David Simon, the creator of “The Wire” and “Treme,” is the guest on the latest episode of “Here The Thing,” Alec Baldwin’s WNYC radio show in which the former “30 Rock” star interviews various fellow celebrities and creatives. Baldwin’s an inconsistent interviewer — the show can feel like an inside baseball conversation between two people who aren’t keeping their audience in mind, for better and for worse — but he gets some great answers from Simon about his days as a reporter and about his first meeting with HBO about “The Corner” and their insistence that he find an African American writer to work with.
You can listen to the episode or read the full transcript, but what really jumped out as a highlight was Simon’s addressing whether or not he’d work in film. something he’s yet to do. Simon admits he’s “had a few bites of the apple and I’ve written some things,” but that he doesn’t think he should direct.
See, I know what I’m not good at. I see shot comps — I would do a very pedestrian job of directing. I understand how to turn the camera around. I understand what you need to leave with in order to have coverage. But the really creative and elegant directors I’ve worked with, they have a skill set that I don’t have.
I understand when I’m watching a performance that isn’t working because it’s not getting the intention of the scene or because I don’t believe in something; either the background or the actor. If something is not working, I know it’s not working. But how to solve the problem sometimes, I can be diagnostic, I can’t be prescriptive when it comes to a camera.
The first time I showed up, like one minute I was a rewrite man and crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun and the next moment I was working for the show “Homicide” and my paychecks were coming from NBC.
And I go to set for the first day and I’m looking around and I don’t even know what stupid question to ask. And it was like three weeks into going to set and seeing them do it that at some point I said what’s Boots over there; the guy’s name was Boots. I said, “What’s he doing turning that knob next to the camera?” And Henry Bromell actually, I remember turned to me and said, “He’s focusing the camera.” And I looked at him like, I said, “You mean the guy who focuses the camera isn’t the guy looking through the camera? How does that work?” That can’t possibly work.
So respect the depths, and I do, which is to say I kind of want to have the story turn out — I don’t want to put my name on something where the story, you went in with a script you believed in and you came out with drek. At the same time, I don’t want to relinquish control, but I have to acknowledge features are very different from TV.
Baldwin suggests a solution: “Tell your son to go to film school. Then the director is your son and he wouldn’t dare touch your script.”