Apatow: That’s my favorite kind of art is just when you realize whoever is making it isn’t kidding. So I always equate it to Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder, and every once in a while they sing a song and you’re like, “Oh, they’re not messing around. They just told me something that felt like something they’re very passionate about, or even a secret.” That’s what this felt like to me.
This is Lena’s view of the world and I understand it and relate to a lot of it, but she’s not screwing around. This is her world view. It’s not something that’s been created to appeal to people. We’re certainly aware of that part of it, but it’s more about her voice.
And I hear you don’t have to do that at HBO. I’ve heard they don’t do test screenings and how they’re very hands-off. Has that been your experience so far?
Dunham: It’s been amazing. When they do have a note, it’s like a brilliant note. When they do have a note, you actually want to listen to it because you go, “Oh, you are the people who made The Sopranos, and the people who made The Wire, and the people who made Curb Your Enthusiasm, and you seem to know what you are doing….” So you don’t just brush it off. Like, you really take it seriously. They don’t give a note for a note’s sake. It’s a pretty remarkable setup.
Interesting how you said her world view kind of appealed to you. I think guys could see themselves in these characters, just little details.
And it’s because it’s one of those shows that portrays little things you don’t see often or talked about much. When writing, are you constantly using ideas you’ve seen happen or heard of?
Dunham: I think that oftentimes I’ll register something and go, “That might be an interesting moment in an episode.” And oftentimes, you know, it just pops back into my head during the shower I am taking between writing sessions. It’s just sort of like the fabric of your life finds its way into what you are doing. Also, I love the way that Judd thinks and the way that Jenny thinks, which is both comic and very visual, so we’re kicking around ideas.
I remember talking about our season finale, and this is what we ended up doing, where Judd was like, “What if she gets of the train and she’s just lost in a sea of people in suits?” I just loved the way we were thinking visually and thinking about the small moments. I’m also learning a lot. My writing process is changing from working with new people, which is exciting.
How has it changed?
Dunham: I think I’ve opened up to new ways of doing it. I used to be super private about my drafts. I would write and write until I thought something was perfect and then show it to people when I didn’t think I could go any further. And just sort of being comfortable enough with people to show them something at an early stage has been amazing, because writing can be really lonely. So to have people enter into the process earlier, it’s a joy. Like my dad is a painter and he always says how jealous he is because he spends all day in a room alone to make his work. He says, “I love the fact that you can do what you want to do surrounded by your friends.”
When you are in those lonely moments when you are writing, how do you get through it?
Dunham: I always make a rule for myself where I’m like, “I am going to finish writing this even if it’s not good. I am not going to stop. And then afterwards, I am going to read it.” And usually, I read it and it’s like…even if it’s still bad, it’s 10% better than I thought it was, and so it’s OK.
Isn’t your process similar? I heard that you always get everything out on first draft, even if it’s terrible.
Apatow: The vomit pass.
Dunham: Vomit pass! I literally have so many documents now just labeled like “vomitpass.fdx”.
Apatow: There’s some simple theories about writing. One of them I read in a book was just the down/up theory: get it down, then fix it up. You can’t do that at the same time. You want to allow yourself to write freely and not judge it, and then pick another time to judge it.
Dunham: I once took a writing workshop at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab from the guy who wrote Rebel Without a Cause. And it was amazing. He was talking about like when he was a child he had no paper, so he would write on birch bark. He was truly such a writer. He does automatic writing where he’ll just write three hours at a time, not let his hand come up from the page, not even know what he’s gotten, and then look down and there it is. Somewhere in there is what he wants to use. Although I’ve never written for three hours without taking my hand from the page, or for five minutes without eating something, I was inspired by that.
Do you ever write just for the sake of writing?
Apatow: Yeah, I should do that. I don’t do that. I’m bad that way. I’ve thought about that lately, like writing for an hour or two a day no matter what. I’ll make notes and email myself thoughts for a year and then write it in a month or two. I really should be writing every day. It’s a bad thing.
Dunham: I binge write. So I’ll go a couple days and just be like feeling guilty about it, and everything I do is imbued with a terrible guilt that I’m not writing, and then I’ll sit down and write for like 11 hours and then kinda feel sick. I haven’t figured out an adult, responsible way to do it yet.
Apatow: My writing’s always built on procrastination. I would get up, watch like 11 episodes of The Real World, and around 5:00 start, write for three hours, then eat an enormous amount of chicken or garlic pasta. And then I would get so tired that I couldn’t judge myself anymore. I was just in a haze; a food haze. Like, all the blood would leave my brain and go to my stomach, and then I would write till two in the morning. You can’t do that when you have kids. You have to say, “I’m going to write from 9-12,” but try to put the freedom program on your computer so that you can’t get on the internet.