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‘Mozart in the Jungle’ Showrunner on Why the Amazon Original Is Unlike Anything Else

'Mozart in the Jungle' Showrunner on Why the Amazon Original Is Unlike Anything Else

Tell me a little bit about how you got involved with “Mozart.” I don’t think you were there from the beginning?

I was not there, I was not involved in the pilot. It was all my fabulous agency WME, who represents most everybody involved in the show. And I had had what they call a “general meeting” with Amazon, kind of a mutual “Hey, let’s do something together,” and shortly thereafter this came to my attention. They sent me the script and the pilot, and I was just completely blown away by what I saw. And felt very fortunate to be considered to be a part of it.

There’s nothing like it. What I love about it is that it’s so completely unique. There’s no show I can point to that is really similar in every way, and I love that world of classical music. It hasn’t been, really, explored — not quite in this way, anyway.

Yeah, the juxtaposition of classical music with raunchy sex anecdotes—

Exactly. Whenever someone asks me what I’m doing I say, “There’s this sort of buttoned-up world of what we all think classical music is, and then behind the scenes, it’s just as crazy as rock and roll,” and people’s eyes always light up at that, because there’s sort of the universal idea of, “They’re musicians! At the end of the day, they’re crazy musicians.” People are so excited to see that contradiction.

Prior to “Mozart,” you had a lot of animation credits, but did you have much series experience?

I did multi-camera many, many, many years ago. And then, in the last five years I’ve done some hour dramas. And so, I’ve had quite a bit of series experience, yeah.

Does the show have a traditional writers’ room?

It does! We’re doing everything traditionally, I would say, in that regard. I’m running the room, and we have nine episodes to break and outline and write. It’s been a very similar process as what I’ve always done, which is that we put up these magnetic boards and we scribble all over them, and we kind of lay it out episode by episode. And then I assign outlines to each writer, and now we’re in the process of everybody writing drafts. So, it’s actually very much like the way I’ve done it in the past.

Will you have every episode scripted before you go into production?

It’s looking like that.

Was that a strategic choice?

We have the time to do it, and the show is laid out in a very sequential manner — it’s not like every episode is stand-alone, it really is a sequence — it frankly is very helpful to have everything done and read it almost as a whole. It’s kind of like doing one giant movie that’s gonna be in nine parts. So strategically, I started to realize early on, “let’s get all nine done, and then look at it as a whole.”

Now, that time that you have, does that just come from the fact that Amazon doesn’t have sweeps and fall TV premieres to deal with?

Even in a network sense, we would’ve had the time to get this done. Nine episodes is very different than, say, 22 of an hour drama. From that perspective I think we would always have had the time. Basically, we spent about a month breaking all the stories and understanding what the whole season would look like. It’s a half-an-hour scripted show, and you can get a rough draft done in a couple of weeks. Enough anyway that you can kind of understand what’s working and what’s not working. Of course, each script will go through multiple rewrites. I mean, we’ll be rewriting on set, which is always the case.

That’s handy, to be able to do that.

It is really nice to have it all… and, regardless of how they may release it, people do tend to binge-watch now, so even if people come to the show a bit later, all the episodes at some point are going to be available. I know I’ve discovered shows a little after they’ve debuted, and I end up watching the entire first season in a day. That is kind of how we’re designing it. You’re gonna get sucked into it and wanna get right in to the next episode.

You’re gonna have it all written by the time you start shooting. I imagine you’re not gonna shoot it sequentially?

We actually are! Just because of some actor availability, we’re gonna shoot the first one and a few parts of the very last one back-to-back. Other than that, we’ll be shooting sequentially.

As showrunner, does that help with the flow?

Oh yeah. I would always prefer to shoot sequentially, absolutely. You never have that luxury with movies, of course, but it’s a nice luxury to have where actors can really understand, “Oh, a couple of episodes ago, I had this interaction.”

How do you feel about the budget you’ve received?

I gotta say, we’re doing fine. Everything thus far has been commensurate with every other project I’ve done. They’ve been completely helpful and supportive. I don’t say that because it’s the party line. It is fact. They’ve been absolutely practical and understand what we need, and our show has some extra needs with music and performance and dance. In each episode, we’re gonna have some elements of some kind of performance in there. It’s a little trickier than your average show.

In theory, so much of the music can be public domain. But I think honestly, of all the Amazon pilots so far, my favorite overall joke was the Oedipus musical set to the music of Styx. That made me laugh so hard, and then I had “Come Sail Away” stuck in my head for days.

We are hopefully gonna revisit that.


A little bit. I can’t say for sure yet, but I loved that moment too.

It’s so good!

It killed me.

By far, this is not the most explicit show ever, even on Amazon. But is there any sort of pressure to live up to a, “we’re edgy, we’re daring, we can do whatever we want” attitude?

There’s no pressure whatsoever. Frankly, it’s such a luxury to be able to push the envelope, and go places you normally wouldn’t go with a broadcast network. For us, it’s not a matter of trying to figure out gratuitous sex and craziness. It’s all based in character. And we’re definitely not being shy in the areas we’re going.

Do future episodes go further than the pilot did?

I’d say we push it a little bit throughout the season, yeah. Again, always in keeping with the believability of our world.

You said that Amazon brought you in for a general meeting. Did you think you would end up running someone else’s show?

I honestly had no idea. I had heard really good things — my friend Chris Carter is doing a show, he and I go back forever. I’ve always been interested in, “Who’s the next?” “Who’s the new kid on the block?” “What’s the next wave of technology?” So I was very excited to go in and see what they were up to, and I honestly didn’t know where it was gonna lead. It was interesting to go in and hear their perspective. They’re very smart — as are many of the newer distributors — about luring people like me into their world, giving us a lot of respect and a lot of freedom to do what they want. That’s how they’ve been able to attract so much talent. So I didn’t know where it would go. I assumed I was probably gonna bring them an original idea of mine, and then this just came up.

Is the next stage “Mozart” Season 2? Or is the next stage bringing them an original project?

Next stage is definitely Season 2. I want this show to go as long as it possibly can. I can very much picture going to them with an original idea of my own — I have two or three which I think would be perfect. But right now, my focus is I want to get this thing up and running and as good as it can be.

When do you think the decision about Season 2 will come?

That’s a good question. We should ask them. [laughs] Hopefully sooner than later! Because it’s funny, it’s that manifest destiny — we’re already figuring out Season 2. Particularly when you’re doing this kind of sequence, you have to ask, “What are we setting up in Episode 10 for next season?” I haven’t been in business with Amazon long enough to know how that process goes when they get deeper in, multiple seasons. But with this cast, I don’t know how they couldn’t.

Mozart in the Jungle” Season 1 is now available for streaming at Amazon.

READ MORE: Jason Schwartzman & Roman Coppola Explain the Challenges of Producing ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ for Amazon

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