The heart broke :-)
I just remembered – the other day I heard the following Mike White anecdote about his HBO show Enlightened, that made me smile.
In Season 1 of the series, there is an episode titled ‘The Weekend’, in which Amy Jellicoe tries to orchestrate a peaceful weekend away in nature with her junkie ex-husband, Levi. She takes him on a kayaking trip to a place that holds significance for them, their collective history – a history filled with both joyful, and deeply painful, memories… memories of losses incurred, wounds they inflicted upon each other.
In the course of the episode, Amy comes to terms with the reality of who Levi is in the present, and comes to a place of acceptance of their painful past, in order to let it go. In voiceover at the end of the episode, the following monologue plays:
“You can try to escape the story of your life but you can’t. It happened. The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke. I knew you when you were young. I know your heart broke too. I will know you when we are both old and maybe wise. I hope wise. I know you now, your story. Mine isn’t the one that I would have chosen in the beginning, but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine, and it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There is so much time…”
Trust me when I say it is a gorgeous episode and moving monologue in context – every word of it counts. But when HBO executives viewed the episode, one exec said to Mike, “God, the voiceover at the end of that episode just makes me want to kill myself!” And he really wanted three lines to be taken out: “The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke.”
Mike, of course, didn’t want to take them out, having spent so much time carefully crafting that script. He took the feedback, but, instead of excising them, had T-Shirts printed with those three lines, and sent them out to HBO execs, with an earnest plea for them to not make him take out those lines!
They still, however, wanted him to take them out. So he just didn’t. Instead, he told HBO he would take out the lines, then at the last minute told the head of post-production to leave the lines in. And at the official premier of the series, that particular episode was one of the episodes chosen to be screened. During that event, Mike sat behind the guy who had told him to take out the lines.
At the end of the episode’s screening, that guy turned to him and said, “The end of that show kills me everytime – I love it! You did such a good job with that episode!” all moved and oblivious to the fact that Mike didn’t, in fact, cut the lines… because in context the lines are fucking good. And, acknowledging sadness and loss is actually OKAY – an emotionally mature and thoughtful audience will be able to handle it.
The moral of the story?
- A good writer with a mission knows what they are doing. Leave them alone.
- If you are such a writer, trust your instincts.
- I appreciate post-breakdown Mike White on a deep level.
- Heartbreak can make you smile.
I want that t-shirt 🙂