Richard Kahan Answers 6 Questions
Remember that little Outlander episode called Untimely Resurrection? Me too. He, who was the lead writer of that fabulous episode, graciously answered a handful of questions relating to the processes of writing and producing. There are no Outlander spoilers here, I imagine there’s a proverbial padlock the size of Scotland on all that juicy information. If you’re like me, you want to know the why and how of the writer’s room too.
When working collaboratively with other writers, how does the process differ from writing solo?
There’s a bit less solo time spent staring at a blank screen when working with a team of writers, especially in TV, ultimately you do sit down and write the project either way, so we come in alone and we go out alone! Speaking for myself, even working solo on a film I still have a group of writers that I trust to bounce ideas off and help be outside eyes. Sometimes you are too close to the material and need someone that has fresh eyes, that can help you step back and see it another way.
I had no idea it was like working alone in a group. I can’t envision trying to fit the individual pieces together to make a cohesive whole. Creating one voice (point of view) out of many, that takes mad skills.
What does being the lead writer mean?
In terms of TV, being the lead writer on an episode means that after all the writers weigh in in the room, and the episode is constructed in terms of beats, etc. that is the person that ultimately sits down and writes the outline and then the draft. In terms of being the lead writer, as in the showrunner, that is the big boss that not only oversees all the writers, but every other department as well; costumes, hair/makeup, etc. A lot of decisions!
So even with one person writing the outline and draft, the other writers add to script until the final product is in hand. I would love to be a fly on a wall to see it take shape. I’m a nerd like that. Speaking of showrunners, hats off to Ron Moore. It sounds exhausting, exhilarating, and filled with challenges and rewards.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of using adaptable material versus original material?
For adapted material, you have the advantage of a road map laid out for you. That is to say the structure of the story is there. You have a jumping off point, at the very least. The disadvantages, or more accurately, the work comes when you have to find your way through the material that is already there but decide how to best tell it in another medium, with a different set of narrative parameters. For original material, the advantage is that it is all up to the creative process – you aren’t beholden to what’s already there or what’s come before – you can just find your way through it. But the work is just that – it’s all up to you! Ups and downs to both, but ultimately any time you get to play creatively, which happens in both original material and adaptation, you’re pretty fortunate!
Sort of like drawing freehand versus using a coloring book? You still add your own flair to the pre-drawn coloring pages, but the original is still present.
Does writer’s block happen and how do you reconnect to a piece/project?
Oh, it absolutely happens! I think, for me, it’s sometimes about stepping away for a beat. Even a short beat, going for a walk, whatever it is – just something that focuses your mind in a different direction. It’s also important to just give yourself permission to suck! As in, telling yourself you’re just going to keep working, knowing this is the crappy version and it’s not set in stone, it can and will be changed later. Just getting through it is often enough to help you go back later and find the better version.
Richard, that should be on a motivational poster and t-shirt, “I give myself permission to suck.” Those are excellent words to live and work by.
What is the role of producer?
The role of producer really shifts from project to project, and from medium to medium – tv vs. film. There are creative producers, there are producers that deal exclusively with budgets, insurance, etc. Speaking for my role as producer on my past projects and most recently on Lucky, I’m a creative producer. In indie films, that means doing basically WHATEVER it takes to get the project made! From working with the writers at the early stage to get the script right (one of my favorite parts of the job) to hiring crew, to hiring actors and working on their deals, to being the go between with the director and various departments, to weighing in in the editing room on the final cut – whatever it takes to make the best film possible.
Being a producer sounds like a whole lot of moving and shaking. Beating bushes and making it work. A bit of adrenaline and excitement bending wills toward a goal.
What’s the most satisfying part of your career?
For me it’s been being involved in projects from the beginning and seeing them all the way through to the end. Starting out as an actor, I was used to coming in, doing my part, then being completely done and removed from the process. I loved it on many levels but always felt I wanted to have more creative input and control. I started working on Lucky when the whole project was just a conversation really, and I took it all the way through production, editing, to its world premiere at SXSW and now on to theaters everywhere in the fall, through Magnolia Pictures. That is an insane amount of satisfaction!!!
I look forward to seeing it! Well done! Thank you for taking the time and sharing your insights.
Check out his latest project as a producer, Lucky.
Photos are property of Richard Kahan and the Lucky production.
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