We’ve made no bones about the fact that we’re excited for True Detective, the upcoming HBO drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana state police detectives tracking a serial killer. And while we’ve heard great things about the show’s writing — the pilot script was apparently so striking that it enticed two movie stars, one of whom has never done TV before, to sign on to star in the show — very little is known about the show’s creator and showrunner, Nic Pizzolatto.
Well, thanks to an extensive series of interviews the Times Picayune‘s been running this week, we know a lot more about the man HBO entrusted to write and run the show on his own. That’s right, True Detective has no writing staff — all eight episodes were written by Pizzolatto, despite having only a barely read noir novel and a single season as a staff writer on The Killing as the most significant items on his resume. I mean, the great show-runners of our time like the ones profiled in Brett Martin’s Difficult Men — David Chase, Matt Weiner, Vince Gilligan, David Simon, etc. — all had other writers on staff to help them, well, write their shows.
After the show recently wrapped shooting its first season, Pizzolatto sat down to talk with the Picayune’s Dave Walker. Walker’s first question to Pizzolatto: “How did this happen?”
In July of 2010 I wrote one spec script for an existing show, then I wrote three scripts for a show I invented, another pilot and another pilot, which was “True Detective”…The scripts I wrote were good enough to get me out for meetings right away. And then as soon as I took a round of meetings, I have a lot of job offers, and I took a blind pilot deal with HBO. A development deals means … you’re going to write a pilot for them, but then they own it, and they decide whether to shoot the pilot or not shoot the pilot or what.
Then I got hired for the staff of the AMC show “The Killing,” so I learned a lot about being on-set and in production. I was in the writers room, and the show runner let the writers come up to be on-hands producer on episodes, so I learned a lot there. But after the series aired, I was really dissatisfied by it, ultimately. It might just be my more novelistic bent, but seeing how television got made, I thought I could do it better. Not better than the show, but I thought I should be working on my own vision, if I can make it happen.
I want to be the guiding vision. I don’t do well serving someone else’s vision. I’m not at my best there, and I don’t think I’m worth as much to the people who pay me. I did about two weeks in the writers room on “The Killing’s” second season, and I asked out. I had done a couple of movie things at that time. I’d written the adaptation of my novel “Galveston.” That was really the first job I got. And then I had broken and written a couple of drafts of a movie for (writer-director) Steve Gaghan (“Traffic,” “Syriana”). Anonymous Content, a production company that’s also where my manager is, just sort of staked me to write another “True Detective” script, or something else – anything I wanted to do.
Earlyish 2012 we were talking about actors for this to go out to. I had just seen “The Lincoln Lawyer,” and I knew Matthew McConaughey had just done “Killer Joe,” which is a play I liked a lot. And I just had a feeling that if he was into doing something like that, he might be into doing something like this. He responded really strongly to the material. Woody Harrelson was already on our list as a man to approach…Having Matthew, getting Woody was that much easier, because they’re friends. Once we had the two of them, we were ready to take it out. I pitched it to every network in town. It’s really the show runner and creator who does that. “Let me tell you what it’s about. This is what’s going to happen.” They had a real nice bidding war, and HBO ended up winning that.
Pizzolatto went on to say that he had little interference from HBO over the course of writing the first season and, sort of hilariously, it sounds like he actually received more script notes from the show’s lead actors than he did from executives at the network.
Everybody left me untouched while I wrote the scripts. When we got the scripts … Matthew, I think, had one note, and it was literally about a line. And then it more becomes about when we actually get into the scene. Without having to kill my babies, then it becomes about, “Let’s hit it in the truest way possible. You know what? Say the same thing, but reverse the sentence.” Sometimes it can be stuff like that. Woody, not often, might push me, like, “Can this be funnier?” “Yeah, OK.” They’ve been great to work with in the collaborative process, because at no time were they ever unsupportive of the material, or of a mind to say, “I don’t want to say this. I want to say that.” Never. They were as passionate and dedicated to it as any of us.
The whole interview series is pretty interesting. Read them all at Nola.com.
(Pic via HBO)