I write for a TV show called Longmire, a moody A&E crime drama set in a sort of Wyoming-of-the-mind, where the mythic West and the modern West blur together. Last year on this site, Dan Seitz called Longmire “a cross between a noir and an unreconstruct-ed modern Western about grown men struggling with their emotional inadequacies and unfin-ished business.”
We’ll take it.
On the surface, Longmire is a modern cowboys and Indians story with a weekly mystery to be solved. But it’s also more than that. The good folks here at Uproxx think we’re one of those shows that’s much better than people think.
I think one reason Longmire might exceed expectations is that we are perhaps the least cynical cop show you’ll come across. We embrace the procedural beats of our show because we love telling good mysteries and digging up the hidden Wyoming worlds those mysteries lead us into. We dig the serialized beats because we’re addicted to putting the fantastic characters Craig Johnson created in his Longmire novels into corners so we can watch them fight their way out.
Our show is overseen by a trio of executive producers: Greer Shephard, Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny. Longmire is their creature. It’s no exaggeration to say that they’re concurrently working on six or seven episodes at a time. They are our intrepid captains; equal parts artist, head coach, and CEO. The earnestness of the show is the direct product of the trio’s shared mindset.
But what gets on screen is also pretty collaborative. And often feels like alchemy. Created by lots of strong-willed, creative individuals who are chasing personal visions that end up cohering into an identifiable, consistent style unique to our show.
Though we’re the highest rated scripted show to ever air on A&E — our second season landed among the top ten most watched cable shows last year — I think we might be flying under the radar of the TV-obsessive crowd.
Uproxx was cool enough to offer me some space to introduce Longmire to the TV-obsessed types that frequent the site. I thought the best way to do so would be to survey some of the people involved in making Longmire about the key inspirations informing their work on the show. One of the operating metaphors of this show is the idea of “the storm.” I kind of see our cast and crew’s divergent creative inspirations as the hidden pressures behind the visible storm, seldom seen but always felt.
Below are the responses I got to the question: “What artist or work of art has influenced your work on Longmire?”
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John Coveny (writer, co-creator, executive producer):
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Yes, of course, Newman and Redford were brilliant. But the brilliance started on the page with the words of William Goldman. Even his action lines made me jealous. So human, and connected, and yet, unexpected. That’s what we try to bring to Longmire—humanity that surprises you and takes you on a ride across all kinds of emotions.
Butch and Sundance made me feel like a man, even as a kid. You could be tough but have a sense of humor. You could live a thrilling life, but life could end in heartbreak. You can try to run from your past actions, but you know you’ll have to deal with them someday. And when that day comes, you won’t act like some superhero. You’ll act like two best friends thinking you got one last chance, going out together, running for the horses—blinded by hope, and brought down by your own flaws.
Week in week out, we try to put the right words in the right places so they ring true to the head, the heart and the soul, just like William Goldman. I can only hope there is a fat kid sitting too close to the t.v. (like I did), finding meaning in the words and actions of Walt Longmire, and say-ing to himself (like I do today), “I wish I was him.”
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Katee Sackhoff (Vic Moretti):
My influences for Vic have been ever changing since the first day I welcomed her into my life. It started out as one of my best friends Melissa Marsala, a spicy Sicilian From Long Island who taught me so much about life. She was always the smartest most opinionated person in every room and the first one to stand up for the people she loved and the things she believed in. (Kin-da perfect Vic to be honest.)
Through the years it has been sprinkled with other influences, like the perfect blend of chemis-try, love, pain, and duty that we see between Bones and Booth on the show Bones.
Also: watching old Clint Eastwood movies. There’s a respect I’ve gained for Walt and his quiet strength that I didn’t necessarily understand in the beginning.
I also draw a lot from music. Music is such a huge part of my life and I find that no matter what the emotional intent of a scene there is always a song that perfectly reflects the moment in time you are attempting to create, and the feeling you want the audience to take away from it.
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Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear):
Obviously, Craig Johnson’s Longmire books are a constant inspiration and the fact that Craig keeps writing them continues to build on the back story. His collection of short stories Stay Calm, Have Courage and Wait for Signs (for which I wrote the forward) spoke much to the hu-mor and humanity of the characters.
Strangely enough, just listening to the radio can inspire. There’s a line in Bastille’s song “Pompeii” that reminds me of this season…”Oh, where do we begin, the rubble or our sins?” Things were left in a bit of a shambles last season and it was certainly the result of our charac-ters’ past actions.
Met Tommy Lee Jones while he was filming The Homesman in Las Vegas, NM at the same time we were there. His performance in No Country For Old Men (also shot in a number of Longmire locations) reminds me of the baggage that Henry carries. A desire to see justice served but a growing disillusion with the darkness.
The books The Prophet by Kahlil Ghibran and The Alchemist by Paulo Cohello remind me of Henry’s journey to maintain his place in the world and his spiritual center though random events and external forces conspire to move him from his path.
The Lakota saying, “The true warrior walks humbly upon the earth.”
My trip to Lame Deer reservation that reminds me of the real lives of the Cheyenne people, the beauty of the land and the quiet dignity with which they commune with it.
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Bailey Chase (Branch Connally):
There is a scene from Breaking Bad that had a strong impact on me between Gus Fring and Walter White. Walter is complaining and Gus tells him what it is to be a man. Branch has had a similar epiphany in season three. This season I also had a Rolling Stones song I wanted to sing while brewing some peyote tea but the Executive Producers didn’t respond.
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Hunt Baldwin (writer, co-creator, executive producer):
The younger me could never have imagined writing something like Longmire. That ambitious, arrogant 20-something me was committed to “adventurous writing.” Stuff that thumbed its nose at old stodgy conventions. I loved books that felt new and sophisticated. Books about ideas that you’d be proud to read on the subway and would mark you as a forward-thinking modern per-son. But in 1993, after years of immersing myself in big, thick ambitious novels — I loved high-concept or high-style writers like Thomas Pynchon, Martin Amis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez — my dad turned me on to Legends of the Fall by a writer named Jim Harrison.
It was like entering an alternate universe. Harrison wrote about the west. Or the Upper Peninsu-la of Michigan. Rural, underpopulated places where things could be hard but where the natural world was still an important part of life. His novels were so short, they were called novellas. He wrote simply and clearly, but he wrote beautifully. The characters in his books spoke less, and with different rhythms than the urban sophisticates I was used to. He wrote about people and places that I had ignored for most of my life. And it opened my mind to a whole world — the American West — that I hadn’t really paid much attention to before.
He even made me want to take up fly-fishing.
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David Shephard (composer):
Longmire is an American Western with this tough, Indie-Rock soul of a score. If I listen too much to the bands that inspired the sound for the show — bands like The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — I’ll get so excited I’ll want to run hard at every cue. And, if I did that, I’d really be in trouble. When it comes to scoring, restraint is most often more effective.
What I’ve found inspires me the most in creating the music for the show is the story-insight the Executive Producers offer from episode to episode. For instance, when I receive a new episode to score, the Producers will say something like, “this is our Great Train Robbery episode,” or “this is our Ghost Story.” Those comments evoke a vivid world of ideas that I can draw from to create an individual sound for the story. This process gives a compelling musical quality to each episode and makes the scoring process creatively exciting.