Film Courage: Would you say you still spend 300 days a year writing EMPIRE?
Danny Strong: No. I was the first two seasons of EMPIRE. I was very active and then with season three I switched to consulting and made REBEL IN THE RYE. So now with seasons three and four, I’m still the executive producer on it, but I’m not nearly as hands on as I was for the first two seasons.
Film Courage: You probably couldn’t have written EMPIRE and REBEL IN THE RYE at the same time?
Danny Strong: Well I think I wrote REBEL IN THE RYE the first couple drafts before EMPIRE happened. And actually EMPIRE happening slowed my progress in getting REBEL IN THE RYE made because EMPIRE got made. So I ended up working on that. But I ended up directing a lot of episodes of EMPIRE, so that was an amazing experience for me to transition into directing. It just couldn’t have been a better way to really learn that craft because you have to move so quickly and I have plenty more to learn but it was a great start for me.
Film Courage: When you are writing…and I understand you have this writing day where you have your breakfast, get a lot of “housekeeping” out of the way, but is it easier to write in New York versus LA? Or the place doesn’t really matter?
Danny Strong: Well I love New York City. I love being there. I’m just so happy there, so for me I can write anywhere and that’s kind of one of the fun things about writing is I can be anywhere in the world and I can write. And it’s actually pretty cool to be in some random city some where in some random coffee shop and you’re writing and it’s like how often does someone have a job that they can do anywhere in the world? I mean that’s a lot of fun!
And I’m perfectly productive in Los Angeles. I just love being in New York and it’s just an exciting place to be.
Film Courage: Can you relate to J.D. Salinger’s process in terms of where once he crossed over into meditation and all of that and he needed to really barricade himself? Can you relate to this?
Danny Strong: I definitely don’t barricade myself at all. I actually write in public places. I don’t like being in a quiet room by myself. I have a certain amount of ADD and being in a quiet room I zone out and I’m less productive. So I actually like having people around me. I have my headset on, I listen to music. I write to movie scores. So I’m just listening to movie scores and people are around and there’s an energy and I find it very helpful. And it just helps me focus, but that’s just me. So the isolation of what Mr. Salinger did is kind of the opposite of how I work.
Film Courage: For new writers, I know they are told to get feedback from other people. I was recently reading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and she talked about writing conferences and how they can be helpful, but at the same time the slashing to the edits is also stabbing the screenwriter a little bit. Can you talk about the kindest way to give someone honest feedback? So you are actually helping them, but you are not wounding them so they won’t go on [to write].
Danny Strong: Well I think that the best way to give feedback and I very much rely on feedback and I need notes from people and it helps me see problems and it’s a very important part of my process is getting feedback.
But I think to keep…I mean good feedback is when it’s just about the script. It doesn’t get personal. It doesn’t talk about bigger ideas of whether you can do this or not or you have talent or not. Where it’s literally about how to make this script or this story better in areas that are problematic. I think it’s really important when someone is getting feedback that they talk to a few people. That they get feedback from maybe three people. Because there could be feedback that someone gives you that they are very passionate about but they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s bad feedback and they’re just not good at giving feedback. There’s a lot of people that aren’t good at giving feedback, right? So you want a few opinions. And for me when I start hearing from two or three people the same problem they’re having, well there’s probably a problem there and there is probably something I need to address. And one of my favorite parts of writing is when I take a problem and then I fix it and then it’s good. That’s so exciting because you have something that was bad that’s now good and it’s like you have a hole and instead of a ditch, you have a statue there instead. So I can only get there by getting feedback from people.
Question For The Viewers: Are you more productive in a public writing space?
The world of J.D. Salinger is brought vividly to life in this portrait of one of the most renowned, controversial, and enigmatic authors of our time. In mid-20th century New York, a young salinger (Nicholas Hoult) struggles to find his voice, pursues a love affair with a famed socialite (Zoey Deutch) and leaves for the frontlines of World War II. Publishing his masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, brings him overnight fame and notoriety, leading him to withdraw from the public eye for the rest of his life. Co-starring Kevin Spacey and Sarah Paulson.