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Our Guest Today: Ben Smith
Ben Smith (@bwksmith) is a TV writer from Lexington, MA. Writing wasn’t always the plan. First it was ‘professional basketball player’ (too short), then ‘doctor’ (too hard), then ‘diplomat’ (took a bad class in college and moved on, perhaps too quickly), and finally ‘perpetual graduate student’ (too expensive). Writing and comedy were always passions though; he just didn’t realize they could be combined into an actual job until mid-college. Since moving to LA in 2012, he’s worked on a range of shows — spanning network, cable, and streaming. Most recently he served as a Co-EP on Hulu’s “Only Murders In The Building.” He’s also written and directed a short film, “Meet Cute.” Outside of writing, Ben enjoys rock climbing, sports, role-playing games, and relaxing with his girlfriend and their two cats (Fox and Scully).
Watch Our Interview
Ben Smith: Life of a Writer behind Hulu’s “Only Murders In The Building”, and “Meet Cute” – powered by Happy Scribe
This is Fei from Feisworld Media.
I am so excited to be reunitedwith my friend here, Ben Smith.
And before we get started,I’m just going to briefly introduce you
guys to him in case you don’t know who heis, but most likely you have seen several
shows, not just one written,and he’s one of the writers.
I want to be very respectful because,Ben, you are so humble all the time.
So Ben Smith is a TV writerfrom Lexington, Massachusetts.
Writing wasn’t always the plan.
First it was professionalbasketball player too short.
Then doctor too hard.
Took a bad class in college and moved on,perhaps too quickly.
And finally, perpetual graduate students,which is too expensive.
Writing and comedy were always passion,though he just didn’t realize that they
could be combined into an actualjob until mid college.
Since moving to La.
In 2012, he’s worked on a range of shows,spanning networks, cable, and streaming.
Most recently,he served as a Coop executive producer
on one of my favorite shows,hulu’s Only Murders in the Building.
He’s also written and directedto a short film, Meet Cute.
You can watch that on several places,vimeo being one of them.
Not always a cute ending, though.
So outside of writing,Ben enjoys rock climbing, sports,
role playing games,and relaxing with his girlfriend.
And there are two cats, Fox and Scully.Welcome, Ben.
I’m so glad you’re back.
Thank you for having me.
I’m excited to talk to youand everyone else about writing.
Yeah, I’m so excited.
As I mentioned, sometimes after I go live,
people are at work right now,probably a little chilling on a Friday,
but then I always get these commentsand feedback after we’ve gone live.
So please describe.
You have those white backgrounds.
You are about to step into work.
It’s 830 your time in La.
Why is up so early?
What are you going to do today?
Well, up early.
Well, for this, certainly.
But also we’re right now workingon season three of Only Merchants.
So we started about six weeks ago.
So we’re back in the office.
I keep looking around.There’s nothing to show.
It’s just my own office.
It’s just all white.
And then out the door and downthe hallway,
there’s a big writer’s room with a bigconference table and whiteboards with all
our notes and note cardsand our plans for season three.
But it’s been nice.We’re back in the office.
The first two seasons,we had to write all of resume.
Be back and be creative with people.Wow.
So even though we can’t really seewhat the writers room looks like.
And first of all, I noticed that you’renot just a writer now, you’re like,
writer, producer, coproducer,executive producer.
And so what are your currentroles for season three?
I guess, is the first question.Yeah.
And some of those titles are misleading.I would say.
And some of the titles, especially in TV,
are tied to our union, the Writers Guild,and what’s negotiated.
So some of it is just a representation,but some of it is just purely a reflection
of your longevity in the careerand you get their title.
Staff Writer and Storyteller executive
story editor, producer, supervisingproducer, consulting producer, cosmetics.
It goes up and up and up.
Some of it is just a reflectionof your time doing the job.
But sometimes it does carry other
responsibilities becausein addition to writing.
The producing side of thingsmight be involved in casting.
Might be involved in helping out on set.
Might be involved in coordinatingbetween departments.
Episodes like workingwith the costume team.
Working with theprops team to kind of explain what
the vision is in the show in each sceneand then some of it could be edited.
So the producing is very broad and it
varies from show to show,like what your boss needs of you.
But right nowit’s kind of those early stages where
we’ve spent the last couple of weeks justtalking very
probably about what the season is goingto be, what stories we want to tell.
And so my day to day responsibility
right now are like participate bigconversations as a room,
sometimes facilitating them,sometimes taking a back seat.
But it’s kind of you alljust it’s right now.
It’s just the fun generative period whereeveryone’s just coming up with ideas.
Wow, that is a really funperiod, I got to say.
I remember working and consulting
and marketing, we always had this phasewhere we’re just all brainstorming.
So I wonder
to kind of get an idea of the timelinenow it seems like at the beginning
of season three, how long does the writingor the before production begins,
how long is the writing period and howlong is the brainstorm in respect to that?
Yeah, so I think writingfully expected
to work until maybe mid,late January in terms of the writing time
out this year, that around then iswhen we’ll start filming as well.
Although I’m not positive aboutthe filming side of things.
A lot of that is depends on actorschedules and other logistics.
But the writing we’ve started will workabout 24 weeks
and it say we take these first four,six weeks to talk very broadly.
But we’ll also mapping out the season.
We kind of know like,this is a checkpoint for fork.
We know that episode,we know what this is and this is so right
now some people are offwriting episode one.
We’re kind of in the process of outlined
episode two and we have tentative ideasfor what the future episodes will be.
But obviously every time you reach it,you kind of reassess it and see, okay,
that’s what still feel rightand kind of flesh it out more.
Wow, this is so cool.
Do all your friends like when they meet
with you and they’re like, oh my God,our jobs are so boring compared to yours.
Are they kind of alwaysin awe when they talk to you?
Or what is that like?
I don’t know.
Well, I don’t know how they feel.
I think it’s funny for me.
One, a lot of my friends workin the entertainment industry
and other writers, but alsoI am surrounded by this all day such
that I find other people’s careersand life, like, novel and refreshing too.
I spent all day talking about TV and now,
of course, I want to hear myteacher hearing about work.
I used to live with sort of scientists.
I want to hear about their work.
And I thinkactually when I was an undergrad,
I loved the liberal artseducation of it all.
I loved having a really broadknowledge base and interest.
And I feel like the older I getand the more I advance in one career,
I feel like I’m becomingan expert at one thing.
And so I kind of sometimesmiss that well roundedness.
And so I always love talking to otherpeople about what they’re doing.
And maybe conversely, they enjoytalking about what I’m doing.
But yeah, I don’t know how they feel.
But at the same time, I lovehearing about other people’s lives.
I think that’s kind of necessary, right?
Because I see a lot of parallelsand a lot of references to real life.
I think that’s what makesthe show so interesting.
Do you ever find yourself in conversation
with friends and you allof a sudden pull out a notebook?
I’m already dictating what your process is
like, where do you seek ideasand how do you quickly capture them?
Somehow I do not have a notebook,
but I definitely have,like the notes app on my phone is littered
with things that some are like,fully fleshed out ideas.
Some are like single phrases that if I
look back on, I have nomemory of ever writing them.
I have no idea what it means,
but clearly in the moment Iwas like, that’s something.
And sometimes it can justbe a line of dialogue.
The short film that you reference,the first scene,
was born out of a conversation I had witha neighbor who was telling me a story.
He was telling a story that he hadwith one at home in Lexington.
And basically the first six lines
of dialogues have lines of dialogue in thefilm are just what a story he told me.
And I was like, that’s really interesting.
How can I then take that conversation andturn it into a weird romantic thriller?
But yeah, when something stands out,you’re like, oh, I should remember that.
Yeah, I remember watching me cute nearly
four or five years ago, and today Ire watched bits and pieces of it.
It is funny and dark at the same time.
It makes us really wonder I’m not going
to give the plot away, but it’s like,when do we be suspicious of life?
When do we actually leteverything to come in?
And I think it’s very telling, veryrevealing during the pandemic as well.
I think it really changes people’srelationships and kind of made us more
doubtful towards everybody, but thenkind of all coming back together.
How has the past few years that’ssomething that we haven’t talked about,
really change your perceptions, wayof working and way of looking at life?
Well, I feel like in terms of the work,I feel like only murders kind of like
my experience aroundthat ties in very closely.
One with the first twoseasons on the Zoom.
And I started working season one in June
of 2020, and there was thisexcitement and energy.
I basically had been living
in my apartment,just me and my girlfriend are cats.
And it was like every day now,there were ten people on Zoom.
Like little boxes I was looking at.
I was like, oh, my God.
There’s a sense of community,
there’s a sense of comedy,there’s a sense of talking about
everything we’ve been experiencing,but in a way that acknowledged the drama.
But also you could laugh and becomedic and around funny people.
So that was really energizing and helpful.
And then I feel like a lot of those
feelings bled intowhat we did on the show.
It’s like we wanted to explore lonelinessand explore people
who kind of lived isolated lives,finding each other and spending more time
with each other andkind of being drawn to each other.
So that definitely felt born out ofthose feelings
of loneliness and connection definitelyheightened during the Pandemic.
Wow.I can imagine, because our previous
conversation is as crazy as it sounds,I think it was recorded in early 2019.
And you were telling me that you’re
in this writer’s room, men, women,a lot of diversity, everybody’s writing.
I can imagine the kind of very enclosedarea, and little did we know less than
a year later, you wouldn’tbe able to do that anymore.
Did you find it difficult at first,
but the people end up learninghow to work together.
Did you guys have thesesix hour Zoom sessions?
What was that like?
We would work for about 2 hours on Zoomin the morning and then
3 hours in the afternoon,sometimes longer as the season went on.
But it was exhausting.
Kind of like looking at a screen cameraon talking the whole time, being engaged.
But also the hours were better on Zoombecause there was an attrition.
You can’t do this forever.You can’t commute.
So I think in some ways it forced us to bemore efficient because we all love being
with each other, but we alsodon’t want to be here forever.
So let’s focus.
Let’s do this.
But then also, there were clearly very
difficult parts of it especiallyin a murder mystery show
where there’s so much detail that we’retrying to track and plot and whatnot.
And we don’t have these rooms fullof whiteboards with note cards.
So it’s all kind of like
everyone has their own mental whiteboard,and you’re just a little mental
whiteboard, looks the same asthe other person’s mental whiteboard.
And of course, there were notes,
documents and stuff like that that we allhave, but it wasn’t the same as sitting
in the room and all lookingat a wall together.
That’s so fascinating because every time,even with my current clients,
sometimes just planning out like a booklaunch or something pretty it feels
supposed to be pretty simple,but it never is.
And once either I open up Google Doc orsome sort of tool,
we are staring at it together to be likewe start not criticizing each other’s
work, but picking out of thingsare completely misaligned.
And that process is fascinating.
Do you find yourself using, I don’t know,
the Zoom Whiteboard orsomething different?
Any software that you recall?
We tried a few different softwaresthat I’m now,
Trello was maybe the nameof something writers Room Pro.
There was a few different programs
that had short livedno critique of the program.
I don’t think we even use them long enoughto know all their strengths and benefits.
But there was something that was just likemaybe it’s just easiest if someone opens
a Google Doc screen, shares their screen,and it’s like writing out their
understanding of the episodes,and we’re like, okay, we all see it.
Oh, that’s so cool.Wow.
So whoever’s watching right now,
I know we can’t really see everybodybecause LinkedIn doesn’t really give us
any numbers, but if you guys have anyquestions for Ben,
who is a writer for only only only onlyonly only only only only only only only
only only only only only only onlyonly only murders in the building.
That in case you area little behind on the show.
But then I forgot to ask you a questionwhen you said,
when you take notes and remember thingson your phone, what are some of the apps
that you’ve tried over the years and whatis something that you’re sticking with?
I’ve used Evernote, I feel like at times,
but honestly, right now,I have been an iPhone.
I just used the notes up therein a very disorganized way.
It could definitely be organized better,but it’s like my grocery list is next
to my Christmas list idea,next to dialogue for a scene.
So you just have to scroll until youfind what you’re looking for.
This is amazing.
I am so intrigued.
I have to ask because it’s funny.
I am in my late thirtys,and I didn’t really grow up in the US.
I had no idea the impact Steve Martin hadon multiple generations on this country.
The worldview on comedy.
It’s just unbelievable.
I’ve been told that’s the case.
And he’s super into art.
One time I was enjoying lunch with my mom,one of her colleagues at the MFA
in Boston, and he walked by and Ijust remember that presence.
Everybody and people were so pleasant.
Nobody, not a single person ran upto him and say, I need an autograph.
I needed just, like, letting him be.
And I ended up standing nextto him, like, 4ft away.
I was like, oh, my God,this is incredible.
So what is it like to be in his presence?
I know that this is just our ownpersonal opinions and whatever.
Well, I’ve had the good fortuneof meeting him only a couple of times.
He’ll pop into the writer’s room on Zoom afew times in the first couple of seasons.
And then I got to visit setlast year and see him briefly.
And there was kind of a dinnerwith the writers and the cast before
season two premiere,so just on a couple of occasions.
But he was in every time, like,incredibly pleasant, really nice.
In all those instances,he was there with Marty and Selena.
And I think my favorite thing is that I
think a lot of the dynamic that you see onscreen mirrors their dynamic in person.
Like, there’s genuine loveand friendship between them and Steven.
Marty have been best friends orwhatever since they did Three Amigos.
And so they’re constantly,you know, making it in a very loving way.
And I think they seem to genuinely enjoy
when the other lands are like a jokeat their expense, but they’ll also be
genuinely say how amazing theirfriend is and how talented they are.
So they’re very my impression of Stevewas nice, quiet, really smart and funny.
Yeah, he’s great.That’s awesome.
It’s just incredibleto have these experiences.
So what I realized is, like,
I tried and instead of me googling,I wanted to rather, like,
ask you and learn from you the typeof comedies that you’ve been writing for.
Not that they’re similar.
I know, like Barry and Murdersin the Building, they’re quite different
shows, but at the same time,there’s some similarities.
there’s some realism and then in there,it’s hard for me to describe,
but there’s something veryso extreme, yet so close to life.
Like, so far from you,but so close to you at the same time.
So is there a categoryof what that’s called?
Is there a style that you’rewriting for, you’re aiming for?
I think that’s a really nice observationto kind of describe them.
I don’t know what termI feel like it’s more just like the half
hour now, instead of comedy and drama,there’s a half hour, an hour long.
And maybe that’s just as confusing,but it’s like a half hour that has
dramatic elements, comedic elements,emotional elements.
I mean, I can remember if I said this last
time, but like, a lot of what I enjoyare things that feel real.
And for me, real life can be veryfunny and can also be very serious.
And I feel like this Brand is oneof my favorite dramas, very funny to me.
Breaking Bad is very funny to me.
And then also my favorite comedies havemoments of great pathos and I think maybe
something that I alsolike out Only Murders.
And Barry has elements of this too,is there are slightly surreal moments.
Barry, he’s always kind of in season one,
he’s always imagining the life he wantsand these kind of fantasy sequences.
There’s a lot of surrealist touches
that we do and Only Murders and someof that’s just like I enjoy because it’s
fun storytelling, but I also thinkcreative and fun way to get into the minds
of the characters in a very visual way,which I think it’s TV, it’s movies.
Like you want to take advantage
of the visual medium and kind of dostuff that you can only do in this way.
So I like that both shows are veryopen to going there and doing.
Stuff that’s a little weird,I have to say.
I’m not trying to be like a fan girl orwhatever, but there’s a genuine
love, respect and excitement for all thework that you’ve been doing these years.
And for me, it’s almost feel like I’m likean older sister observing you to kind
of like I feel like you grow up so quicklyin this space and literally
you’re not braggy at allfor whoever’s watching this.
And I almost have to be surprised
by whatever the nextproject is coming your way.
And I’ve been watching religiously everysingle episode of Only Murders
in the building and we willliterally take like, screenshot.
I have pictures of you as writer producer.
I feel like actually I’m probably closerto my mom at that point,
but literally we’lltake a picture and remember that moment.
It’s like, oh my God,I was telling my mom earlier today,
this is someone in his early thirtys and working on tier one shows.
And to be so focused on this,
how do you find yourself navigate allthose opportunities,
excitement and working on multipleprojects, even in parallel,
how do you decide what to workon and how to focus or stay focused?
Well, I think in one sensethere’s an element of good fortune.
I mean, there’s soI have worked on shows that I loved
the creative,I had such a good time working on it
and then it doesn’t find its audienceor doesn’t come together in the end.
And I know some of the really talentedwriters who I’ve worked with.
Remember early shows I worked on,I’m this baby writer.
And work with people likethat person is so talented.
How have they never had a show?
And so I think there’s an element of like,you can’t control things.
I’ve been really talented.
People not get that.
Really great shows, I think,not kind of find their audience.
So in some ways, I feel like right now is
this kind of surreal for me, like,awesome moment where I’m like, oh,
I’m working on a dream job with a greatgroup of writers,
material and storytelling that’sbold and fun for me and exciting.
And the bonus on it is that it seemsto have really found an audience.
And so that’s really cool that all thosethings kind of worked out in terms of
how I choose projects and kindof like what I’m drawn to.
And the first part of it is a little bit
out of my hands, which is the materialfinding me in the first place.
And I give a lot of credit to
my manager and my agent who are awareof these projects often before me,
and reach out my behalfand ask if I’m interested.
I remember during Pandemic,
my management saying, like,there’s this project to Murder Mystery
on Hulu starting Steve Martin,martin Short at that time,
Steen hadn’t been casket and was like,do you want to apply?
I was like, of course I do.
But there’s so many people there’s some
people later, like,I would have lost or written on that show,
but they never kind of knew aboutit when the hiring happened.
So a lot of credit even for my reps kindof finding these projects for me,
championing me to make sure the producersand the creators read my material.
And I also think they havea really good sense of my taste.
And so I’m sure there’s stuff that they
know, like what I’m interested in,so they go and pursue it for me.
And thenthe element for me that is two things,
like the pilot script usually issent to you before you get hired.
And you read a lot of scripts in this job,
obviously, andthey can feel very similar or they can
feel good, but not like,grab you in a way.
And everyone’s taste is their own.
But certainly when I read, only murders.
When I project, I workbefore that guilty party.
Barry Santa Cruz Diet.
Actually, the last four shows I’ve done,
I remember very clearly reading thosepilots and being like,
this is really excitingand I want to meet with these people.
And then the last piece,
and I think in many ways we talked aboutthis last time, is so much the job ends up
being your relationshipwith your boss, obviously.
And so then the next step,if they bred you, they like you,
you like the material, and you wantto just hit it off with this person.
In any profession, obviously, like,your boss plays a big role in your day
to day life, in your experienceand your own well being.
So I’ve had the good fortuneof John Hoffman on only murders.
Rebecca adelman on guilty party.
These were people who was like, oh,
I could be really goodfriends with this person.
I think they’re really smart.They’re kind, they’re considerate.
I can learn from them.
So those are kind of allthe things I look for.
Wow, it’s so beautiful.
Because a lot of peopledon’t get to hear that.
And the funny thing is,as different as your job is compared
to people who don’t workfor entertainment,
there are also a lot of parallelsand similarities when we work on whether
it’s a website project or buildinga blog or whatever that may be.
So one thing I think one of the firstquestions I sent to you and I thought it
was so fascinating,is watching only murders in the building,
watching Barry religiously, like,really shows that I would be waiting.
By the way, I haven’t reallyfelt that way in a long time.
I’m not someone who’s waitingfor shows to come on Friday night.
That’s long gone.
But those two shows are the ones whereif I’m busy on a Friday or on a Sunday,
I’ll be like, okay,I’m going to finish work.
And that’s something I really look forward
to, to enjoy with my familyand having the shows being so short.
Every moment of it, literally,
I’m just sitting there and on thinkinglike, holy shit, this is a masterpiece.
Like, who wrote this?
And then to be able to connect with you
and ask questions like,this really is a privilege.
So the question is thatwhy are some shows so awesome?
And some shows are just, sorry, I knowthey work really hard, but just suck.
How many shows now, whether it’s Huluor HBO or Netflix, doesn’t matter.
And I will be watching something that will
be like, Cringe and be like, okay,I’m going to try it again tomorrow.
I might like it tomorrow.
I’m going to try six months from nowand be like, I cannot tolerate it yet.
Some of my friends will be like,
recommend these shows be like,they’re completely unwatchable.
So what is the chemistry, the dynamic,if it’s even possible to break down
on what makes something interestingthat people are drawn to?
Well,I’ve read this question when you sent it
to me, and I was like, if I hadthe answers to this 30 shows by now.
But I was thinking about it,
and even the way you frame the questionnow, I think there’s some insight to it.
Some of it comes down to personal taste.
And there shows that my friends love thatI don’t love, and some things that I am.
Like, I can’t even explain why,but I love this thing.
If you don’t like it,it’s not your cup of tea.
I totally understand.
I’m almost like telling that beforehand.
If you don’t like it,don’t worry about it.
But I love it.
So there is an element of taste,
I think there’s also just likepeeking behind the curtain.
There are so many
like any TV show or movie that gets made,it’s so complicated to do that.
There are a million ways alongthe way where something can go wrong.
It obviously starts with the ideaof the script, and if the idea is wrong or
the script is wrong, there’s goingto have a lot of negative effects there.
But even if you have a great script,
you could have a great actor in the part,but it’s not the right actor for the role.
Or you could have a director who’s verytalented, but not like this isn’t there’s?
Or a very talented director who doesn’tsee eye to eye with the writer.
Or who doesn’t see eye to eye
with the executive, who doesn’t seeeye to eye with the marketing team.
There’s so many people who participatein it whose work is really important.
I think it speaks to the importance
of everybody along the way,from the lighting of the show
to the decoration of the sets,the costumes or whatever.
For any one person.
You can watch something and be like,that person’s outfit took me out of it.
That line of dialogue took me out of it.That character.
There’s so many things that canaffect your enjoyment of the show.
And sometimes there’s this weirdalchemy where it all needs to go.
You can also write, like, the most perfectlove scene and romantic storyline.
And if the two actors don’t havethat perfect chemistry,
you get the two most famous actorsare like, it’s not going to work.
So there is some kind of magic to it,
I do think, on top of it, and maybethis speaks like the shows you enjoy.
I think that we as viewers areI like to give them credit.
Like, we’re smart.We’ve seen a lot of stuff.
There’s so much out there that
you at least it sounds like you and me,we want to see something new.
We want to feel somethingwe haven’t felt before.
We want to see a story toldin a way we haven’t seen before.
And that’s like a high bar.
But I think it’s a credit
to the intelligence of a viewer that youwant to be challenged or surprised.
So I think it’s like a dailychallenge on this side of things.
It’s like, oh, I want to make somethingso good that I would enjoy it.
Or that a very seasonedviewer would also enjoy.
Like, there’s a long winded answer
of saying, I don’t know,a lot of things can go wrong.
Oh, it’s a great way to break it down.
I totally get it.
Again, like my limited reference.
Even in marketing, it’s like,whatever the design,
the original wireframe, the design,by the time you sell it to the client,
going through all the stakeholders,you ended up looking something like, who.
Did I take part in?
This does not look like anythinglike what my original idea was.
Sometimes it’s better,sometimes it’s worse.
And like you said,very little control over it.
I have to comment now, looking back,I know know that there is a project
that was like a long time ago, but justbriefly, the female lead of that show.
I find it so fascinating because sherepresented, she’s like the package
of someone that I could not standin marketing and consulting.
I know she is an actor,but she might as well be the super
annoying colleague anywhereyou could possibly imagine.
It’s like, makes youcringe at the same time.
She’s so perfect.
She couldn’t be moreperfect for that role.
I’m just like that’s off to herand then everything turns around.
That’s magical, I think.
One other thought that occurred to me,
that Sally character maybecould apply to this,
but there’s some ideas that I thinkmake better TV shows than others.
Some ideas, for example,would make a great sketch,
like a great comedy sketch,where it’s like, oh, there’s a single idea
and simple, and there’s onlyit only can last so long.
It can last five, can be really good.
But for something to last1020 episodes of season, 3567 seasons,
that single comedic ideacannot sustain itself.
Like, it needs the thingsthat last with the characters.
the shows that I work on arethe shows that I enjoy watching.
Rely on the characters.
Rely on the characters beingable to grow, to change.
And even like your relationship
with the character or Sally,maybe they have to be able to go somewhere
for some people,like Martin, short on Only Murders.
I was talking to my mum the other day,and I think she’d mostly seen him
in supporting roles,like supporting comedy roles,
where he’s super funny,but his character is only on screen in,
like, a movie for a bit,and he’s doing a very elevated,
silly performance that isso perfect for the movie.
But maybe my opinion,you can’t do a whole show
with that character because there’s notenough to that character,
there’s not enough room to growor change or heart to it.
And so she was like, I lovehis character on the show.
I do as well, because in her mind,
it was like, this is a new sideof whom I’ve been seen before.
But I think you need that extra depth
and layer for a characterto sustain a TV show.
And if it’s a little too one dimensionalor too simple of an idea,
it can be really funny and really great,but it can’t last forever.
That’s going to trigger a lotof questions right there.
It’s true.Like you said, the growth element is huge.
And I’ve never seen those threepeople together with Steve martin.
Martin and then Selena, of all people,
is like, wait a minute,isn’t she supposed to be singing.
No idea that she even acted.
But even from the first episode,
the first five minutes, I’m just like,winner evacuated from the building.
Sitting there together,
listening to podcasts and trying to ignoreeach other, it just felt so real life.
It’s like the three super awkwardwill never even appear together.
People, you wish that you put themtogether, like, magic happens.
What are they going to do?
And I also love the fact thatthere’s kind of, like,
not romance in the traditional sense,but there’s so much love that people have
for each other, and I find it so muchricher, more sophisticated and interesting
than just, like,this typical boy girl thing.
And it’s just like, somethingso much deeper than that.
And I’ve seen in, I would say,one of my favorite shows,
the Americans and the Americansand the other one, oh, Homeland.
Homeland.Oh, my God.
It’s just from the relationship.
But speaking of growth, okay,I didn’t write down this question before
when I was watching Stranger Things seasonone and two, I was like, whoa,
I’m 30 something years old,and I can just picture myself, like,
these cute little kids running aroundand they will be a different age.
Like, I was thinking, oh, they grew upin the eighties, or how old would I be?
And this is so fast, and thisis like, the best show ever.
And I got to say, this is where probably
people hate me for herecomes season three and four.
Literally the most recent season.
I just go like,fast forward, fast forward.
Okay, is this going anywhere?
Why does each episode needsto be an hour and a half long?
I was thinking to myself,
reading all these articles, like, eachepisode, they had $8 million per episode.
And I was thinking, wow,
money really doesn’t solvethe narrative and storytelling thing.
Like, to me,I just completely lost interest.
I think one of the reasons and I wantto hear your opinion as well,
is these kids went from eleven to 1718and sort of nothing has really changed.
I don’t see the growth,
and it would just become veryawkward and kind of plotless for me.
It’s okay if you love it.
I feel uncomfortable because I’ve seenseason one, but I haven’t seen beyond it.
So I haven’t seen the most recent stuff.
But I don’t know,
for us, at least, it does feel like thosefirst conversations are always character
driven, like those firstcouple of weeks on the show.
And not to say they do this on trendof things or any other show as well,
but the firstfew weeks of we are only talking about
like, okay, what isCharles doing the season?
What is Mabel doing this season?
What is all we’re doing the season?
What are the big thingsthey’re grappling with?
What are these emotionaljourneys they’re going on?
And, okay, great.
Are we noticing, like,themes between their characters?
Great.Can we tie that theme into the mystery?
So we’re kind of trying to build two
different tracks at the same time,but parallel to each other in terms of
what we want our characters to do andwhat we want the mystery to be.
But I’ll also say and I don’t know, like,people watch for different reasons.
Like, there’s some people who watch only
murders, and I call them and we sometimestalk about in the room this way, like,
their vibe viewers, they’re just watchingfor the vibes, and the vibes are really
good, and it’s like,this is just the energy.
I’m not thinking too hard aboutthe logic of the mystery or whatever.
Like, I’m just I know they’re solving it.
I love hanging out with them.
I love seeing their characters growand the way they joke with each other.
And there are other people who are like,I only care about the mystery.
I only solving the crime.
And I wonder if there are people
with stranger things whereit’s like, I love the vibe.
I want the feel of the 80s,or I don’t know where they are in time
now, or I just want thissupernatural I love the visuals.
Like, the $8 million maybe is paying forincredible visuals that you’re not seeing
on other TV shows,and other people are like, okay, well,
the visuals were cool, butit didn’t stick with me, or something.
Maybe it sounds like you.So I don’t know.
I certainly I think, like,you we lead with the characters.
Like, that’s where my thing is first.
But I’ve also realized that sometimes I’llcare so much about one thing,
and then if you are like, oh, okay,that didn’t matter to me, I’m like.
Oh, okay, that didn’t matter.
You have different preferences.
That’s so fascinating.
I mean, I can think of another example.
I was so impressed by West World.
It’s the type of season one, it’s the typeof show that I normally wouldn’t watch.
I’m not the super futuristic, like,
imagine whatever, either end of the worldor whatever happens, but it was
so extreme, so unreal, but at the sametime, it was so gratifying to watch it.
But then, frankly, the latest season,
I don’t even know it’sthe radio or four anymore.
It’s just like, oh, God,I don’t care anymore.
The people are the robots.
People killing people.
Robots killing robots.
I was so lost andkind of in contrary to that.
Watch old man, please.
Have you seen it?
I haven’t yet, but you’re notthe first person who’s recommended it.
Wow.I am just not giving anything away.
It’s like, literally,
I find myself watching a scene for 20minutes, maybe not that long,
but literally is this guy,an old man standing at the doorway
with a woman talking, and I’m just like,I don’t want to miss any second of it.
And as I look at,
I’m sitting there thinking, well,this side has probably cost, like $20.
Something so cheap.
And yet the characters just feel so
strong, so much is at stake,so many twists and turns, and
I don’t know, you guys arejust you guys are magicians.
I think that’s what writers are.Yeah.
I think that sometimes and I also only see
beyond the first halfof season one, West World.
I’m saying this without having seen where
it goes, but I think something that I’vealso experienced in the shows I’ve worked
on is almost a feeling like each seasonneeds to be bigger than the last season.
Especially if these shows that are highconcepts and our mysteries or dramatic or
season one of only Murders,it’s three people in the lobby of their
building trying to solve a crimethat no one else cares about.
And every season,every time they solve a case,
they become bigger, and it becomes harderand harder to make the world feel small.
And I think maybe you’re saying, like,
conversation, you have to make two peopletalking in a doorway like that’s riveting.
And I think also I love thosereally small, intimate scenes.
And so sometimes there’s this thing like,
the world is getting bigger and bigger,which might have to happen naturally,
but you’re still fighting to findthe really small, intimate moments,
but it just becomes a little morecomplicated the bigger the world gets.
Yeah.Wow, this is so cool.
I see a lot of unreliable narratorsseen in and you’re like, no.
Okay, all right, then actually happened.
What did it happen?
And now you’re all like,
this is why my mom still onlywatched families like puppy show.
She’s like, I don’t getany of this anymore.
Then I said, you have to train your brain
with the way things arewritten these days.
I know that, Ben, you mostly probably have
written for TV shows,but I was just wondering,
do you have the vision of writingfor movies or any other types of shows?
Are they going to be drasticallydifferent from one another?
I definitely have interest in writing
movies, and I think maybe well,for probably many reasons.
But one thing that is appealing is kind
of like this romantic ideaof you have the whole story.
You’re telling the beginning,
middle and end, and you can kindof tell it and end it you want.
Sometimes you’re like,okay, that was the story.
Okay, now I have to keep adding, okay,I have to keep going until we fail.
Or maybe that’s a verycynical way of putting it.
But, you know, there’s something I think
very simple and romantic aboutbeing like, this is the story.
This is the size of the story I want,
and I get to tell the beginning,middle and end.
So definitely something I’m interested.
How do you know if you have failed?
How do you measure your ownsuccess versus failure.
That was a really interesting point.
Well, I guess in the way I was saying it,
fail is someone out of your handshas canceled it or whatnot?
But I don’t know that that’s failurein terms of what I can control.
Even earlier when I was saying there’s so
many factors that areinvolved in a product.
I don’t know,
I mean, there’s also a difference betweena show or project succeeding and failing.
And then also kind of likewhat my job is not.
I view my job as supporting the showof the creator, John Hoffman.
And so my job is to help him makethe best version that he wants.
And part of it is like the reason we’re
all hired is we bring somethingof our own and our own perspective.
And so he always wants us to throw
the craziest idea out therefor him to think about.
What does that work?I want to be challenged and how I think I
want to take advantageof things differently.
But once he settles on something,
it’s like my job to makethe best version of that.
So I think there is a feeling in the room
that is a little bit divorcedfrom how the audience divorce from like
how the executives in the corporateside of things view it.
We had an idea in the room, the 15 of us,
before anyone was hired,before it was filmed.
Did we execute on that idea?
Andsometimes I like going just back to that,
just like the pure creativeside of things that we control.
Did we tell the story, wanted to tell?
I love the balancing actthat you have to do.
I think in every job there’s somethingthat we find it challenging where we don’t
want to do, but we haveto push through it.
A lot of people who followFace World Media on YouTube or check out
my blog are frankly a lot of creatorsof all sizes and interests.
And we do have bloggers,writers, YouTubers, obviously.
But Ben, can you think of an experience?
Because I know you probably read blogs,but in general, your way of writing,
your way of thinking, could it form andleverage for us to create better work?
So whether we’re blogging or creatingvideos about software recommendations
versus something practical,maybe a little boring,
but solving a specific problem,what do you see as ways to help people
continue reading,engaging with our content?
Because frankly,that sometimes is the biggest struggle
in ways that we’re laying out theseeveryday, mundane blogger stuff.
Like wonder if you haveany thoughts on that?
certainly without being descriptive,I’m just a sample size of one here, but
I feel like I want consistently,I want clarity.
And I think that often times if you havea great idea,
but if the other person doesn’t understandthe idea, then you might as well not have
an idea there’s so many times in the roomsomeone will pitch because our job is
to pitch ideas, jokes,scenes to each other as we build.
And if you can’t, you have it in your headand you say the other person does not see
it perfectly, then it’s kindof like dead on arrival.
Even if it was a good idea.
I feel like I’m givingthe most basic answer.
I’m like, it should be clear,don’t overcomplicate it.
But I think there’s also, likeI don’t know, it’s all good.
Keep going, man.
It’s like, I know you’rethinking on the spot here.
I love when I hearinstincts as opposed to something super
curated, like the waythat I was describing.
So surreal, yet it’s justthe way how it made me feel.
And yeah, I think for bloggingand writing, it is really for us.
The type of content we create is aboutsolving a specific problem,
which is very different than,I think, the world you’re living in.
I think in many ways it’s harder.
What is that stake?
Why do I care?
Why do I want to devote hours of my timeto watch Barry or only only, only,
only only murders in the building,someone who actually I don’t watch TV all
that much like my TV watchingtime is quite limited.
There’s very few shows that really can
draw my interest, and you happen to beone of the very few writers who can.
So with that said, I want to just pivota little bit to talk about diversity.
And there’s a lot of diversity,I think, in the world that you live in.
I remember you talking about
even in the writer’s room,there are different opinions,
and in your shows, there iscertainly a lot of representations.
I’m curious because Lena Dunham’s work issomething that I always kind of enjoy
girls and most recently,Industry on, I think, HBO.
It’s really incredible stuff.
And at the same time,
I know that she received a lotof criticism around lack of diversity.
I think specifically what people meanby that is just a lot of, like, you know,
Caucasian female in a friends groupand they’ll come from a certain class.
If people didn’t bring it up, I was like,okay, I guess that might be true.
But at the same time,if she doesn’t have friends from other
cultures, she’s uncomfortable writingabout those cultures, then could it
make it worse if she forces herselfto introduce those characters?
So I’m kind of curious to seeyour opinion on that.
Well, I thinkthe Lena Dunham example specifically,
I don’t know that I don’t feel comfortablecomfortable specifically speaking on that.
But in terms of diversity on screenand the stuff we do, I know that I myself
at times will feellike maybe I don’t have the authority
to say something or I’ll writesomething but be unsure of it.
And so one thing I really value,whether it be in the writer’s room or just
like in my social circle itself, isbenefiting from the opinions of others.
It’s great to be in a writer’s room where
other people can speak to a lineof dialogue, not feeling quite as specific
as you want it to,or a decision that doesn’t feel quite
right, or representation that feels likewe could be even more specific or better
drawn or share friendsto get their opinions.
So I know that there are areas that I’m
like,I feel good about and others that I’m
like, oh, I think this is good,but I benefit from more perspective.
But I think that
it is incumbent on writers and creators tobe thoughtful about
what they’re putting on screenand who they’re putting on screen.
And some of that can be as simpleas in the casting process.
Like, sometimes you send materialout for when they look for a part.
And I think sometimes if you don’t specifywithout even
a casting director or whatnot may default,as many people may, to an assumption like,
oh, I’m looking for a white person here,or something like that,
unless you say a note, like any race,or saying, this is a Hispanic character,
you may not see barbedwhen people audition.
So think being
proactive and thoughtful about screenand writers do have responsibility
and actually a fair amount of powerin determining that because it starts
on the page and theneveryone works off of that.
I’d say that if there are things
that you’re not sure,you should lean on people.
And that’s what I love about the writers.
It can be all types of diversity,even like New York diversity.
I write something and I’m like,I don’t know, does this feel New York?
But let me ask my friends who live
in New York on the show,is this feeling authentic?
Or again, this is
a millennial character versus a Gen Xcharacter versus a Boomer character.
Like, are there other groups that feelmore authentic based on age?
All of those things interrogate and alwaystry to push to be a little more authentic.
I find only only murdersin the building feel very New York.
I know Steve Martin probably at least has
a house, a condo, whatever it is,must make him really happy because to me,
it was clear that everythingwas shot there.
just like inside these differentapartments and the way people dress
and behave, it was just like soNew York to me felt authentic.
Actually, I have an authenticityquestion for you.
Where did we mess up with the podcasting?
How bad in representation on the show?
This is such a cute question.
Number one, I think as a podcaster,all the podcasters realize it was such
a strong element of only onlymurders in the building.
So excited.First of all.
It wasn’t like we’re notquick to judge, right?
It was like, oh my God, it was amazing.
And I actually learned something from itbecause
the original idea that I have for my show,even though it would have been super
expensive to produce,was I actually had an exact recorder
he had and they had and I would wantto travel with it and record my thoughts.
But what ended up happening is we pre
schedule these thingsand write down questions.
I just love how spontaneous it was.
I think it was showing creators
a different way of thinking about it,the level of urgency, how raw I can be.
And so I love that actually
also was so funny because the twomain characters are not 20 years old.
And to watch them,
to be interested in this and see how theylike grabbing the microphone
and to listen to their own episodes,I thought it was cute.
It was authentic in a very cute way.
What do you think of that set up?
Well,I feel like the things that I’m like,
our audio quality or our recording setupswere not
probably you get that improvisational,like on the fly, very organic,
but probably our sound quality toogood than it should have been, right?
Oh, that’s interesting.I actually thought about that because I
noticed that you guys weretrying to do something.
I can compare the recording of them as
part of the set versus when theyplayed bits of their podcasts.
I could tell that you’re trying
to downgrade the quality a little bit,but maybe not enough.
But it’s like I was thinking how expensivewould it be to produce a show like that?
So what a great question.
I almost forgot to even bring it up.Thank you.
Ben, what is new for you in the future?
What can we look forward to?
Is there hints for, like, what happenedin season three or like, general project?
Well, this is a great question,
but I don’t have a goodanswer in a very sad way.
What’s new for me is we’re going to be
writing and filming seasonthree of Bowling Murders.
And I don’t have anyside or my own individual projects
that are very far along, but definitelyworking on starting that up soon.
The short answer is I don’t have anythingright now, but I’m looking to start
developing somethingin the next few months.
Wow.What is it?
Like, I know we have to let yougo back to your writer’s room.
It’s so funny.
Like, oh, you can get out of time out.
This was like the fun stuff.
But that room is super fun.
First of all, what is it like to writefor a show,
a tier one show for 8 hours,10 hours and ideation outside
of the actual writing room versus managingyour own projects, which means going back
home, probably rightuntil three in the morning.
I went through that for my ownpodcasting journey.
What is that like for you?
I mean, to be honest,I think I don’t do much writing.
I oftentimes don’t do much writingoutside of the show when I’m working.
That kind of captures a lot of my creativeenergy, and
there are other parts of my I kindof like then dedicate my time to it’s.
Like, okay, I’ve been thinkingabout writing all day.
I want to turn that on to gohang out with my friends.
I want to go exercise.
I want to eat some great food, travel.
I don’t know.
I feel like that creative.
Itch has been scratched,and I’m not looking for it as much.
And also, I really like my creativetaste aligns with the show.
I think if I working on something that did
not feel creatively satisfying to me asmuch with my free time, I’d be like, okay,
I want to be working on somethingthat more aligns with my taste,
but oftentimes that I feel likeI’ve had my creative happiness.
ButI think that if I am to be creative
on my own stuff,it generally has to happen in the morning
before, like a sponge that’s beensqueezed dry by the end of the day.
I still got a lot of great energyin the morning, so that’s kind of tough.
But I always benefit.Yeah.
But I do think that the hardest part
for me, actually, is, like,the initial idea generation,
but once I have the idea,then it’s actually relatively easy for me
to sit down for an hour,make a lot of progress.
Sit down for an hourand make a lot of progress.
It’s kind of like dedicating time to justsitting and thinking and coming up
with the core central idea that takesthe longest for me, so that usually I need
to have a break in my scheduleto really kind of something.
Makes a lot of sense.
That’s a great question.
Thanks so much.
Malcolm and I should letBen go back to work.
Ben, to connect with you.
You are not on social media a whole lot,
but we did include your Twitter handle,which is BWK smith on Twitter.
If you want to follow Ben there,
any parting words, anything that you wantto catch up on before we go offline?
No, I’m not very on social media,but I certainly welcome to follow.
I appreciate it.
I don’t think there’s anything to say.
I don’t know.
Nothing.Oh, hold on a question.
Lost your lessons, right?
What are my favorite spots in Lexington?
I used to work at the Flick,which is the movie theater there.
I think it’s been renamed since,but that was like my high school job was
working at this small two theatermovie theater there, which was the best.
Me and all the other highschoolers work there.
Also, my friends work at Renkotores Takes,the ice cream place in Lexington.
Center rankators is so good.
I mean, this is nota hidden gem, but I think the biggest
Boston thing I miss isgoing to sell the games.
My family has had tickets since I was
in third grade or second grade,so we’d go a lot.
A lot.And so that’s probably
thing I miss most about the East Coastis on the Boston sports.
Do you still come backpretty regularly, Ben?
Yeah, came home I’ve probablybeen home three times this year.
I was off on break kind of finished right
in season two in February or March,and then we came back in July.
So I had like a three, four month break,
and so I tried to make ithome and see my family lunch.
That’s so nice.
During your break,
actually have breaks and can traveland not worry about work as much.
Oh, wow.That’s for our next episode, for sure.
Thank you so much, Ben.
I’m going to take us offline now.Bye, guys.
Thanks so much for hopping.
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