Creator's Blog

Sep 27, 2010


Each week, I'm going to write a brief report about various inspirations behind certain scenes or lines of dialogue. I did this last year, perhaps a bit too wordily, and I wondered this year if such a blog is necessary, that maybe the show should just stand on its own without explanation, and then I decided that footnoting things, as it were, might give some viewers pleasure and so here we are. What I'll do is label the location of a scene and then write up my thinking behind it, though I won't do this for every scene, just the ones where something jumps out at me. Well, I apologize for such a boring introduction. Thank you for your patience!

Episode 1: Escape from the Dungeon!

First of all, regarding the title, I'm a big fan of exclamation points, and so each episode title this season ends in one! I was told at some point during my education, by an English teacher, perhaps in the fifth or sixth grade, to never use the exclamation mark, that it was a sign of bad writing and immaturity. Thus, I use it frequently and with great enjoyment. I like the sense of urgency and lunacy that it conveys. 

Exterior: DUMBO, Brooklyn

I wanted to start the season in an exciting fashion and early on, as I began to plan, I had an image in my mind of Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman) sliding down a fire-escape, fleeing a dangerous situation. I wanted to reference the opening of a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie, where we come in at the tail-end of an adventure for our hero, an adventure that we learn little about, before leaping into the current adventure/crisis/conflict, you know, the thing that is needed in all dramas and comedies - struggle. I won't bore us with a discussion of catharsis, but, according to the Greek philosophers, it's therapeutic to see make-believe characters go through their paces - it helps us to feel less alone with our own struggles and difficulties, our own feelings of being overwhelmed by life. 

After Jonathan falls from the fire escape and runs away, I have him say into the phone, after calling his client, "...Your husband is definitely cheating on you. With an artist in DUMBO who hasn't been pushed out by gentrification!"

I put this in, because even as 'Bored to Death' is very much a celebration of the Left-Bankness and beauty of Brooklyn, the borough is changing rapidly. Artists have flocked to Brooklyn for years to avoid the higher rents in Manhattan, and now the higher-rents have followed. I don't know where the artists will go to next. Maybe the sixth borough - Philadelphia? Newark? Boston? I hear that the art scene in Detroit is quite fascinating and cutting edge, that abandoned buildings and neighborhoods are being taken over by artists.

Also, I had us shoot in DUMBO because I love the shadows there at night - the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges looming over everything like a dark metal sky. I wanted us, even though we shoot in color, to convey the noirish, shadowy feeling of a film like 'The Third Man.'

INTERIOR: Classroom

I have Jonathan earning money as a teacher this season since that's how I made my living for years. I often taught two-to-three adult night-classes a week in the late 90's and in the early part of the 21st century, and his three rules of writing are my three rules of writing.

I have the student, Peter, refer to a ‘spastic wizard' because as I was preparing for this second season, I jotted down, on a piece of scrap paper, those two words - ‘spastic wizard.' I don't know why I wrote them down, but I had a feeling that perhaps they had never been used in conjunction before, that a wizard had never been referred to as ‘spastic.' So I wanted to have a character say ‘spastic wizard' as a kind of personal and verbal Guiness Book of World Records sort of thing, to have ‘spastic wizard' first be uttered in the history of English on 'Bored to Death.' But, unfortunately, I'm not sure it's really effective in the scene, perhaps it's too much of a word thing, but, nevertheless, the character says it and we may have set a record.

INTERIOR: Elaine's Restaurant

I wanted our three heroes - Jonathan, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), and George (Ted Danson) - to meet in a place that would reflect George's world and so I selected Elaine's, which has long been a favorite spot for those in the literary arts. In fact, one of the inspirations for the George Christopher character, the late and magnificent George Plimpton, spent a great deal of time at Elaine's and there's a bust of his head on a shelf. We tried to sneak the bust into the scene, but I don't think the camera picked it up. Also, we shot the scene to echo Woody Allen's use of Elaine's from 'Manhattan.'

I have George talk about being stimulated by a Shabbos (Sabbath) candle because one time when I was with a dominatrix (more about this later), she brought a candle into the proceedings. It wasn't a Shabbos candle, but I had George refer to one since my mother used to light Shabbos candles when I was a child. 

I also have George experience a 'phantom lightning bolt' in his penis because I've had this happen and it always disturbs me.

INTERIOR: Police Horse Stables

Officer Drake's horse is named ‘Doris' because that's the name of my great aunt, whom I love very much. I know it's odd to show this love by giving a horse her name, but I wanted to get the name in there somehow. My Great Aunt Doris is 98 years old and for many years, as I struggled to make it as a writer, she would feed me and give me money. I've often felt that the greatest gift one can give, especially to an artist, is money. At least once a month, in the early nineties, when I was really broke, she'd give me fifty bucks or a hundred bucks, and that really kept me going. She lived in Queens then and I'd go out to her apartment on Sundays and we'd play cards or Scrabble. Now she's in a nursing home in New Jersey where my mom can see her a few times a week, and I visit her once a month, which really isn't enough. Anyway, I love her and because I'm strange I named a horse after her. 

And I gave Officer Drake the sexual fetish of 'forced feminization' because I was fascinated by this myself in my early twenties, though it was a phase I passed through. For some reason, fetishes don't stick with me. I try a fetish for a while, get bored, realize it's not quite me, and then move on to some other erotic expression of emotional torment. You see, most of my sexuality is based in psychological trauma, though that doesn't really account for my interest in the female arm-pit, an interest which I gave to the George character in season 1. I think my arm-pit thing has to do with breast feeding and being near the arm-pit as an infant. It must have looked enormous to my small salamander baby eye, like some magical and kindly cave right near the life-giving breast. Also, I like the intimacy and carnality of the arm-pit. 

Anyway, when I was into ‘forced feminization,' I was driving a taxi in central New Jersey. Sometimes I would pass adult video stores on the very ugly Route 1, as well as on some road, whose number I forget, near Trenton. With great shame, two or three times a year, like some kind of off-kilter lunar-eclipse cycle, I'd feel compelled to go into one of these establishments, splurge my hard-earned taxi-driving money on two or three forced-feminization magazines (they were very expensive), and then flee the store after not having made eye-contact with the depraved looking clerks. 

Later, alone in my apartment, like someone with a fever, I would read the magazines, never quite feel satisfied, and then, as the sex-fever broke, I would be horrified at the idea of having those journals in my apartment. So I would immediately put the magazines in a plastic bag, leave my apartment like a criminal, and throw the bag away in some dumpster, while looking over my shoulder the whole time, wondering if someone saw me and if they'd go into the dumpster and discover the humiliating magazines I had bought about humiliation. It was a ridiculous ritual which I eventually outgrew, moving on to more dangerous rituals when I retired from taxi-driving and moved to New York in 1992 to go to graduate school at Columbia. 

When Officer Drake talks about his sister dressing him up as a Girl Scout, I put that in because that happened to me. I don't think that lead to my later forced feminization phase, but I made that linkage for Officer Drake, and I should mention that during that phase I twice had sessions with dominatrixes - the one who was fond of candles and another one who smoked at me while I was tied to a rack, since I told her I didn't like cigarette smoke. 

As for the dungeon laundering drug-money, I saw something in the NY Post about a dungeon doing just that, and so like "Law and Order," I ripped that from the headlines and put it into 'Bored to Death.'

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Apartment

I was going to do a whole thing in this scene about Jonathan's nose hitting Stella's G-spot during oral sex, but this got cut. Jonathan was then going to discuss this with Ray and George, and George was going to say something like, "What exactly does the G in G-spot stand for? Google? They've got the rights to everything else." It was something like that. I should try to find it and maybe use it in season 3, if we get a season 3.

INTERIOR: George's Office at EDITION NY

I have George mention the Four Seasons restaurant because in 1986, while I was still in college, I worked there for a summer in a variety of positions - host (my sole job was to walk people to their seats), doorman, reservationist, and coat-room clerk. I once got caught drinking, in a private dining room, all the left-over wine from a wine-tasting ceremony, but the delightful manager (and now co-owner) Julian Niccolini didn't scold me. He told me to pour the wine in a glass and drink it properly. (I was guzzling expensive wines right from the bottle.) 

Another time, I was unfairly chastised by a different manager because I gave my notice two weeks sooner than expected. Because of this early notice, I was told that my name would now be "shit" at the Four Seasons and therefore "shit" in the publishing world. This manager knew that I had aspirations to be a writer and many publishers and editors had lunch at the Four Seasons every day, and so he declared that my writing career was now over before it had even begun. I had a few days left on the job and so he banished me to the coat-room (a very dull job) and while on duty, hanging up coats and taking umbrellas, I wrote on a yellow pad what became the first chapter of my first novel, I Pass Like Night. (The reason why I gave early notice was that I was going through a real Kerouac phase and had secured a position driving someone's van to Denver, CO.)

Three years later, in 1989, when I Pass Like Night came out, my editor asked me where I wanted to be taken to lunch to celebrate the book's publication and so I requested the Four Seasons. The man who had scolded me a few years before now had to take me to my table. I've never been a Count of Monte Cristo sort of person, I'm not big on revenge, but that lunch at the Four Seasons was something of a triumph. Of course, I then suffered for years to write a second novel, drove a taxi, had no money, and went through my forced-feminization phase. It seems like one is always punished for hubris and I was certainly hubristic during my triumphant lunch. Anyway, I've since run into that manager and he's very nice to me now.

I have Katherine Joiner (Mary Kay Place) go after George's Orangina, because I read that a cost-cutting expert told certain Condé Nast magazines to stop stocking refrigerators with Orangina, and so I thought this would add verisimilitude to the belt-tightening that is going on at George's magazine, Edition NY. And I have George reference Boulevard St. Michel and a French girlfriend because I was an au pair in Paris in 1984, during a year off from school, and I lived right near that Boulevard and had a girlfriend, a fellow au pair, but she was German, though our common language was French. Her English wasn't that great, which is odd for a German, so over time I've come to think of her as French since that's how we spoke to each other. Hence, I gave George a French girlfriend, even though, in truth, my girlfriend was German. For some reason, I need to feel emotionally connected, as much as possible, to what the characters say. At the same time, as soon as I give George the line about a French girlfriend, things for me morph away from the autobiographical and a little movie unspools in my mind and I see a young George Christopher taking classes at the Sorbonne, avoiding Viet Nam, and having a beautiful girlfriend with dark brown hair, a girl he loves for six months and then never sees again.


Along those lines of being connected to what's uttered on "Bored to Death," my mother's name really is Florence (Jonathan is shocked to learn that the dominatrix's name is Florence, his mother's name), and I also, as a child, like Jonathan, had pajamas with little feet attached. I think they were called ‘footsies.' You see, I wanted Jason's feet to be covered by the suit so that later he could run through the streets. I imagine that most of those leather suits don't have ‘footsies,' so I had the costume department create the ‘footsies' and then we hid a pair of sneakers inside the ‘footsies' so that Jason could sprint through Manhattan and not hurt himself. Thus, to cover myself - and his feet - I threw in those lines about the pajamas...

About the suit: Jason said he enjoyed being in it, that it was oddly comforting, but, still, to wear that suit for hours on end wasn't easy for him. One night, while we were shooting, to show solidarity, I put on the spare leather mask we had and went to surprise Jason but did so just as Catherine Keener came on our set. She had seen the film-crew trucks outside our location (a real New York City dungeon) and came to say hello to Jason. I was introduced to her as the creator of the show, but I was wearing the mask. She took it in stride, though I didn't feel good about my first impression on this very famous and talented actress.

EXTERIOR: Prospect Park

In the second scene shot here, I have Ray (Zach Galifianakis), while on the phone with Jonathan, reference a line from season 1 when he says that he's ‘back in the falcon hood.' In season 1, he had described how, after a break-up, it was like he was encased in a falcon hood, meaning that his sadness and despair had blinded him, and now, with Leah having broken up with him, he's ‘back in the falcon hood.' 

It's also why I have him say that his eyes have been ‘painted black.' And I have him say that he's lachrymose (teary-eyed) because my father once told me that he was lachrymose and I've never gotten it out of my head.

EXTERIOR: The Streets of Manhattan

After our first season, people spoke a great deal about how we were very much a "Brooklyn show," and so I thought we should demonstrate our range and have a very Manhattan episode, which is why I have Jonathan run through three iconic New York City locations: Washington Square Park, Times Square, and Central Park. I guess I thought it would be funny that a Brooklyn show would be so Manhattan-centric in its first episode of a new season. I don't think anyone will get the joke - except if they read this blog - so I'm just trying to explain my nutty logic and thinking, the various levels of consideration, like geologic strata, behind certain creative decisions.


For me, the whole episode was about getting to the moment when George has to get Jonathan out of the mask. I wanted that moment to convey the sweetness and intimacy of their friendship, and I hope it did.

Also, it should be noted that the last word of the episode is ‘eunuch.' I didn't consciously intend this, but that effectively completes the theme of emasculation that has coursed through the episode. It also sets Jonathan up for a season-long mission to find himself as a man, though I don't really like to limit his mission in such a gender-oriented way, so, rather, I'd like to say that this sets him up to find himself as a human being, a human being who happens to be a man. 

I also want to point out how similar the word ‘eunuch' is to the name ‘Enoch', which is the full name of the character played by Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire," though that character, from what I've seen, is anything but a eunuch.

Well, that's my first blog of the new season. Yet again, I've been madly wordy. I don't know what it is with these blogs. I can't control myself. When you write scripts, you have to be so economic and precise that I guess when I get a chance to write prose, which isn't very often these days, I go a bit insane. So I apologize about the length of this blog. I don't think too many people will make it here to the end, but if you do, I thank you for your patience and for your interest in 'Bored to Death!'

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