Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Kaitlin Fontana


Kaitlin is joined by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, co-writers of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, to talk about the eternal battle between cynicism and kindness, the gravitational pull of Tom Hanks, and how keeping bankers’ hours keeps them sane.

Before their most recent project, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster were writers and producers on the recently concluded Amazon series TRANSPARENT, for which they won a Peabody Award and were nominated for Emmy, Writers Guild, Golden Globe, and GLAAD Awards. The duo are also co-writers of MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL, the 2019 sequel to the 2014 film MALEFICENT.

Inspired by the Esquire Magazine article “Can You Say… ‘Hero’?,” A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is based on the true story of a friendship between renowned children’s television host and educator Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. Season Four of the podcast is hosted by Kaitlin Fontana. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Kaitlin Fontana: You’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East. I’m Kaitlin Fontana. In each episode you’ll hear from writers in film, television, news, and new media discussing everything from pitching to production, from process to favorite lines and jokes and everything in between.

Kaitlin: Today I’m joined by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, co-writers of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Inspired by the Esquire Magazine article “Can You Say… ‘Hero’?,” the film is based on the true story of a friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.

Kaitlin: In our interview I’ll talk with Micah and Noah about the eternal battle between cynicism and kindness, the gravitational pull of Tom Hanks and how keeping bankers’ hours keeps them sane. Micah and Noah join me by phone from Los Angeles. Hey guys, how are you?

Micah Fitzerman-Blue: We’re good. We’re good.

Noah Harpster: Doing great, thanks.

Micah: Great to be here.

Kaitlin: Yeah, congratulations, by the way, on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s a fantastic film. I wept in the theater, so I’m very pleased to be able to talk to you.

Micah: Thank you for your tears as they say, thank you for your tears.

Kaitlin: Indeed. Crying over my popcorn. So I want to first talk about the genesis of this film from the long form journalism piece that it’s based on, well more than based on, obviously there’s a lot more going on, which we will talk about in a moment, but to the feature film. So how did you guys, first of all, become aware of the Esquire piece, and how did it travel through to the film?

Noah: Right. So we’ve been working on this almost 10 years, actually in January it will be 10 years. And it started kind of before we’ve even read the article. I, this is Noah, I had a brand new baby and a toddler and was sort of struggling to communicate with them, and out of my own insecurities I sort of just put on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and my toddler turned to the screen and started listening to Fred in this very profound way. And I called Micah and I said, “This guy Fred Rogers from our childhood, turns out he’s a warlock and speaks toddler and we should write about him.” And that was sort of the beginning of it.

Noah: And we realized pretty quickly, I think, that Fred Rogers was not an ideal subject or protagonist for a traditional biopic. He didn’t have the big sweeping change that you want in a main character. He was unwaveringly amazing for 74 years. And so we started sort of looking next to Fred and around Fred and also realized pretty quickly that Fred had inserted himself into a lot of people’s lives and had changed many people’s lives. And during that process we read the article by Tom Junod for Esquire, but actually started writing about some of the other people initially that Fred had interacted with. A different journalist specifically named Tim Madigan who had a book called, I’m Proud Of You.

Noah: And that was our first draft were based on Tim’s book, and I think eventually we got Youree Henley came on to produce and then Big Beach and Peter Saraf, and Leah Holzer came on to produce, which they helped us get to the estate. The Mr. Rogers estate, which is very protective of Fred’s legacy. Rightly so. And Bill Isler who’s in the movie, he read our script and he said, “I think it’s really good. I like what you’ve done with Fred. It feels very real. You seem like nice guys, but there will never ever, ever be a Mr. Rogers movie, but I’m happy to have coffee with you.” And so that was kind of our first major, major roadblock because there really is no movie without the Fred Rogers estate and their approval and walking hand in hand with them into this.

Micah: So eventually they let us into the archive in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which is where the Fred Rogers archive is at Saint Vincent College. And Noah and I had read Tom’s amazing profile of Fred Rogers before, but we’re sitting there in the archive. We’re wearing these white cotton archival gloves so we don’t mess up any of the memorabilia. And we see this box labeled Tom Junod. And we’re like, “Can we see that box?” And it hits the table in front of us. We open it up, and it contains 200 letters, emails, handwritten notes between Fred and Tom that lasted for five years until Fred died in 2003. And we’re reading them and it felt super voyeuristic, but we were like, “Oh, okay, this is the movie.”

Micah: And so we called, we got to Tom Junod, we flew him to Los Angeles, we locked him in an airless room for two days, asked everything we could about his dad and his own personal life. And from there we began to sort of reformulate what the movie was going to be. And that’s when we sort of wrote the final draft of what would end up being A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Kaitlin: Wow. So it’s not just that you kind of went into the Fred Rogers archive, you went into the Tom Junod archive as well?

Micah: Yeah-

Noah: Exactly.

Micah: Well I should say Fred Rogers was involved in the lives of hundreds of people in this way. He would write letters every single morning. He would pray for people by name. So the archive is full of these boxes that contain sort of all of the archives of the relationships of this sort of kind of very quiet private personal ministry that Fred had with individual people all through his life.

Kaitlin: Hmm. It’s a very intimate thing to have that access. Also, asking someone like a journalist or any number of the other people that would have written with him to give up their side of that archive as well. It’s interesting to think about that.

Micah: Yeah. And I think parts of it were really tough and really personal for Tom Junod. When he read our first draft, he felt like it was in certain ways, the ways in which we changed the certain facts about his biography made him feel uncomfortable in order to sort of fit it into the narrative of a three-act structure. And in other ways I think he felt exposed by the way that we wrote about him and his life.

Micah: And he asked us to change his name in the movie. So the character’s name is Lloyd Vogel. And then we stayed in contact. We stayed close and we brought him to set, and he met with Matthew Rhys. and then I think he describes this, he wrote this really great piece for the Atlantic that came out last month in which he felt after reading the script he felt like we were getting some things wrong. And when he saw that first cut alone in a screening room in New York, he was really moved by how much we got things right and how there’s a way, at least with that storyline, that we were in part inaccurate in order to be more truthful, if that makes any sense to you.

Kaitlin: Yeah, yeah, it really does. There’s a fun kind of moment from my perspective watching the film and sort of knowing the genesis and the backstory of it too when Lloyd’s character has written this piece and his wife is reading it for the first time and she says, “It’s not really about Mr. Rogers.” And that’s a funny sort of meta layer to the film too, which is, it’s not really about Mr. Rogers. It’s about this man’s journey as you said.

Noah: My friend is an editor. She was like, “This is a horror movie.”I mean I just imagined sending a reporter out to do 500 words and getting back 8,000 words as my living nightmare,” which I thought was kind of funny.

Kaitlin: Yeah, that’s true. So there was an interesting moment for me watching the film as a kid who, I grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s so I was a little post Mr. Rogers, but it was still on television and I still watched it as a kid. And as I was sort of settling into the film, a few minutes in, we’re watching Tom Hanks come in as Mr. Rogers and do the whole sort of top of the original Mr. Rogers show. He’s singing the song, he’s changing his shoes, et cetera. And I just felt my whole body kind of relax. And as that happened, a man behind me who was probably in his 60s turned to his wife and said, “I just felt myself get really calm.” And I feel like there’s this sort of feeling, it’s kind of what you were describing too Noah about your toddler. There’s this thing that Mr. Rogers does to all of us that fuels this feeling of calm even when it’s Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers. So tell me about that part of him.

Micah: Yeah, I mean it’s a little bit of a mystery, but I mean the plain simple truth that he just talks slower and when he asks you a question, he waits for you to answer.

Noah: And really answer.

Micah: And really answer. My kids in watching the show over the years, he would ask a question and they would just answer the screen as if he were right there. And I think somehow that has translated into our adulthood where when we see him and we hear that voice and we hear that music and someone asks us a question in that cadence and in that tone in times like now, which are so cynical and so fucked in a lot of ways, it’s just a moment of “Oh, a simpler time,” both in the world but also in our lives. And I definitely feel that I mean when I watch the movie.

Noah: It’s also kind of psychedelic, right? Like-

Kaitlin: That’s true actually.

Noah: You watch it now, especially relative to the pace of how things are cut. I mean you watch the original show now, and it feels transgressive or almost like a mistake. How can this person sit there comfortable in their own silence waiting for you to respond and caring about what you on the other side of the screen or the other side of the room actually has to say? When Fred Rogers asked how you were, he really meant it. And we wanted to make sure that from the outset we were on the page, in the cut, on the day really taking care to get the tempo right, to slow people down and to address you, the adult, but also you, the adult, who is also in part still a child.

Kaitlin: Certainly. And in that way too, it’s sort of that Bob Ross effect. It’s like everything from that era has this kind of gentle, lulling quality to it that kind of takes us back to the feeling of that simplicity a little bit.

Micah: Yeah, we love us some Bob Ross. I mean, big surprise.

Noah: A little happy tree.

Kaitlin: Yeah, when’s that biopic guys?

Micah: I don’t know, but I love that Bob Ross calls things doers. He’s like, “That little doer right there.” And that could be a bush or a plant or a babbling brook or a rock. He’s like, “That little doer.”

Kaitlin: Yeah, he’s not wrong. Those guys do.

Noah: They do.

Kaitlin: Those little rocks.

Noah: They do indeed.

Kaitlin: I want to talk a little bit about the form of this because I was very intrigued watching this as a screenwriter myself. This film takes some really interesting formal risks. You could have written easily a biopic of Fred Rogers as you said. You wanted to avoid that for obvious reasons. You could have written the story of Lloyd Vogel/Tom Junod about a man seeking forgiveness and instead you sort of play in this middle ground where you play with the actual format of the show. And I know some of that is probably Marielle Heller’s direction, but I’m curious if you guys can talk about the sort of more fantastical or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhoody elements of the script.

Noah: Yeah, I mean, we had always imagined that this movie was an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for grownups. And by doing that, it allowed us to use the visual language of the original television show or the program as Fred called it. So in our script we imagined that the world of miniatures that is Fred Rogers, his street, is the entire world. So we wrote in these sort of interstitial, these transitions where all the masters, all the big transition shots, when we go from one location, one city to another, they’re all in miniature.

Noah: And then Marielle, Mari, she, after we finished sort of the main photography, the main production, they had two weeks of additional miniatures where they got to sort of build this other world by hand. And Mari does this amazing thing with her movies and we worked with her on Transparent She directed an episode. We knew her and loved her then and love her so much more now. But she really cares about the lived-in feel. For things to feel very human, for you to sort of feel the environments in a real way. I think for her, she cares so much about performance. And I think for her it’s all part of this sort of psychological reality that she’s after even in this kind of visual context that feels weirder and a little more fantastical. So we’re really happy with the care that she brought to not just the performances but also this other kind of scaffolding around the main storyline.

Kaitlin: Yeah. It’s interesting to hear it put that way because it could have so easily gone awry to try and play in those two sandboxes at the same time. To kind of live in this serious world where Lloyd lives with his family and everything that’s going on with him. And to also live in this sort of between world of fantasy, and I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen the film, but there’s one particular scene where the miniature becomes grand, let’s say. And it could be totally lost or silly and it’s not. And that’s a really fine balance, I think, that only a director who really cares about that moment could find.

Noah: Yeah, we totally agree. And I think that Mari in her directing of the actors really earned those moments because I feel like if you don’t build up to those moments emotionally through the arcs of these characters and the decisions they’re making and you just allow that sort of surreal moment to happen, if it’s unearned, it’s silly and it’s wasted real estate. It actually will do a disservice to your film. And I think she did an amazing job of building them up and earning that moment.

Kaitlin: I agree. And that kind of leads me to something I want to talk about, which is this particular scene, again not wanting to give anything away, but Lloyd and Fred are together at Fred’s apartment in New York City, and Lloyd tries to ask Fred about the burden he must carry being, as you guys put it, this sort of minister to all of these people. And I won’t say too much more about that particular scene, but I feel like every good film has that sort of price of admission scene. And this feels like that scene to me from my perspective. Can you tell me a little bit about, kind of drill down on the crafting of that particular scene from a writing perspective.

Noah: Sure. I mean, I think there’s two things. There’s the first, which is where did that notion come from that this burden was something that Fred had to deal with. And that actually came from Micah and I in our trips to Pittsburgh and the research that we were doing in speaking to Fred’s sort of his circle and his community. When we finally got access to Joanne Rogers and were able to sit down with her, we sat with her for hours and mostly listened. And when we asked questions, we asked questions like, “Where did this burden go that Fred carried?” I mean, he had people sharing their tragedies, their darkest, deepest sort of sadness with him. What did he do with that? And she said, “I don’t actually know. He didn’t really talk about those things with me.” She talked about the swimming and playing the piano and the things that sort of Fred said, but on a real level, she was like, “I don’t know. He didn’t talk to me about those things, but you should talk to Bill. He talked to Bill about those things.”

Noah: And so we went to Bill and we said, “Hey, where do you think this went when Fred would talk about these things, where did he put that energy?” And he said, “That’s a good question you should ask Joanne. He didn’t really talk to me about those things.”

Kaitlin: Oh wow.

Noah: And so though we never really got an answer, we found our answer in the lack of answers. And so we tried to put that in the film of really the question of where does this go and that it does sort of hover somewhere within him. And then the second part is Fred’s sort of aggressive mining of a person’s emotions where he will ask a question and wait for your answer. And if you ask him a question, he’ll just throw another question right back. Any sort of question at him he would reverse with a sort of emotional jujitsu as Joanne called it.

Noah: And so there’s a frustration in that, right? When you ask someone, especially if your job is to get answers from another person and you have your subject not willing to answer the question, but also finding very quickly your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses or your needs. That is where we sort of found the magic in those scenes between those two things.

Micah: I think the other thing I’ll say is this is the WGA podcast, so presuming it’s mostly writers who are listening to this, but we learned in this process that Fred Rogers is actually the antagonist in our movie. He’s certainly not the main character. This is a movie about a journalist who is trying to write an article, and the person he’s writing the article about won’t let him do that. And so Fred Rogers is the obstacle who is trying to force our main character to do something different. To do something else that’s off his plan.

Micah: And so we crafted those scenes between Lloyd and Fred, between Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks, kind of as these boxing matches, sort of this epic battle between cynicism and kindness. Between someone who’s kind of more like Noah and I, a little more cynical, a little bit more suspicious of somebody who people think is a hero and trying to sort of pick at it and discredit it because it can’t possibly be real. And of course by so doing, at least in the hands of Fred, what you end up revealing is yourself. Is your own cynicism. You begin to see yourself a different way.

Kaitlin: Yeah. Huh. That’s interesting to sort of have to play in the villain space with someone like Mr. Rogers as a-

Micah: An antagonist is not a villain.

Kaitlin: Fair enough. Fair.

Micah: Not every movie has to have a villain, and sometimes villains aren’t very interesting as characters for that reason because they can be thin. How do they become what they are? Or are they just sort of a little tool to serve a plot? An obstacle to overcome.

Kaitlin: A false binary of good and bad as opposed to something more. Yeah. Well you mentioned Tom Hanks, obviously that’s a huge part of this puzzle.

Micah: He’s a really good actor.

Kaitlin: So I’ve heard. At what point in the development process did the talk turn to Tom Hanks? And when you nailed down the Hanks as it were, were you like, “Oh, we’re good.” Were you able to relax a little?

Noah: Well, certainly when you nail down the Hanks you’re good. No, I mean when we found out, he said, “I’m going to do this. You have to wait for me for a year. Are you comfortable doing that?” And at that point we’d been seven-and-a-half years into the process. What’s another year? No big deal.

Noah: But no, I mean, we had always thought of Tom from the very beginning of this. And at one point along the way we sent him the script and got a pass from him and sort of thought that was it. And then, Marielle came onto the project I think a year or so later after that. And she’s a pretty special human being, and she’s very, very convincing. And when she said, “Who have you always wanted to play this part,” we said, “Well, I mean Tom Hanks, but let’s get real.” And she kind of cut us off and said, “Hold on. Give me a shot. Let me see if I can get him.” And from there it happened very quickly. She sent him an email, they spoke, he read it, they spoke again and he said yes. And Micah and I lost our minds.

Kaitlin: I mean, in some ways it’s interesting because Tom Hanks is culturally similar to Mr. Rogers in that he’s sort of unimpeachable to most of us, right? He’s got this huge gravitational pull.

Noah: Yeah. And he doesn’t particularly look like Fred. He’s tall, their faces aren’t the same, but there’s something about him, which is a combination of trust and nostalgia. And maybe he’s your dad when you didn’t have one that are all sort of wrapped up together with Fred Rogers, and they occupy the sort of same psychic space of what it is to be an American. So we always sort of trusted that, that they were psychically similar, and I think his performance speaks to that. He’s not doing an impression. He’s not wearing prosthetics. He’s just capturing the essence of Fred Rogers, and we think it’s really powerful and we’re very, very lucky to have him be a part of this movie.

Kaitlin: Yeah. Well, let’s talk then about writing partnerships. So you guys have been working together for a long time. How would you describe how you work together as writers? How do you go about tackling a script like this together?

Micah: Yeah, I mean having a writing partner. I mean for people who, have been in the industry, you go to so many meetings, you work on so many projects, a lot of them are kind of like going to the doctor where the doctor is telling you something and you kind of hear what you want to hear. And it’s always a good idea to bring a friend to the doctor so that they can be like, “No, they actually didn’t say that you’re going to be okay. You’re actually quite sick.” And I think for Noah and I, especially in a process like this movie which took 10 years to gestate with so many stakeholders, with so many moving pieces, with so many drafts to do it alone, to imagine doing it alone it would make me feel very sick.

Micah: But I think for Noah and I, we met because we were set up on a creative blind date kind of. We were reading the same book, and we had a mutual friend who kept hearing about the same book from each of us. And eventually she just got us in a room together and kind of was like, “Why don’t you guys talk about this thing because I’m not going to read that book. And you guys obviously just want to talk about that.”

Micah: And I think for us over the years we have I think similar tastes. We like a lot of the same things. When we don’t like the same things it’s always very interesting and an exciting moment when we disagree. And I think we also have similar values. We both really like our lives that are outside of work. We both have children and wives that we really like spending time with. And so we try to keep bankers’ hours. We try to do the work we have to do during the day and then leave it in the office and then live our lives.

Micah: I think being a writer means that you need to hopefully have something to say, and you only get that when you’re living a life. And I think for us that has led or at least contributed to or maybe enabled the longevity of our partnership so far.

Micah: And then Noah and I also, we do producing. So we started a production company a few years ago, which really emanated from our desire to collaborate with writers who we love and kind of become their little mini writer’s room as we kind of track down material that we think would be great that we aren’t necessarily the right people to work on.

Kaitlin: And the two of you have worked in television as well. You mentioned Transparent earlier. So how do you toggle between TV and film as writers, separately and together?

Micah: I don’t know.

Noah: You just do. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just the story kind of presents itself in a way and the characters present themselves in a way and you ask yourself “Does this have a definitive end? Is the structure more something that will run on and on or is it something that is a three act-arc and is done?”

Noah: And I think the difference for us is having a writer’s room and in a writer’s room, the gift of that is that it’s an accelerated way to get rid of bad ideas. So it can move much quicker, and you can be inspired by other people’s gifts and other people’s, the way that their mind thinks. And aside from that, it’s kind of the same at this point, and they’re moving closer and closer together. I would say the other thing is just as far as our lifestyle goes, when you’re doing features, you get to control your own schedule for the most part.

Noah: And you get to kind of go at your own pace. And if you want to work really hard on one day and maybe not so hard the next day, no one’s going to know. But in television you have to surrender your calendar to the moving machine. And with that you get sort of more say and more control over the overall project. But you do have to surrender a little bit of your life to it. So it’s always a conversation for us, “Is this worth it? Is this worth it to sort of give up this part of ourselves for a while?” And we found that there’s great power in saying no, which I think is another thing that has really led to the 13 years that we’ve been together is our ambitions lie more in the projects and in the stories rather than in the financial. And it turned out that the financial comes. It just comes eventually. I think if you’re willing, trust your gut and say no, eventually people just start paying you.

Kaitlin: That’s great to hear. I think for many of our members, I think that will be something that they’re … people always feel a little nervous around that idea is when this is going to be the job.

Micah: Yeah. And that’s also not to knock the hustle. I mean, when you’re starting out and you’re trying to figure out kind of what you’re good at, what the skills are that are actually how you can contribute. I know so many writers who came out to LA where we live to write comedy and ended up writing horror. You figure out kind of who you are through experience and as you get a better sense of who you are or what you’re good at, it makes it easier to not engage on the kinds of things that you don’t think you’re good for or that you’re right for or that don’t bring you joy or they don’t feel like they’re meaningful to you in some way.

Micah: And the nice thing about having a writing partner is that that process of deliberation, of choosing a project, it’s externalized, right? It has to happen between us. It has to happen in conversation as opposed to just firming your brow and drinking. I don’t know, just trying to figure out what to do. It has to be unanimous.

Kaitlin: Yeah. And Noah, you’re also an actor. You play a very fun role in this film.

Noah: I do.

Kaitlin: So how does acting inform your writing and vice versa?

Noah: Yeah, I mean I went to school as an actor and I sort of still, I think in my own mind, think of myself as an actor first. And as a writer, I’m just an actor who’s writing down acting, which just sounds so stupid. But I really do write from a point of intention of what is this character trying to get and what’s preventing them from getting it is really the basis of everything that Micah and I write. It’s that formula, which is really just acting. It’s just really objective and an obstacle. I mean it’s possible that that has led to in our writing, we’ve been able to get really amazing actors in our projects and maybe that speaks to that. Who knows really. But we do write very much from an actor’s point of view.

Micah: I think also the more time you spend on set making things in casting, it’s such a process. It’s so hard to make anything. And especially for the actors. To go to all this trouble to come to set, to have nothing to do or to feel like you’re just this little tiny cog in a plot. You’re a little piece in a watch. That’s not anybody’s dream. And so for us, we’re always trying to find even in the small parts, in the supporting parts, what can be interesting, what can feel like a good reason for us to have somebody to show up on the day. And I think that allows us to get some really wonderful actors to come in and to come onto our projects.

Kaitlin: Yeah, well I think it’s interesting to sort of see .. it kind of reminds me of Rob Reiner. It’s these sort of actor based directors or actor based writers that have this kind of gravitational pull towards them that is an actor’s actor, an actor’s director is sort of cliche, but it’s kind of true in many cases the kind of people who draw people to them that want to perform alongside performers.

Noah: Right. And for whatever version of that we are, Mari is 10 times that. So Mari is also an actor and is one of the most actor directors I’ve ever seen. She just speaks in a way that she very quickly earns the trust and is able to push people, to push actors into places that they haven’t gone. I mean Tom Hanks goes to places in this movie that I’ve never seen him go and I’ve been watching him since I was a little kid and he trusted her. You only get so much time. You get whatever your schedule is and if you’re lucky, a little bit of rehearsal and Mari is a little bit of a wizard like that.

Micah: I think there’s also a weird tribalism that occasionally crops up in our industry where producers don’t understand writers, directors don’t like actors. Everyone is kind of looking at the crew sheet and being like, “These guys don’t understand me. I have no appreciation for what they do.” And I think as a screenwriter we think of our screenplays as little bonfires. Not like they are things to be burned. Not that they’re kindling, but they’re a little bonfire that you’re trying to get a lot of people to gather around. Because if we wanted to just have people read our screenplays, we wouldn’t be screenwriters, we’d be novelists. That’s a self-contained experience. But for anything that we do, it’s going to take hundreds of people and millions of dollars and lots of time to get everyone out there. And so it’s inherently collaborative. And you hope that you’re working with people who elevate your material that surprise you. And that brings something way more than what exists on the page.

Kaitlin: Hmm. And writing is one thing obviously, but rewriting is something else entirely. You mentioned the many rewrites earlier. Do you guys have a specific approach to rewriting?

Micah: Yeah, I mean you keep rewriting until the thing comes out. It’s like a screenplay’s a living document. It needs to change in order to accommodate all the things that happen when you’re trying to take a thing on a page and make it into reality. So for us, working on Transparent was a really great bootcamp for that. For every 30-page script, we probably wrote about 250 pages in revisions. And at a certain point you kind of get your ego out of it. You just sort of do the work. And for that show, Jill Soloway was an intensely iterative showrunner. Jill wanted to see the version that we were discussing on the page. And at first you’re like, “Seriously? Want me to just rewrite an entire script?” And then you’re like, “Well they’re paying you by the week and this is the job.”

Micah: And for us, just getting out of our head, just getting into flow, I think it has toughened us. It has sort of battle hardened us as writers, and we’re not afraid of that rewriting process. There’s a point at which you begin to make sort of lateral moves or things get worse. And I think you learn how to prevent that from happening, but it’s all rewriting, and it’s not something that we’re grumpy about or snooty about. Sometimes it takes a few swipes at it to get it right.

Noah: And all that to say like sometimes you have to dig in too. The nature of being open to rewriting, it forces you to know and to come to terms with what you care about.

Noah: So in the process of making this movie over the years people have said, “You can’t have a minute of silence.” And we were like, “What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can.” And we’ve had to defend that to 15 different gatekeepers over the years. And we did. We fought it and we fought it and we believed in it. And at times we changed it and it didn’t work, and we changed it and it didn’t work. And ultimately we got it back to where we wanted it.

Noah: And as soon as Marielle came on, she got it. She was like, “I got it. I totally know this. And you know, and not only do I get it, I’m going to push it. It’s going to be over a minute.” We said “He looks into the camera,” she’s like, “He’s going to stare into the center of the camera.” She just really, really defended those. There were probably three of those moments, the opening, the very final image, and then the minute of silence were things that when she came on, she was just like, “I got it. This is staying in,” and that was the end of it.

Kaitlin: Amazing. Yeah, that was a very powerful moment. I was like, “Oh, are they really going to do a minute? Oh, they’re really doing it. This is really happening to me right now.” So tell me what’s next for you guys in terms of what are you excited about as writers right now?

Micah: Yeah, I mean, in addition to building our company, we’re working on an exciting TV project that we’ll be able to talk about soon. We have a deal at Showtime in TV, which we’re sort of just starting up, and then Noah and I are going to adapt a graphic novel called Bottomless Belly Button, and that will be our first feature that we’re going to direct together.

Kaitlin: Oh wow. Hey, congrats.

Micah: Thank you.

Noah: Thank you.

Kaitlin: Well, thank you guys so much for being with us today. Thanks for taking the time and calling all the way from Los Angeles to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

Micah: The phones work all the way long distance.

Noah: Thank you. It was nice talking to you.

Kaitlin: They do. Nice talking to you too.

Noah: Thanks so much.

Kaitlin: That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at You can follow the Guild on social media @wgaeast, and you can follow me on Twitter @kaitlinfontana. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thanks for tuning in. Write on.

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