I came across this show when the Soprano’s was ending and I knew that one of their writers– a genius named Matt Weiner– had got his gig with Soprano’s essentially by showing David Chase the pilot he wrote for Mad Men, a show that HBO eventually passed on. The show is about the NYC ad world in 1960– a place filled with white dudes drinking martini’s and whiskey at lunch and making vaguely to explicitly offensive remarks about anyone who is not in their highly self-prized social bubble. The beauty of the show is the slice of history you absorb watching it–you feel like you’re watching a documentary from a time that feels just as dated as when Paul Giamatti is dressed in a wig on John Adams–and that definitely makes it cool, but the best part of it–as always– is writing characters that feel so, so real. There is a slimy Sales Rep from an old NY scion of power fam always trying to make moves, a 50s style beauty-queen wife who realizes she’s married a man strictly for his paper resume and doesn’t have any idea what she actually wants and a main character–Don Draper– so elaborately complicated as to be possibly be the human version of a Rubrik’s Cube. I watched the first season with a thirsty abandon I haven’t felt since, ahem, The Wire, and I encourage you to. But like anything I write about here, I think ultimately watching this show helps me become a better, more visual, more complex writer. And here are two excerpts from the NYTimes mag article, the first with Weiner discussing his process of writing and the second a cute section about the importance of his wife’s opinion when writing:
“I have a very good memory for dialogue and for conversation,” he said, “and if you tell me a personal detail about yourself I will never forget it and probably steal it. So a lot of me working out the story is me telling the story. My favorite people to tell the story to are my wife and Scott Hornbacher.” He is Weiner’s co-executive producer and creative partner. “If I can see their reaction, I can see what works and what doesn’t,” Weiner said. “That was not something I did on ‘The Sopranos,’ because it was so secretive, and I couldn’t bring in a stranger and dictate to them. But when I wrote the ‘Mad Men’ pilot seven years ago, I dictated it to Robin Veith, who is now a writer here. I wanted someone to be there so I would have to show up. I can write a huge amount that way if I have a good outline. Then I rewrite. That’s when I sit at the computer.”
Weiner married Linda Brettler, an architect, after he graduated from U.S.C. They have four sons. She supported him when he was broke, and she is now his most-important sounding board. “Every single script goes through my wife,” he said. “She inevitably says, ‘What is it about?’ We talk about it and I’m always angry when she’s talking.” He didn’t look angry, he looked glad, as he always does when he talks about his wife. “She’s chewing gum and taking her time,” he continued. “She went to Harvard, she’s really smart and I just stand there literally with my hands out like — ‘What?’ I argue with her, and I always swear I’m not going to show it to her again because I’m so defensive. I mean, my writers come up with lots of good ideas, but she is really something.”
Anyway, I guess my point is this: watch the first season, embrace and absorb the characters, their arcs, fears, and most importantly the way they talk, etc, read the article– especially the quote about Weiner not believing in bad guys–“Everybody has a reason for doing what they’re doing,” and then move on to the second portion of the play, which involves relaying your favorite bits of dialogue from books, mag stories, tv shows, anywhere you feel necessitates a shout-out. I want me some good dialogue. Dialogue–after all– is hep stuff.
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