The Writers' Room (2013) s01e06 Episode Script

American Horror Story

"American Horror Story" I've taken liberty of choosing one, Sister Jude.
It's a terrifying series that breaks all the TV rules.
I don't know what's gotten into you lately, Sister, but it's a decided improvement.
Reinventing itself each season with a new cast - You two - and storyline.
Sterilization for the both of you.
For the creators, there's a fine line between what works and what doesn't.
Like today, incest was cool, but killing a cat was crazy.
You can chop someone's head off, as long as you don't see her nipples while you do it.
It's the bizarre logic that also explains why the people behind TV's creepiest show are the same ones who brought you "Glee.
" That's crazy.
Let's meet the team behind the groundbreaking series.
Outrageous success horrible mistakes last minute changes.
Creators of today's most ground-breaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts "The Writers' Room.
" Joining me in "The Writer's Room," we have Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear, and Lily Rabe.
Thank you for being here.
- Thank you.
- Thanks for having us.
And, obviously, we gave you these pads in case you want to doodle or complain about anything that I talk about.
We could break a new story.
Yeah, or break a story by the end.
We'll have another season.
Um, I sort of wanted to get started, just, what's it like going from "Glee" to, you know, to walk from this room, this writers' room, - to that writers' room? - They're right down the hall.
I-well, I-that's what-- but physically, and then emotionally, what happens, as you go from this room to that room? I've always said, I-I feel like the energy is the same, for, like, both shows, because they're both heightened.
They're, you know, um, they both burn through story very quickly.
All the writers are, uh, very, sort of, close.
Um, it feels like going from one group of daffy brothers and sisters to the next.
To the other ones.
Yes, everyone's laughing and having a good time.
Yeah, we-we make sure to sort of, you know, walk around a little bit, or-or go to another office and sort of change it up, for even just 15 minutes.
For those who aren't, for shame, uh, familiar with "American Horror Story," just give us sort of an overview of where it came from, you know, between both of you, uh, the idea and the inspiration.
Any of that stuff.
For a long time, we were both interested in-in horror stuff.
One of my favorite movies is "Rosemary's Baby," and his is "Jaws.
" So it was a very sort of feminine-masculine weird thing.
Married-married those two.
And I think that both of us were turned on by taking the genre, but also something that was more intimate.
And so, we talked about this story about infidelity and the story about a marriage breaking up, and the true horror of that.
And, in many ways, I think that was the nugget that really was driving us.
Was, okay, we know we want the genre.
At least for me, but I think that-that-- what got us excited was, okay, but what's this story really about? What's the true horror behind the monsters? And, um, it was the, sort of, the monsters at home.
We sit in a living room like situation.
We don't work in a writers' room.
We work, um, sort of with a couch, chair and coffee table.
We literally have our feet up at the coffee table every day.
We just-we spend-it's a really sort of rewarding show, 'cause you spend many, many months talking about ideas and character before you even get into plot.
And it seems like that's an allure, I would imagine, for an actress-actor, your theatre background-- there's something that draws you to that.
It's been sort of amazing to-to be a part of a-a show that has such a, sort of, ferocious fan base.
It's the perfect job.
- Yeah.
- Yeah, it really is.
Because it's just like a reset.
It's like getting to do a completely new character from season one to season two, and explore those things.
Well, I always want the actors to play the opposite - of what they played the season before.
- Yeah.
'Cause I want it to be interesting.
So, like, the last season, Lily played a very demure nun.
Innocent.
A rube, really, who becomes possessed by Satan.
- So, uh, this season-- - Just a simple, simple, little thing.
So, this season she'll be the opposite of that, because I want her to be challenged and, you know, wanna come back every year.
So, it's a really fun, cool thing to do, and what the actors don't know is, sometimes, we'll be writing the first two episodes and we'll go back and forth about, "Well, maybe Lily should play this part or that part, or Sarah should play that.
" Oh, okay.
We'll mix it up, and usually by-- we have it pretty locked down by episode three, and then we'll call.
We only call when we know exactly who you're playing.
Who you're playing.
And it's sort of, I think, weird and frustrating for some of the actors sometimes because some of them hear very early.
Yeah.
And some of them are waiting to see who they're gonna play.
But it's a really, really fun, you know, fun gig.
- And we can-and we can be neurotic, right? - Yeah.
So we worry about that phone call just a little bit.
- You know, just a little.
- Jessica's already heard.
- Jessica already knows what she's playing! - Yeah.
- Why haven't I gotten my call? - But, you know what? - It kinda becomes part of the adventure of it.
- Yeah.
You just-I don't-I like that I-I don't know everything.
- I know-- - Yes.
I know you create a map, but is that specifically lined out, as you, sort of, you know, do it on a wall? Is it up here? What's the process for all the writers to, sort of, see, from beginning to end? I think how it starts is, usually, um, right when we're sort of finishing one year, um, you know, I've been-I have a really big research library that I love.
Um, and I have really bizarre, weird obsessions that I really don't understand why.
So, I will come in and say, "I'm really obsessed about this.
" And, usually, it's sort of been percolating with enough months where it's my-it's the obsession that's risen to the top.
And with that, in talking about the design, you're starting from here and you know, uh, in 13 episodes, we're coming to an end.
So, the anthology aspect of it.
Was there something that, going into it, you knew you were drawn to with that sort of structure? Well, that-that's how they figured out how to do horror on television.
I read this thing, and I was like, okay, this is a great horror story, but you can't do this on television because television requires that you sustain the thing over a couple of seasons.
And, like, how do you-- no one's gonna be afraid when you know that it's television.
And so, when I met with these guys, I said, "I think it's very interesting.
I don't know how you sustain this.
" And Ryan was like, "Oh, here's how.
By the end of episode 13, everyone's dead.
" - You know, and I'm in.
- Right.
So, the idea that they're-that we're doing one story every year - means anything can happen, and you can do horror that way.
- Yeah.
But it really is Ryan Murphy's id as a cheese tray.
- He sort of wheels it in - Yeah.
- And we have - After, sort of, you know, there's the explosion of me coming in saying, "I'm obsessed with this, this, this, this, this.
" We all work on it together and it becomes, sort of, um, I wouldn't say a group think, but it-but it doesn't belong to any person and all views are, sort of, you know, I-we try and have a very balanced point of view.
I think the best writing always has a personal urgency, in that, you're always writing about something that is very important to you and you're feeling really powerfully right now, and I don't think you can have any control over that, if you're doing-- if you're writing well.
I think, if you're-- to me, when you've-when I've written a scene and it doesn't work, it's like, well, I haven't tapped into whatever that thing that's urgent for me right now is.
But we also, in that room, laugh all day long.
- Yeah, it's gotta be fun.
- Really? - That's the key.
- And the most hilarious thing today, and I pointed it out when we were in the writers' room today.
My favorite thing is when Ryan Murphy goes, "That's crazy.
" Does "That's crazy" mean, "That's it?" No, but it's-- no, no, no.
It-it means, "What-what are you thinking?" Really? So you have a limit, Ryan? - He-he has a-he has a-- - He has a tone.
I have a-- I don't know.
He has a meter of some kind.
Where's the-- yeah, what is that? You don't know.
You don't know-- it shifts? No, it was sort of like today-- incest was cool, but killing a cat was crazy.
Right-- that makes sense.
That was the line.
And, by the way, it wasn't because-it wasn't cruelty to animals.
He's like, "Cats bore me.
" "I wish that-I wish they'd start dead.
" - I did not say that.
- No, but he was thinking it.
No, but it's a-it's a-- that show is a tone, you know, our show is a tone poem.
Yeah.
It is all incredibly heightened.
It is all designed to be, you know, an opera.
What happens when, let's just say-- or maybe it never happened to you guys, but something sort of broke.
Like a story or some-- like what happened here - and what happened here-- - Basically, what happens is, we go, "Uh, we need Ryan now.
" - Yeah, so then you come in.
- No, that's not true.
- No, it is-it is true, actually.
- Well, you're kind.
It's true.
But the great thing about this stuff, too, you know, when Brad and I were putting it together, we wanted people, particularly for that, you know, 'cause your-the first year, I mean, John Landgraf and I, and Brad and Dana Walden, and Gary Newman knew that it was an anthology, but who knew that it would have any success.
So, we didn't know, so we really just wanted a staff-- we're writing about divorce and a couple falling apart, you know, and miscarriage, and stuff like that.
We wanted a staff who had lived.
Hmm? It's a great staff because almost everybody in it, I think everybody in it, I believe, is over 40, and has, sort of, lived and had a-a really long career with a lot of different tentacles.
So, people, I think, fight for characters.
What I find in this writers' room is, everybody usually has a group of characters that they love, and fight to write, and fight to, um, protect.
It's always a very pleasant, wonderful experience, the show.
It-it's never been difficult.
Not for one minute.
Coming up, the creators of "American Horror Story" cross the line.
The only note we-I ever got from-from an actor was Jessica Lange.
There was a day where she was, like, looking at bare asses for, like, 12 hours and said, "I can't cane anymore people.
" Welcome back to "The Writers' Room," with "American Horror Story.
" What is it right now for us, do we think, maybe in society, maybe just America in general, that we're sort of drawn back to horror? Maybe over and over again.
Well, I don't know when it went away.
- I mean, I think hon-horror has just always-- - Oh, it went away.
It just hasn't been on-- it hasn't-it hasn't been on TV.
It called me and said, "I'm gonna take off for a little bit, a-and Jim, I'll let you know I'm back.
" Well, I mean, for me, I-I think it's interesting, the last big, two, um, explosions of horror, at least in movies, and also in musicals, were times of, sort of, um, economic and social unrest.
I think if you look at the world in the past five years, it makes sense to me why that genre is sort of exploding on television now.
- Because, um, it reflects the time that we're in, in many ways.
- Yeah.
Yeah, and I think-I think that you need boogeymen to help with your-- Like, this free fluid anxiety.
Are terrorists gonna attack? Am I gonna lose my job? Is the stock market gonna crash? And so you find a creature to put all that anxiety on and it makes you feel better.
To know it's like, oh, I'm not just scared of losing the house.
I'm scared of the guy in the rubber suit.
And so, at least for that period of time, you feel a little bit better, even though you're checking under your bed for the guy.
Yeah, exactly.
One of the things I think that is powerful, is this embracing the flawed characters.
What is that, sort of, fun, as a writer, to find those things that balance and give us just enough balance to us to understand them? What's your goal there? I really like you know, writing incredibly flawed people.
And when you have actors like, you know, Lily, and Sarah Paulson, - and Jessica Lange, they don't wanna play normal people.
- Right.
They wanna play people with a lot of different layers, - so that it's like an onion.
- Yeah.
And they, you know, they want flaws.
They want, um, things like that.
But I think that that is the, sort of, the golden age of television that was ushered in with "The Sopranos.
" Yeah, it's true.
- Where that's where you began to root for the-- Tony Soprano.
- Yep.
Who is the biggest antihero of them all, and I think that really did change television.
It really did influence a lot of people of our generation.
This form of telling stories has been going on for quite some time.
And so, I think it's harder to be surprised, and harder to be unpredictable.
And the fact is, really good people are less unpredictable.
Like, they're pretty much gonna do the right thing.
And so, I think when you're telling the stories about flawed characters, they're more likely to do something where you're, like, "Wait a second-- What just happened?" Like, "I can't believe they just did that," because you give them the space to do that 'cause they're a little bit weird.
They're a little bit dark.
Their morality is a little bit skewed, and so you never know.
Like, well, he might stab him in the neck with a pencil, or he might fuck him.
I don't know what's gonna happen.
Yeah, right, but it's nice of you to do the two choices.
Can I say that? - Yeah, you can.
- Yeah, you said it now.
- But-but, either way-- - Pencil? - If you don't-if you don't-- - But it's such a great thing, if you wrote that into your writers' group.
"Guys, here's the characters template.
" We have-we have done that.
There's a draw to it, I would imagine, as an actress, to these characters.
Was there ever a moment where you're like-- you wanted to say, you know, you can be honest now.
Pull them aside and go, "What?" - You know, "What the eff?" - No.
I don't know-- "What?" You know, did you ever have one of those things where you go, "This road is-- Okay, I'll go down this road?" Yeah-- I mean, you might go, "What the-what the eff?" What the pencil? What the pencil? But I would think that, when you're doing-when-when you sign on to something and you're thinking, "I might be playing this part for six-seven years," whatever it is, you have to, sort of-- I would-- there's a pacing or a, sort of-- you have to contain, I would think, something, because you might be in people's living rooms as this woman, for seven years.
- And so, that's a long-- that's a marathon.
- Yeah.
Um, and with this, you kind of-- it-it blows all that open, so you're never thinking, "Well, we should-- maybe this should hold back, or this should-- you know, let's"-- You can just really, like, go to the outside of-of - whoever it is you're playing, knowing that, uh, you're gonna expire.
- Yes.
I mean, no actor on this show has ever given that note of, - like, this is too much.
- No.
I'm always shocked that you guys don't call us up and say, "I have to do what?" They're, actually-- the-the only note I ever got from an actor was Jessica Lange, said, "I can't cane anymore people.
" What was her reason why she couldn't cane anymore? - Did she just, like-- - 'Cause there was a day where she was, like, looking at bare asses for, like, 12 hours.
She's like, "I can't do it anymore.
I did it enough.
" That was the only time.
And then she was like, "Well, then you'll cane, but they'll wear pants.
" You know, it won't be the same.
I even gave her the option of, "Well, what if we do a different kind of caning? With, like, horsehair canes?" Yeah, but it, um, I think the, uh, because the material is so heightened, and pushed, and unique, and has its own tone, hopefully, I think it's sort of, like, - you-the actresses jump in and do it.
- Yeah.
Because they know that we're writing towards a conclusion.
We have mapped this out.
We know where we're going and, with that, I don't know.
Maybe you feel safer that way, I think.
I think it definitely lets you-- you know that they're only gonna be-- their experience-everyone's experience of this person is gonna be one season long.
- And so, yes-- you wanna say "Yes" to all of it.
- Yeah.
- Because, uh, you know, it's like, a-a-- - Because we know - what happens if you say "No.
" - You get caned.
Yeah, you'll get caned.
Exactly.
Plus, when an actor sees another actor gets to, you know, breastfeed off a corpse or something, then they're like, "Well, where's mine?" Like, seriously, it's-- right? It's a little bit like, "How come they get to be horribly mutilated?" Every actor has a bucket list, and every one of 'em, every one of 'em says, "To nurse.
To nurse off a bare breast.
" There's a lot of nursing.
Coming up, the quirky rules of cable television.
We had to switch that, was it the dildo to a cucumber? - Or a-- - Yes, we did.
The dildo doesn't play, but the cucumber plays.
Welcome back to "The Writers' Room," with "American Horror Story.
" When, uh, you approach all these seasons, or anything in writing, in general, pushing those boundaries, like, you know, violence.
I'm just curious, on maybe the network side or anyone's side, of how far you chose, or don't even care to worry about the boundaries you're going for-with.
Well, I mean, my-I have never really had a single argument with a executive from a studio or the network about content, ever.
The only people who you really ever get into arguments about - are standards and practices.
- Right.
And it is never, ever about violence, ever.
- Like, you can-you can-- - It's always sex? Always, 100% sex.
- Yeah, we have a weird-- - It's a weird culture.
A weird balance.
No, but, like, you can-you can-you can chop someone's head off, as long as you don't see her nipples while you do it.
Yeah, that's exactly right.
Isn't there a rule, like-- I've gotten that note before.
- Really-- that was the note? - Yes, really.
You can chop someone's head off as long as-- and we've had to gauze out the nipples.
I mean, we haven't done-- it was a-a male character, and it was-it was something else, but, yeah.
I mean, I'm always amazed at that, and I sort of feel like everyone is, sort of, nervous about the FCC.
And I-I think that for most of the people who would complain to the FCC, they don't care about violence.
They care about, sort of, puritanical sexual content, and that's what they'll write about.
Yeah, we had to switch that.
Was it the dildo to a cucumber? - Or a-- yeah.
- Yes, we did.
- Oh, wait, this is interesting-- you had to-- - Although, you know-- - The dildo doesn't play, but the cucumber plays.
- Exactly.
You can't get a dildo at "Stop and Shop.
" It makes no sense.
It's so logical.
It's very, um, it's very frustrating, and, sort of, um, sad to me.
And I find that, on every show that I have, be it "Glee" or "Horror Story," is, you can do whatever you want, usually in a violent capacity, - but God help you if you try and tell a truthful sexual story.
- Yeah.
Particularly, if your female characters aren't, sort of, Barbie dolls.
Like, that-it's very-it's always very, very hard for me to take those notes, and I fight them.
Yeah, as well, I think we should.
I'm so curious, but continuing with that idea, of what it is that makes us not able to take sexual innuendo or to give a rating to that, if you're in a film thing, that that absolutely puts you in an "R", you know? But, yet, because the amount of blood you did not show-- in other words, that was not a bloody murder.
- Yeah.
- So we can show that.
I mean, what is that? I mean, anybody, what do you think that is, up here, for us? Because it is.
It's like, you look at all those shows that are the "SVU" kind of shows, and it's like, every week, you can have a rape.
Weird checklist.
But, if you actually told a story about, a central story about that girl having a love affair, then you have issues.
I mean, the truth of the matter is, it's all financial, isn't it? Because I think that it's-it's about the networks and the studios, and, look, we have a great, um, relationship with our standards and practices people.
Don't get me wrong.
They're, for the most part, very fair, but, you know, a complaint to the FCC could lead to a charge by the FCC, which could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines.
Nobody wants to pay that, so they're just overly protective.
It's like, well, if you're trying to monitor - your children's television, turn off the television.
- Yeah.
And I can much more easily explain to my child, if they happen to see - a sexual image, what that's about, than if they see a violent image.
- Yeah.
It's a lot more confusing to say like, I can't un-explain - to you exactly why people do this to each other.
- Yeah.
- But put 'em together and that's delicious.
- And that-that's okay.
Well, that's what "American Horror Story" is.
It's a pastiche of sexuality and violence.
Every season, it's really either about the oppression, or acting out of, or-- that's why it's a fun show to do.
Also, the tradition of American horror-- I don't mean the show.
I just mean horror, in American literature, is sex and violence.
I mean, even if you just go to, like, the cheesiest sort of, like, slasher movie, it's always the young, nubile couple who are about to consummate their carnal fleshness, who are gonna get their throats slit by Jason Voorhees, or whatever.
Not that there's anything wrong with - Sex means death.
- Yes.
Let's just embrace the idea that it's time we're gonna collectively jump the shark.
You know, we're gonna collectively go to the place where I don't know if we can ever come back, you know? And just embrace that idea.
Is there a place that we could have fun and just say, if you could, in a wish list, go to crazy land, knowing this is-this is it? Wow! And what would you make Lily play? And let's tell her.
Maybe season ten should be called "Mime.
" I like it-- "Killer Mimes.
" "Killer Mimes.
" Please, and is there any dialogue at all? No, no dialogue.
No, we just jump the shark.
- It's like-it's like the artist-- - You know it could 100% work.
- Yeah, it could.
- Because Jessica Lange, when she was younger, - actually went to mime school.
- Are you serious? One hundred percent, which I've always thought was hilarious.
Anyone who goes to mime school or clown school, I want to sit down and talk to them.
I find that so interesting.
So, that-that's it-- season ten just called "Mime.
" Also, think about this.
Think about how much cheaper it'll be to shoot.
- I know.
- Because they'll be walking into the wind.
They'll be in a box, but we don't have to see the box.
Yeah, and, like, the prep.
I mean, come on, Lily.
- Not a line to learn.
- Not a line to learn.
You just pretend you're touching things that aren't there.
Coming up on "The Writers' Room," season two jitters.
I didn't get much sleep, 'cause I didn't know if people would come back.
Welcome back to "The Writers' Room," and "Entertainment Weekly's, The Last Word.
" We are now joined by Lynette Rice, from "Entertainment Weekly.
" - Welcome, Lynette.
- Nice to be here.
Did you have any fear at the beginning that, once we figured out-- "We" being viewers.
We figured out what your conceit was-- you're like the etch-a-sketch of shows.
I mean, after one season, you shake it and you start again.
Did you have any fear that viewers would understand what you're doing.
So, then we know that, by the end of the season, you're gonna kill off her, her, her, him, and we kinda already know.
Is some of the mystery gone, because we know what you're doing? Um, for me, the mystery was more after that first season, when people really loved it so much, would they come back for the second season? Because I felt that it was our job to make the stories as compelling.
I know, the night before, I mean, I didn't get much sleep 'cause I didn't know if people would come back.
And then, you know, they did.
You know, my hope is that, as they see it, as with anything else, they start to say, "Oh, it's possible.
" And I think they see-- I think they really are.
Do you know how long you wanna go with this? I don't see an end to it.
Like, I will-I love it.
I love the whole process of it.
I feel like it has a great renewal to it.
Um, I love the dream time of it, you know, when you're ready to, sort of, come up with a new one.
I'm interested in a lot of different things, and I like renewing it every year.
I really feel like, for me, it's something that I would love to keep doing, as long as they'd let me.
So that answers my question then, do you know how it's gonna end? We know, 'cause "Mime" is season ten.
- "Mime" is season ten.
- Okay.
So, we have to get to that.
Well, with that, uh, if you wanna see more of "The Writers' Room," and you better, then go to sundancechannel.
com.
- Thank you all for being here.
- Thank you.
I am Jim Rash, and we will see you next time in "The Writers' Room.
" Now we do that thing where we sort of fake talk.
Well, I think-I think it's time for us to get back to work on the story.
- Yeah, we gotta start-- - You know, but thanks for coming to our writers' room.
I always wondered what they're talking about at the end.