Thursday, September 23, 2010

'On Writing' with Noah Hawley...

Sometimes a piece of writing manages to jump off the page, transcend the screen, and reach out and touch you. Sometimes a writer manages to capture vulnerability, sentimentality, and an unwavering sense of hope all rolled into one. Noah Hawley is one such writer.

Hawley, the genius behind ABC's sadly short-lived quirky cop drama, The Unusuals, likes to joke that he drew inspiration for his new much anticipated coming-of-age drama, My Generation from a Swedish show with a similar premise. Is that his off-beat sense of humor or just his modesty talking?

"You know...I'm not that much of an autobiographical writer," Hawley told My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture. "Certainly that experience is in there, which who I was in high school was more of an outsider because I moved from New York City to Connecticut in tenth grade and never really felt like I got it or fit in anywhere. But you know, writers are always observers first and foremost, so I think if I had been the happy, fit-in kid, I don't know if I'd be sitting here today."

Hawley has quite a feat on his hands these days. He has crafted a story about nine very specific, very individual characters each of whom we see in two very distinct time periods. That means there is a lot to learn about the "then" version and the "now," though Hawley admits that not everyone has changed all that much.

For example, there is one character who has been dubbed "the rich kid" and because of who his father is and all of the opportunities that have been handed to him, he hasn't really had to grow up all that much or think too much for himself. But then on the other end of the spectrum, there's a guy who was the one everyone thought would be a huge success story, but he's not really doing anything with his life.

"The show kind of works as a character mystery of who they were and who they thought they were, and where they ended up," Hawley theorized. "And for some of them it's a surprising place, and for some of them, the camera crew shows up and they have to say 'Well, where have I ended up'?"

But that's what makes Hawley's writing so grounded in reality. And so poignant.

Furthermore, those kinds of broad, introspective questions are exactly the kind of "thinking man's television" for which Hawley is becoming known. And he hopes the relatable scenarios will undoubtedly hit home with viewers of varying demographics and will also serve to keep viewers in the moment of the scenes. The show, which is shot documentary style, very much relies on the voyeurism desires of the public, and Hawley feels the show lives and dies within those moments.

"[I don't make] story just for story's sake," Hawley explained when asked how much he scripts beat by beat versus how much he allows his actors to improv and just "play" with a scene.

"You know, it's interesting: we have nine characters in two time periods, and with this character mystery component and this sort of serialized soapish component, the episodes are actually really crafted to tell multiple stories in forty-two and a half minutes, but within that framework, my watch word is 'authenticity' and everything has to feel as real as possible," he added. "[I'm] doing a lot of slice of life stuff...There are situations where I'll say 'This is what I want' in the scene, and then I'll just let them do their thing."

Hawley says he isn't out to change the scope of television too much, but he does hope people can relate and maybe even are moved when watching his show. "I'm really trying to make a show that feels relevant in this multi-platform world that we live in now," he shared. "I think there's a grounded reality and vulnerability in all of these characters...I think these are all characters who I think people will really bond with."

My Generation airs on ABC in the very tough time slot of Thursdays at 8pm. Show Hawley some love and support by tuning in. Guaranteed you will find at least one character that speaks directly to you. I know I'm already pretty convinced Hawley stole a few things from my high school journals!

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