Phil Klemmer and John Enbom (Writers)
MI.net: How has your role changed since from the first season to the third season? I think you guys were promoted.
John: It's funny, basically in television, everybody sort of does the same job, and just the longer that you do it, the more high-faluting your title becomes. Basically, everybody is a writer. I was confused before I worked in television, when you saw the opening credits, and you're like, "Oh, there's an executive producer, and a co-executive producer, and a supervising producer. I imagined those were all like people who... Those are just senior writers around the table. And our roles, I don't know, how have they changed? I mean not a ton. It's a very small staff compared to a bigger network show. In that sense, things are very compact. Rob does a lot on his own. He's up at like four in the morning every day, doing his business. So in terms of a military structure or whatever, it's not highly hierarchically...hierarchived, or whatever. It's like, we just do our thing, we write our scripts.
Phil: Yeah, you get to talk more at the table, I guess, if you've been there. It's just more getting comfortable. Now that we've been working with Rob and Diane for three years, there definitely isn't the same sort of anxiety like when you are first on staff when you're like, "Oh man, I'm going to go in today and I'm going to wow 'em." Now we have new guys who are hungry to come in. It's kinda cool to see people who are coming into the show with all of the enthusiasm of somebody who has seen it as a fan but hasn't written for it. We have a writing team of John Moskin and David Mulei, and we have a new staff writer Robby Hull. Those are three new guys. It seems like longer than three years we've been on this show when you see the new guys, and you're like, "Ah, I remember when I first...I remember season one."
MI.net: There's a lot of guys in your staff. Six guys as opposed to just one lady.
Phil: Fortunately she's got the power to do it. She's shouldering the entire female half of the show right now. Which obviously she does extremely well. Last year I think we were half and half, and now we've got just poor Diane bumbling against all of us.
MI.net: In the first season, Rob had the stuff pretty much laid out. In the second season, the writers had the chance to have input on the season-long mysteries. And now you guys have three mysteries. How has the writing experience changed?
John: It gets a little more complicated I think just in the sense that...Like you said, when he sold the show at the very beginning, they had a lot of the first-season story, the metastory all worked out and everything. So that when we made it through a first season and then got the second season ordered, we're like, "Hooray!" Now we have to come up with a bunch of that stuff but we have half the time to do it, if even that. Less than half the time to do it. And now it's even more so this year where we have three little mysteries to plot out. When we finished plotting out the first nine episodes, we sort of applauded ourselves and gave ourselves a cheer and were quite happy. And we sat back and were like, "Oh, now we've got to do the next..."
John: And because the show is going on under you, it just means that you have to bear down that much more actually. Sit down and look at the big picture because it's very easy to get sort of wrapped up in day-to-day minutiae of running the show and getting each individual script out.
Phil: I think the shorter mysteries...it's easier to stay focused on the milestones that you want to hit over the course of nine or six or seven episodes versus a whole season, where we would put certain turning points in the mystery off until the next episode and by the end of the episode feeling that you have all these twists and turns that had to play out in the very last couple of episodes. Whereas it's very easy to sort of make sure you're pacing yourself properly with the shorter mysteries. From within and from the criticism of the show, I think everybody was made aware of the season two mystery being a bit too convoluted. It was certainly the sort of thing that made your head hurt, which is an experience that I don't think any of us really wanted to repeat three times this season. I think it's nice these are a little bit more spare and sparse in plotting.
MI.net: When you were writing season two, did you guys get a headache?
John: Yeah, it was really difficult. There were embarrassing moments where friends who were fans would ask you some questions and you found yourself giving them an explanation and almost needing a white board to keep it straight in your head. I don't have any regrets. That's part of noir, is getting completely disoriented and lost, but it's difficult in TV when you are trying to entice new viewers and sort of satisfy casual viewers. It's hard to sort of sell, "Oh, it's fun to not understand what is going on!" That's something that doesn't really work in Nielsen households, I imagine.
[Editor's note: It seemed to work for Lost.]
Phil: I think that is really one of the bigger tensions of trying to mount a show like this: striking that balance between "this is a show that you can pop into at any moment and enjoy it," and also satisfy that larger idea of your storytelling having that more dense, noiry kind of plots that we really love. That's the ongoing challenge, trying to find that balance because it actually isn't an easy line.
MI.net: Are there any things that you wished you had done differently?
Phil: I think we are going to take the George Bush stance and say no.
MI.net: Good answer.
Phil: No mistakes were made.
Phil: That's insane.
MI.net: One of the great things about the show is the combination of humor, drama, and emotions. Is there something you prefer? Writing comedy, or drama, or mystery aspects?
John: I think I have an easier time with the humorous things. I don't think my sensibilities naturally go towards more melodramatic things. But like you said, I think the straddling of genres is what makes the show fun. I don't think there's a lot of writing gigs in Hollywood that would give you the opportunity to do both. If you look at the prospects, either you are on a procedural where you are just sorta regurgitating lab sort of analysis of how people get beat to death. Or you're working on a gooey melodrama. Veronica Mars is the only show I can think of where you get to stretch your legs in a lot of different styles. And it's all compatible with the tone of the show.
Phil: And if there is anything that I think we did try and change a little bit this year is sorta making the mysteries a little less dense; it was just being able to give ourselves a little more leg room to deal with those other aspects of what you were referring to, the drama and character development and all that kind of stuff. Also, I'm a huge noir fan to begin with, and that's one of the things I really love about the show is just that tone of that idea of somebody who has been hard boiled by life at that point. They have a somewhat cynical, witty take on the world, but are also sorta trying to fight the good fight as it were. And I think that combination is what appeals to me. There's no doubt that within the writing staff, I'm sure there's a lot of hustle to get the sharpest dialogue in there, and sort of do everything you can to make the show sparkle and hopefully its trademark. But at the same time service everything else.
[Editor's note: Wait a sec, you mean this show isn't all about LoVe? *gasp*]
John: There's definitely less beats going up on the board recently. I think that's an effort to let episodes unfold kinda naturally. Let scenes breathe a little more. There definitely was a staccato style that I think we backed away from a little bit. And part of that is just, you know...I don't think there's anything more depressing than having ten minutes of scene that just can't go on the air...
John: ...and realizing that you just equaled sorta flushing hundreds of thousands of dollars down the toilet just because you don't have time to let the whole story play out in 41 minutes.
Phil: The crew down in San Diego work absolutely their asses off to shoot the show. The scripts are always dense. They have eight days to shoot an episode, and they're always just jam packed. In my last script that I just finished they were...they sent me back the schedule and, they're like, "This is nine-and-a-half days. You need to do something about this because we'll die." And that's another thing. We're a very small staff, writing-wise, but also our budget is not enormous to shoot the show, so it's also a struggle to sorta just get it on screen. Because our resources are limited. The crew works like crazy to get what we can, but we also have to watch ourselves so that we just don't overload everything.
MI.net: So I guess that's one thing you guys have learned to do better: how to pace the show. To make sure the episode is 41 minutes and not 50 minutes.
John: Yes and no. We still tend to overstuff everything. That's how we've always done it. We go down on set, and every now and then, producer Dan will give us a glare, like, "Thanks a lot. We've been working for fourteen hours, why did you do this to us?" We can't help ourselves.
Phil: But if they saw our first draft...the last one John and I did, when we first put our pieces together, it was 68 pages, which is...
John: For a 42-minute show.
Phil: ...is nearly 20 pages too long. So if they saw what they could be dealing with....
MI.net: They would all quit.
John: Yeah, they would all quit on us.
MI.net: When we interviewed Cathy last year, she said that Phil was a logician who's very good at continuity.
Phil: Oh, yeah?
MI.net: Yeah. And she said John was just a master wordsmith who always had the best quips. What would you consider your strength?
Phil: Oh, man.
John: Oh, man. I don't know if we have any. If I have any strengths it's just that between doing feature stuff and doing TV stuff, I have at least some experience being able to be competent. [chuckles] I think that's all I can find. Certainly screw around the room a lot and I worry a lot of times that's just being counter-productive because we're not getting things done. We're just screwing around, so I'm not going to chock that up as a strength.
Phil: I don't think we...I don't know...oh, boy. I don't even know how to approach this one.
Phil: We're still here. That's gotta be good, right?
John: Yeah. We'll just lie back on that. Like, Diane, you can easily say she has the voice of the show so perfectly lodged in her head. It just comes right out. We struggle, we're like childish.
Phil: We can really do solid Dick Casablancas.
Phil: That's probably why he's still on the show. Because Ryan Hansen himself is such a charming guy, and we can't help but cut loose with him. But everything else, there's no doubt that it's a lot of work for us to sort of make sure we're getting things right, getting the voice of the show right. Veronica is such a particular character that we definitely do what we can to make sure we're keeping her true to who she is. And not veering into all-guy territory.
MI.net: Who makes the call on whether or not something fits the voice of the show?
John: That's all Rob. He has last say on everything. We never see him do it, because he's literally in the office five in the morning. So that when we roll in at nine, he's already been working hours and hours, sorta fixing everything that we've messed up. That voice is very much him, it's very much Diane, very much us doing the best we can to copy them.
MI.net: Well, you do a good job of copying.
Tune in next week to read part two of the interview.