On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.
Episode #17 Summary
Filmmaker and comic writer Christopher Cantwell is a creative force. In a conversation with Content People’s creator and host, Meredith Farley, he talks about creativity, content, inspiration and his work on projects like “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Lodge 49,” and his foray into comic books.
In episode 17 of Content People, I chat with Christopher Cantwell. Chris is a writer, director and filmmaker who, along with his writing partner, Chris Rodgers, catapulted to success with their hit series “Halt and Catch Fire.”
After “Halt and Catch Fire,” Chris dove into projects such as “Lodge 49” and “Paper Girls.” And he also returned to an old passion: comic books. With comic writing credits including “Star Wars: Obi-Wan” and “Iron Man,” Christopher knows how to humanize heroes and regale readers. Suffice it to say he’s a gold mine of creativity.
Join us as I pick Christopher’s brain about:
- Pitch meetings.
- The writing process.
- Working with other creative teams.
- Inspiration and the muse.
- The term “content” and its impact on creatives.
Thanks for listening!
– Meredith Farley, Host of Content People
More Content for Content People
Meet Chris: Visit Christopher’s Wikipedia page to learn more about his writing, directing and showrunning credits.
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Disclaimer: The transcript below is machine-generated, and may therefore contain some minor errors.
Meredith Farley: Hey, folks, welcome to Content People. I’m your host, Meredith Farley, and today we talk with Chris Cantwell, an incredibly talented writer, director, and filmmaker with an impressive portfolio of work. From co-creating the AMC show, Halt & Catch Fire, to executive producing Lodge 49, and venturing very successfully into the world of comic books, Chris has a wealth of experience and insights to share.
In this episode, we talked about what it’s like to pitch a TV show, what it’s like to find out that AMC wants to buy your TV show, navigating creative partnerships, and the impact of AI on storytelling. We also chatted about his latest comic book, Hellcat, and touched a bit on the concept of the musing creative work, which is one of my low-key favorite topics, and Chris had some very interesting things to say about it.
We also got his thoughts on the term content. Spoiler, he’s not a fan, and I cannot say I disagree with his points. Podcast title aside. I had so much fun chatting with Chris. I hope that you all enjoy this episode as much as I did. I’ve been looking forward to sharing it. If you do like it, please rate, subscribe, or share it with a friend. Without further ado, here’s the interview. All right, we’re going.
Chris, thank you so much for being a guest on Content People. I’m very excited to talk to you in prepping these questions. It was almost hard because you’re such a productive, creative, successful, multi-hyphenate person. I wasn’t sure how to sum you up. For folks who aren’t familiar with you, how would you describe what you do?
Chris Cantwell: I would say first, I feel like the thing I do most these days is juggle my three young boys who are nine years old, five years old, and then almost eight months old. That feels like predominantly what I might have taken up with all the time, but aside from that, I’m a TV writer. Some feature screenplay work as well. I’ve directed a feature. I’ve also directed a television, obviously, my own show, and then I’m a big comic book writer at this point. I’ve been writing comics pretty consistently since 2017 or so. I think the first issues hit in 2018, but I’ve been working in comics since 2017, so I stumbled into this second career, which is similar to my primary career and one that takes up a lot of time and energy, but it’s extremely rewarding and been very fun. That pretty much encapsulates it.
Meredith: Okay. A dad who has some creative projects on the side, please.
Chris: Yes. I’ve always given my kids free comic books to get them to be quiet, but I was just telling a friend of mine that my kids see comics. It’s not super fair to my older one. He’s starting to get back into it, but I feel because it’s what I do, it’s not as interesting to them. It’s like everybody has their parents’ job and you’re like, what is it? I feel like sometimes I hand them comic books that I’ve written and they look at them like tax forms. What? They’re like, it’s not Pokemon, so who cares?
Meredith: Yeah. That’s super interesting. That’s really funny. Do you think that’ll change in five or 10 years or do you think that’ll just be the way of things for quite a while?
Chris: I’m sure it’ll ebb and flow. I think they’re very familiar with comic book characters in a way that maybe their friends aren’t. Everybody’s seen like the Marvel movies and things like this, but my sons love to dig through the DC universe encyclopedia, the Marvel comics encyclopedia, Star Wars encyclopedia. They’re very big Star Trek kids too just because it’s something we discovered that we could watch together during the pandemic. At this point, I think I’ve gone through the original series of Star Trek with my sons twice and then we’re in the final season of Next Generation right now. While we were doing that, I started writing Star Trek comic books. It’s like in their world and my older son has had an appreciation of it. I think he’ll realize later how nuanced his comic book appreciation is where he’s read the first volume of the original What If series in Marvel, which is I don’t think any kid his age has read. He’s read like the Walt Simons and Thor run from the 80s just because I knew that was good and then gave it to him for like a random, I was at a convention, I picked it up and gave it to him. Like he just read like the latest volume of Worlds Finest by Mark Wade and Dan Mora. So I think he doesn’t realize how much he’s like on the inner circle, but like one day and then when they inherit my comic book collection, they’ll be like, oh, okay, got it. But often it’s not Pokemon.
Meredith: Yeah. That’s interesting. Like I know I mentioned to you before we started recording, but I did get to read an advanced copy of Hellcat because Chris Hassan who introed us that is hands on it for me. And I’m not, I’m one thing I was on want to be mindful of in this interview as I’m a really huge fan of Halton catch fire. I want to pick your brain about that a lot. I was a huge fan of Lodge 49.
I’m not super in the comic book world. So one to all the folks listening who are huge fans. I’m sorry because I’m trying, but I’m sure I will miss some juicy and interesting question. But I was, I think as I’ve gotten older, actually, I’ve gotten a little more interested and open to comic books because a lot of things I love about storytelling like archetypes and heroes journeys like are all in there and it took me a while, I think to realize that it’s just like another entry point to deep interesting creative storytelling in a way that I don’t think I gave it credit for when I was like 13 was like, no, comics are lame. I’m not into that.
Chris: Right. Yeah, I was the opposite at 13. I was like, this is all I have, right? That’s where I was. So I was like, I am alone in my room. I must, I am emotionally in turmoil. Let me turn to the X-Men. Wow. But no, I totally get that.
Meredith: All right, so I want to try and come back around to Hellcat and comic books first. I really want to, I’m going to exercise restraint and not just pick your brain about halt and catch fire for a few minutes. And I’m really going to try and mine your experience for actionable advice or info that might be useful to our listeners and maybe touch on some topical items too. I know you and I emailed a bit about the word content and I love and am interested for your take on that. So I want to make sure we get to that too. I’m just going to jump in around halt. So you and Chris Rogers wrote the pilot for halt and catch fire hoping to get jobs as writers, but instead you ended up just landing your own series. Can you talk about how that experience changed your career trajectory? That’s crazy.
Chris: Yes. It was a crazy experience. I think that for Chris and I graduated from the screenwriting program at USC film school in 2004, Chris had come out of the grad program at UCLA, I think a couple of years after years go by where you’re just scraping by odd jobs, whether it be tutoring the SAT. I think it was for a while. I was a production coordinator for commercials and some documentary work. Chris was working in magazines and we had ended up at a digital startup that was trying to literally capitalize on the newfangled world of social media. So this would be around 2007, 2008 and 2007, 2008, we were working at the startup where I was working at the startup. I was actually the third hire. So it was very small, but they brought me in because of my production experience because a lot of content, there’s that word on the internet was video based, right? So YouTube was a big deal, right? We were two years into YouTube, three years into YouTube, and they brought me on for that. And then that startup got acquired by Disney and then it became a strange little skunkworks unit in Disney that was doing social media content that was video based. And then as Facebook became a thing, very Facebook oriented in terms of unifying and moderating and programming and editorializing content on Facebook. So every company does this now, right? But it’s today is Tinkerbell Day or it’s the, did you know this day in history, Marvel, or not Marvel, but like Disney opened Pirates of the Caribbean for the first time, it would, we programmed that kind of stuff. And then right towards the end of my tenure, we started to touch on Twitter, but it was really YouTube and Facebook oriented. And this idea of virality and things like that, we ended up working with a lot of different business units, whether it be the studio obviously, Pixar, the animation studio, the parks. We did a lot of really interesting, weird stuff for Disneyland and Disney World.
A lot of that stuff I was involved in, whether it be like, are there ghosts in Disneyland and then making found footage ghost videos, things like that, hiding retro commercials that I made for Twitch Story 3, for Lotso Hug and Bear, like the original 1983 ad for the Lotso Hug and Bear, and then just hiding that online, letting people find it. Just different things like that. And Rogers came in from magazines because magazines out on the West Coast, in terms of the Condé Naste office had collapsed, they closed it, and he had come out of architectural digests. He was working at the Atlantic before that on the East Coast, and we needed someone with editorial experience. And so Chris came on to work on the Facebook side of things. So Chris and I worked together for a year before we both had realized that we were almost 10 years past screenwriting degrees.
And so we just liked the cut of each other’s jib, we were two guys we felt like we could depend on in the company. We were doing presentations together to DreamWorks and other studios for social media, and then I think one night we got drinks and realized we were both what Chris refers to as dream deferred writers. And so we just started to write something together, and I was very much a feature writer at that point. I had done a little bit of TV in college, but I’m talking about, I had done a spec episode for Monk, but Chris was very embroiled in TV. He’s a few years younger than me. He had caught on to that late nineties, sopranos, second golden age of TV world. I had just started to watch Mad Men, and I’d seen the first season of Breaking Bad, but Chris gave me the pilot for Breaking Bad to read, and I was blown away by it just in terms of the structure, the way that it was laid out, what Bits Gilligan did with that piece.
So we wrote a pilot together, and yes, it was very much, let’s try to staff on a show. And so we wrote this pilot, and we sent it to everybody we knew. I remember sitting down at Coles in downtown LA and writing a list of every single person we knew that we could send it to, and we landed on a guy named Chris Huvane, who was the West Coast editor for GQ, and had worked with Chris in the office when Chris was at Architectural Digest. Chris had migrated over and become a manager at Management 360. We sent him the script, and he really liked it. I had been like, what’s called hit pocketed by an agent at that point in ICM, which means you can trade on their name, say you’re repped by ICM, but they’re not really going to return your calls or emails. It was based on some short form work I had done, and also some short films and things like that. It was based at a screenplay competition a few years previous. And yeah, so they told us basically, this is good, write another one, and then you’ll have two samples that we could try to staff you on a show.
And the second staffing sample we wrote was Halt and Catch Fire, which was crazy, because when Chris and I were sitting at Coles, I still remember having the conversation of what do we ultimately want out of this partnership if we work together. And we said, maybe in five to 10 years, we’ll have our own shot at having our own show. And as tremendous good fortune would have it, it was the first thing we ever did, because that script went to HBO Showtime and AMC. Those are the only people that were really making prestige cable television shows at that point. And we got general meetings at HBO and Showtime, and then AMC was actually very interested and they bought it. And then they made it. That was the crazy thing that happened. So it was like an overnight success that also took about eight years, and it was a very circuitous route.
Meredith: It’s interesting that, would you say that the impetus was that you and Chris were like, we really like working together. What is a project we can take on? That’s a vibe I’m getting more so than one of you being like, I’m desperate to bring this particular idea to fruition. Can this guy help me do so? Was it actually in service of the partnership at first a little bit?
Chris: Yeah, I think it was the first pilot we wrote. It was something that I had been tooling around with as a feature, and I was always writing in the background. I was getting, those days, at that point, I was a creative director for Disney, so I was an executive, and you get disillusioned with your corporate job, and you’re like, what’s my story? So I’m always writing in the background, and I had been. And Chris came in and we worked on that piece together and ended up turning it into a pilot. But when they said, write something else, we were already working together. So it was like, what’s something else we want to, what’s a story we have that we want to tell? And we also, we did look at what was being done on TV at the time and what we thought might be feasible, but it was also, there was also this freedom in it because our agent at the time said, we’re not going to sell this. This is just to get attention for you guys.
So it was like, let’s write whatever we want. And I think that I had gravitated towards that world of early computers for a long time. I think I’ve always had a real interest in it. My dad came out of that world. And so a lot of that ended up informing the pilot for Hull. And we found that way in. I think the key that made Hull work is we found that way in, which was the reverse engineering story of the IBM PC, dramatizing that felt like the story you didn’t know. It wasn’t Steve Jobs and Bill Gates right away. It was a real backdoor way into what other people were doing at the time. That was fascinating to us. And it was also a show about partnerships.
I think that was something that was key for Chris and I because I had worked with partners in the past, but Chris and I forged this partnership together. He gave me a Michael Eisner podcast about partnerships because there’s the whole thing about Michael Eisner and Frank Wells working together at Disney. And there was a, I think Eisner had written a book about partnerships. I think, and even in the book, it talked about Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and how one doesn’t exist without the other. That became a fascinating dynamic that really informed the characters in Hull and Catch Fire from the very beginning. At first it was Gordon and Joe and then Donna and Cameron. Yeah.
Meredith: That sounds interesting. I want to try and check that book out. I feel like partnerships in the creative world can be incredibly powerful and fruitful and amplify what you’re working on, but also it can be frustrating. And sometimes, I think sometimes I’ve, in my life, had the feeling of, I’d rather just work on this by myself and not deal with all this BS, which is not great always. I’m really interested in that concept of partnership.
Chris: It’s a tricky thing. But it’s something that Chris and I had to, because I think that a partnership is one thing when you’re trying to gain success or gain entry into a world, but then when you’re also successful in that world, what does the partnership look like? And I think we really had to discover that in real time and it’s glib, but we treat, we treat our partnership like our second marriage. We’re both married, but it was, it’s important to be on the same page because if the partnership isn’t working, then nothing else around the partnership is working and that includes the show. Yeah.
Meredith: So, to come back to the show a little bit, I’m really, so I don’t know what pitch meetings are like. I don’t really know that much about Hollywood, but I’m really curious, like, what is it like to pitch a project to executives? Is there a structure? Is it like pitching a client on your services or is there a different dynamic?
Chris: Chris and I did, it’s funny you say that because Chris and I, I guess, did have a little bit of training in that we had been very, quote unquote, client facing and we had done that together as marketing execs at Disney. They deploy us to go pitch whoever, right? We’re going to go talk to home entertainment about whatever, the new DVD release of X-Film more. We’re going to go to the studio and meet with them, but I think what’s so different about Hollywood or at least pitching storytelling is a lot of what you’re pitching is yourself as well. So, you’re pitching something that needs to be very personally resonant within you and that needs to be apparent to the person you’re speaking to. So, I think that we didn’t really go in and pitch halt. So, I mentioned we had those general meetings. So, a general meeting is usually you go into somebody’s office and you sit on a couch and they give you a bottle of water and they say, we really love this script and what else are you working on?
And you talk about that and what are you interested in and then they say, we got this property that we’re developing and we want to do a movie set in this world and you go, oh, that’s really cool. And then they go, send us the next thing you write and they’ll validate your parking on the way out and then you leave. You have a connection at that point, which is it’s not worthless, but you’re not getting a job out of that meeting. And the meetings we had had on halt, we had three, the first two were very much those. And the thing about the A.M.C. meeting was it was the first time they brought us into a conference room. So, it wasn’t someone’s office and we got sat in the conference room and they had the posters for, at that point, it was mad men, breaking bad and walking dead. And it was intimidating and that three executives came in and they all had copies of our scripts, which was also new. And so, we had a sense that they were interested in the script. It was HBO, our agents had said, HBO had said, we want to talk to them about our slavery, really like their work. So, it was like, okay, this would be a general meeting. Showtime was like, they’re interested, but they mostly want to talk about what they’re doing and you’re like, okay. And then A.M.C. was, they want to talk to you about Hull, but they also want to talk to you about your slate.
So, it was a first meeting of the books and it kept getting pushed. Weeks would go by, it would be the day before and then they’d push it another three weeks or whatever and you’re like, we’re ever going to have this meeting. And so, their offices are in Santa Monica and I remember exiting the freeway and I stopped at a 76 gas station and I just, in my head, I wanted to keep them talking about Hull as long as possible. So, I just was practicing out loud sound bites and things that Chris and I had talked about in regards to the show or the things that were most important to me. And I was, I did that for about, I got there about an hour early and I was just doing that in my car. So, it was just like last minute prep stuff. And then, we went in and lo and behold, they put us into a conference room and I was able to talk about all those things and say all those sound bites that I had practiced in the car and we ended up talking about Hull for about an hour and a half and it was great.
And I think most of the meeting was about Hull and I remember that Obama was in town in LA so I had to go way south to go back home where I lived downtown at the time with my wife and by the time I got back home, which was hours later, we had an email from our agent that said, don’t hold me to this but I think they want to buy this script. So it was very sudden and also anticlimactic and just unlike how you always hear it going where you got to go in there and do a huge song and dance. Now, like we did a year in development by the end of that year, Chris and I and our producers, Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein who at the time were producing Breaking Bad for them, we had to go in and do a full, here’s what the show is, here’s our vision for the show and here’s our personal connection for the show. Let’s talk about the characters.
Let’s talk about where we would go in season one, where we would go beyond that. And that meeting was about two hours with the head of programming. That was much more of a classic pitch, right? And then they made a decision to make the pilot based on that meeting. But yeah, it was really just how long can I vamp about this thing I wrote in front of these executives. It helped that they were interested and showed up with the screenplay and so you kind of sense that opportunity and just try to leap through that small window, which I think we did. Yeah.
Meredith: Thank you for painting that picture for me. So conference rooms are a good thing if you’re trying to get folks interested in a script, it sounds…
Chris: Nothing’s a guarantee, right? That might take you to a conference room and be like, we hated this. But for us, it was like, this is our first conference room. It really felt like a big deal and it was AMC has much bigger offices now, so they were small, but it was a conference room and we went in there a year to the day. I think we first went in October 23rd of 2011 for that first meeting and then October 24th of 2012, we went in for that final pitch I just described and then they decided to make the pilot from there. So it was a year of development, which in TV is actually quite fast. Huh? Yeah.
Meredith: I read… So you’ve touched on this already, but I read that the character of Joe was loosely based on your father, who was also a salesman. My dad was a salesman too. I was… If that’s right, and maybe if you could talk about that a little bit about how Joe was slightly informed by him.
Chris: Sure. Yeah. I think slightly as a good word to use. My dad will be like, oh yeah, my life story that my son made as a TV show, which is no. So much to see, lots to believe that, but it’s very much rooted in the world he was working in at the time. So the launch point for the show is really close to what my dad was doing at the time. And that, I think that lended to the authenticity and the different way into the story that really helped, right? It wasn’t immediately Silicon Valley and homebrew computer club and Windows versus Mac.
It wasn’t that it was mainframe system software in Texas, which felt very different and a little swept under the rug in terms of modern computer history, which I think is concerns primarily two things, home computers and then the internet, right? And so obviously that’s where our show is headed, but that hinge point of how things shifted from giant computers the size of refrigerators in a basement in a corporate building and the business around that to the chunk of plastic and metal and stuff that sits on everybody’s desk in their house, which now sits in our pocket, right? Like it’s that sea change was what we were interested in for sure, but we wanted a different way in. And so my dad’s career, which was really coming out of high school and then landing into computers primarily because of the time period.
He just came out at the right time and there were computer programming jobs and there they were and he went into that and he was a very good salesman and he became a computer software salesman for mainframe computing and a lot of jobs were in Texas, which at the time was starting to become known as Silicon Prairie just because there was a ton of computer stuff going on in Austin and Houston and Dallas and North Texas. You had companies like Tandy, which was a leather corporation getting into computers. You had Radio Shack out of Tandy and you had EDS and Ross Pro. You had all of these companies springing up around there. So it just felt like a really interesting way in. And Chris’s dad is a salesman as well. So like that kind of, I was talking about how you’ve got to sell yourself. I think in a way every salesman or saleswoman has to do that. My dad always talked about how the easiest sale he could do is if he believed in what he was selling and then he could also successfully sell himself in the room. So Joe was very much crafted in that mold. And then Gordon was the guy who could speak to the nuts and bolts, but wasn’t as good at the sales part, right?
So they needed each other and it was apparent from the beginning. That was very much the impetus for the setting for Hall and like the character archetype in terms of how Joe starts is very much informed by my perception of my dad when I was little. But within him is also Steve Jobs, a lot of these innovators who have their finger on the pulse, but can’t quite articulate and need a lot of people around them. Walt Disney was like this, right? The worst animator in the room might be Walt Disney and Stan Lee wasn’t that known well for being an artist, but he could channel the energy and the vibe and ride the waves in a way that really felt magical.
And so Joe is very much crafted in the mold of people like that. It was funny when I was younger, I told my dad, like, I never want to do what you do. I want to be an artist and I want to be right here. And then when we built the set for Cardiff Electric, which was a company in Dallas in the early 80s selling mainframe system software, and I walked into that set, it was like my dad’s office. It was like a bring your kid to work day. So I completely recreated my dad’s profession, albeit in a completely different context. So daddy issues and the stories that are born from that.
Meredith: Super interesting. As you’re talking about this, I’m thinking of what you mentioned earlier, where you’re like in the car driving, like practicing your pitch, like I think the energy of season one, Joe, a bit is like we slightly get to see the work behind the curtain.
Chris: It’s my job 99% of the time. It drives me crazy a little bit, but I also love it to some extent, and I do think my dad for a lot of those skills, I think that I just through osmosis was able to pick up because I think pitching is performing, which is the converse of what most writers, including myself, aren’t interested in doing, but you have to perform, right? It’s like you write something so that someone else can do it and you can, where’s the safest place to be? Oh, it’s behind the camera where there’s no lights on me, you know what I mean?
I have that introverted side, but you have to, you got to go out there and convince someone to spend millions of dollars and if you’re going to be in charge of it, it should probably be you, but that goes back to what I was saying about my dad, which is the easiest self to make is when you’re selling something you believe in and you’re able to successfully sell yourself and those two things are really wedded when it comes to writing or directing or whatever it is you’re trying to do in H. Wood.
Meredith: Yeah, what you’re saying is really resonating with me a lot. My dad, as I mentioned, he’s also a salesman, he used to say to you, you have to believe in what you’re selling to be able to do it well. And I beat myself as separate or different. I was like, I don’t want to work in an office. I want it to be a writer when I actually realized like a lot of him and that side of things is in me and it’s probably that part of me that I’ve discovered later in in my life, but it’s helped me at work a lot for sure. And I do think there’s a tension between being the creator or the salesperson that’s actually helpful. But I, so one thing I was curious about, and maybe this will, maybe we should edit this out because it’s too random of a question, but do you have any particular relationship with death of a salesman, the play?
Chris: Oh, yeah, I saw that in your questions. It’s funny. I really love that play and I think I saw, not live, but when Dustin Hoffman played Lohman and it was Malcovich played this is an incredible performance. And I think of that play a lot. Also really love Brian Dennehy’s performance as well. It’s a little different. It’s more like kind of mock gregarious. It just shows you like the different ways to play those characters, but still get across the basic ideas of what’s foundational about them. Yeah. I really love that play. I’ve read it and I’ve watched multiple performances of it. I really enjoy it. It’s a sad play. It’s very good.
Meredith: Yeah. So my dad liked that play. I think Willie Lohman sometimes he’d bring up, but I’m curious about your feelings on it because I almost cannot take it to meet as the saddest piece of literature in existence because Willie Lohman is so vulnerable, is so ashamed of his perceived failures. And it’s just, it’s brutal. And the thought of my dad feeling like the thought of him identifying with Willie Lohman ever is so brutal to me. I almost can’t watch it. And I was thinking of this in relation to Halt. I was thinking in some ways I feel like for me, the death of a salesman almost feels like the shadow side of Halt, which I think is embracing the creativity of failure and moving forward energetically in partnership with others.
Chris: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s, we talk about with Halt a lot that obviously since our characters exist within the cracks of real history, we know they’re not going to cross the finish line and have everything they ever wanted. They don’t know that. And so the story becomes one of, will they ever be at peace with that realization? And I think obviously the hardest person to accept that realization would be Joe. And I think that the idea of the death of a salesman of, he was liked but not well liked, he was liked but not well liked, is the characters in Halt like very much have successes that most people would dream of, but they’re not the top top, right?
Or they’re beaten to the punch by X factor or this variable or this better execution of the idea. It doesn’t mean that their pursuit is any less sincere. I felt this, last night I was in a feeling sorry for myself mode and we started the new season of succession and the credits were going, the opening credits were going and I said to my wife, I’ll never have a show like this. And it’s funny, right? Because somehow the show that Chris and I made, it has remained somewhat indelible in a non-monoculture hyper content era. People still talk about it, we’re talking about it, right? Show went off of years six years ago. So that’s very special. And who knows what I’ll do next or this or that. But yeah, sometimes you have those feelings where you feel confronted with your own perceived or not mediocrity. Another story like that would be like Amadeus, right? Solieri was a great composer but he couldn’t live with the fact that Mozart was Mozart and he was aware that Mozart existed, right? So it’s like the special pain of that, that’s the Willy Loman pain and I think that Joe is not Willy Loman but he had to have a reckoning of, I’m not going to be at the top at the end of this story. I think with Joe and I think to a lesser extent, well not to a lesser extent, probably a better extent, the other characters realized was that there is no top, the phrase that’s batted around too much is the journey not the destination, but Joe is able to look back on his story to adventure and his life and the connections forged which the whole show is about and the endeavor of computing being one of connection and a different evolved form of human connection and does it lead to more connection or disconnection between people and you can look at social media now and go, are we completely isolated from one another more than we’ve ever been even though I can contact anybody 24-7, there’s very much about that.
But it was a story about people seeking connection, having connection, losing connection, realizing that even if the connection is finite, it was still very valuable and the most valuable things they’ve had in their life. Joe says the computers aren’t the thing that gets you to the thing, I think he’s talking about human connection in a way that gets you to a really evolved state of connecting and resonating with another human being and I think he’s able to look back and realize he did that and I’ll think Willie is able to look back and realize he did that. So that’s the tragedy of that story.
Meredith: I love what you’re just saying about Joe. This is the second time I’ve mentioned this play on this podcast, but have you ever read or seen Arcadia by Tom Stoppard?
Chris: I read it a while ago, but it’s been years and years, yeah, it’s fallen on my recall memory.
Meredith: The reason I bring it up is because I love it and there’s one concept in there where there’s this guy who’s a mathematician and the play is talking about kind of the concept of fractals which also become a metaphor for just life. I’d say the message I take from it is that the shape of things at a grand scale and a small scale is the same and so it is worthwhile to engage meaningfully with the small things in front of you because they are going to have the same themes and experiences as the bigger things. And when I think about work, I find that a helpful way to view work because even things like this podcaster newsletter I write or really thinking about management and people, sometimes I think I can feel a little myopic. It’s just about work. But I’ve really found that by like deeply thinking about this shit that I’m doing every day, it is like true connection with other people and it really quickly gets you to the bigger themes of life. And so I really love that about Joe’s character and the fact that he, to your point, he goes through such an incredible arc with tech, but I think ends up as a humanities professor. Is that right? Yeah. I realize I’m saying your own story back to you and you’re like, yeah, no shit, Meredith. I wrote it. But the fact that he went all this with tech and ended up like studying human nature really resonated. I love it so much.
Chris: Yeah. That’s I think he was seeking that from the beginning and I think it took him a long time to get there. But there’s a Zen concept called the Ugen, which is that you must depart for a destination, the destination ultimately being where you started from, but you must go on the destination to find that place. And I think that Joe very much goes on a journey of Ugen and the story.
Meredith: That’s a really cool concept. I’m going to have to look that up after. Thank you. All right. I could keep going into this, but let me see. I’m going to try and maximize our time together really kind of fast. I would want to talk about Donna and Cameron on HALT as well. So they are amazing female characters. They’re talented, flawed, complicated, and they are also worthy of our affection and curiosity. So how intentional was the way that you approached writing them? And do you have advice for other male creators writing female characters?
Chris: First and foremost, I would say that writing a female character, write them as a person. If you can write people, you can write a large swath of people of any kind of gender or identification. Obviously, as you get further out from your own experience, it’s important to connect with and converse with and interface with people of that mold that you’re trying to portray. I think that’s incredibly important. But for us, Donna and Cameron were fascinating because they had so many of the same drives that Gordon and Joe had, but less liberty to just freely pursue them for various reasons. And I think was viewed as very young, fringe, problematic, a woman, man’s world, Donna. Similarly, we talked about how Donna is coming out of the more first wave of feminism, right? So she’s working. She’s at Texas Instruments as an engineer, but she also makes the kids lunches. It’s just without question. She does all that stuff. And so she’s very much in that role. And she’s in a somewhat of a bread-winning role, and Gordon is someone who feels he’s just naturally entitled to pursue his dreams like it or not. And they both come from trying that together so that there’s an enlightenment in their marriage and in their dynamic, but there’s still a lot of tradition and traditional roles. And I think that it’s what was really interesting for us was when we would put Cameron and Donna together, they do have different viewpoints when it comes to feminism, I think. That is generational. And so letting that spool out between the two of them, I think, was a lot of fun just because Donna feels like there are certain rules she has to abide by, even if she wants to be a professional. Yeah. And Cameron is in a place where she’s like, there shouldn’t be any rules at all. There’s growth and arc in both of them. In that way, there was another question I think you had asked about, I forgot where it was, but I was like, how does the story, how do you know where to go in the story or was the writing experience? For us, we always talk about this is like at a certain point when you’ve done the work, the story starts to tell you where it wants to go and if you’re listening, it will reject certain things and it will accept certain things and there’s like a narrow parameter of what works and what doesn’t. And obviously you can challenge some of that, push it, but I think that for us, we had low ratings in the first season, but we were also coming in at a time when that first, like I was talking about golden age mold, which was a lot of shows about male anti-heroes bucking the system, whether it be Don Draper, Walter White, or Tony Soprano, that we’d seen that very well. And we tried to start from that. We started from that place. And I will admit, I think Chris and I, we’re young writers, we’re trying to get into the business. You’re emulating some of that. But then I think once we had our feet underneath us, the idea was to explode that. So in the second episode, and even from the start, you realize that Joe doesn’t have a master plan and is maybe flying by the seat of his pants, which we thought was interesting. Here’s a guy that doesn’t seem to have all the answers, but has to sometimes pretend he does. And when you lean into that, and you start to deconstruct these things, and we wanted Donna to become involved in the main plot of the story from the beginning. That’s why she’s an engineer and the pilot. That’s why she fixes the speaking spell. But we didn’t know how. And I think it was, you just, you find that way. And so by the time first season ended, critically, we were doing much better. People were starting to embrace the show, AMC wanted to renew it, but it was really like a free ball. It was like, where are we going? We wanted some changes, but it was, it seemed obvious to us that what we would follow in the next season is the next endeavor, which would be mutiny as opposed to Cardiff Electric. And I think that this, the themes of the show led to that reinvention we did every season where things just feel very different and yet it’s the same characters and they’re pursuing it, but at different permutations and a different relation to each other. And time and again, there’s the rebels, like Joe and Gordon in the first season, who then become the system that then needs to be rebelled against, which is Cameron and Donna. And then mutiny becomes a major going concern and then there’s a rebellion against that and so on. Right. And then things just get radically reinvented and there’s that disruptor model in terms of tech language that comes into play with Hall. So it’s just led to itself to that a lot, a lot is easy to make that transition.
Meredith: Okay, thank you, that’s fascinating. And all right, I want to jump now a little bit. You and I had emailed about the concept of content and I know maybe you take Umbridge with the term, which I totally understand. I feel like I have an ambivalent relationship to it myself. And I was listening to, I don’t know if you ever listened to the Ringer podcast, The Watch. Do you know that one?
Chris: I do know, but I haven’t heard it in a while.
Meredith: I like it a lot, but they had on HBO CEO Casey Boyce, it was a great interview, but I was surprised by how much he was using the term content to describe premium television programming. Right. And so I can, I’d be so curious for you to talk about your thoughts on the term content and its impact on the creative industry, television or otherwise.
Chris: Sure. Yeah, I think it’s a word that I’ve, I think I, it’s a word I’ve been hearing for quite a while because I, like I said, I came out of this weird social media tech marketing side of things. There was this kind of brief detour in my long and circuitous writing path. But for me, and also I was thinking about this, content isn’t a new word. I think of it as it would still pop up. Like if you’re watching something on TV, it would be like, there’s like mature content in this. The following has mature content or like violent or sexually explicit content viewer discretion is advised. And I was thinking about what bugs me about it now is that when you use it in the context of that, that’s just an example. It’s saying part of a whole and that now it’s become the whole and the content to me is the word. If you’re going to look at it semantically seems like a measurement of value or a measurement of volume, like a unit of measurement content, there’s a certain amount of content in here that you might find offensive. There’s a certain amount of content and here you might think is laugh out loud, hilarious. Now it’s just content. And I think it speaks to a concept of volume, big or small, volume, stuff, anything. And it has no connotation other than that. It can’t. Once in a while, my wife, I don’t know if it’s some meme or I don’t know where it came from, but the phrase like this is the content that I crave like that. My wife and I will say that to each other, but my wife is a teacher and a poet. And like we do buck against the word content, especially when it’s used to describe things that are more than just a big chemistry beaker full of shit. You know what I mean? It’s like how much content do we have? It’s look at all the content. You can just hear it, it’s always associated with volume. And I think that the moment that art, pop art, entertainment, things that are meant to engage and like we were talking about before connect are reduced to volume metrics. They lose some magic, right? They lose some value. And I will say that the way that word can be used against people who make content like myself, content creators by favorite term, is it inherently devalues them in my opinion. And what they do are canned. I’m not saying it always, look, the guy from HBO, it’s going to be at every memo we read, so it’s just the language that he uses as a vernacular of the industry. But I will say studios and networks, whoever, when they refer to everything as content, especially when it comes to streaming, and I hear this all the time, we got a lot of buckets to fill. With what? Who gives a shit? Flop? You know what I mean? Like gruel, porridge, like Oliver Twist. It gets under my skin because I think it can actually, when it can be used to devalue the work of the artist and the artist themselves. You look at things that are going on right now, like the WGA negotiations with the AMPTP or this or that, when things just become content and it becomes a volume business, which by the way, it always has been at a certain extent volume business. We got a program, whatever, against these soap commercials. We got so much bandwidth to put on the platform, we need to fill it with stuff, but I think that when it’s viewed just as that, as opposed to something that can at least entertain someone and get their mind off of their own life problems for 22 minutes, 45 minutes an hour, at most transcend, right? When it’s something that is truly transcendent, when it becomes widgets that people are incentivized to use one of their words as much to compensate the widget maker who is not just there to make widgets, but has got into this business, obviously some people get into it for bad faith reasons, but got into connect with people, got into express themselves in ways that they have difficulty expressing themselves otherwise about how they see or feel the world. Obviously, I think with art or entertainment or any of these kind of things, these skillsets, there’s a certain amount of ego that comes with what I have to say is inherently more important than others. I don’t necessarily believe that about myself, but I feel that I must say it in order to remain balanced emotionally, mentally, psychologically. I must express myself in order to feel like I have a purpose or that I am a part of society. I feel like I must be heard. Now we can go into all my therapy sessions as to why, but I feel that I must have that because it may be stems from some irrational thing. My mom on the phone while I’m a baby in a crib crying, who knows, but not to say that my mom was like that. My mom was great, but there are a million different primal reasons why we are the way we are, but when it becomes a profession, when it becomes more than a profession, when it becomes a vocation, which is to say something that is the equivalent of a priesthood, and I’m not going to say I’m doing anything holy here. I can see all the stupid toys I have around my office, and I have deadlines to hit and you turn it in and you go, I hope it’s good, but it is a vocation because it is something I find myself doing outside of concern of compensation, which is something that can be exploited by the people who are supposed to then compensate. When they go, how many widgets are you doing? Or we don’t need that many widgets. We’re good on content for the moment. It robs and generalizes and homogenizes all the unique voices, experiences, and shared connectivity that this type of artistry can provide to other people, even if it’s just like you said on a small scale, one person seeing death of a salesman and it reminds them of their father and they have trouble even finishing reading the play. To a certain person, death of a salesman is content, right? Yeah. And that’s where it gets problematic for me. It’s a slippery slope.
Meredith: As you’re talking about the concept of the chemistry set, I’m thinking of the way that the contents of a package mean the shape of the package is predetermined, the package is the commodity. The very first episode of Content People that we did, I talked to Todd Henry, who’s written some cool books about being a commercial creative. And one thing we touched on was a little bit, I think in particular, creatives more so than other professional service workers have the potential of feeling slash being exploited because it’s not just like your ability to put together a spreadsheet or your brain power on a strategy, it’s like a little bit of the essence of who you are is going into what you’re doing. Yes. And when people, when you have to attach process, product or money to it, it gets complicated. And are there any like in practice, how do you think the use of the term content could be maybe weaponized against creatives? And do you have any advice for how they could guard against that?
Chris: I think what you’re talking about first, like that intersection of art and commerce, that’s such a, that’s such a not moral and cultural and otherwise. And it’s tough. Halt was about that, right? It was let’s change the world. But at the end of the day, how many units of the computer sold, right? The intersection of art and commerce is really tough. It exists in my industry. I might be writing my favorite comic book in the world, but it needs to move a certain amount of books on the shelf for the company to continue printing it. And I don’t hold that against the company. You know what I mean? And the same thing with Halt. What are our viewer numbers? What are our DVR numbers? What are our DVR plus seven numbers? All of those things come into it. I think the, the weaponization of content is what I was referring to earlier is when it can be used potentially either consciously or subconsciously to devalue what you just described, which is the work of someone putting in an essence of who they are into what is being at the end of the day sold or my favorite word consumed. When content is consumed, content consumers, when we reduce ourselves to this kind of base level understanding of it, then you get things like pirating is okay. And listen, the person that pirating is going to hurt the most is going to be the record label or it’s going to be the studio or it’s going to be all these places that are quote unquote unassailable. But they’re, they’re not these days. Number one, everything is shaky. You look at every kind of creative industry and it’s all contracting and fluctuating and being weird. Yeah. All of this. But it does take from someone who is giving a lot and you get things like, like the functionality and mechanics of AI generated art or writing are fascinating to me, obviously, from a text standpoint, from an ethical standpoint, I think they’re also really interesting and also really naughty because I work with a lot of comic book artists who are threatened, I think, rightfully so by AI generated art and generated, I don’t even think is the right word. It’s largely regurgitated. And I say that not cojoratively, I say that in terms of describing the technical process of how it’s done. You can say, give me the Hoth battle from Empire Strikes Back as drawn by Daniel Warren Johnson, a wonderful comic book artist, and they will go, the computer will do a really interesting thing when it does that and it’ll come back and it’ll be, you’ll have the stimulus beta wave brain reaction of, wow. But you have to understand that what the computer did was it went through a lot of Star Wars which the computer didn’t create, it went through the work, the production designing work of Empire Strikes Back, it went through Irving Kershner, the director’s work, it went through the performances of all of those actors, it went through George Lucas’ storytelling, it went through Daniel Warren Johnson’s art, which is something that he’s practiced forever, his whole life, speaking of vocational work, and it mashed them together quite well. You can see the seams in a few places and it made this for you. And it’s cool, it’s interesting to look at, but when people balk at that or say, and I’m not speaking for Daniel, like an artist goes, hey, there can be this defensive reaction of whoever typed in that prompt that goes, you’re a gatekeeper or this is what, this is radical freeing of content, it’s like freeing it from who? Do you think comic book artists live in huge mansions? That industry is contracting too, you know what I mean? If I was just a comic book writer, I couldn’t live on that, I couldn’t support my three kids that take up most of my time, you know what I mean? So when art, that’s a version of art becoming content that gives me pause and gives me concern. I have nothing against technological evolution, but I think that there are ethical concerns at play always in technological evolution and we did this with Hull all the time. We never even had to say it out loud because it was obvious that these people were sincere and they believed in what they were doing and they were like, they wanted to change the world and they did. I heard an NPR story that said that the invention of the transistor was the equivalent of humans discovering fire in terms of parabolic growths of technological advancement in human society. But with the invention of fire, you get the combustion engine and you get the industrial revolution and then you get like kids getting their little fingers chopped off, then you get the labor movement and then you get environmental concerns and you get a hole in the ozone layer and I’m not saying all the things that came out of fire are bad, obviously who doesn’t love a good seared tartar, but some of this stuff, technology in humans are really interesting because one moves so much faster than the other. We can’t keep up. Yeah. I think AI is AI art generation or writing. We can’t keep up because it goes faster than we do. It’s just the nature of the beast and like the characters in Hull, we know they changed the world, maybe not them specifically, but they helped and collectively now here we are and there’s no off switch on the internet. We all now have phones in our pocket and we will for the foreseeable future. I was on a camping trip in Joshua Tree with my son’s fourth grade class and we were in a place called the Cactus Mart, which grows its own cactuses and cacti and you can plant them in little pots yourself and they’ve been there since the seventies and it’s just kind of like a little road stop place and I overheard one of the kids saying to their friend, man I can’t wait to get a phone and that kid just had a four day incredible experience in Joshua Tree and then both exist, I’m not taking anything away, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and I’m saying that’s not much power this shit has over us and there’s no going back and I think so we didn’t have to say it out loud in Hulms because we still, our brains are still hunter gatherer brains. We haven’t even caught up to sedentary farming, let alone AI generated art that does it quote unquote for us. That’s why we’re still eating cookies because we think it’s a fig tree and we’re never going to come across one again for the rest of our life so we need to eat as much as possible and put fat on our bodies so that in case we starve six months from now it’ll take longer for us to die. So technology and humanity it’s just the tempos are very different and so it’s fascinating and scary and so when we start saying things like content we sound like technology and we sound like technology going this is just what this is and nothing more and therefore it deserves little money next to zero compensation or zero compensation and at the end of the day maybe not even our respect and that’s where we start to destroy our own humanity. Wow, I didn’t,
Meredith: oh yes I love that perspective and I’m glad he brought AI into it because I wanted to ask how do you think AI is going to impact how stories are told and characters are developed in itself. I would guess that you’re resigned but
Chris: I think it my answer would only be it will. I think that the best of us will adapt in constructive ways, in evolved ways and I think the worst of us will adapt in exploitative ways. My wife is a high school teacher and right now AI can generate a paper that’s written at the seventh grade equivalency level but what the bigger concern is that students are no longer reading texts because you can say not just what happens in the great Gatsby and it’ll tell you, you can say what are the predominant themes of the great Gatsby and it’ll be pretty close but it gives you a, it gives you a very sin patina of knowledge that if you push on it it’s not dynamic and it actually gives like a soft wall of butter where my wife can ask a certain question and someone goes I don’t know, now relate great, now relate Jay Gatsby’s on to the suffering of the master in Kokoro and the student goes I didn’t type that in can you give me a second I got to go back to my laptop.
Meredith: Yeah like they’re out the thinking is being outsourced to these.
Chris: The thinking is being outsourced yeah and some of that isn’t bad and some of that can like I said it can deprive you of what makes you or over the specialness of that we have as a sentient species one of the few fully sentient species on the planet.
Meredith: Chris you’ve given me so much to think about and this has been such a fun conversation I know we’re a little bit over.
Chris: Oh it’s totally fine I’m good I’m good I’m good for another little bit I’m just I have another kid here and that’s actually where I’m going to go after this.
Meredith: Alright cool then maybe I’ve got three questions around comic books I’d love to get to with that.
Chris: Sure yeah.
Meredith: Alright so one thing I’m curious about is how does creating stories for comic books differ from creating stories for television.
Chris: I think that obviously one way they’re the same is that they’re both primarily a visual medium and I think that means that the work is important as the writing is the work doesn’t translate and become what it’s supposed to be or intended to be without the work and talents and skills of others. In comics that means the artist that means the colorist that means the letterer it’s not a comic book otherwise it’s a word document. The same thing is true for final draft and it’s the screenplay it’s a blueprint for something else. So that’s the way they’re very similar it’s very reliant on experts and a visual medium becomes very collective in that way.
They’re different in that like comics are very distilled right so it has to be sparse and simple and the art has to lead what you’re doing so the writing has to take a back seat and I think that’s true with maybe movies and TV too but there’s less of a grace area you have to really boil a story down to its most potent pieces and try to tell it very economically which I always find challenging but it’s a fun challenge to try to just be succinct as possible and let the artist do their thing and also be open to letting the artist change it which that happens in film and TV too whether it be the director or you down the road in the editing suite.
Comics are also they seem to be faster just because the book’s got to go on the shelf if it’s greenlit to be on a series and so you’re just moving quickly. It’s also a smaller feedback loop you’re really working with an artist and editor a colorist a letterer some designers perhaps are coming in to do logo treatments and things like this guest artists to do variant covers but it’s a very small feedback loop so it happens it happens very quickly it’s a very fast process whereas TV especially in the development and features can last your whole life here’s like oh this is still going so yeah.
Meredith: Okay thank you it’s really interesting to to think of the order of things I read Hellcat and I really loved it Chris Hassan thank you for listening I’m forgetting me that copy for the PDF so I don’t want to harp on it too much but I really love that you so my understanding is that you introduced or reintroduced this female character in your Iron Man run and are now creating a whole series based on her do I have that right?
Chris: Yeah pretty much she’s actually it’s I would I look one the big things I love about Hellcat whose name is also Patsy Walker is that she actually has been around since 1945 and started as a teen comics character like Archie but a girl and then when Marvel became more superhero oriented following the launch of Fantastic Four they reintegrated her into the Marvel universe and then she put on a costume and became a hero so there’s a lot that’s going on with her that’s fascinating she has like several different origins which is great.
Meredith: Were you drawn to her for a particular reason was it your idea to introduce her back in Iron Man or is that part of the brief?
Chris: Yeah no I wanted to bring her in I she’s always been a favorite of mine one because listen I love Spider-Man he’s probably my favorite hero and his origin is so perfectly told in I think it’s 11 or 12 pages in Amazing Fantasy 15 it’s not even the full issue and it’s everything right where it says he gets his powers he’s picked on at school he’s gonna make money with the powers but then his uncle is always telling him with great power comes great responsibility he lets a criminal go that robs the wrestling place where he’s working and he lets the guy go and he’s but jerk about it the cop says why didn’t you stop him and he says it’s not my problem and then that cop kills uncle Ben he feels guilty and so he’s very much a character built on grief and it’s just crystallized in those beautiful 12 pages that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did hellcat is spread out over like decades it’s here’s where she came from as a teen romance character here’s how she became a hero here’s how we justify all those books about her as a teen archie comics character and then then she went and did some like really weird kind of amazing space cosmic supernatural stuff that a writer named J.M. Dematis did when she was part of a team called the defenders and then in the 90s I think the thing that really drew me to her was she married the son of Satan Damon Hellstrom who was a good guy for a while and a hero and he was in the defenders but then obviously he’s also the son of Satan so things went pretty south in the 90s they they took him in a much different darker direction and Patsy ended up a casualty of that in a way where she one of the few characters because I think comics tend to shy away from this committed suicide and she came back years later because it’s comics they found her in the underworld or in hell and brought her back to life and so there’s that kind of piece over here and there’s the piece that like she comes from a broken home and but then she was like America’s number one sweetheart and that she was also an Avenger and there’s all these different pieces from her and for a lot of her history she just didn’t have any superpowers sometimes she’s able to do certain things but this book is really dealing with and the reason I’ve always been drawn to the characters from the mental health aspect the what do you do when you’re given a second chance like that when you when you make a choice like that in your past when you are this bubbly boy it’s vibrant resilient human being who is funny like Peter Parker and decides to be a hero like Bruce Wayne you just put on the costume and go like that’s an interesting character to me as opposed to I must be this hero like Superman or something like that where it’s I’ve been given I’m basically a god so let me so Patsy is I’m a person and I’m just gonna decide to help people that’s very interesting to me and then also she made this very dark choice in her past we touched upon a lot of the mental health stuff and Iron Man and and she was a really good counterbalance to the ambition of someone like Tony Stark and the insane drive talking about Steve Jobs and Joe right like Tony is very much in that same world of let’s go let’s build it let’s fix it let’s do it thinks about the ethics later Patsy was a very grounding force in that to be able to do her own book has been great because it’s been a way to restate her origin into kind of a cohesive emotional foundation and have her really examine these fundamental questions about herself she has a lot of darkness in her past she has a lot of vibrance in her past and how do those two things coexist and that’s really what the books about is examining that which has been a lot of fun I’ve been wanting to do a Hellcat book for years and I’m so thrilled that Marvel’s being able to do it Alex Lin is the artist I gotta plug him just because he’s an amazing talent and I feel like he’s drawing the book in a way that makes it unlike anything that’s on the shelves right now so it’s a lot of fun.
Meredith: It was it was really cool to read I’m going to keep my eye out because I was so interested in the character in the story and the demographics for this podcast seem to be mostly women between 20 something and 35 so I’d say if you fall into that and you’ve maybe stayed away from comics this could be a really cool one to start with because it’s certainly grabbed me and is a really cool interesting complex female character I was really loving so thank you thank you very much and you’ve done a lot of really well received comic book work what inspired that pivot for you how did I know you mentioned I think around 2017 getting into it but how did that
Chris: I loved comic books since I was in grade school and middle school and I gravitated to things like Star Wars and Star Trek well because I think I had that introverted side and I also struggled with a lot of mental health things that as an only child and someone who really opened up to my parents about that stuff when I was a kid I think comics and Trek and Star Wars it just provided me a sounding board and a method of escape and a glimpse into the strange and weird in a way that wasn’t that didn’t label it as bad or something that should be excised it was stories about especially comics it’s really just especially even Superman the stories about people who would otherwise be outcasts choose to take the things they’re blessed and cursed with and use them to try to do the right thing whether it be the X-Men or Spider-Man or whatever or even just Batman the terrible thing that happens to him the traumatic thing that happens to him as a kid to try to turn around and make that into a force of good even though I’ve I often talk about talking about how Batman is really like an examination of the concept of revenge and how far it can push you and is that necessarily a good thing and that’s what’s cool about these characters I think at their best is that they’re all human and I say human not in a literal sense because a lot of them aren’t but they’re flawed mortal people who make the wrong decisions and that’s always fascinating to me when these paragons screw up and then they have to fix that too and that’s Star Trek that’s Star Wars that’s Luke choosing between the light and that’s Trek being like Starfleet explore strange new worlds whoops we screwed up this entire civilization let’s go back and fix that can we oh we made it even worse I think that kind of stuff is really just so much fun because it’s about it’s about the the folly and the beauty of the human endeavor but writ large and in hyperbole so you get lasers shooting out of eyes you get spaceships who doesn’t love that you know what I mean so yeah that’s where it came from when I was a kid but yeah so I had an idea for a comic book just I had an idea for 20 years and it didn’t really translate into anything I didn’t know what to do with it and I was able to talk to a comic book writer named Willa Wilson and she introduced me to Karen Berger who had spent her career at DC and founded Vertigo Comics which was really if you go back and look at here are comics that are exploding the medium of what it means to be a comic book I think Vertigo was really at the floor of that in the 90s and Karen was launching her own kind of boutique imprint within a company called Dark Horse Comics and she was looking for out-of-the-box stuff because I think Karen has a really she has a legacy and a vanguard of work to already stand behind so she really looks to push the envelope so she helped me develop that idea my first book was called She Could Fly and yes it’s about a teenage girl who sees someone flying around in the sky in the city of Chicago and is trying to figure it out but it also deals with obsessive compulsive disorder and insurasive thoughts and feeling alienated from friends and family because of what’s going on in your mind and it was all very much drawn from a personal place yeah that’s how that happened and then it just parlayed into somebody like that book and they call me up you want to what about Dr. Doom what about this you have any other ideas for your own original stories and so it’s just a world I fell into and it’s one I absolutely love working in it’s just the best job.
Meredith: Thank you for that as you’re as you’re talking I think something so simple and obvious about comic book stories or hero stories that had never occurred to me before is just the way that they by accepting embracing or acknowledging the like sad or dark sadder things that have happened to them or the darker parts of themselves it’s all it’s the shadow to everything else that they can contribute to the world or sometimes the it is for that and that feels really powerful.
And also too at first I was I’m going through the questions I’m like gosh Chris has done so much how am I going to weave these together but the themes that you’re talking about in what resonates with you and that you bring forth in the comic book stories is really similar to HALFT and it’s just so I think maybe for my final wrap up question.
I’m really curious to know if you have what do you think about the muse do you have a relationship with the muse do you have a creative ethos of some kind because I’m definitely feeling like a force that is uniform throughout all these different facets of your creativity?
Chris: Yeah that’s an interesting question because I saw that one in there I was like oh wow I don’t I haven’t thought about it it’s weird I think maybe there’s a sense of modesty in me that doesn’t like accept something like a concept like that but I think you’re I think I do in some way like on a surface level I think it’s if I respond a certain way to other arts that I might encounter whether that be a movie or a show music is a really powerful thing for me that can generate ideas.
Whether it’s a walkthrough the latma or seeing a repertory screening of some movie or discovering some film some old gem and then that kind of gets me thinking. I think that but I that’s it’s relatively common I was telling my wife last night because I told her about this question and I was saying that how sometimes I can be a strong motivator for me less so now because I’m 41 but especially when I was younger spite or angst or even anger I think could be a really a strong motivator in my work and it could be a powerful force in my writing not necessarily come off as angry but it would be something that would firm me towards breaking through an idea it was either like frustration or the attitude of fuck you, you don’t understand me kind of thing that would make me put something down on the page that was that would end up being fairly unique or at least in my opinion or and enough people’s opinion that would want to hire me to do something like that doesn’t creep up as much.
Just because I think I’m older I’ve done enough therapy and zen meditation and I’m also tired from three kids so I’m not like super angry as much as I am although there are days sure sure it’s multiple a week where I’m serious but it sometimes takes the form of being just resigned untired of guys why is this happening it just becomes that, but yeah I feel like I have a relatively unique attachment to anger in my writing or at least have historically so my muse might be a little bit more pissed off than the classical greek sense yeah and that might come through in like I wrote a book called the blue flame is a comic book and it really came from mine that have frustration about the world as it is it was really just what point do superhero books have at all in the world of today.
And I think it was following some tragedy shooting this or ecological disaster this is what good would one hero be against some sort of infinitely complex human problems things like that or sometimes it’s literally just fuck this executive they don’t give me watch this like it’s it could be that I think it definitely takes the form of that yeah a lot of the time.
Meredith: I think that’s really cool I’m glad that you said that I don’t think a lot of people would give that answer but I think it’s really real and I do think anger I know for me personally I have a hard time with anger it’s like the most physically uncomfortable emotion for me so I tend to probably like repress it a little bit or not be able to tap into it but I know what you mean is like when I can harness it it’s like the most energetic powerful version of myself that’s just fuck this bust through this brick and I’ll figure it out but it’s not often thought of as a generative energy. I feel like it often just like the least accepted emotion.
Chris: Right it could be we shame ourselves with our anger and yes it can be destructive and I think it but I think it becomes even more destructive when not addressed or processed and sometimes writing is a good way for me to process anger that’s not that’s healthy and because if I don’t it does bottle up and then it can come out in other ways that are not helpful to anyone especially myself and I think that if I can it’s harder these days but if I can if I do have that moment where I can be energized by it and not just overwhelmed and just feeling like I might be able to put it into something and have it work and then I feel great it’s helped me process the negative feelings and rewarded me with something that I’m proud of at least for the time being.
Meredith: Thank you for sharing that and for giving it so much thought is there anything I forgot to ask that you’d want to have talked about or said?
Chris: No I mean I think talked about yeah I’m so good.
I mean yeah we talked about we touched on everything I even had a little bit of some notes here and now I think we hit it all I think it’s nice to get praise for hall and catch fire but I think and obviously that show people say oh the Chris Rogers and Chris Cantwell but there were so many people that worked on that show and wrote that show and the actors of that show the ensemble the directors of that show the producers it was I think that it’s such a collective medium that it’s important to acknowledge that show is lightning in a bottle not just because of Chris and I but because of the people that we were fortunate to work with on it at that time which is otherwise we wouldn’t there’s so many different ways that a show and that show could have gone wrong yeah and the time period in the people ensured that it didn’t and that was integral to my success was those people.
Meredith: Yeah, good partnership that you’re talking about at the start… Chris thank you so much you were so generous with your time and like you’re such a good interview you’re so interesting you have such great answers thank you so much I really appreciate you joining us this was a fascinating interview I’m really grateful for your time.
Chris: Thank you so much for having me.
Meredith: Hey everyone thank you so much for listening. I hope that you enjoyed that conversation with Chris stay tuned for next week and we will air our final episode of season one. And if you like this convo with Chris you’d probably enjoy my newsletter which is also called Content People you can subscribe at the link in the show notes. Thank you all so much for listening have a good week, bye.