Malcolm MacRury Interview, Part TwoComplications Ensue
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Thursday, January 15, 2009


CRAFTY: Did you have the whole series arced out when you wrote the pilot?
MACRURY: We had that week together where it was the four of us. By the end of that week we had sketched out in broad strokes the 1st three episodes.
CRAFTY: And those three episodes really feel like an Act One, with a strong ending to them--
MACRURY: Then I went away and wrote the pilot, and Pete and Jason were working on 2 and 3. But it was important to get the pilot in the hands of the other writers as they worked on their outlines. So by getting the pilot first draft done quickly we could hear the voices.
CRAFTY: It sounds like you sort of had an unpaid writing room...?
MACRURY: We had three weeks paid, plus everybody got a script. One week to come up with the stories. Then we came back in the room and broke down three more episodes. Then another week for the last two. Somewhere Pete dropped out to do other things and Paul Aiken ended up co-writing with Jason. You don't need more than that, especially if you're block shooting eight episodes and you know you're going to have all the scripts finished before you shoot anything. Still it might have been good to have one other person around as a story editor – another ear – somebody who can focus on the words.
CRAFTY: Talk about how the block shooting affects you as a writer.
MACRURY: On the one hand you think it's better for the writer, you get to think it all through before you shoot anything. But what it can hamper is the thing that makes TV great – the moments of connection – oh, these two actors are so good together. Speedo Boy – you start to see how we need him in the show – hey, Lolit'a's really good with him! You can miss that in block shooting. We had to fight hard to keep thinking, and not just go, "oh it's done." And in some cases we were able to do something, and in some cases we couldn't.
CRAFTY: You didn't leave a lot of loose ends for ZOS 2!
MACRURY: I'm pretty happy if this is the end. Trying to tell a story about how do you make peace – the absurdity of trying to make peace where it's not wanted-- my favorite show of all time is the Prisoner – I'm sad but curious to see they're remaking it – that's what I was going for, the ending of The Prisoner. "Take care out there."
CRAFTY: Which apparently they had to write in 24 hours when the network pulled the plug in the middle of the season!
MACRURY: And I knew we had to have a Tragically Hip cover band playing over all this chaos-- these innocents performing in the midst of it. Kind of a circus feel.

Talk about the block shooting thing – you do have to know the ending. It makes the show more like a miniseries or a movie. Contrast that with when I was working on DEADWOOD, David Milch never wanted to know the ending, not even of a scene. It's a different way of working and one I'm not good at.
CRAFTY: What did you take away from Deadwood?
MACRURY: The biggest thing I took away was how hard it is to get it right, the dedication you need. Early on, there were just the two of us lying on the floor while David [Milch] was writing a line of description – not even dialog – hour and a half to two hours, going over and over the same line of description. He'd change this word, that word, punctiuation – it was just a stage direction – finally he turned to me with a big smile – "I think that just about does it." And I laughed, and his mood changed – "what's so funny?" "This is hard work." "Yeah. It is. Because you gotta get it right."

That, and the use of the double dash in everything. People make fun of me. I never end a line of description with a period anymore. I don't use the triple dots any more – I use the double dash. This is writer wanker talk, maybe, but I find it so liberating. You look at a page and god damn it, it looks more dynamic! Even if it isn't. It's really flowing well. None of those horrible periods.
CRAFTY: Did you ever consider using a VO to get inside anyone's head? Some of these characters are sort of inscrutable and you play with that. E.g. we don't know what Simon's game is for a while. Or where Speedo Boy's loyalties really lie.
MACRURY: I think we made a decision about that. What I wanted to do – Sean, Michelle Nolden's character [who plays the head UN observer], was always crucial. Kind of the moral center of the show. We started her at the point of breakdown. Where's she going to end up, where's Simon going to end up. It's a complicated love story, and one, dare I say it, I don't think we've seen before. It's a story of a guy forced to do something terrible to a woman he loves and able to do it and feeling complicit – and yet there is love between them.

So she would be the character we privileged with the inner vision – we'd see things through her that would get at her state of mind in a way that she doesn't project to the world. So we didn't want to give anybody else the VO. We also didn't do a lot of backstory. We wanted to define them in what they're doing on the show. No "My father beat me" – revealing the character. We wanted to keep the characters more in the moment – what are they going to become – if they end up being a bit mysterious that's great.
CRAFTY: But you also didn't zoom in here and there to tell us where the characters stand, and I assume that was a decision, because you must have had network notes about "What's Simon really thinking?"
MACRURY: The thing was we had three scripts when we came to The Movie Network and Movie Central. And their only notes were more on the lines of "push it further." And it's a different piece than a lot of stuff out there.

ZOS premieres Monday, January 19th at 9 pm PST on Movie Central, and at 10 pm EST on The Movie Network.

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