Sunday, January 21, 2007

Straight From The Hart (Part II)...

My random chit chat via email with 'Bones' creator/showrunner and friend Hart Hanson continues...

Hart tries to dicipher a menu. Or my questions. Probably the questions.

Will: You mentioned you loved writing for Stephen Fry? When did this happen?

Hart: On 'Bones'. Booth does something he shouldn't have done and the FBI has him evaluated by an in-house shrink ... it's Stephen Fry. He's a very large presence, a brilliant scholar, a great novelist, and he's writing Peter Jackson's next film. Tell me that ain't daunting!

Will: Speaking of Booth, you and Boreanaz seem to get along (at least in pictures) - what's he like and the story behind this one?

Hart: We were winning a Diversity Award, which is a fairly big deal. This was the holding room backstage. The whole cast showed up for the awards show and they know how nervous I am about making speeches etc. David started saying how great my speech was going to be to embarrass me. It worked. He made people take pictures. By the way, the speech wasn't that great but it was a lovely evening once that was finished.

The cast photo (in the previous post) was taken during our "gallery shoot" last year on a weekend. That's why I'm in short pants. I really just went in to be supportive because the cast was there doing promotional work on the weekend. Small anecdote: I was talking to David Boreanaz and he asked if Barry (Josephson) was coming. I said I didn't think so. I see him tip-tapping into his Blackberry and he said, "Barry will be here in a few minutes."

Knowing that Barry and David have a very practical-joking kind of relationship, I asked why. David couldn't stop laughing. He said, "I texted him that you were here and the photographer was about to start taking your picture with the cast." NOBODY likes to have their picture taken more than Barry and he was there within minutes looking BEAUTIFUL. He insisted that wardrobe come up with the black shirt I was wearing so we'd all be in black. (I was wearing a white Led Zeppelin t-shirt...) And even though DB had been joking and there was no intention of taking our pictures, Barry made it happen. I am forever grateful! I don't know why David kissed me. I think I smelled pretty good that day.

Will: Lucky you. Back to music for a second...the best concert you’ve ever seen?

Hart: Well, hell, that's tough. Most fun was ZZ Top at Molson Park back at the eighties, most amazing was Zep, most surprising was old fart fat Pink Floyd guys playing BRILLIANTLY. Crystal Method does our theme song and invited me to their birthday concert at a cool club in Hollywood -- that's the coolest I've ever been to. I saw Massive Attack at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of months ago and was completely blown away. And, I'm not kidding, Dwight Yoakam is killer great. I could go on.

Will: Yoakam rocks live. Okay, I’ve always considered you a goldenboy (even up here in Canada) know, a tv dude who is smart, funny, a great AND fast writer, someone who can do it all (I know, I’m choking on your dick here)...but who are some goldenboys you’ve worked with (writers/directors/actors) and why were they goldenboys (or girls) to you?

Hart: Everybody's so damn SMART. In Canada, and down here. Most of the time I'm the slowest person in the room. I LOVE this job because I get to hang with smart, funny people. I'm the dimwit in the corner with drool coming out of my mouth. My best pal down here is Dave Thomas from SCTV. THAT'S smart. I can barely keep up with him in conversation. We have a standing Sunday morning coffee date. It's the world's smallest men's group.

Will: Jumping back to the first time we met, you described yourself as someone who works in television. You still describe yourself that way (or is just showrunner, or Mr. Showrunner now)?

Hart: I'm a showrunner now. I hire people and fire them. I talk a lot to directors and actors and I argue with network and studio heads. I'm one of those guys. But the truth is that I'd rather sit at my house and chunk out scripts for somebody else. It just didn't work out that way.

Will: But I generally think of you as Mr. Organized or Mr. All Over It regarding the work (a la running a tv series). That said, how did you spend your last week/weekend? Hearing you say you'd just broke a story last Thursday that you needed to write a draft for Tuesday because it began prep this week sounds INSANE! Why does it always seem to come to that on tv series?

Hart: The train of production is coming at you faster than you can write. It will ever be thus. I got a script on Friday that did not work at all. I had to rebreak the story that Friday night and have a script ready for prep on Tuesday morning. I'm almost 50 years old and still doing that kind of shit. Especially toward the end of the run. (It was ep18 of Season II and we had absolutely no hiatus.)

Will: So I know you’re primarily a 'creative’...ever dabble in the business side of things? Or have you had to more as you became great and powerful?

Hart: I run a business. I look at contracts and budgets and all that stuff. And I'm a salesman. At the end of last season, our first of 'Bones', I had to go in to the network and tell them what my intentions were for the following year. They said "Okay" and picked up the show. Someone later told me, "You just went over and persuaded those people to give you $60 million dollars. You convinced them that it was a good investment."

Will: 60 million...shit. Okay, according to IMDB you directed an episode of ‘The Odyssey’, yet I distinctly remember you’ve told me you’d never was too hard or something. Any change of heart?

Hart: I've never directed anything. I never will. I don't have the desire. I definitely don't have the skills. I'm one of those people who if you say the same word five times in a row, I don't know what it means anymore. To me, that's directing. Being able to say a word over and over without losing the meaning. Can't do it. Bless those of you who do. I always wondered why you wanted to write when you had that excellent skill of directing. You're nuts, Will.

Will: Just trying to survive, my friend. Okay, your fav tv shows these days (assuming you have any time to watch anything)?

Hart: "The Wire", "The Office", "Extras" ... and bits and pieces of everything else.

Will: Who’s funnier, you or David Shore? Okay, who’s cooler? Do you and Shore ever have a good laugh over 'Traders'?

Hart: "House" shoots on this lot. We see a lot of each other. We're friends. I would say that David's ratings show that he is indeed funnier and cooler than I am. David's success is absolutely deserved. I am personally a huge fan of his writing. I can, however, outrun him.

Will: I know you can’t speak for Shore, but do you ever have any regrets about leaving Canada? Or better question, are there any shows you like to make or stories you’d like to tell that you can’t do in LA, but if you were back in Canada you could?

Hart: I don't know! It sounds so dire up there these days! Do I miss the country? Yes, I absolutely do. It's so LOUD down here. I get raving homesick from time to time. It's not like there's any less pressure running a Canadian show. It's the same process. Here, the marks of success are very, very clear. It's ratings. I never quite knew what a success was up in Canada. I miss the culture and the people and the weather every single day. It's WEIRD in this city.

Will: What's the most important qualities you look for, personality wise, when considering a new writer. Assume talent. Do you "cast" for a personality too?

Hart: David Shore and I were talking about this the other day. David does cast for a good personality. I do not. I want everything in the script. I don't care if a writer is good in the room or charming or any of that. I just want the script. That being said, the writers on "Bones" are one of the nicest most centred groups of people I've ever worked with. I look for brains. I look for experience. I love hiring people who have children because they have lives and lives are crucial to writing well. But it's all in the script for me. If I like a script, I'll hire the person.

I do have one anecdote: I have worked with one of the best writers in town. Emmy award winning, very, very good writer. Awesome. However, at a certain level, you need producers on a show to either rewrite another writer or help an less experienced or talented writer. This guy would NOT do that. He had no interest in writing anything that didn't have his name on it. That didn't work for me. Sadly, I let him go because I could get just as much work out of him as a freelance writer at a small fraction of the cost.

Will: Why do you think 'Joan of Arcadia' flamed out? It was another Barb Hall series (who did 'Judging Amy')… how involved were you with the show?

Hart: Barbara Hall is a good friend of mine and an absolutely excellent writer. She asked me to come work with her to help launch "Joan". Launching a series is difficult and time consuming and arduous and impossible so she wanted someone with her who she knew and whose work she knew. I was only there for the first 13 episodes. (20th kindly loaned me out to Sony, which I've mentioned before...but there was no way they were going to lose me for a full season.) So I helped get the show on its feet and then headed back to the 20th lot. It was very, very hard to do. I was invested in the season by then.

We all have theories as to why Joan faltered in its second year. I think the show should never have considered the possibility, from Joan's point of view, that she was nuts or hallucinating. It would be all right for the audience to think that or other characters, but I think Joan should have known in her heart that she was speaking to God. Interestingly, on "Cupid", Rob Thomas always thought that Trevor Hale (played by Jeremy Piven) was deluded in thinking he was actually Cupid. I always wrote toward that show with the idea that he just might be right.

Will: How different is it dealing with doing a show for Fox than for the other networks. Is there really a Fox sensibility? What do you know about BONES the show and how it works now that you didn't know when you started?

Hart: Fox is a network that is still searching for an identity -- just like the other networks in this rapidly changing world. There are certain parametres ... "Bones" could have gone to either CBS or Fox. It went to Fox. That immediately had ramifications both on the tone of the show and, most obviously, on the age of the protagonists. All series evolve and "Bones" is no exception. Each of the actors has strengths and we write to them. I'd have to say that both the studio and the network have come over to thinking of "Bones" more as a child of "Moonlighting" than of "CSI". That was not true in the beginning and led to most of the strife in my life. I know they've started to think of it that way because the promos are all chemistry and humour rather than scientific eurekas.

Will: I remember one of the most interesting things you showed me once was this synopsis of some sorts from the US networks summer brainstorm retreats or something. It listed the types of shows they were looking for as pilots for the following year/season, and that list went to just select showrunners or something - in effect giving y'all a jump or headstart on everyone else. Do I have this correct? Does that still go on?

Hart: You misremember the story slightly, my friend. The studio went on a "retreat" and came back with a list of things they thought make good television. The one I remember first is: "Cool guy, cool car." I, personally, found that completely unhelpful. Another was "town with a secret". Yikes. If that's insider knowledge then you can have it. They might as well have said, "something that people will watch on TV and will sell lots of DVD product." That list made me want to kill myself. You'll notice that none of their suggestions became hits in the following years.

Will: Some of my all time best laughs ever have been in your presence listening to you spin a tale...who cracks you up?

Hart: My right hand man on "Bones" is Stephen Nathan. He was the original Jesus in "Godspell" on Broadway. I DETEST musical theater. We have nothing at all in common and he is more fun to be around than any human being has a right to be. My friend Dave Thomas is not only a professional comic, he's one of the greats. I can't breathe sometimes. Again, most of the people I work with are amusing and intelligent and fun to be around. Actors, in particular, all have little bizarre "things" they can do that crack me up. Also, I have two teenaged sons so there's a lot of laughs there.

Will: Do you have any cool 'Street Legal' stories?

Hart: Did I write more than one? I can't remember! Do you have any cool Street Legal stories?

Will: Nope. Bad seque, but I do tell the story of your pitch for the ‘Horsemen’ series at Banff TV fest as one of the most painfully deadly pitches I’ve ever witnessed (though not your fault)...what’s your version?
(Some backstory - every year at Banff they pick 3-5 participants to go up on a stage and pitch their project to 'the room' (like Epstein did last year)...usually to 600 to 800 people. 'Horsemen' was a gritty cop show set in the world of undercover RCMP officers, but the producer put together a video of clips of the RCMP Musical Parade to lead things off. The clip intro ended..."crickets"...then confused scattered applause...and Hart and his undercover cop writing partner sat staring at the floor as the producer tried to pitch a gritty Canuck version of The Wire while the crowd was thinking it was a documentary or something).

Hart: Oh, Christ Almighty! You were there! That's right. That's when we first met. Why did you even speak to me? My version of the story is this: I really, really, really had to urinate right from the beginning of the pitch. Second, I promised myself that from that moment on, I would do my own pitches and I would do whatever I had to do to become a good pitcher. Now, I'm pretty good. It took YEARS. It's still not my natural forte. But I'll do it.

Will: How does your (lovely but not in the biz) wife put up with you and deal with 'the biz'?

Hart: Brigitte has been completely centered and possessed her entire life. She laughs at the weirdnesses and enjoys life. She's the mother of sons.

Will: In conclusion, and borrowing from '40 Year Old Virgin': " know why you're so gay? You like kayaking and dancing around your house to songs by Buckcherry." Why am I so gay?

Hart: Will, you are so gay because you masturbate to pictures of naked men. Is that how you play the game?

Will: Um...

Hart: I almost sent you a picture of my naked ass, but I'm afraid you'd put it up on your blog.

Will: Er...

Hart: Later. xxoo Hart.

SONG&ARTIST? - "Give it to me straight from the heart
Tell me we can make another start
You know I'll never go
As long as I know
It's coming straight from the heart..."


Auntiemame said...

liked this one even better

Boris the Bewildered said...

Thanks for this!It's on Stumble Upon and I wish I could alter my handle to reflect my joy in reading this :)

Diane Kristine said...

Fun interview - thanks Will. On a less fun note, "I never quite knew what a success was up in Canada" stood out for me as the sad truth, something all these discussions about Canadian TV seem to circle.

Cool about Stephen Fry. I think HH might have scooped David Shore in coolness and funniness just by getting Fry on Bones instead of his old comedy partner's show.

DMc said...

That's just awesome. Flat out.

Will, you worked on Street Legal too?



I'm going to do this once.


I can't believe...


Okay, maybe if I do it quick.

No. I can't.



christ, alright, alright.

I can't believe I'm going to...

..just DO IT YOU BIG BABY...

okay, okay ALRIGHT....



Lee said...

Shit the crazy's contaminated Denis. Quarantine procedure five, STAT!

Davidsbelgianlass said...

thanks for part 'deux'

Good Dog said...

Will, great back and forth.

While everyone is going off their noggin bugga-boo, I think I'll check out dem Bones.

wcdixon said...

I think dat McGrath boy just realized he's actually stuck out in Vancouver...rain's a gettin' to him...

Kelly J. Compeau said...

Fantastic interview, Will. Thank you so much!


The Film Diva said...

This was great! I choked on my smoothie when I read the Banff story. Those are the best.

And thanks for getting the goods on Hart's hiring process.... ;-)

Crashdummie said...

so your saying you didn't get a pic of his behind, or that you are saving it for.. um... personal use?

CAROLINE said...

Tremendously good, thanks Will (and Hart).

Denis is just funny. Really.

Random question that just popped into my head ... are David Shore and Howard Shore related or no? Just wondered.

wcdixon said...

Related? I don't think so...

Just funny? Denis?

I think you can do better than that.

Anonymous said...

What sort of issues are there for a Canadian writer in L.A.?

Specificly, do we have to get one of those green card thingies?

How hard is that? Can I bring my wife?

English Dave said...

Enjoyable and informative stuff Will. Thanks for that.

CAROLINE said...

Oh dear, I didn't mean Denis was JUST funny. I meant particularly funny in this instance. Obviously I have nothing but the highest respect him as a writer ... that's all I can say, lest it be taken as cavalier or unprofessional on my behalf and I dig yet a deeper whole for myself.

Jutra, I never really liked L.A. Not sure how hard it is to get a green card these days, but I do know it takes a lot longer now, post 9/11.

CAROLINE said...

As an aside, I shouldn't post when I haven't eaten all day. I really can spell and type. Usually.

Kali said...

great interview!!! really enjoyed it. Though I wish there would have been more and depper insights into Bones...maybe next time?