Ask for Help — and Partner Up!

Faxon: A lot of our Groundlings [Los Angeles sketch and improv comedy theater] training relates over to what we do now, in terms of brainstorming and improvising and collaborating together. There are times when, usually at the end of the day or something, I’m tired and then Jim will, wanting to solve the problem, take it home with him and come in the next day with a beautifully crafted scene. But we don’t usually pass stuff back and forth. We don’t usually split up duties and say, “You take this 20 pages” or whatever. We do as much as we can together without killing each other — or without Jim killing me.

Feig: You’re only as good as the people around you. With comedy especially, when you start to die in comedy as you get older is when you go, “Don’t tell me! I know what I’m doing.” You cannot survive, because comedy is ever-changing. The wake-up call for me was, I directed a lot of The Office over the years and in the fifth season I went in as a co-exec producer, so I was in the writer’s room a lot. They have all these twenty- and thirtysomething writers who are hilarious, and some guys my age.

So you have the kind of joke areas that you like to pitch and you get laughs and I was pitching these out, and the twenties and thirties were looking at me like I was crazy. I realized, “Oh my god, I’m like a dad. I’m telling dad jokes.” So hearing them and hearing their joke pitches, I said, “Oh, I see, it’s the tone that’s going on now.” You say, “Oh, I get why that’s funny now,” and referentially you see what doesn’t work because it’s old or whatever. So you just need to then magnify that by a thousand and deputize everyone around you and make sure you’re working with younger people, with older people, and you just want a big consensus, and that way you’ll hit the whole audience basically.

Gerwig: The thing with writing is nobody cares if you don’t write. Unless you’re commissioned to write something, but nobody was like, “How’s that movie about that dancer going?” Or like, “I need those pages.” It helps to have a writing partner. Anyways, I felt like I’d gotten kind of sidetracked by acting and it was really just such a tremendous gift that Noah [Baumbach] asked if I wanted to doFrances Ha.

To start, I emailed him a list of different moments and snippets of scenes and maybe some characters. He added some things to the list and then we just started writing. Really, you just start letting the characters talk to each other and see what happens and we started just generating scenes. We’d say, “Write that scene and see what that scene is and email it to me, and I’ll write this scene and I’ll email it to you.” Then, we’d see what the story was that was emerging out of that. It took about a year.

It was a long process. It was hard too; I’d never really worked that intensely on a piece of writing. I’d written things in college, and then after college, plays, but I’d never really gotten further than two drafts in, and so I’d never learned how to take something apart and put it back together.

Feig: I really labor over my first drafts, so that they’re usually in pretty good shape. Then I’ll get feedback from a few trusted readers and make more adjustments based on their feedback. The notes I’m most interested in things people didn’t understand, things people found confusing, and things in my script people have seen before in movies that I haven’t seen.

I’m less interested in notes that begin with “What I would have done…” since everybody’s head works differently and what another person would have done with a character or an action is different from what my experiences led my characters to do. That’s not to say I don’t want to hear all notes. I think that most notes have a totally valid point buried in the middle of them. The problem is when people then try to present a solution for the problem. I just want to hear the problem and then go away and fix it in my own way.


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