on one another without direct supervision.
It’s just one of those things where truth is stranger than fiction. That’s the way it works. One thing they don’t have that we kind of used poetic license with just because I thought it was a cool idea was that in the episode there’s a jar of barbicide; that blue sterilizing liquid. You won’t see that in a prison barber shop because it’s a glass jar with sterilizing liquid that can burn your eyes, so we took a little license with that.
What moment are you most proud of in this episode?
I like the scene where Colt goes to the drug dealer. I think the actor that played Tim Gutterson’s friend Mark did a fantastic job. You really felt for the guy. He’s just a guy who just got in over his head. He can’t beat this addiction and he gets killed because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time… It could have gone either way. Colt could have let him go. In my mind, I don’t think the guy would have said anything. He was just too scared.
–Boyd pulls a really savvy move this episode with his doublecross. Is he biting off more than he can chew? Is he ready to play at this level?
He’s not a master criminal. We’ve said that in the room plenty of times. He’s just not at that level. And these are powerful people, so for Boyd to go against them Boyd probably has to have the feeling that he can take care of his own, but he maybe didn’t quite think things through.
–What are your duties as the writers assistant?
Every day stories are broken by the writers in the conference room and I’m taking down notes of what people say. You don’t really want an official transcript or anything like that because if you did that it would just be a hundred pages and a lot of them would sound like gibberish. You have to distill what is important and what isn’t important and I try to highlight things that were landed on that might be used in an episode. I try to get dialogue if I can because that’s dialogue that may be used later on. There’s no one tried and true way. You just have to get a sense of what the room responds to… It’s basically just paying attention and having your brain on the entire time. You can’t give your brain a rest. It would also be extremely difficult to take notes and be trying to think and pitch ideas because you’re in note-taking mode. You’re trying to get everything down as fast as you can. That takes up pretty much all your brain space. So when I was breaking this episode I had to have you guys take over for me because I just wouldn’t have been able to pitch ideas.
[Editor’s note: While Keith was breaking this episode and writing it with Ben Cavell, Jeff Wang and myself traded off doing writers assistant duty so that Keith could participate in constructing the story.]
We’re lucky here because the hours aren’t that bad. The hours are about 10 to 6, but you’ll get on some dramas and the hours will go to 9 or 10 o’clock. On some shows writers assistants will do research. Not so much on this show because we have a technical advisor.
So after you have a full day of taking notes, then you have to stay another hour to clean up the notes because even if you’re trying to make sense of it when you’re in the room, you look at it afterwards and go, “oh, this could be written by a serial killer,” it’s just all over the place. I don’t like anybody to see the notes I take right after the room because it looks like another language.
–Did you study writing in college?
Yeah I went to Southern Illinois University to study screenwriting and originally came out here wanting to be a feature writer, but then I started watching TV and getting into that and realized that TV writing was better than 80-90% of the movies out there. Plus, if you’re going to be a feature writer, feature writers aren’t really the star of the script. They’ll bring in a number of different writers in for anything, but in TV the writers have significantly more power. Writers run the show and directors are brought in as hired guns.
I think if somebody wants to be a TV writer, they’re going to have to write a lot of specs as practice. I always heard experienced writers say that before they got their first job they had written ten TV specs and that’s not far from the truth. There are definitely exceptions but you have to write a lot, and getting in as a writers PA or as a writers assistant is a great way to break into it. Writing assistant jobs are some of the most coveted jobs in Hollywood, no doubt about it. You get to be in there and a lot of the time you get a freelance, so for anyone that has aspirations: try to do that. If you can somehow get on a staff without having to do that, good for you.
–You’ve been in the room for two seasons now, but was it nerve-wracking the first time you were pitching on your episode or sending pages out?
Yes. Very much so. Yeah. It’s hard going from being an assistant to being a guy who has to pitch out ideas or being the guy that’s writing pages. You’re not quite staff-writer level, but you’re a little bit more than a writers’ assistant level. You’re hoping your ideas are good and the only thing you can do is just do the best you can and hope other people like it. Fred Golan gave me some good advice for anyone writing a freelance which was to go through previous scripts and just read [a specific character’s] dialogue exclusively… It gives you a sense of who that character is and how that character speaks, as opposed to just reading each full episode because you don’t get as much of a flow as you would if you had just read one character’s parts.
In TV writing, not only do you have to bring out your own voice, but you have to write it within the confines of the show, so you almost have to be a copycat in a way. You have to write something that feels like the show and still have a little bit of your own writing style in there.
–What were some of your favorite shows and movies growing up?
Star Wars is my favorite movie. When I started watching TV I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Shield. I like Breaking Bad a lot. That’s probably one of my all-time favorite shows. Mad Men, Sopranos, shows like that. A lot of stuff on cable. I have to catch up on The Wire. One of these days I’ll sit down and watch all five seasons of that. That’s what hiatuses are for.
–What advice do you have for someone who is trying to become a writers assistant?
It’s tough because they don’t advertise… And if they do, I’d say about two hundred résumés come in in about an hour. It’s mainly about hearing it from other people. If somebody is just coming out of college looking for a way to get in, coming in a PA is probably the best thing you can do. I would say try to get a job at an agency but don’t stay there for more than a year. Only do it for a year because you learn a lot about the business and they’re the information brokers. So a lot of times they’ll hear about a writers assistant position on a show and that means that you hear about it… If you want to be a TV writer make sure you work around an agent who reps TV writers.
I’d also try to get a job as an assistant – this is if you can’t get a job on a show – try to get a job as an assistant at a studio or a network. I worked for Paramount Studios – now CBS Studios – as an assistant and that’s how I got my first writers assistant job… Once you start to know more and more people then it gets easier. Getting your foot in the door the first time is tough, so do what you gotta do to get in there. If you can’t get a job as an assistant right away I would say go through temp agencies, but only temp agencies that do it for the entertainment industries. A lot of time that will lead to a full-time job. There are so many different ways. So many roundabout ways. And always be writing when you’re doing it. It’s tough when you’re working a job with hard hours but if you really want to be a writer you have to find the time to do it. It’ll take a few attempts to find your voice.
Welcome to week eight, loyal viewers! We think those of you who haven’t had your fill of Harlan firepower will be plenty satisfied with the goings-on of tonight’s episode, titled “Outlaw,” directed by the great John Dahl and co-penned by the formidable Ben Cavell and our super writers’ assistant Keith Schreier.
Bodies start dropping and no one is safe as the search for Drew Thompson enters its home stretch.
Come back later in the week for behind-the-scenes chatter on what’s sure to be our most-talked about episode of the season!
-Nick and Jeff
–How did you come to write for Justified?
I guess it was pretty standard in that I was sent the script by my agent and I read the [pilot] script, thought it was great, and my agent said, “we’ll try to get you in as soon as possible.” I had just come back from my honeymoon, I think in fact the day before. It was something like I got the call from my agent on Thursday and I met on Friday. I met [producer] Sarah Timberman, I watched the pilot, and I got on a phone call with Graham [Yost]. We just sorta talked about what I liked.
–What had you done up to that point?
I had been on three shows prior. The first show was called Heist. It was on NBC. I was on the first season of Mad Men. And then I was on a show called Defying Gravity. Graham and I just chatted and I know that he said I was the last writer on the list. He had done all the other writer interviews. My agent had sort of slid me in at the last moment. I guess we just hit it off. I don’t know, it’s weird. I didn’t meet him face to face. It was hard to tell what kind of impression I made. I do remember I said something about Winona’s comment about [Raylan being] “the angriest man I’ve ever known,” and I said to him, “I thought it was interesting how they were divorced and that was the first time Raylan had ever heard her say that,” which just made me think about what their marriage had been like and what had led them to this point and how come she had never said it, all these things. Graham said something to me – I don’t remember if he said it right there on the phone or if he told me about it later – but he basically said, “I never thought of that.” So between that and a very nice recommendation from Andre and Marie Jacquematton, who knew Graham and who I had known from Mad Men, I ended up here.
–You also wrote an episode of Archer this season.
I wrote two episodes of Archer, one [during] the season I was not on [Justified], season three, and Graham was actually instrumental in helping me get that job through FX. I think Adam Reed had approached him to potentially have him do an episode and Graham was committed in far too many other ways, so he was like, “Well, Chris is funny and he’s a fan of the show so give him a shot.” That’s how that came about. And then I was asked to do another Archer and I was also asked to come back to season four, so I was sort of finishing that out. It all happened in between season two and season four, and the second script just aired.
–What does it take to successfully write in both TV comedy and TV drama?
I guess I’ve been fortunate in that every show that I’ve done has really looked for a sense of humor. Even Mad Men, which is a pretty straight-ahead show, there’s an element of comedy to it. I feel like being a good drama writer is being able to find comedy in things. I will say that writing both of those Archer scripts was incredibly hard because it’s not what I have the most experience doing. There was definitely a learning curve.
–What were some of the challenges?
Part of it was simple logistics, the fact that the entirety of their operation is in Atlanta so I couldn’t really interface with those guys so I was coming to it as a professional writer but as a fan, and trying to figure out, “Does this work, does that work?” I felt a little bit like I was doing it in a vacuum, so even though I had a pretty good hold on the voices of the characters, it was still a little bit like sending a message in a bottle. And frankly I was not given an episode straight out of the gate, I more or less auditioned. I wrote an episode not knowing whether they would like it or use it. I very much felt like I was auditioning for the job. It was very hard and I was incredibly fortunate to get it because a lot of writers have tried to contribute to the show and not a lot of people have succeeded.
–In “Money Trap,” Elmore Leonard gets a “Story by” credit. What were the challenges of adapting the character of Jackie Nevada, who comes from the novel “Raylan”? When did the writers room decide to incorporate her this season?
We had heard early on that Tim [Olyphant] really loved that character so we always had her on our radar and we were trying to figure out how we could incorporate her organically into the stories that were taking shape in the early part of the season. And we tried to find a story thread that might incorporate her into a couple of episodes, like a small part, the way Lindsay functions in the first quarter of the season. But what was challenging was that in the book she’s not the character she ended up being on the screen, almost specifically because of the Lindsay storyline. We didn’t feel comfortable having two duplicitous women get Raylan in some sort of trouble. So we had to figure out a way to incorporate her that felt fresh and different than Lindsay but that also true to the character in the book. What that started to suggest was that we couldn’t really make an ongoing storyline out of her, that she should just be what we call the client of the week, this person that Raylan walks through the world with for one episode and protects. So when we knew that we also wanted to also bring back the character of Jody, what seemed to happen was, we had the character we knew we wanted to bring back and a character we knew we wanted but didn’t know where. It started to feel like, “Well, those characters should probably live in the same episode because we can get everything we want in one place.” So in a lot of ways it becomes a standalone episode.
–When did all of you writers know that you were going to bring Jody back? Was that something that came up when the season four premiere was being planned or was that later on?
I don’t recall. I feel like it was around the time that the first episode was shot, so probably October.
–Was that a reaction to seeing the dailies with that actor?
I think so. I think it was Tim’s reaction to playing off of Chris Chalk who played Jody, ultimately how interesting he was as a bad guy, all that stuff. He’s incredible, and he was a lot of fun to work with and to watch work. It’s one of those things again we started to hear rumblings of, “Well, we should think about how we can bring him back and how he functions with Raylan.” We just didn’t know if he would play a larger role or if he would be a one-off, or two-off. This was all back when a lot of things about the season were up in the air, where we half of the season started to gel but had big open spaces towards the end of the year. We put them together and figured out a way to make it interesting, and really figured out a way to platform Elmore’s writing and the character, really just essentially copy, cut and paste chunks of the character and passages from the book. It would have been more helpful if I’d had [“Raylan”] in a Word document – then I really could have just cut and pasted it. There are some elements at the beginning [of “Money Trap”] for Raylan that tie to the larger part of the season. For Raylan it’s very much a bit of a putting the brakes on the larger story and dealing with the crisis that comes up. For Boyd and Ava and that side of the show, it very much continues down the road of their larger goal for the season. And we wanted it to feel as though Boyd perhaps gains a little ground on Raylan because at the end of [“Kin,” Episode 4.05], more or less, there’s this sense that, “May the best man win.” They’re both looking for the same thing, same person, for different reasons. Originally this episode was written as [Episode 4.06], and for reasons that I don’t completely remember – because I was in the middle of either writing or pre-production – they ended up switching. So nevertheless, we always knew this was going to stall the larger story for one episode. The character motivation we found was that Raylan and Art and the marshals in general have hit a bit of a brick wall in the larger pursuit of Drew Thompson, and the one good idea they have is for Raylan to go talk to Arlo. This episode is a bit of him dragging his feet and as luck would have it, something comes up that he needs to take care of.
–Can you talk about the evolution of the swingers party on Clover Hill?
I went to Harlan with Ingrid over the summer before the show started because I’d never been. And one of things we’d heard about was this party barn or swingers barn, where swinging and wife swapping was what people did because there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. Just to back up even further, between seasons one and two, most of the writing staff went to Harlan. Sometime, I think it was toward the end of season two, apparently these pictures surfaced of some of our hosts in Harlan kind of swinging, and it was then that we realized this wasn’t a scandal, this was just normal. Some of these people who moved through the somewhat upper crust of Harlan took pictures and all kinds of crazy stuff. It started out as a punchline in the room in season two, and it got some traction in season three when I wasn’t here apparently, but nobody really had a clear idea of what to do with it other than just to be kind of a goof. They didn’t want to do that. Now jumping back to my time, when we were in Harlan, we started to realize that it was more than just bored older people with money who got together to do this, that there was a social structure to it, or at least it suggested [an occasion] where the rules were off the books but the more wealthy, more interesting, more powerful people of Harlan potentially seemed to get a little bit of business done. Now I don’t know if that was ever said to us out and out, but it was sort of suggested, so Ingrid and I took the ball and ran with that, because it gave an interesting edge to something that in some ways could be very corny and a spectacle that just was there for silliness sake, but when you added the element of there’s a purpose there beyond just people getting crazy, that there’s a transactional nature to these parties, then it became about power, like everything else in our world. It’s about someone trying to get something over somebody else and so we knew we wanted it somewhere in the season and it just turned out to be my episode.
–Were you intimidated by the challenge of making that work?
Yes and no. Again, because [Episodes 4.06 and 4.07] swapped, I actually didn’t write the original versions of those scenes, Ingrid wrote them. And so I had the particularly cakewalk job of rewriting another writer. Once we knew what we wanted to happen, I just had to adjust it to the locations. The real parties happen in basically a glorified barn and Dave Blass our production designer had actually gone to this barn and seen it so he knew what it was and it was pretty low-fi.
–The parties aren’t a big secret then?
I don’t think so. What we had heard in Harlan was that everyone knew about them [but] not everybody went. He got to the guy himself and said, “We hear you do these things, can you do one while we’re here?” And the guy said, “All right. I’ll see what I can do.” The guy called together an impromptu [party]: “Hey, we got some Hollywood people here.” So [Dave] got a feel for the real thing. We had just heard about it when we were there and Dave was there at a different time so we never crossed paths. But what is in real life a “Road House”-y honkytonk sort of place, in our show – partly because of the location, partly because of the difficulty of finding something that would pass for that – we were able to punctuate the divide between wealthy and low-class/middle-class better in the location that we found, kind of a hillbilly “Eyes Wide Shut,” so it really felt like it was another world, not just a down-and-dirty sex party. It had a little more menace to it, because it became less about debauchery. Taboos were being broken not because people were swapping wives but also [their attitude toward Boyd and Ava was], “Your kind don’t belong here.”
–On a show like Justified where stories are broken in the room and everything is very much a group effort, how do you maintain a sense of authorship when you go off to write the episode?
This is not the type of show where every last detail is pre-ordained. We go off to script with a detailed outline of eight or ten pages but we get a lot of leeway in terms of what the shape of the scene is or how it literally plays out. We are more or less given beats to work with and it’s just making sure we hit those beats. I think for me personally, I try not to think about ownership or “my stuff” versus “your stuff” or “his stuff.” I try to think about what’s best for the episode, what’s best for the series. I was interrupted during [this interview] because I was asked to write a scene for the final episode. I don’t know if anything I write will make it. It would be nice if it did, but it may not. As I said, I wrote what was [Episode 4.06] and Ingrid wrote most of what was [Episode 4.07] but then because those changed, some of those scenes I wrote for [Episode 4.06] went into [Episode 4.07] and vice versa. There’s part of me that feels, “Ooh, that’s mine! I wrote that. That’s mine too.” The process is sort of never-ending so I just feel like, given the material, here’s the scene. I try to do that as well as I can and then let it go into the process. It’s not as though once you do it it’s done [and that’s the nature of] TV in particular. And this show, especially every scene, every episode, everything you write and contribute is an ongoing thing. So in some ways it’s great because in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve contributed more to this season than just this particular episode or just this particular story idea. There’s sort of little pieces of me scattered everywhere which is kind of a weird metaphor but you know what I’m saying. So I take the outline, I do as best a job I can. If I need to rewrite it twenty times, I try to do it as best I can and always make it as best I can for the show but not worry about, “Yeah, but I like my version better.” You just have to have a certain confidence in the process, in the fact that everyone wants to make a good show, that your line or your idea may not work. And there are also logistical things, there are technical things, there are locations that don’t work, there are props that don’t look right, there are any kind of number of things that force you to re-envision it so you can’t be precious about it, and you just have to be generous with everything you do.
–What do you enjoy most about writing? Is there a step in the process that you’re most excited to get to? Is there a character on the show you like to write for the most?
They’re all such good characters. As writers we get to have a lot of fun, a lot of great opportunities. We get to do humor, we get to do badassery, we get to do straight-up drama, we get to do action, shoot-em-up stuff. And it’s very rare that you can check every box in the toolkit. I love writing Raylan, I love writing Boyd, I love writing weaselly Johnny and weaselly Wynn Duffy although actually now that I think about it, I’ve written Wynn Duffy but I’ve never actually shot with him. But anyway, I think the point is that they’re all a lot of fun to write for. But in a way the most fun is just seeing it up on its feet, shooting it, getting it out there in one version or another, whatever you’ve written. The turnaround is so quick that you write it and a few weeks later you’re out there and the guys are walking around the set doing it, and you’re just like, “This is amazing. We have a scene. There it is.” That speed and that process is just thrilling because as a writer you can write things and sit on them and they’ll never go anywhere, especially if you write spec screenplays. It’s always a thrill when you have an idea and you try to articulate it, write it down, and then they sit in a room and do it, like, “Holy shit, that kind of plays!” Because you never really know when it’s just you and a blank screen. And sometimes you know what it is but you have not written it clearly enough. Sometimes you have to try to heighten it or bring it out more. I love on this show in particular that the actors are so deeply invested in their characters. They always have an attitude to the characters and to the scene you’ve presented them. They’re always modulating this way or that way, “The character would probably not say this, he would say that.” I find that stuff invaluable because I’m like, “Great. You know in some ways the character better than I do because you’ve carried the thread of that character through the whole show.” Often times we have to hyper-focus on the episode or episodes that we write but then we can kind of drop back and not have every little thing in our head for the season so it does us a great service to have [the actors] totally on track. I think [the reason] Tim and Walton are so good is because on some level they have to really live those characters. They have to inhabit and internalize those characters.
–Is there any one thing in “Money Trap” that you’re the most proud of?
I guess I’m really proud of the Kenneth and Jody relationship. There is a Kenneth character in Elmore’s book but really we just used the name because we did what Elmore has often advised us to do, which is to hang up the story and strip it for parts. In some ways I feel like Kenneth is my creation, just because all we really wanted was the credit roll that said, “A Film by Kenny Flix,” which was in the book and was hilarious. And we knew we wanted that, but we had to build Kenneth backwards a little bit and figure out how he would work with the character of Jody who we had established in the first episode [of season four]. I don’t know that all the hilarious banter and cool stuff between them made it into the final cut of the episode, but I do know that those two actors [playing] two characters when we were shooting were just such a joy. Those guys had known each other prior – I think they had worked on stage together in New York years ago – but just really had an affinity for one another and their chemistry was fabulous. It was a lot of fun to watch them work. It just felt like, “Wow, these guys need their own prequel,” where you see them in action before they meet Raylan because it was a lot of fun. I was happy with a lot of it. There are elements in this episode that are the most Western that we’ve done in a while: there’s a showdown in a saloon where Raylan clears out the bar and has a showdown. That was like, “Oh yeah, they do that in the Westerns all the time,” so that was fun to play that out.
–Was there any discussion of not killing off Jody?
No, we knew pretty much from the get-go that he was going to function in this episode as someone who publicly called out Raylan and said, “I’m coming to get you.” When you go to that extreme, there’s really no way for it to be satisfying to send the guy to jail. And Raylan hadn’t been in a shootout at all this year. Basically we felt like we’ve earned him shooting somebody, this is a guy who publicly says, “I’m going to come kill you.” Also the character of Jody [on the show] is not Jody in the book. He’s a different guy. I think he’s named Delroy but the same shootout in a bar happens in the “Raylan” book. We always knew that was the endpoint we were driving to. How it functions in the book is it arouses Jackie Nevada because she witnesses what happens so we always knew it had to do that in order to get to some sort of love affair.
–There was some back-and-forth about whether or not Raylan and Jackie were actually going to wind up in the episode.
In the book there’s a scene where they shower together in the aftermath of the shootout. We shot that scene and we’re not ultimately going to air it because it’s stronger if it’s left unsaid. The shower scene just felt too much, it felt gratuitous. You don’t have to see him get into the shower to know what’s going happen.
Assistant Props Master Doug Poole gave us an inside look at where Raylan and company get all their wonderful toys. Enjoy!
-Nick and Jeff