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Interview with Noah Hawley of "Fargo" on
FX NETWORK: Fargo
May 30, 2014/11:30 p.m. PDT
Noah Hawley / Executive Producer, Writer, Fargo
Kristy Silvernail / Senior Manager, Media Relations, FX
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by.
Welcome to the Fargo Conference Call. At this time, all
participants are in a listen-only mode. Shortly, we will be
conducting a question and answer session and instructions
will be given at that time. As a reminder, this conference
is being recorded.
I would now like to turn the conference over to Ms. Kristy
Silvernail. Please go ahead.
Kristy: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Fargo
conference call with Executive Producer and Writer, Noah
Hawley. We'd like to thank everyone for joining us today and
remind you that this call is for print purposes only, no
audio may be used. Due to a high volume of journalists on
the line, we respectfully request that you limit yourself to
one question at a time and then get back into queue for any
follow ups you may have. Since most of you have already
watched next week's episode, we also ask that you hold your
coverage until after it airs so that your readers can enjoy
every surprising twist and turn.
As a reminder, Fargo airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern
and Pacific only on FX.
With that said, let's go ahead and take the first question.
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Jamie Ruby with
SciFiVision. Please go ahead.
Jamie: Thanks so much for doing the call today.
Jamie: I'm really, really loving the show. My question is,
and I know the actors have talked about this some, but you
got a ten-episode season order from the very beginning, so
you really didn’t have to do quite the whole pilot thing.
Can you talk about how that affected the way that you told
the story knowing that you had a finite number of episodes?
Noah: I was commissioned to write a pilot, which I wrote a
script, and then, right away the conversation became about a
straight series order, which I think had a lot to do with
just good timing and the fact that the network was
expanding, knew that they were going to expand it to two or
three channels and they wanted to launch into this limited
series business. What was really exciting from the story
standpoint, for me having written shows that have been
cancelled relatively quickly or where you never really get
out of the gate story wise is the idea that no matter what
we did, FX was going to air all ten of them, and so, you
write knowing that you're going to be judged based on the
totality of the story as opposed to people who get only a
couple of episodes in. The other thing that it allowed us to
do is to really lay in—to set things up to pay off down the
road, and so, both from a writing standpoint and visually to
really start introducing visual metaphors and themes and
setting step up and also just to walk into locations where
we were scouting and knowing that we were going to need a
back door in Episode 8 or whatever it was very helpful, but
when I wrote the first episode, I didn’t write with any act
breaks; I just wrote a 68-page movie script, and I did the
same when we were breaking story. We never put end of act
one, start of act two on the board, and that really changes
the way that you write because you're now creating these
artificial story points simply to throw to commercial, and
anyway, it was a really great process knowing that we were
telling a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Jamie: Thank you so much.
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of April Neale with
MonstersandCritics. Please go ahead.
April: Knowing what we know and that you initially wrote this
as a movie script, what would a second season of Fargo look
Noah: It would look like a new movie really. I really liked
that when FX said we want to do Fargo, we're wondering if
you can do it without “Marge,” by which they meant without
any of the characters from the movie, by which they meant
can you write us a new Coen brothers' movie. I liked the
idea that it was just a story that felt like that story but
actually had no connection to it, and then, as you get
deeper into it, you found that there was a connection
actually and that “Stavros” found the money that Buscemi
buried at the end of the film, and you realize that, wait a
minute, this story is even tangentially connected to the
movie, I think is really fun. So, I think if we were to do
it again, you would see a new movie with new characters but
one that might have some connection either to the first
season or to the original movie, just not in a way hopefully
that you can predict or expect.
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of Greg Staffa from Your
Entertainment. Please go ahead.
Greg: Thank you for taking our questions today. I was a fan
of your other show, The Unusuals, and Fargo reunites you
with both Adam Goldberg and Joshua Close. Just curious—were
the parts written for them in mind and what was it like
working with them again?
Noah: No, none of the parts were really written with anyone
in mind. I tend to work from a—to write first and then cast
later, but I've remained friends with all of that cast. It
was such a great cast and obviously Mr. Renner has gone on
to do some other things, but all those guys, I stay in touch
The thing that I like about Adam and that I used him in The
Unusuals is that I like casting him against type which is
that sort of neurotic Jewish comic thing. I like putting him
in a sort of darker less-talky, more-menacing kind of role.
I think he brings something so interesting to it.
And then, Josh came in, he auditioned for the role of “Chazz,”
and there was just a quality to him that I think really
felt—he really captured a sort of small-town arrogance in a
way, but also, I don't know how you feel, but I felt like
his journey and where he ended up by the end of Episode 7
was such a raw and vulnerable place, and people said they
never thought they would feel sorry for him but they did.
So, I'm a believer that when you find people you like
working with, you should keep working with them is a good
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of Luis Castro with MSN.
Please go ahead.
Luis: In the series, you work with brothers Coen. I think one
episode. What was the influence of the brothers Coen? They
have influence in the whole series, or only in the first
Noah: Well, the Coens, obviously their influence is
everywhere in the show, and obviously, I didn’t keep myself
to just references or inspirations from Fargo the movie. I
sort of opened myself to their larger body of work as
storytellers and their sensibility. We do a parable sequence
in Episode 5 that’s obviously a nod to A Serious Man and The
Goy's Teeth as well as a lot of other moments, some big,
some small that are influenced by them.
Their direct involvement really was pretty minimal. They
obviously are very busy with their own material, and they
read the first script that I wrote and I had a very nice
conversation with them about it and they were very happy
with it, and then, we showed them the first episode and
Ethan Coen said yes, good, which apparently is effusiveness
from him. So, their direct involvement—or there was never a
situation where they wanted to know what was coming down the
line, we didn't break story. There was none of that. I think
they sort of read it and they said okay, well he got it, he
captured—he's doing it the way we would do it. So, we're
just going to let him do his thing, but they bought me
waffles, which was nice, or maybe I bought them waffles, I
Moderator: We'll go to the line of [indiscernible]. Please go
M: Seems to me like many of these new American TV shows
nowadays are defined by the amount—they always depict a lot
of violence and this moral ambiguity and I think that the
hero over time is like the character of the psychopath, like
other shows like Dexter and House of Cards. I was wonder how
do you explain this?
Noah: How do I explain my society? I think that’s a hard
question. I think some of it has to do with the shock value
of telling stories that come from a different point of view.
Obviously, Breaking Bad was hugely influential culturally,
and Dexter and all the way back to “Vic Mackey: on The
Shield and this idea of the anti-hero and that you're
actually rooting for a guy and he's both the hero and the
villain is a very interesting line to walk.
That wasn’t necessarily the line that I felt like I was
walking. Billy Bob Thornton and I laugh because people talk
to him and they call him [“Lorne Malvo”] the protagonist of
the show which is not—he's not designed to be the hero of
the show, and I find it interesting that people respond to
him in that way. Obviously, he's a movie star and has a very
big role in the show, but he's an element of social
destruction and anarchy and does a kind of violence to the
social contract that’s just as meaningful as the real
violence he does in life, which is to say it's just as
important to him to see if he can get a kid to urinate in
his boss' gas tank as it is to blackmail a guy or murder
someone. He just wants to see how far he can push the human
animal to be an animal, but I feel like that is balanced,
his journey and “Lester's” journey which is definitely a
dark journey by the optimism of “Molly” and “Gus” and this
idea of what we remember most from the movie is yes, there
was this real horrific violence, but there was this sort of
American optimism to it and this idea that at the end of the
movie when she gets into bed with her husband and he got the
$0.03 stamp and they're going to have a baby in two months,
she's going to wake up tomorrow and go back to life as
normal, and it's not going to be this crazy horrifying Coen
brothers' world…that that was the worst thing that she saw.
So, I like the idea that in a very hopefully Coen brothers'
way, there is a good versus evil battle that’s going on here
and I hope that the good wins out, but nothing's black and
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of Preston Barta with
North Texas Daily. Please go ahead.
Preston: So, in terms of writing characters, do you write
what you want your characters to do or do you let the story
take hold and kind of go along for the ride like the rest of
us because I feel that it's all very natural and fluid?
Noah: The scripts are very detailed down a lot of the time to
the camera move itself. I feel like as TV used to be a sort
of talking head medium with the occasional foot chase or car
chase, but now, the cinematic bar is really high, which is
the influence of HBO and shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men
and it's incumbent on us as writers to be filmmakers and to
tell the story with the camera as much as possible, and I
find it really exciting to have—anytime there's a four or
five-page stretch with no dialogue where it's really just
the camera telling the story, that makes me very happy as a
filmmaker, but within that, you always get up on the day
with the actors and you put the scene on its feet and you
figure out the blocking and how it would actually play out,
but it was really rare that things would change much on the
It was much more—and part of this is just about getting
everyone to buy into the vision of the show, but I feel like
if you have really thought it out and you really know
exactly how you want things to unfold, your cast will go on
that ride. They want to believe that you know what you're
doing, and there are certainly moments where we talk stuff
through, and of course, Billy Bob Thornton, he's basically
like where do you want me to go, what do you want me to say.
He would laugh because apparently Billy and Joe and Ethan
always joked about those actors who would say my guy
wouldn’t do that, they'd go out to a restaurant and he'd say
oh, I'd order spaghetti and meatballs but my guy wouldn't
eat spaghetti and meatballs.
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of Nick Nunziata with
CHUD. Please go ahead.
Nick It's funny; there's so much goodwill inherently built
into Fargo. Even though it's been around for quite a while,
there's that world that you already are kind of some
goodwill established with the viewer, but as I was watching
the first episode, there was that passing of kind of the
brain going from oh my God, this doesn’t suck, this doesn’t
suck to the point where it goes oh my God, this is great,
and then, it started to take its own life. At what point in
the process did you feel sort of that baton being passed
from where you're telling your audience you're safe here,
this is the world you know but now you're going around the
world? Did you feel that in the writing process and as you
guys are putting the show together?
Noah: Yes, it was interesting. From very early on, when the
challenge was presented to me as can you make a Coen
brothers' movie, can you tell—what if it went like this?
We're sitting around telling crazy, true-crime stories and
you told me the one about “Jerry Lundegaard” who hired these
guys to kidnap his wife for money and then everything went
to hell, and I said, oh yeah, that’s crazy, have you heard
the one about the insurance salesman who runs into this guy
in the emergency room, and so, that was sort of the free
association that launched the show for me, which was pretty
almost immediately upon being presented with the challenge,
I had this image of these two guys in the emergency room,
and one was a very civilized man and the other was a very
uncivilized man and the question was who were they, where
did they come from and where were they going, and there was
something in that that felt inherently Coen-esque.
And then, the minute that I started to take that down the
path, it felt like what you were describing, which is this
feels like the movie but it's not the movie, and then the
question—and then, as I sort of put the pieces together and
introduced the character of “Vern,” who was the chief of
police, knowing that he was in some ways a diversion to
sneak “Molly's” character in and building up to that moment
where the doorbell rings and “Lester” has killed his wife
and he think that it's the “Malvo” showing up, but it's
really “Vern” and the way that that played out, all of it
felt organically like it was working and that was a very
exciting moment, and a very exciting story to come in and
tell to FX and to have them—to see on their faces that they
felt like I was getting it right.
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Stephanie Cooke with
Agents of Geek. Please go ahead.
Stephanie I just wanted to know, Fargo was a true crime
story that’s completely fictional. Are there any real
true-crime stories that helped inspire the series?
Noah: No. There wasn’t. It wasn’t like I read anything that I
felt like was a detail that would play in well to this case.
It was more that once I put the characters in motion, once I
said—and there is a slight [indiscernible] undertrained
quality to the set up, but the minute that “Lester” came in
and “Malvo” came in and the idea of killing the bully and
killing the wife came in, then it was about playing out the
consequences of that, and the idea that “Sam” has had
connections to a Fargo crime syndicate and that “Mr. Wrench”
and “Numbers” came to town and all that. So, at that point,
I wasn’t really looking for any true story to rely on. It
was more the idea that once you call something a true story,
you're able to break a lot of the rules of hero-based
story-telling that this sort of Joseph Campbell heroes
journey thing that our friend Dan Harmon talks about all the
It was more like you'll seen in Episode 4, “Gus” manages to
arrest “Malvo” and he calls “Molly” and says you should be
here, and she gets her coat but she never makes it there and
“Bill” goes instead. In the fictional story, you would want
her in that room, she's the hero. She's supposed to be
sitting across from the villain, but the true story version
is that she never makes it there, just like “Marge” wasn’t
there when “Jerry Lundegaard” was arrested at the end of the
movie and the same thing in 106. When “Malvo's” doing his
whole thing of setting up “Don Chumph” and playing out that
end game, and even the shootout, it's like “Molly” and “Gus”
are sort of driving around and they're having coffee and
they're not—the textbook tells you to put them at the center
of the action, but by not putting them in the center of the
action, it feels more real, I guess, was the conceit. So, it
wasn’t so much about looking for real-world inspirations as
much as it was to try to make a fictional story feel realer.
Moderator: Next we'll go to Clara Day with TV Fanatic. Please
Clara I was wondering specifically about the episode next
week. What went into the decision to do the time jump
forward? Why was that important to finish out the story?
Noah: Well, for a couple of reasons, one, it plays into what
I just mentioned which is I apologize to anyone who hasn’t
seen it yet, but we're going to talk spoilers now. It was
suggested, I had a writer's room of four writers even though
I wrote all of them, but we got together for ten weeks and
we broke episodes two through nine, and there was a moment
where one of the writers, Steve Blackman, suggested we do a
time jump, and there was part of me that felt like it might
feel gimmicky and I wanted to sleep on it.
I liked the idea that it felt like a real-life thing because
obviously if these cases aren't solved quickly, often
they're not solved at all or the case goes cold and then
something new happens. So, I liked that idea, but it wasn’t
until I literally slept on it and woke up the next morning
and thought well she's pregnant that’s why we're doing it.
We're doing it because in that year, things have happened to
her personally where she and “Gus” are now married and she's
pregnant and suddenly it is the movie in a way, like you
watch this whole thing thinking oh, it's kind of like the
movie but it's not the movie, but then the minute that she's
pregnant again, you think wait a minute, now it is the movie
in this strange way and that also sets up for me, now you
have expectations based on the movie about the situations
that she's going to be put in that maybe we play into or
maybe we defy in a way that it's always very important to me
to try to create a story that feels unpredictable like you
can't jump ahead and see what's coming, but at the end, when
you’ve watched the whole thing, it all feels inevitable. So,
it's a tricky line, but I did feel like once the pregnancy
thing came to my head that the time jump felt justified on
every level, and it allows us to sort of move all the
characters forward and to move “Lester” forward to see his
transformation complete and where he ends up and the kind of
guy he is now as well as for “Molly” and “Gus,” and then,
for “Malvo,” all you know is what you saw at the very end,
but it's good. I can't wait for you to see nine, let me just
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Max Conte from Spoiler TV.
Please go ahead.
Max You talked early on a bit about differentiating series
from the movie Fargo, and I was wondering if there's any
hesitation efforts to try to move up to the movie if you're
worried about working on the script and how you sort of made
it your own.
Noah: Well, there's always the concern of they're such big
shoes to fill. I think creatively that’s a paralyzing
thought though. So, there are buffers built in. It was a big
swing, but I took it and certainly the network was there to
say yes, you didn’t get it, we're not going to make the
show, and then, once we started shooting, we made what I
believe to be the best version of it and the network said
yes that is the best version of it. So, there are buffers in
there. You get some positive or negative feedback as you
But certainly that moment on a Thursday or Friday when we
sent the script off to Joel and Ethan and we're now just
waiting for them to read it, it's a pretty nerve-wracking
time and then to then call them—have them call me on the
phone and say very nice things about it and to really tell
me in no uncertain terms that they were happy and that they
felt that I got it right. That was the most important
feedback that I've gotten in this whole time is when your
heroes acknowledge you it's always a good moment.
Moderator: Next we'll go to Bruce Eisen with Heroes TV.
Please go ahead.
Bruce A number of people have said that they think we're in
a golden age of TV, and I'm wondering if you agree with
that, and if so, is that strictly on cable, or does it also
apply to broadcast, and which shows, if any, do you like to
Noah: It's an interesting question. I think obviously it is a
great time, and there's some of that that has to do with the
feature business in the state that it's in and there's part
of it that has to do with the fact that we now have, I think
somebody said something like 52 buyers of original scripted
content and how do you distinguish yourself in that
marketplace, and part of it is just the brand—is the quality
of the show is the brand. It's like FX when they put The
Shield on the first time, they couldn’t compete on any level
with broadcast television except to create a show that you
couldn’t find anywhere else and to hope that that would
bring an audience to it and that was really the model
combined with HBO for saying look, television—and there were
great broadcast shows throughout history. Through the
history of television there have been great iconic
ground-breaking shows. I think people used to read War and
Peace and now we don’t, and what we do is we sit around and
watch things on our screens, our phones, our iPads, our TVs
and we spend a lot of time doing that and almost by accident
people discover this idea of binge watching, first by going
back and looking at shows like The Wire or shows where there
are multiple seasons that people have missed, and this idea
that you could watch all of them for 20 hours or 40 hours or
whatever, it became a very addictive thing, and I think
what's interesting is people used to read War and Peace and
now we don’t and what we do is we watch these shows and we
need these shows to be great so that we can feel great about
ourselves for watching them.
If you're going to binge 30 hours a week, are you going to
feel good about yourself if it's Real Housewives of Atlanta,
or are you going to feel good about yourself if it's House
of Cards? Or if it's a War and Peace as a limited series,
this idea that this entertainment can also be provocative
and educational and interesting and really move us, I think
that’s playing into it as well is that people—and you see it
in the conversations that happen around televisions. From
time to time I look at the recaps of the episodes and this
is a Paulene Kael level dissertation and conversations about
the deep meaning of the work and structural—how the episodes
work structurally, the themes of them, the characters. It's
very sophisticated conversations about shows, and then it's
incumbent on us to make very sophisticated shows so that you
guys can keep talking about them in that way.
Bruce Are there any shows that you particularly like to
Noah: I don’t get to watch as much anymore, but the iconic
shows of—I'm just catching up on Mad Men now. Obviously,
Breaking Bad, I watched religiously. I've been watching
Hannibal. I'm really intrigued by the world that he's
created, and as someone who's adapted underlying material, I
love that he's twisted and turned it into something uniquely
his own. I watch Boardwalk Empire. I try to sample
everything at least one or two episodes to see what is going
on, but it's hard at this moment. I'm sure I'll binge watch
on vacation. Any recommendations?
M I like a lot of the stuff on FX. So, I think The Americans
is another one that they have.
Noah: I like that one as well.
Moderator: Next we'll go to Dan Calvisi with Act Four
Dan Congratulations. The show is great.
Noah: Thank you.
Dan So, my question is—my audience are writers and a lot of
them are aspiring TV writers, so they wanted to ask you how
did you break into TV writing and—
Noah: We lost him for the second part of the question.
Moderator: Let me see if I can get his line back. One moment.
It does appear his line dropped. If he calls back in, he can
queue up again. I'll apologize. We'll move on to Tim
Kenneally from The Wrap. Please go ahead.
Tim Just going back to the time jump in the upcoming
episode, will any of the events in the years passed, will
they be addressed in upcoming episodes or do you feel
everything is going to resolve from that point? And also,
with “Lester” being this newly confident wielder of
staplers, is there a showdown between him and “Lorne” in the
Noah: Well, it certainly looks like that at the end as
they're, for the first time, in the room again. I found it
really interesting to—the first episode is all about these
two guys and then they're never in a room again until this
point, and hopefully, we've managed to keep everyone
entertained and create a compelling story without that
element, but certainly, bringing them together now in
episode eight, I think hopefully it gives everyone exactly
what they’ve been hoping for all along. But the time jump
was really—it was created, and if you saw the script, you
would see. We have that moment where “Molly” and “Gus” get
into bed; it's a year later and she tells him that they're
doing good and he goes to sleep and they're watching TV and
the camera drops down through the bedding, and in the script
it says and if it feels like that’s the end of the movie,
well that’s on purpose. I purposely wanted to create a
moment in Episode 8 that literally mimicked the end of the
movie so that everyone thought wait a minute, I thought
there were two of these left, is that it, is that where it's
ending, and then, drop down through and create a sort of
disorienting moment where suddenly you're in Las Vegas and
it's some sales conference and it's not until we reveal
“Lester Nygaard” that you realize oh yeah, we haven't seen
where “Lester” is a year later, and look, he's winning this
award and then bring him into direct contact with “Malvo”
again in the same room and just lead people with that.
Now, they really want to come back and see what happens
next, but I think that the year jump was both to move the
story forward and also to sort of say maybe it's an
epilogue. Maybe we're like a year later and actually she's
doing pretty good and she's still thinking about it, but
they got everything they need.
Moderator: We'll go to David Martindale with the Fort Worth
Star Telegraph. Please go ahead.
David I love the show. I want to time jump backwards with
you for a moment to the day when you first saw the movie
Fargo. What impact did it have on you as a movie goer, as a
writer? Do you remember even, say, which theater you saw it
in, which I guess is my way of saying what kind of profound
impact might it have had on you?
Noah: How old am I is the question.
Noah: I don’t remember the location of the first screening,
but I do remember, and I think at that point, I had probably
seen Raising Arizona certainly as a movie which is such an
iconic film and really such a unique—no one has ever made a
film like Raising Arizona before or since, and so, coming
into this film, I remember the feeling of unease that’s
there from the beginning and the region as a character in
it, but there was something about watching it unfold because
obviously you don’t meet “Marge” in the movie for the first
33 minutes or something. You think okay, it's this guy and
he's hired these guys and they go and they kidnap the wife
and it all goes horribly wrong and there's that moment where
Buscemi and Peter Stormare have been pulled over by the
state cop and things get violent and Peter Stormare grabs
the guy by the tie and he shoots him, and there's this crazy
fountain of blood that comes out of his head and then it
becomes a car chase and then the car flips and it
really—it's so shocking and delivers so dryly, and then you
meet “Marge” and then suddenly the movie opens up into this
really endearing world where I pitched the show to FX. I
said it's the best of America versus the worst of America.
Yes, we have problems, but look who's solving them, and I
think that was the profound feeling from the movie was you
saw this gritty and really kind of dark world view, and then
it was contrasted by this woman, this pregnant woman who
came in and just was very matter of fact and common sense
and she wasn’t the mentalist. She just had a lot of common
sense and she was a really endearing person, and they put
her on a collision course with these really bad people and
you worried about her and that’s what I remember.
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Greg Staffa with Your
Entertainment. Please go ahead.
Greg: We recently talked to Allison [Tolman] who plays
“Molly” on the show, and you have such a wide range cast
from Billy Bob Thornton to Martin Freeman, all big name
actors, and when we heard her story, she was working in
managing a photo shop in Chicago. What went in to finding
her, and can you tell us a little bit about that experience
of finding her because I can't imagine anyone else playing
that character now?
Noah: I just saw her earlier today. We did some DVD
commentary, and first of all, she's so matter of fact about
the whole thing, it's really—she was obviously—you guys all
nominated her for an award, and she was, eight months ago,
had a day job. So, our casting director, Rachel Tenner, who
had worked with Ellen Chenoweth and worked with Joel and
Ethan on A Serious Man and their last three or four movies,
she started out as a Chicago casting director and still had
a lot of local roots, which is one of the things we liked
about her; she had basically gone to Minnesota to cast A
Serious Man, and so, they were having sessions in
Minneapolis and they were having sessions in Chicago and we
were getting tapes, and I saw this tape of Allison, and I
had seen, I don't know, 80 or 90 Los Angeles and New York
actresses putting themselves on tape and a lot of really
great talent there, but there was something the minute that
I saw Allison's tape, I thought oh well, that’s her.
She was a very real person, very grounded, but she got all
the nuance of the comedy in a way that the others hadn’t
done, and there was just something so disarming about her
and matter of fact, and she seemed just really smart but
also she wasn’t putting it in your face, and so, we brought
the tape to the network and we got her in the mix and we did
end up having a screen test in New York where we tested our
best and brightest option. But it was inarguable that it was
her role and everyone saw it and I got to call her up at her
day job and tell her that she got the job and then she hung
up and went back to work.
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Luis Castro of MSN. Please
Luis: With these excellent reviews and the recent nomination
to the Critics' Awards, can we expect another season of
Fargo or similar story, and do what do you think the good
reviews of the critics?
Noah: I think they're terrible, and I want my bad reviews
back. No, it's amazing. I've never had this experience
before of such universal acclaim for something that even I
thought was a dubious idea in the beginning, and I assumed
that the majority of voices would just be saying how dare
you or what gives you the right to take on this iconic work.
Look, obviously in an industry like this, anytime something
is a success, you think how can I make more money off of it.
That said, my experience with FX is they're very proud of
the quality of the work, and their biggest concern is if we
were to do it again, could we make it as good or better, and
certainly those are conversations that are being had. I
think that, for me, it's really important that there's a
kind of alchemy that happens when you get all the right
elements in place that a lot of it is skill but some of it
is luck as well, and I'm not in any hurry to try to top
myself there. It's been a crazy two-year span of getting
picked up and writing them all and producing them all and we
have our final sound mix today on Episode 10, and then, I'm
excited about the idea of really taking the time to think
about and the network is kind enough to allow me to do that.
So, I think it's a really exciting voice to work in and the
leeway that I get in making a "Coen Brothers' movie" is I
get to mix tone, drama and comedy and violence and magic
realism and be structurally innovative with how I tell the
story and all those sorts of things that I might not have
gotten away with on my own. So, it's been a blast.
Luis: But you have ideas for another series?
Noah: I have some thoughts of what we could do that I think
would be really great, but obviously, you're seeing from the
ten hours that you're watching now that all the pieces—my
feeling is that all the pieces that we put in motion and the
way things are paying off is I'm really happy with it, and I
don’t want to just have an idea for how it starts; I need to
have an idea for how it ends because it starts and ends in
the same season, so you can't fake it until you make it. You
have to start out knowing exactly where you're going.
Moderator: We'll go to the line of Preston Barta, North Texas
Daily. Please go ahead.
Preston: Before you turned to fiction, you were a
singer/songwriter. How much does music influence the way you
write? Are there like times where you're listening to a song
and you kind of put it in like a cinematic context and you
think of like a scene to write or something like that?
Noah: Musicality definitely is a part of writing even without
music, the sort of rhythm of the scene and the beats of it
and all, but certainly my composer, Jeff Russo who's done my
other two shows with me, he and I start talking at the
conceptual stage. I did a show called My Generation. We shot
in Austin, and that was a show that I wanted to have a very
Americana feel to it. So, we had more banjo and whistling in
that show than any other show on television I think, but
that was part of the identity of the show from the moment of
its conception in a way, and here, obviously we were based
on a movie that had an amazing score by Carter Burwell, a
very orchestral score, and so, that’s what we were playing
to, but Jeff and I had been talking since the outline stage,
and so, as it happened on My Generation, when I went to
Calgary to make the show, one day I get ten tracks from him,
ten pieces of score including he's written the main theme
that we use, he's written a bunch of music that I'm then
able to listen to as I'm driving around the lonely plains of
Alberta, Canada. And so, the musical identity of the show,
the mood of the show is there, and then as we're filming
scenes, I'm not playing it for the audience really or of
anyone else, but I know what it's going to sound like and
I'll call him and I'll say hey, this piece of music that you
have right here, I think this will be great for the moment
where “Molly” finds “Lester” lying downstairs next to his
wife, but let's take it—it's the sort of comic theme that we
use to introduce “Lester,” but let's take that piece of
music, and let's now slow it down and drop it an octave and
turn it into a “Lester's” not the bumbling fool anymore; it
becomes a more ominous piece of music. So, definitely music
is a huge part of everything that I do.
Moderator: Next we'll go to the line of Damon Martin with
NerdcoreMovement.com. Please go ahead.
Damon: My question is about the anthologies here. We've seen
a lot of successful anthologies lately, American Horror
Story, True Detective, and I think Fargo is right in that
same vein. Is there something you see about certain
storytelling in Hollywood right now where it's kind of
lending itself to almost a ten-hour movie is what I see
Fargo as, or maybe it's eight-hour movie for True Detective,
but I feel like it's kind of the film of TV if that makes
sense. I just want to kind of get your thoughts on the
success of a lot of these anthologies here as we're seeing
on TV right now.
Noah: It's interesting. I think American Horror Story in a
lot of ways is the—it's three years old, but it's the
grandparent of all of this—just that idea, that breaking
through that ceiling because for so long you just couldn’t
do it, the whole thing was a hundred episodes or die, and
then, I think obviously the 12 or 13 episode cable season
started to wear away at that 22-episode a year mantra.
And then, Lost, I think also played a huge role in it, this
idea that was really a cultural conversation piece and that
Damon and Carlton kept saying look, we've only got so much
story, we can't do this forever and they had to force the
network to give them an end date. I think it's evolved to
the point where the length of the show revolves now more
around the length of the story as opposed to the other way
around, and there are still going to be shows like 24 where
you're like well, it's 24 episodes and it runs multiple
years and there's a new thing every year and that’s great,
but otherwise, there's all these properties that the only
option you ever had was to make a two-hour movie out of it
or to try and get an HBO John Adams' miniseries going where
now you have a lot of buyers for that kind of material.
But I think the critical thing in the cable world is on the
business side is the idea that networks like AMC and FX,
once they take a studio role, once they have backend to
ownership of the property, then they're able to look down
the road and go okay, well, we'll make—True Detective is not
a good example because it's HBO, but we'll make Fargo and
because we have a studio ownership in it, the same-day
ratings don’t matter as much because we also are going to
get money from foreign sales, from a big second-end Netflix
or Hulu or Amazon sale, and therefore, they're not
expecting—they're not tied to the ratings to make their
money entirely. So, the minute that your network is also
your studio, I think you're seeing a lot more risk taking
where you go okay, obviously Breaking Bad started out with
very low ratings, and then, this binge watching built over
time to build to the point of where their finale was a huge
number, and that show will continue to make money for them
for decades. So, I think it's a confluence of the creative
storytelling and the fact that you can't make that $30
million feature film anymore but you can make a $30 million
ten-hour movie on FX.
Damon: One quick follow up. You mentioned several times,
you're obviously a big Breaking Bad fan. I know you have an
incredible cast on this show, but just real quick if you
could, just talk about working with Bob Odenkirk because
obviously he was such a big part of Breaking Bad, and he's
phenomenal, such a different role for playing “Saul Goodman”
on this show, but I love his work on this series as well.
Noah: Bob was great. He came in, and it's very funny, he was
so comb-over driven by in Breaking Bad and the mustache and
the haircut was very—those were sort of at the forefront of
his mind at the beginning of like the look of the character,
and when he signed on, there was only maybe two or three
scripts written, and the journey that “Bill's” character
takes, it's actually a very major character in the show but
wasn’t necessarily in the beginning, and I think it was his
enthusiasm for the material that made him say well, I just
want to be a part of this, but I think he really
appreciated—that scene that he has with Martin Freeman where
Martin "confesses" in setting up “Chazz” and to the point at
which they're both in tears at the end, that wasn’t a scene
that Bob ever got to play on Breaking Bad. The range of
things that we asked him to do to have this sort of
small-town innocence and this kind of [indiscernible]
obstructionist quality which is not based on the fact that
he's a bad guy, it's just he doesn’t want to live in a world
where his old friend could be guilty of anything. Playing
all those levels, we really pushed Bob and he rose to it.
Moderator: Mr. Hawley, we have a question actually on behalf
of Dan Calvisi who was cut off. His question for you is,
"How did you break in as a TV writer, and what is your
advice to new writers shopping around their first pilot
Noah: I came in through the side door really. I had started
as a novelist and had written a couple of novels. I had one
optioned by Paramount, and then, my motto is really what
else can they get away with. So, I wrote a spec feature and
ended up selling that and coming down to LA from San
Francisco where I was living and selling a pitch and then
was hired to adapt the book that had been set up, and so,
suddenly I had this side career going as a screenwriter and
then what else can they get away with; I started having
television conversations and ended up selling I guess three
pilots over the course of two years, and then feeling like
if any of those ever got picked up, I would need to know how
to produce a show, and so, I came down and I went to work on
a show called Bones, and I was there for two seasons and
then I got my own show, which was The Unusuals. So, it was a
very fast process, but the great thing about being a writer
is you can always write that thing that gives—you can write
yourself a career, and I would say you just don’t want to
throw all your eggs in one basket and say well I've written
this one script and I'm going to hock this one script until
the day I die. It's like just keep writing. You have to
write because you love it and you have to tell stories
because you have to tell them. It can't be this strategic
well, I hear that AMC is looking for a SciFi show. It has to
be well what stories do you need to tell, and if you have
your own voice and if you're telling your own stories, the
market will find you eventually.
Moderator: We do have another question that came in via
e-mail. This is from Sheldon Wiebe with Eclipse Magazine.
His question is, "How did you arrive at a choice few
characters who are similar on the surface, yet different in
the details as in “Marge Gunderson” and “Molly Solverson”
and between “Jerry Lundegaard” and “Lester Nygaard” to use
as the baseline characters in this series?
Noah: Well, I think it's a question of familiarity and
expectations and the idea that is—there is a sort of
small-town character of a “Jerry Lundegaard” or a “Lester
Nygaard” who is on the surface, is a sort of failure,
someone who is not—doesn’t seem to have their lives under
control. They don’t seem to be well-respected in the world,
and in creating something that felt like the movie, I felt
like you needed that character, the insurance salesman or
the car salesman for familiarity, but then, of course, the
familiarity breeds the expectation that their journey is
going to be the same. So, the minute that Lester takes a
hammer to his wife, you realize that you're not going down
the same path as you did before, and I hope that’s an
exciting moment for people. “Jerry Lundegaard” was defined
by his passivity. He was guiltiest of not speaking up when
he realized that—he obviously hired these guys, but he
didn’t call them off, he didn’t confess it at any point. He
just became this paralyzed figure whereas “Lester's” journey
was about the actions that he took.
And then, as far as “Marge” and “Molly,” I knew that if I
started the show with “Molly” as the chief of police,
everyone was going to make a direct comparison to Frances
McDormand and no one could survive that because Frances'
performance was so Oscar winning and iconic. So, I snuck
“Molly” in through the side door. I created “Vern,” and I
gave him a pregnant wife, and my thought was well the
audience will go oh, I see what they're doing, they just
switched this and now the wife is pregnant but he's having a
baby, and then I kill him off and “Molly” has been
introduced through the side door as a sidekick, so suddenly
you realize only in Episode 2 that she is actually the star
of the show, but at that point, you haven’t judged her
against Frances McDormand. So, you’ve formed an opinion on
her based on her performance versus based on somebody else's
Moderator: We have one final question from Greg Staffa with
Your Entertainment. Please go ahead.
Greg: You’ve talked about your novels and stuff like that. If
we don’t see a second season for Fargo, is there any chance
that we could revisit the characters you’ve created to live
on in book form, and has doing Fargo opened up some new
opportunities for you? Do you see any chance that you'll
turn some of your old books into a TV series?
Noah: Well, there are a couple of questions there. Those
characters, it's a really fascinating thing because
obviously TV is based on the idea that you fall in love with
these characters, and then your reward is you get to watch
them year in and year out. Obviously, we're not satisfying
that feeling for people. I think are there stories to tell
about “Gus” and “Molly” and “Wrench” and “Numbers” and
“Malvo”? Sure. I'm sure there's a whole world of stories to
tell about them. I haven’t explored the idea of a book
series or anything. Part of it I think is I think Joel and
Ethan have been very patient with me, but I don’t want to
turn their creation into an industry for my own gain. Part
of it is also the idea at the end of the movie was “Marge”
gets into bed and she's seeing the worst case she'll ever
see and tomorrow she goes back to life as normal and that’s
her reward, and that’s why you feel great about the movie is
because she survived the worst thing and now she's going to
just have a baby and be a mom, and so, the reason this
wasn’t a television series is because A, we're saying it's a
true story, and year in, year out, we just kept presenting
“Molly” with these crazy Coen Brothers' cases, there's no
way we could maintain that idea that it's a true story.
And B, I think she would be such a changed person after four
or five years or four or five books or whatever it was that
what was that sort of best of America versus worst of
America quality, she'd be in the more sort of bitter PTSD
criminal minds detective as opposed to the sort of
optimistic, trying to put the world back into the order that
it needs to be in person. And then, as far as the books go,
I write the books to be books and then I'm not out there
hocking the idea that we should do this book, is it this or
that book, is it that. People ask and there are
conversations, but I don’t have any specific thoughts at
Moderator: That was the last question we had in queue.
Kristy: Thank you so much to everybody for joining us today,
and especially Noah, we really appreciate your time.
Noah: Thank you.
Kristy: As a reminder, Fargo airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m.
Eastern Pacific only on FX. A complete transcript of this
call will be emailed to everyone within approximately 72
hours. Thanks, everyone.
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our
conference for today. Thank you for your participation and
for using AT&T Teleconference.
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