obsessed with this VOLTA tony tost interview / david milch, jeff nichols, kacey musgraves, longmire! tony tost, you are a-okay with me!

tony tost interview - take down the clouds - the volta

1. Where are you now?
At home in Los Angeles, where I now work as a screenwriter.
Three years ago, I was finishing up writing a dissertation on new technologies and the modernist poetic imagination at Duke. I was also finishing up a book on Johnny Cash’s first American Recordings album for the 33 1/3 series. Then I went on the job market and realized that I was completely burnt out on both poetry and academia. Meanwhile, a friend of mine had broken into screenwriting, so I took a shot at writing some scripts.
He gave me tips and notes on a couple of drafts of an early project, then introduced me to his agents once I’d written something worthwhile. That got me up and running. After a couple of years of freelancing TV scripts from Seattle and then Ann Arbor, my family and I moved out to LA a year ago.
More specifically, right now I’m in the small guest house in our backyard that serves as my office. I’ve radically pared down my library to just four small bookshelves. I’ve got a handsome little Ikea desk and a laptop. Within arm’s length on my desk: the King James Bible, Norman O. Brown’s Love’s Body, Grant Morrison’s Supergods. A decent stack of books on the Great Depression. The scripts for Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, as well as the screenplays for Mud (by Jeff Nichols) and All Is Lost (by JC Chandor).
Plus: dozens of 3x5 and 5x7 notecards with scene ideas and story beats and notes-to-self concerning the script I’m working on.
I listen to music pretty non-stop when I write. At this moment, I’m running through a ten hour Spotify playlist I’ve titled ‘Metamodern Hillbilly Soul Music.’ The last five songs were by Kacey Musgraves, George Strait, Fred Eaglesmith, Ashley Monroe and Justin Townes Earle.
Every once in awhile, I get up and go a couple of rounds on the heavy bag that’s out here too.
2. What are you working on and what have you got coming out?
I just finished up my third season of writing for a sneaky great cable drama called Longmire, which is a sort of hybrid of the Western and the murder mystery genres. It’s about a widowed sheriff in modern day Wyoming who has to deal with a whole heap of shit: his wife’s murder, the local Cheyenne reservation, the quickly accumulating pile of dead bodies in his county.
My first episode of the season just aired last week. I’ve got two more episodes coming out this season. Between the nine episodes of Longmire I’ve written and the various projects I’ve developed both on my own and with various television studios and producers, I’ve easily written over a thousand pages of new material in the last three years.
I’m also raising two young sons with my wife, who is a full-time professor at the University of Michigan. So this is probably why I always look fairly exhausted in photographs.
Now that my Longmire season is finished, I should take a vacation or something. Instead, I’m diving headlong into writing a few things I can’t really talk about yet.
3. Where do you write?
My preferred spot is in my office at home. But I’ll write anywhere.
I’ve never been too precious about writing routines, but switching over to screenwriting has really forced me to expand that flexibility.
When I’m needed on location down in New Mexico, where we film Longmire, I’ll sometimes find myself writing one episode on set between set-ups while they film a different episode. Or writing in the van that takes us from one location to the next. Or writing in the corner while the cast and crew break for lunch. Or, writing on the staged sets when the cast and crew are out filming somewhere on location.
An empty set is actually my favorite spot to write Longmire scenes: I can have the entire sheriff’s station or the local tavern (the Red Pony) to myself. Which means I can act out the scenes and go through all the blocking. Meanwhile, I can hunt around for props or little corners of the sets that we haven’t utilized on screen yet and then work those into the scene.
4. What’s the last best thing you’ve read?
The great big huge omnibus reissue of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run. I’m not a comics guy, so I’ve been pretty shocked to realize that Grant Morrison is one of my very favorite writers.
Another of my favorite writers is David Milch of Deadwood/NYPD Blue/Luck/Hill Street Blues fame. I’ve been re-reading his Deadwood scripts with a practical curiosity that I’m struggling to keep from curdling (once again) into useless awe.
And I’ve just started reading the plays of Sarah Ruhl, who is pretty magnificent.
5. What journals, writers, presses (or tv shows) have you discovered lately?
TV shows I’ve recently flipped out for: Rectify. True Detective. Masters of Sex. Les Revenants. Enlightened. The last season of Eastbound & Down.
6. Care to share any distractions / diversions?
Seattle Seahawks football. Red Zone football package during the NFL season. Vin Scully calling Dodger games. Old pro wrestling videos on youtube.
7. What are you looking forward to?
Finding out what my characters are going to say and do next.