Creator's Blog

Nov 1, 2010

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Apartment – Day

Something I forgot from last week's blog: Ray mentions that he hasn't been to the dentist in fourteen years, which is about how long I went between visits, though it may have been closer to 19 or 20 years. But because of 'Bored to Death' and becoming a member of the Writer's Guild, I finally had health insurance and so I thought I should go. I was a little worried what might be discovered, though for years, as a precaution, I had been practicing self-dentistry - I would buy these scrapers at the drugstore and give myself a thorough cleaning at least once-a-week, since I knew that gum disease and plaque were the biggest issues that a human mouth could face.

Anyway, when I told the dental hygienist that I hadn't been to a dentist since perhaps about 1990, she became very upset. She said I would need to schedule a second appointment, that she didn't have the time, in one session, to clean a mouth that had been so neglected. This got me worried and I asked for gas. She was visibly annoyed with me and seemed further insulted when I told her that at least I had been doing my own cleanings for quite some time. 

With passive-aggressive hostility palpable in her every move, she set the gas up, which cost me an extra seventy-five dollars. She put the thing over my mouth and asked if I felt anything. I was still sad and low, my usual operating conditions, so I motioned to the hygienist to crank it up, which further alienated her, but she turned the knob and I immediately started to feel happy and dreamy as my sad brain cells were destroyed. "Better?" she asked. I nodded yes, and she went to work. 

After about fifteen minutes, maybe less, she was done and her mood was markedly different. She wasn't angry with me at all any more. In fact, she was quite sweet. She couldn't believe how clean my teeth were - I wasn't going to need a second session. She even seemed now to consider me something of a peer and praised me for the excellent job I had done maintaining my own mouth as a starving artist. 

Then the dentist came in and I had no cavities, though some ancient mercury-laced fillings were loose and needed to be replaced. I asked the dentist if my old fillings had been leaking mercury into my mind and he said he couldn't be sure...Anyway, that's my little dentist story, which I feel like I wrote in last year's blog. Who knows? The mercury that leaked into my brain has destroyed, as George Christopher says, my short-term and long-term memory. (That's a line from episode 2 of this season, and I wanted George to add, "I'm like the character in'‘Memento.' I just move from the present to the present." But I cut that. Not sure why.)

So episode 6. Jonathan's apartment. What to say? Well, I have him call the "hero" of his story "Harry Parker," because I've always liked the name "Harry," but mostly because I was reading these novels by Richard Stark (a pseudonym for Donald Westlake) and his main protagonist is this amazing criminal known only as "Parker." I was reading those books while working on season 2 and so became enchanted with the name "Parker"...

About Jonathan's apartment: it's modeled after my apartment, though his place is a lot nicer than mine.

EXTERIOR: Red Hook - Day

After season 1 ended, I went for a long walk in Red Hook with one of the show's producers, Elizabeth Klenk, and I had been there before, but I now was looking at things with new eyes, always scouting for locations, and it was such a beautiful day that I really wanted to shoot there if we got a season 2. So then we got a second season, and I thought Red Hook would be the perfect setting for a romantic date for Ray and his new love-interest, the elf-girl Sherri. 

In the exchange with the teenagers, I have Ray call the boy 'gaylord' because I noticed Zach used that word when he was on 'Saturday Night Live,' during his introduction, and it seemed like such a Zach-word that I wanted to recycle it on 'Bored To Death.'

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Apartment – Day

For some reason, I often have a lot of coincidences in my life and this has continued during the script-writing process. I wanted an episode where Jonathan had to track down a stolen dog, and then shortly after I came up with this idea, there was a real case in the newspaper of a dog that went missing in Park Slope in Brooklyn and then the person who found the dog asked for a ransom. I forget how the real-life story played out, but this was a perfect set-up for what I wanted, and so like 'Law and Order,' 'Bored to Death,' once again, ripped a story straight from the headlines, and so Leah's dog is stolen and a ransom is demanded.

(Twice before I've been inspired by stories in the papers: (1) there was an S&M dungeon which got busted for laundering drug money and this inspired episode 1 of this season, "Escape from the Dungeon!"; and (2) there was a Craigslist personals-ad couple who would advertise for sex with married men and then blackmail them, which is the concept I used for episode 6, "The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer," in season 1.)

From the beginning, I wanted the dog to be a French bulldog, since Jason Schwartzman has such an animal, a wonderful fellow named Arrow, who has an incredible face. Initially, I wanted to cast Arrow, but he has a bad back and I knew that the dog we cast would have to do a lot of running, so we had to find an Arrow-substitute. As with all the casting I do, I try to find actors with interesting mugs, because I once heard a quote from Lillian Gish which went something like this: "Movies are all about faces and music." Now I don't know what her actual quote might be, but I've never forgotten that, and so I always look for good faces, like with Arrow. But since we couldn't use Arrow, we found another French bull-dog who was also in possession of a great profile. Arrow does have a cameo in the montage section of this episode - he's the French bulldog that Jonathan shows a flier to...

INTERIOR - Sunny's Bar - Day

Since we were shooting in Red Hook, we had to film at Sunny's. This is a great local bar where I've given maybe two or three readings over the years since Sunny's has a long-standing Sunday afternoon reading series, which people should check out if they are in the area.

EXTERIOR: Montage - Day

An early image I had in mind for season 2 was Ray and Jonathan on a bicycle built-for-two. I just thought they would look funny peddling around on such a contraption, though I do worry that what we filmed verges on the overly cute, but, for the most part, I think we pulled it off...

INTERIOR: Belinda's House - Day

A few years ago, I was in this play about the life of Spalding Gray and each night of our run there would be a guest celebrity performer, and one night it was Olympia Dukakis. She was incredibly charming backstage, and so when I wrote this role, I thought of her. It's incredible that we got her:our second Oscar®-winning actor to appear on the show after F. Murray Abraham. 

I wrote the scene such that Belinda would flirt with Ray, but I wasn't expecting the chemistry that flowed between Zach and Olympia. Zach gives Olympia the most sweet, yet lascivious looks imaginable and I just love it.

INTERIOR: Hospital Room - Day

Until I wrote this scene, I had never consciously considered whether Ted Danson's pubic hair might match his beautiful white mane, but then as I was writing this, I did think that this could be a funny thing to address...

EXTERIOR: Old Warehouse - Day

I chose this location because my friend's magazine, 'Cabinet,' is located in this old warehouse, and I thought its courtyard would be perfect as a lair for a Dickensian dog-snatcher. And speaking of dogs - I've said it before but I do have a profound affection for them. In fact, I love 'True Blood' primarily for the moments when certain characters turn into dogs. I admire all aspects of that show, but, mostly, I wait for the scenes when people transform into dogs. I don't watch porn - I have other problems - but I know that sometimes people wait for just one kind of psychological dynamic or a certain position while viewing porn, something that especially moves them, and that's how I am with the dog scenes in 'True Blood.' I happily watch the whole episode, but my little-boy heart just waits for the moments when a human becomes a dog. Like many people, I would like to be a dog for a day or two days, or maybe one day a month. I would like to run with other dogs through the woods and then play-wrestle...Anyway, one can dream.

INTERIOR: Hospital Room - Day

I don't have much more to say, I have to go attend a panel at Brooklyn College, but I want to praise and thank Jason Schwartzman for his beautiful performance when, as Jonathan, he says to George: "...I just want you to know...well...I love you." I don't think those are necessarily easy words to say in real life or certainly as an actor, but Jason pulled it off with tremendous feeling and sincerity. I didn't ask him, but I wonder if he simply looked at Ted, realized he loves Ted, and so then just spoke those words with that feeling in his heart...

INTERIOR: Operating Room - Day

As we were preparing for this shot, I wondered where I came up with this visual. Why did I want George startled awake on an operating table? I knew I had this image in my unconscious from somewhere, but I wasn't sure where. And then it hit me: as a kid I was a huge fan of 'MAD Magazine' and especially the art of Don Martin, and Don Martin would often draw cartoons lampooning medical situations and I knew that somewhere in my mind was a shot of a man sitting up awkwardly on an operating table at exactly the wrong moment, the surgeon's knife descending. 

So sure enough, the shot we ended up creating, to my mind, is like a three-dimensional Don Martin cartoon. And I think this is how I, and most artists, operate, as it were: We draw upon other works of art that have influenced us, as well as our life experiences, and then we stitch all of these things together, like making a quilt. We gather fragments to create something whole.

Anyway, that's my blog. That's my little quilt of thoughts on "The Case of the Grievous Clerical Error!" Thank you for reading! Oh, wait, one last thing - two months after we shot this episode, our post-production coordinator, Brad Carpenter, told me that a friend of his had just found out that he had been misdiagnosed with cancer, that he had been given the results of a patient with the same name! Yet another coincidence!

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