Creator's Blog

Nov 15, 2010

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Apartment - Day

Two things I forgot to mention in last week's web-log:

(1) On the blackboard in Jonathan's classroom, I wrote out two quotes since the blackboard looked so drab. The first was by Jean Paul Sartre: "Hell is other people." I usually don't believe that, but sometimes people can drive one mad and, if you think about it, little else drives one mad, except for other people. The other quote, which speaks a bit more to how I feel most of the time, was from Kurt Vonnegut: "We're here to fart around." I believe this is a shortened version of the quote, but pretty much captures its essence and is a good one to remember. That's not all we're here for, of course, we're here to be kind, loving, and to die, but farting around is definitely one of the main human activities.

(2) When Ray is being stepped on during the three-way, back-walk massage, he says, "Oh, yeah, that's the stuff." This was just a little improvised line from Zach Galifianakis, but it really stuck in my mind, especially after watching it in the editing room a hundred or more times. So what happened was that whenever I felt pleasure for the next few months, I would think to myself, "Oh, yeah, that's the stuff." I think it got embedded in my mind because Zach was genuinely feeling good as "Sunny" walked on him and that genuine relief shot right into of my frontal lobes and became my knee-jerk verbal response to pleasure and relief.

Okay, so now on to episode 8, our last of the season. My favorite moment in this opening scene is when Nina says, "...When I get going, I'm like a bee's nest." My whole purpose, more or less, for this scene, was for her to say that, because I liked the sound of it.

INTERIOR: Edition NY Magazine - Day

I experimented with Ted Danson saying, "...What about a sanitarium? I'd do that. It's more romantic. It's more Thomas Mann." Then I had him replace "Thomas Mann" with Zelda Fitzgerald, thinking that more people would get the Zelda Fitzgerald reference than the Thomas Mann/'The Magic Mountain' allusion. Also, I thought it was funny if two episodes in a row, George compared himself to women, albeit one fictional - Blanche du Bois in episode 7 and then Zelda Fitzgerald in episode 8. 

Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Mann's 'The Magic Mountain' and based the structure of my novel 'The Extra Man' on it. In fact, I was so devoted to the book in my early twenties that some of my friends referred to me as Hans, as in Hans Castorp the protagonist of the 'The Magic Mountain.' Castorp goes to a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps to visit a cousin and stays there for seven years, getting a cure, though he's probably not even sick. For a long time after reading that book, I yearned to be in a sanitarium indefinitely, and got a slight taste of what such an experience might be like when I would go to artist colonies, specifically the artist colony, Yaddo, which is the setting for one of my other novels, 'Wake Up, Sir!'

In thinking about this Hans Castorp phase of my life, which I hadn't considered for some time, I see the similarity to my later wish in life to be Raymond Chandler's fictional private detective, "Philip Marlowe," a wish and desire I then gave to the fake "Jonathan Ames" character in 'Bored to Death.' I guess all my life, I've used the characters in books as role models. Maybe I get to know people in books better than I do in real life.

And speaking of the use of the word "real" - for years, I was referred to in articles in magazines and newspapers as the "perverted writer Jonathan Ames," and now I'm referred to as "the real Jonathan Ames." What a strange thing - because of 'Bored to Death,' it's important to qualify me as "real." This is probably good because I do feel so unreal a lot of the time. I'm close to people and yet I'm also removed, detached. I'm trying to rectify this by reading an Alan Watts book on Eastern religion so that I can divorce myself from the Western notion of being separate and individuated. Something like that. Mostly, like all of us, I'm just hanging on, though I always feel the need to qualify that my version of "hanging on" is quite rarified and privileged. I have it very good and yet I'm often quite distraught. But it's a privilege to be distraught for no real reason, a neurotic luxury.

Anyway, that was a half-formed, not well thought out tangent, but I only have about eighty minutes to write this blog before meeting with the writers to get to work on season 3 of 'Bored to Death.' I should explain, though, that I was called "perverted" because I subtitled one of my books "The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Writer" and that really stuck with people. I thought as a subtitle it would be catchy and help with marketing the book ('What's Not to Love?'), but it sort of backfired on me for years. 

One last thought: I was recently asked during a panel why "Jonathan Ames" of the show has my name and why some of my other fictional characters from my books seem to bear a resemblance to me and I answered with a line from season 1 that Jonathan says in the third episode, when he's having a therapy session: "I'm like a Russian doll. There's all these versions of me in me." So I think that's the partial answer, but like I said, by reading the Watts book and by trying to change my way of seeing the world, I'm trying to unify myself so that I'm not so split and divided. I do feel embarrassed writing about this self-centered stuff, but I'm just thinking onto the keyboard, though it doesn't fully capture my thoughts, this typing. Anyway...

INTERIOR: Ray's Hotel - Day

Jason, while examining the Super Ray doll, improvised the line, "...but no anus." It was so funny that I kept it in the edit, and I love both actors' performances in this scene - Jonathan's empathy and Ray's distress. I really do love how sensitive the Ray character is. You never quite know what is going to send him off...

About the doll: I exchanged a lot of emails with the props department to get the doll just right. The artisan that was hired did a fantastic job, but initially there was too much pubic hair, a genital piercing, and a somewhat strange interpretation of the anatomy in question. But through email, we got the doll amended and I think it's wonderfully ludicrous and nutty. 

INTERIOR: Police Bullpen - Day

I wanted this encounter with Officer Drake to take place in an alleyway and for Officer Drake to ride up on Doris, his horse, like a hero, even though it was supposed to be a clandestine, alley-way meeting. And then it was going to be revealed that Doris was actually a male horse, but this would be in keeping with Officer Drake's forced-feminization issues from episode 1 of this season.

Anyway, this scene played out nicely at Officer's Drake police office (there's a picture of Doris on his desk), and I love Zach's improvisation at the end of the scene, where he contemplates the voodoo quality of the doll and what might happen if Officer Drake takes a pencil to the doll in an inappropriate fashion.

INTERIOR: Brooklyn Comic Convention - Night

I've skipped ahead to the last big scene, but a few thoughts on things that occur before this scene: I initially wanted the magazine cover that upsets George to be a recreation of Mount Rushmore with Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh replacing the Presidents who are carved into the stone, with the headline: "Leading the Way Back!" But, somewhat unfortunately, I had to change this, though the cover we came up with, while not as timely, featuring Obama as Mao, was also funny. 

And I had fun doing my own stunts as "Irwin," being chased by Jason and Zach, but I had injured my hamstrings a few days before while playing for the 'Bored to Death' softball team (we were called the "Rays") against a team from 'Boardwalk Empire,' and it wasn't easy doing my little run off the roof. I had to hide the fact that I was really limping, but somebody gave me a pain-pill of some kind and that was a great help.

So this climactic scene at the Comic Con has something of an interesting genesis. Early on, I thought that I wanted to end the season at a comic convention being held in Brooklyn and that Ray should get stabbed, because I had a minor obsession with the time Monica Seles famously got stabbed from behind during a tennis match. I don't quite know why that made such an impression on me, but I just thought it was so terribly unfair and shocking and I guess I wanted to recreate that...

So I have this idea for a convention and then two months later I find out that there's actually going to be such a convention in Brooklyn - for the first time ever - and that I'm invited to be on a panel to discuss my graphic novel, 'The Alcoholic,' which I wrote and was illustrated by Dean Haspiel, who does all the Super Ray drawings for 'Bored to Death' and is somewhat the basis for the Ray character. 

Well, I go to this convention at the Brooklyn Lyceum and I was very much taken with the whole layout of the place, especially this window that overlooks the main floor and right away I had this image in my mind of Jason banging against that glass like Dustin Hoffman in 'The Graduate' and that this shot would bookend beautifully with the image I had in mind for Jason banging against the glass at the board room at George's office in the first episode of the season. So the season begins with Jason banging against a glass window and ends that way...

Also, when I did my panel in 2009 at the convention, which is called King Con, I sat under a huge drawing of myself that Dean did and that's where I got the image of Zach/Ray sitting under a Super Ray drawing...So it's pretty odd how I had an idea (a scene at a comic convention in Brooklyn), then lived the idea myself, and then recreated the idea for the show. It went from imagination to reality back to imagination again. 

Irwin's backstory for the stabbing: while in Rikers for indecent exposure, resulting from Ray chasing him out into the night naked in episode 2 of this season, Irwin had to eat a lot of food with gluten in it. He has a gluten allergy and loses his mind, and as a result becomes hell-bent on revenge against Ray. He also has lost his rent-controlled apartment. I later found out that you can actually become bi-polar or something from eating too much gluten, that it reacts oddly with some people's brain-chemistry. So my idea that Irwin would lose his mind from too much gluten actually had some basis in fact. But I had to cut out all that backstory, as well his line, as he's being dragged off: "I guess I snapped, I'm sorry." I wanted even Irwin to be redeemed, to make an apology, but for a number of reasons I cut his apology from the final edit, which may have been a mistake.

INTERIOR: Hospital - Night

One of my favorite shots of the season is when Ray offers his hand to Jonathan. I told Zach to play it like he's a wounded Mafia Don and the way he extends his hand to Jonathan is just so imperious and Roman that I absolutely love it. I also love the three-way chemistry of our three glorious stars in that moment: George reminiscing about Jane Street, Ray scolding him, George taking the scolding good-naturedly and then Ray offering his hand to Jonathan like he's Julius Caesar on his death bed. Then Leah comes in and our two beautiful lovers are reunited, which was the whole point of Ray's comic book and if he hadn't written that comic book, he wouldn't have been stabbed and Leah wouldn't have come back to it all worked out in the end.

And now here I am at the end of my last blog and I have to go meet the writers to shape season 3.

I'm a little bit rushed and I wish I could conclude with something wise and interesting and funny. But I can't. I'm too tired and a bit too ragged at the moment. But I can thank all of you who have read this blog and have watched the show. Creating 'Bored to Death' is probably the luckiest break of my creative life and without people taking notice of it and watching, I wouldn't be allowed to do it. So I thank you for your attention, your interest and your enthusiasm, and if you can, stay out of trouble, unless you don't want to. 

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