[10/28/09 - 11:29 PM]
Live at the Paley Center for Media: "Inside the Writers Room: True Blood"
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

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If there are any writers out there who feel like they don't get any respect, they should do everything in their power to get a job on HBO's "True Blood." As evidenced earlier tonight at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills during its "Inside the Writers Room" series, Alan Ball and his writing staff were heralded just as much as popular "True Blood" characters Sookie, Bill, Eric, Lafayette and Jason. While fans (and a critic or ten) tried with every fiber of their being to garner any morsel of information on the far-off season three (due in June), the writers were tight lipped but clearly love the world they've created as much as the diehard fans.

7:08 PM - Vice President and Executive Director Craig Hitchcock, took to the podium and had no problem sharing with the packed room what a big fan of "True Blood" he is. Craig introduces a compiled clip of the amazing season two. What a perfect way to whet the crowd's appetite for the writers to take the stage.

7:11 PM - As the clip ends, Craig turns the moderating duties over to Entertainment Weekly Senior Writer Alynda Wheat who gives a brief rundown of how we've loved Alan Ball's work from "American Beauty" to "Six Feet Under" and now the "vamp tramp" that is "True Blood.

7:12 PM - The writers take to the stage. Writer's Assistant Elisabeth Finch! Script Coordinator Kate Barnow! Co-Executive Producer Brian Buckner! Creator and Executive Producer Alan Ball! Co-Executive Producer Nancy Oliver! Supervising Producer Alexander Woo! Producer Raelle Tucker!

7:14 PM - Alynda first addresses news that rapper Snoop Dog last week expressed a wish to play a vampire. Would Alan bring the rapper on board for an episode? Alan explains that he's not a big fan of stunt casting and wants to "fight to preserve the integrity of the fictional world of 'True Blood' and any time you bring in celebrities like 'Hey! Look! It's Snoop Dog!' I feel like it's going to take us out of the story and it become something else so my guess is not going to happen."

7:17 PM - Alynda reminds Alan that he has said the reason he went to "True Blood" after "Six Feet Under" was to have fun. Is that happening? "Yes," Ball says with a huge grin. He then adds, "It's too much fun working on this show. It feels odd that I get paid for it."

7:18 PM - What is it about Episode 5, which Ball has said is where his shows start to gel? "It was episode 5 for both 'Six Feet Under' and 'True Blood' where it just hit its stride... for me, episode 5 of 'Six Feet Under' and this show are the moments where I said 'I get this. I know what this show is now.'"

7:20 PM - Raelle adds that it was episode five where she "really felt like we were doing something with a vampire show that I had never seen done before. One of the things that I love about the show and I really enjoy is it starts in character and it's driven by that. Whereas I think sometimes with other genre shows and horror shows you find yourself in this pattern where you're building towards the scariest moment; the grossest thing you can throw at the camera."

7:22 PM - Alynda commends Alan on having a female-heavy writing staff and the crowd agrees and applauds. How does Alan go about assembling his writing staff? "When I hire," Alan says, "it's just very instinctive. I just read scripts. I don't read spec scripts. I won't read [them] because when I did 'Six Feet Under' I hired people who wrote a great 'Sopranos' or wrote a great 'The Practice' and then they weren't right for the voice of the show. What I've done since then is I read people's original work whether it's an original pilot, original screenplay or even a short story because that way I get a sense of what their voice is as opposed to whether they can nail the voice of David Chase or someone else."

7:24 PM - Is gender balance a big deal in the writers room, Alynda asks? Raelle says that it's not something she has been aware of but being a female writer has helped her in her career as opposed to hindered. In fact, she adds, "if we're talking about Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) growing her hymen back, I mean, that's something that I... " Insert big laugh here.

7:25 PM - Brian talks about the freedom of being on cable by saying "There's almost nothing that we can't do... " As for the humor on the show, he adds "we have gotten much larger laughs at our table reads for this show than I've ever heard at a table read for a comedy because we get to load up the barrel. We get to make things count and matter and then you come in with the funny."

7:27 PM - On sex in the show: "To me, vampires and the notion of vampires as a metaphor is sex," says Alan. "Of course that's going to have to be a part of it and that's part of the appeal. That's why people love vampires because they're sexy. Even in the Victorian era it was a metaphor for sex that people couldn't talk about so it doesn't make sense to me to not go there when that's basically what the subject matter is all about to begin with. It doesn't mean that we put sex in there just for the purpose of sex - that's not that interesting - but whenever there's sex in there it seems real and adult and it's actually about something."

7:28 PM - In regards to a lot of the good-looking cast often being near-or-totally naked, Alan confesses that he sometimes will say in the room "Can we get his shirt off? C'mon, it's Louisiana! It's really hot! He just wants to be comfortable!" Raelle shared that the well-built Ryan Kwanten (who plays Jason Stackhouse) complained last season, "I haven't had my clothes off in, like, five episodes!"

7:30 PM - Alynda asks about how the show often comments on civil rights for gays and lesbians. For instance, in the season finale we learn that human/vamp marriage is legal in Vermont. Alan makes one thing clear in regards to that statement: "For me, that's not the main point of the show. That's just some fun window dressing. It only is a symbol for the gay and lesbian community because that's what going on right now. I mean, 50 years ago it could have been African Americans. A hundred years ago it could have been women and their struggles for equality and the right to vote. To me, that's all from Charlaine's books and it's a fun little detail. It makes it relevant in a way that is kind of fun and contemporary and I think we'll continue it but I don't think it's the heart of the show." Nancy adds, "It's part of the vampire myth, as well. I think part of the appeal is the outsider appeal. The supernatural doesn't belong to this, doesn't belong to that."

7:34 PM - The show has strong a sense of humor which makes sense since many of the writers have a sitcom background. Alan said one of the things he hated about sitcom writing was "the form itself overpowered the content. I think for me I have a very healthy sense of humor that finds its way into the show but I never approach it the way I would have approached it back in the day with sitcoms." Brian explained that he had to unlearn some of the habits he picked up working in the sitcom world. "Don't write the setup," he said. "Just let it be funny and let the actors play right through it."

7:37 PM - In talking about favorite characters, Alynda shows no fear in proclaiming she is a "dirty little slut" for Lafayette (played by Nelsan Ellis). Will the writers admit who their favorite character is to write? Alan sets the tone (like a proud parent) that he loves every one of this characters... but he "really, really loves writing for Jason and Lafayette." Raelle says she loves Jessica and Hoyt (Jim Parrack). Brian says, "I love me some Alex Skarsgard," which gets a collective cheer from the crowd. Asked if we'll see more of Skarsgard's Eric - and Alynda makes it clear she means naked - Alan says "I think he appears without most of his clothes in the very first episode." The temperature in the room rises at least 10 degrees.

7:38 PM - Alex says he "likes the characters most when they're funny. They all get an opportunity to but Jason a lot, Andy a lot... Lafayette... they all get a chance to and sometimes they will surprise you and Eric really even surprised us even when we could see this funny side to Eric this season."

7:41 PM - Anyone they regretted killing? Alan says that Granny Stackhouse is a regret but "when you look at the series of books, which is like a big novel, Sookie losing Gran is really, really important for her to all of a sudden be alone in the world and as much as we hated killing her I do think it was the right decision." Raelle chimes in: "I think with some characters we start out knowing they're going to die and you go into the relationship knowing there is an endpoint for you that we have been writing towards so I don't think when you get to that endpoint you feel terrible about it because you can't see it any other way." Nancy adds that it's all built into the structure of the show and the story.

7:43 PM - Time for online questions. Alynda asks about whether we've seen the last of the Queen, played by Evan Rachel Wood. Groans from the audience prompt Alan to shout out "Why do you hate her so much?" A few replies are that Wood is miscast and she is nothing like the Queen is in the books. Alan finally points to himself and says "Sorry! I cast her! Point it all towards me!" The fans reassure him that they'll still watch the show.

7:44 PM - More questions about characters we may or may not see again. Alynda shares that she wants the Reverend and Sarah Newlin (Michael McMillian and Anna Camp) to return. Alan says he wouldn't say no and shut the door on them. Is Maryann (Michelle Forbes) really dead? Yes, says Alan, which receives a round of applause.

7:46 PM - What is the theme of the third season? "Identity," Alan says. "Everybody is struggling with their identity. Who am I? What am I? What do I want to be?"

7:48 PM - Alan reassures a fan's concern that if the show follows Harris's books, Bill (Stephen Moyer) will be not seen much in the coming season. True or false? Alan proclaims, "Stephen Moyer will not be marginalized. The characters of Bill and Sookie may go through some rough patches that may last longer than team Sookie/Bill might like but Bill and Sookie have a connection that will never die in the TV world. I know in the book world that Charlaine had to be talked out of killing Bill in the last book but I'm saying in our world Sookie and Bill have a connection that will not die."

7:49 PM - Nancy gets a big laugh when she replies to the question "How much pressure do you feel to what Charlaine has already written" with "Obviously not much!" She adds "I think there are things that are very strong about the books but we obviously feel the need to take off and she's been very generous in that way of letting us go there."

7:52 PM - An audience member asks if there will be a wedding this year? "I don't think there is a wedding. There is somebody who wants there to be a wedding and it's not who you think it is but I don't think we'll see that wedding actually happen although we haven't broken the last half of the season so I can't say that for sure."

7:53 PM - Alex talks about how the story often takes them in unforeseen directions. "One of the really exciting things about television is that it's unique among forms of dramatic storytelling in that the story can evolve while it's being told and if the story wants to go in a certain direction you can honor that. The most dramatic example, I think, is that in the first few episodes of 'True Blood' there was this guy in the kitchen that you couldn't take your eyes off of and as a result you can honor that and see more Lafayette." He and Alan cite that the same thing happened with the characters of Eric, Hoyt and Jessica who grew out of story demand more than anything else.

7:55 PM - Alan genuinely appears touched when a fan thanks him for the last seven minutes of the series finale of "Six Feet Under." Alynda urges everyone who hasn't seen these last seven minutes to do so and also states that this finale is easily one of the four best television series finales ever.

7:58 PM - Alan is asked about his contribution to the 'vampire mania' that is currently going on now. He states that the true catalyst to starting "True Blood" was Charlaine Harris's books. "I was completely unaware of 'Twilight' and I don't know why it's happening and why there's such a big vampire moment but I do know it's not the first one. We've had many vampire moments. I think vampires have always been really powerful symbols within the culture, pop culture and we just happen to have a convergence of a lot of different things happening at the same time." He adds that "I would venture to say that we've had a vampire in the White House for eight years that sucked us dry and now we're just waking up from that." Huge laugh.

8:02 PM - On the actors improvising from the script, Alan shares that he is not a fan of it but it did keep a certain character alive. "When I was shooting the pilot of 'True Blood,' Nelsan Ellis, who plays Lafayette, just went off in that scene in the kitchen and was just channeling from some another planet and I was mesmerized and I literally said 'Let's do another take. I want to see what he does' and that's when I decided there was no way we could kill this character because he was bringing something so unusual and unique and such a kind of character I had never seen before that now he continues to do that. We write for him and we try to write for his voice as much as we can but he does embellish a lot. There are times when you have to say 'Can you say the line as written because the meaning is getting lost in the Lafayette-ness of this moment.' But I really respect and admire the skill that he has."

8:04 PM - A fan thanks the team for the character (and story) of Godric (Allan Hyde) his beautiful death scene by sunlight at sunrise. Nancy, who wrote the episode, talks in wonder about how they could only do the scene in two takes and everyone did an amazing job especially Hyde, who is only 19 years old. Alan says there is a chance we could see Godric again in flashbacks. Big sigh of relief from the crowd.

8:06 PM - In the final moment of the night, Alan confirms that the new season will not be on the air until June 2010. A groan comes from the crowd but there's an undeniable strong feeling that every last one of them will wait and show up to see where "True Blood" goes next.

  [october 2009]  


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