Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Beau Willimon at Fordham

I saw Beau Willimon at Fordham University earlier this evening - thanks to my colleague Beth Knobel (erstwhile CBS Moscow bureau chief) for arranging this.   The hour was the best of this kind I've ever attended.   By which I mean, a creator of a landmark work talking incisively, truthfully, vividly about the creative and business processes employed in bringing the work to life.

Among the highlights of Willimon's disclosures and lessons imparted -

  • He started his creative life as an illustrator and painter, but found the static image insufficient to tell the stories he wanted to tell.   (See illustrator Joel Iskowitz for an opposite point of view.)
  • Willimon says the revolution in television-making founded and exemplified by his House of Cards is that a writer, producer, creator can sell not just a pilot but an entire season of a series to a distributor like Netflix.   I'd say that this, in effect, is the creator's side of what we viewers experience and enjoy as binge all-at-once watching of a television series, and  this increase of creative control in the producer's hands may be the beginning for television of what Kindle publishing has done for authors on Amazon.
  • Willimon thinks that there's here's no such thing as writer's block - I've long thought much the same, that cries of writer's block are evasions.   Willimon put an even finer point on this, explaining that writer's block is really not inability to write but unwillingness to confront a possible failure. 
  • Indeed, Willimon emphasized that we should embrace not run from failure - a view very much in tune with Kark Popper's (one of my favorite 20th century philosophers) that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
  • Willimon says the auteur theory of film (and, by extension, television) is overrated and untrue - these creative forms are inherently collaborative efforts.   (I was thinking that one of the reasons I like writing novels and short stories is that I don't have to collaborate too much with anyone.)
  • Willimon's favorite scene in the third season of House of Cards was Frank Underwood and Tom Yates first getting down to brass takes about Tom's life.   Just about every scene with Tom was among my favorites in the third season.
One of the great perks of the academic life is getting an hour like this - reflections from someone whose work initiated what I think of as the third golden age of television (title of a book in progress) - the first being in the 1950s, the second in the first decade of the 21st century with shows like The Sopranos (no commercials, no FCC restrictions on content), and the third being right now with House of Cards - already joined by Peaky Blinders, Bosch, Bloodline, and more.

See also House of Cards 3: Frank, Claire, "Putin," and Superb ... House of Cards Season 2: Even Better than the First, and Why ...  House of Cards Season 1: A Review

And also Thomas Maier: Masters of Sex and Biography Come to Life
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