Most writers have a drawer full of ideas that they never get around to using. "Leverage" co-creator Chris Downey came up with a solution for his podcast "The Downey Files," which launched back in November: bring in another writer (or two) and hash out one of his own personal half-baked pitches or movie ideas in 30 minutes. The end result: an insightful look into the process of shaping a project that's often as funny as it is revealing. I recently had the chance to sit down with Chris to chat about said endeavor, the catharsis that comes with it and of course, what's the latest news on the "Leverage" revival front.
Brian Ford Sullivan: How did this podcasting adventure get started?
Chris Downey: Well, we started doing a podcast with the "Leverage" writers. Two people who worked at Electric Entertainment, Paola Ferrari and Kayla Westergard-Dobson, came up with it. And I was really skeptical because I didn't think people wanted to hear the writers' perspectives on "Leverage" episodes. Lo and behold the thing because a big hit. We had about 20,000 downloads a week. And it was so much fun that when "Leverage" ended I wanted to keep doing it. And I tried to figure out what kind of podcast I wanted to do. I knew I didn't want to do reviews. There's so many podcasts of people reviewing TV shows and movies out there. And I wasn't particularly interested in having people on and asking them about their journey and how they became a writer or actor.
What I really wanted to do was do something like a cooking show. I like cooking shows where you see people make something. And there's something that happens in the writers' rooms where you get kind of stuck on a story point, you're spinning your wheels in the mud and all of a sudden someone in the room pitches some crazy movie idea. And then the room then spends 20 minutes pitching on this movie that no one's ever going to write. And it's hilarious. And then you go back to solving the story problem. So I thought I'd love to be able to recreate those moments on my podcast. So that's what I tried to do.
BFS: Going in were your precious about what ideas of yours you would use?
CD: I literally do have a drawer of things I've written on bar napkins and beer coasters. So I had those, I had things on old hard drives that I dug out. I mean there are a few things that I do want to write that I've kind of set aside. But basically everything else was fair game. And it's been very liberating to me. I think for a writer, we have too many ideas. You don't know what to choose.
BFS: So this is clearing out your "writers' attic" so to speak?
CD: Yes, exactly. And I feel like I've done something with the idea because it's out there, people have listened to me and another writer talk about for a half hour. So I feel like it exists in some form.
BFS: You've burned the effigy of that idea and can move on. [Laughs.]
CD: [Laughs.] I don't have the burden of it flying around in my head saying, "Oh, maybe I should do that one about the two plastic surgeons at the drug dealer's hacienda. Maybe that's the one you should write now!" No. That's been burned so focus on the one you really want to write.
BFS: Tell me about some of the guests you've had.
CD: I've had some great guests. Almost all of them are people that I've worked with before. The great thing is I work with so many wonderful writers over the years and you do lose track of them, you get on different shows, you don't see them anymore. And one of the greatest things about this podcast is getting to sit down and be back in a writers' room with them in a sense. I've had a bunch of writers from "The King of Queens." David Bickel was on. Coming up I've got Ilana Wernick and Rock Reuben from "King of Queens." I had Alan Ball, who I worked with on a show called "Oh Grow Up." I called him out of the blue and he said I'd love to be on the podcast. I had an amazing time with him, such a wonderful guy. I've got Kirk Rudell who's coming up, who I also worked with on "Oh Grow Up." I had David Fury on this week who's the first writer I've had on that I never actually worked with. And he brought his own idea! And he's a guy who's work I've admired for a long time. It's been a really great group of people.
BFS: And these aren't silly for the sake of being silly ideas either, they're legitimate pitches for movies.
CD: Thank you. I do try and treat the ideas seriously no matter how kind of silly they may be. And obviously I wouldn't commit them to a beer coaster unless I thought there was something to them beyond just two guys getting into wacky hijinks.
BFS: Were they any ideas you were skeptical about going in and something great came out of it from the podcast or vice versa?
CD: Yeah, I did one with John Rogers, who I co-created "Leverage" with that was an "Ocean's 11" prequel called "Ocean's Six." After I posted that I realized it's basically "Ocean's 11" meets "The Carrie Diaries." [Laughs.] And I had kind of a rough idea with that one and by the end of the podcast with John we both kind of looked at each other like, "Wow, I think we would go see this movie." I think that's a testament to both John's skill with breaking stories and also that he and I have worked together for five years.
BFS: In listening to the show, you get the sense that your writing involves exploring how people are connected in one way or another.
CD: Wow, thank you! I would have to say if I write any stories it's the unexpected connections between people. It's a big theme in my work and it's great that you saw that.
BFS: And lastly, because I have you, is there any news on the "Leverage" front? [Executive producer] Dean Devlin has been very vocal about finding it a new home or making it into a feature.
CD: I don't know anything concrete. I know Dean will not leave any stone unturned and is making every effort to either bring the show back on another network or do it as a movie. He is truly committed to "Leverage" and to making it live on. There's a series of "Leverage" novels - which I didn't have anything to do with - that have just hit the shelves. And you know, stay tuned, we'll see what happens. I know that the fans, we have the greatest most engaged fans in the world. They rallied together to get us the People's Choice Award for Favorite Cable Drama the year we were canceled which I think is an amazing testament to them. And so I would not be surprised if "Leverage" comes back in some form.
"The Chris Downey Podcast" is posted every Monday on iTunes. Click here to subscribe.