This is a funny show at times, an inquisitive show at others, and it is thoroughly engrossing in a way that you will not expect. It throws you right into Dud’s breezy world as you sense some of his pain (even if he tries to hide it) and the wonder he finds in this strange, mysterious place that has been right in front of his eyes his whole life. This is a show you really should be watching, and for creator Jim Gavin this is a story that he finds a geographical and emotional attachment to. He understands these characters and relishes the opportunity to take them on this strange, but very human journey.
In this exclusive CarterMatt interview, Gavin (renowned largely for his work in fiction) takes us through the inspiration for this world, maintaining the show’s unique tone, and establishing where things are entering episode 4, which airs on AMC Monday night. At the end of the interview is a sneak peek to get you all the more prepared for what lies ahead.
CarterMatt – Through the first three episodes, one of the things that I like about the show is that it doesn’t feel like anything else that I’ve seen. Maybe some of that is that you’re better known as for your work in fiction. Why make the move over into television to take this on?
Jim Gavin – I think some of it was pure desperation, being broke, not being able to find a teaching job, and thinking ‘I’m in LA here, maybe something could happen.’ This particular story, I would say, has a lot of the DNA that my fiction has in terms of the type of people and places I write about. It just felt like a larger story and it had a sprawl to it that I was excited to write as a pilot.
I also just think about the current atmosphere and what TV is like right now. I know this is a strange show, but I think it has a unique voice to it. I think in this current climate there is a place for that, whereas ten to fifteen years ago I’m not sure anyone would have even looked at this. I might have had some intuitive sense that this show might have a place in our current TV world. Through a series of many lucky flukes, it did find its way.
I’ve read that it was a struggle to find the right home for the series, but that AMC eventually came through. How much pressure was put on you during that process to change the series into something that it wasn’t?
One thing that was working in my favor was that when I went off and wrote the script, I had no hope or expectation for it. I did think that it would be a good example of my writing. I have established a voice at this point in my writing career and if nothing else, I thought this script would stand out and be different. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere.
When the script was going around I would hear nice things, but I know a lot of people had concerns about ‘where’s it going’? To give AMC tons of credit, they were the place where they said that the feeling of the script was something they wanted. They had a sense of what it could be and they took a chance on it. Also in crucial amount were Dan Carey and Paul Giamatti, who were the producers attached early on who loved it and were hugely important in pushing it forward and getting it to AMC. Then, when our showrunner Peter Ocko came on, he was just the best and he was instrumental in helping the pilot become a series. That is no easy thing.
For me, it was an incredible experience having all of this support from the producers and from AMC to let this story breathe and be its own. A lot of people took chances on it and I hope we’re able to re-pay their faith.
I think one of the challenges for any new series is to establish a new setting, and then being able to turn that setting into a character in its own right. I’ll be honest in that in the first two episodes I wasn’t sure where the story was going, but I was so engrossed in the sense of place and the people. I only live a short drive from Long Beach and I’ve never been, but I felt like I knew it.
In the writing, how do you incorporate enough character into the city so that it stands out, but not so much that the story just becomes about the city?
For me, I definitely subscribe to the idea of ‘write what you know’ and I have a lousy imagination (laughs). I focus on places like Long Beach and Orange County, where I’ve spent a good many of my years and where I have plenty of family.
One thing I’ve always tried to do is write about the places I know in the same way that someone would write about Paris in the 1920’s. You should care that much and be able to see the magic in the places that you’re writing about, whether it is a donut shop or a Del Taco or whatever. In Lodge 49, Long Beach has a particular feeling to it. The denizens of Long Beach have a pride in their city that is probably different from most of LA County. There’s a certain level of contentment down there that might be more unfamiliar to people in LA, which is more of a place people come to in order to make it. Long Beach is a place where people have a life in a settled way.
Basically, I wanted to capture that lived-in feeling of a place that definitely stands in for the history of California in terms of its industry, its booms and busts. The people there are not looking anywhere else; they’re invested in their own city. Capturing Long Beach was just capturing our characters like Dud, who really has no horizon beyond Long Beach and that’s fine. He totally loves it.
Growing up, I lived in a small town in Texas but there were still these buildings you would walk by where you would spend all of your time obsessing and feeling like ‘what the hell is in this place?’ and desperately wanting to know. I get that same sort of feeling from the show. I know Dud wasn’t always even cognizant that the Lodge was really there, but was this idea of him looking for something like this within this world born out of your own curiosity of the unknown, of things that were right in front of you but still a mystery?
Absolutely. The feeling you describe is one I’ve had many times and I’m sure many have all over the country, especially these lodges and these fraternal orders, whether it is the Masons, the Elks, the Oddfellows, or the Knights of Pythias. For me, they have a strange pull. They seem lost in time and are relics with a generational gap. These were places where people gathered together and they formed communities in the same physical space. It feels far away from where we are now, where people commune online in some ways.
I think the Lodge and creating it was both trying to answer the question of what goes on inside with all of its strange esoterica, but also just trying to fill some sort of void of wanting to see a place where people gather and hang out. It does feel counter to culture at the moment.
Is there a certain sort of commentary that you are making with this show? I feel like this is a world where it’s even harder to connect than ever, and here you have a guy like Dud who seems content but empty when it comes to friendships and he looks towards the Lodge to fill that. Are you trying to encourage viewers to go out and actually try to meet people in the real world?
I think so. I’m as bad as anyone with Twitter and all of that — it has its own pleasures, I’m not denying that, but the moments of my life that have always mattered have been with someone knocking on the door, someone being there. The moments that you remember are with the people who are actually in your life.
I don’t know it’s a large commentary, but on some level the show, even in my own life, is filling a void of wanting to reach out. I’m also someone who has definitely benefited from having mentors, and the lodge, as we’ve kind of constructed it, foregrounds mentorship. Basically, lost young people meeting equally lost older people who may still have a little bit of wisdom. I wanted to portray those kind of relationships.
At the end of this past episode (episode 3) we have a holy-crap moment in the form of a dead body discovered at the lodge, one that I certainly was not expecting. When you were writing this, were you establishing that as a big turning point, and this is what the first three episodes were building towards?
In a sense. We knew that it was coming and it does open up a larger story about the history of the Lodge and the strange aspects of it that touch on things like conspiracy and paranoia.
It would have been very easy to put a moment like that in the pilot — the big hook. For us, we were willing to take the risk for the first two episodes that they might not know what the show is. We always want the hook to be the characters — Dud, Ernie, Liz, Blaise, Scott, Connie, and our whole kingdom of Long Beach. When we do go for these bigger things, you’re already invested in the characters. You’re there to see how the characters react and what they do, and not to see a plot unfold.
But, it was fun building towards that. If you want an anecdote, Paul Giamatti, while he was working on Billions, he was talking about a guy who was a driver. Paul was telling him about the show and he was like ‘that’s great, I’m a Mason. It was pretty crazy; a few years ago, we found a body in the wall of our Lodge’ (laughs). Of course, we had already shot the scene.
There is a certain level of crazy in our show and we love that, but for us it’s the balance of these crazy stories never overtaking the real lives of our characters.
Small as it is, I think one of my favorite moments of the first three episodes is just seeing Liz crawl into that refrigerator. I think we’ve all been there at some point where we just want to hide from the world. What does that moment say about that character, and the frustration and the desperation that she feels?
Liz is crucial to this story. She anchors the whole story that is outside the Lodge. Sonya Cassidy, who believe it or not is from London, does an amazing job of capturing someone who is just living under the oppression of debt and having no sense of horizon. She has a lot going on inside of her.
In the writers room, we pitch moments and if something captures us, we navigate towards it. I love the way that scene came out, and it was just kind of bookended by the strangeness of when Dud comes home, doesn’t see her, comes back out, and she is just standing there like she has just appeared out of thin air. That kind of off-hand surreal feeling is the place where we want to live.
Liz’s story really starts to build in episode 2 and gets bigger in 3, but she will carry on and have a whole crazy storyline for herself throughout the season.
I feel like this is going to be a show that’s immensely popular a year from now when people inevitably discover it, but that certainly doesn’t help anything right now. So I want to set things up so that there’s more of a reason to get people on board now. What can we expect from here, and do you already have ideas as to where this could go moving into a season 2?
The history of the Lodge itself is a long tale with many twists and turns. It’s essentially a conspiracy story, but at the center of this show is also alchemy, the royal art. Some see it as a complete fraud and others might think that it is believable. Our show tends to focus on people who are believers in often strange and wonderful things. What’s next sets up a series, over the long term, full of creepy capers and off-the-wall things that tend to live side by side with character stories of people who are dealing with loss and economic stagnation.
Lodge 49 is the name of the show, and the Lodge is the organizing principle. Its secrets have not all been revealed. When Dud goes through the wall [and sees the body] in 103, that sets up a domino effect that I think will be fun for people to follow.
A very special thanks to Jim Gavin for his time, and remember that Lodge 49 episode 4 airs on AMC Monday night after Better Call Saul.
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