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Kelly Masterson on Writing 'Killing Kennedy' and 'Snowpiercer' and Why We Revisit History's Most Painful Moments

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire November 1, 2013 at 5:04PM

Playwright turned screenwriter Kelly Masterson has had three of his works make it to screen so far, and they're an eclectic, impressive bunch.
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'Snowpiercer'
Weinstein Company 'Snowpiercer'

You and Bong Joon-ho are both listed as screenwriters for "Snowpiercer" -- was that process collaborative?

Yes, very collaborative. He is such a gifted director. He plucked me right out of the atmosphere. He had seen "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," called me and wanted to work with me.

Had you seen his work?

I had not, and so he sent me "Mother" and "The Host." I watched "Mother" and called him up and told him that I would work with him on anything.

It's an amazing film.

It's such an amazing film, and he's such a great guy. We had met once -- he was a judge on the jury at Sundance a few years ago, so we met when he was on his way to L.A. Then we would Skype every Monday morning. He’d be in Seoul, where it's seven o'clock at night, and I'd be in New Jersey where it's seven o'clock in the morning. We talked every Monday morning and worked on it for about six months -- a very collaborative, wonderful experience. I'm very proud of the film -- and horrified that Harvey Weinstein doesn't want the English-speaking world to see Bong's beautiful movie. I just have my fingers crossed that they will solve their problem and that some way we will get to see Bong's cut of it.

'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead'
THINKFilm 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead'

Being a screenwriter involves a certain surrender of control, because ultimately the director determines what ends up on screen. What's that been like for you so far, and do you have any interest in directing?

No interest in directing, necessarily, I think what would interest me about directing is just holding on to that control. Luckily, my involvement in all of the films has been really great. The great Sidney Lumet -- what a wonderful director -- he didn't want to collaborate too much with me, I'll be honest, but you've got to love him, he did such an amazing job. He didn't really want me around the set -- he made a few changes and shot it and did a terrific job.

Bong -- as I've said, it was very collaborative and we worked closely together. I'm very glad how that turned out. Nelson McCormack on "Killing Kennedy" was really terrific because I wrote the script and he had some terrific ideas. We went over the script together and I was with him on set. So it was a collaborative effort. I've been fortunate in all of those, and I know that that's a very rare occurrence for screenwriters -- so far, so good for me.

And you have a TV show in development. Can you reveal anything about it?

It's an hour-long drama on ABC called "Limelight." It tells the story of people that are involved in a major murder case. One year ago we had Hurricane Sandy. I've set a murderer into that hurricane to kill her husband -- or so she is accused, anyway. And a young lawyer and a young journalist are changed by touching the case. I pitched it as Casey Anthony as a show, and it's exploring what happens to people when they’re inside the hurricane of those murder cases.

You're writing that right now?

Yeah, I'm writing the pilot for it -- knock on wood, it will be on ABC next year.

Have you done pilots before?

I have. I did a pilot a few years back for AMC, which was the genesis of my relationship with Ridley Scott. He produced a show I wrote for AMC, which didn't get on the air, but I began a relationship with [Scott Free Productions] and they put me onto "Killing Kennedy."

"I'm not always interested in Hollywood norms and boy-next-door kind of characters."

We keeping hearing about TV getting more cinematic, with projects like "Killing Kennedy" and these very ambitious dramas that some see as pulling attention away from film. Having worked in both, do you think that's the case?

Yes, I would agree it’s the golden age of television. "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "Rectify" -- just great and wonderful, innovative stuff being done on TV. I will tell you that I'm a bit of a snob. I love film and I would like to work in film, and I'm disappointed that indie film is as hard as it is to work in now. It's hard to get things done, but that sort of work is being done on TV. That's what I do, that's what I write, it's what I love, and hopefully that's what my future's going to be.

And are people more receptive? It seems like there's a hunger for smarter dramas now.

Oh yeah, there are so many things -- cable TV understands innovative structures and storytelling, flashbacks. It's changed so much. If you look back, before "Breaking Bad" or "House," you would not have had anti-heroes in series. Those are the kinds of characters I'm interested in. You heard how passionate I was talking about Lee Harvey Oswald. I'm not always interested in Hollywood norms and boy-next-door kind of characters. So TV is more interesting now.

And in terms of receptiveness to more interesting structures -- it sounds like this is going to be the case for your new project?

Very much so. It’s told sort of "Rashomon" style -- we have in the pilot a point of view of the prosecution and a point of view from the defense and they're two completely different stories. So it's exactly what I like to do because then you don't know what the truth is in telling it in two different ways. I think it will be great fun and something very different and unusual for TV.

This article is related to: Television, Interviews, TV Interviews, National Geographic Channel, Killing Kennedy, Kelly Masterson, Snowpiercer, Joon-ho Bong, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Sidney Lumet, ABC, Limelight






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