Could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do on the show?
My name is Michael Dinner and I am an Executive Producer/Director on Justified.
This is the first episode of Justified that you’ve written. How was the experience different from just directing?
Well, for the last five years I’ve been scribbling behind the scenes, and I would give these really irritating notes all the time. So I think it was Graham’s intention to give me a taste of my own medicine. I write pilots from time to time and have written on other shows, so he asked if I wanted to do a little writing for Justified this year. And I said ok! So we divided up the labor and had some fun on the first episode.
You directed the pilot of Justified. Can you tell us about how the show has changed or stayed the same over the years? Were you thinking about the pilot as you directed this episode?
We were thinking about the pilot and the first season and coming full circle, certainly. We’re finishing up the show– as I like to say, the horse is heading to the barn at this point. So of course we’re interested in the arc that we’ve created over the past 5 or 6 years. Dewey’s a central character in the first episode of this season, so I did especially think about the scenes we shot with him in the pilot. In the pilot, he was an ancillary character whom we had no intention of keeping, but we loved the character so we kept bringing him back.
Visually, are there any echoes of the pilot?
I think the visual style of the show has been fairly consistent over the past six years. The first films I saw as a kid –after Disney movies– were Westerns. The pilot wasn’t a self-conscious attempt to imitate those films, but certainly that was part of the backdrop of the piece. It’s not just that Raylan wears a cowboy hat; Elmore Leonard started out writing Westerns before he went on to crime fiction. In a sense you could argue that all his material is like one giant Western. There are good guys and bad guys and sometimes those lines blur a little bit.
From the beginning we felt like we were doing a postmodern Western, so the same tropes that existed in the pilot have continued throughout the series. I feel that we try to walk to the edge of the cliff in terms of Western storytelling and clichés, and then pull back. We aren’t slavish to it ––we try to give it a modern sensibility– but we are drawing from a tradition of stories which, like I said, I grew up watching.
Which Westerns, specifically?
One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In a way, the relationship between Boyd and Raylan reminds me of that movie, where you have a good guy and a bad guy kind of locked in this battle. So certainly I was aware of that film when we were making the pilot. If you had asked me eight years ago, ten years ago, if I wanted to do a Western –I grew up in Colorado, but most people think I grew up in New York because I do a lot of urban material– I’d have said no, are you kidding me? But it was really fun to pull from that tradition in the pilot and in the series as a whole.
The visual style of the piece, though, has been consistent from beginning to end. Whatever it takes to tell the story. Some of the material’s been shot handheld, which gives it a sense of immediacy, and some of the material’s been shot in a more classical style. And we try to avoid falling into too many Western clichés.
How would you describe the tone of Justified?
I think it’s a kind of postmodern Western, or hillbilly noir. I think that’s a good description: Appalachian hillbilly noir. The tone of the piece, more than the visual style of the piece or its genre, emanates from Elmore Leonard’s work. And what I love about Elmore’s work is that it mixes tones. It can be funny, it can be dramatic, it can be dark without warning. You’re not set up for any punchlines, and yet the material is really funny. I also think it’s about a violent world, but you never see the violence coming: when it happens it’s sudden and shocking. So I’d have to say the tone is a mixture of tones, where you can’t guess what’s happening next.
Any specific ways you convey that as a director?
I’ve always been aware that with Elmore’s material, you shouldn’t foreshadow things too much. I think there’s always been an attempt in the scripts and in the way it’s directed –either by myself or by visiting directors– to do that. There’s the hand of the director there, but really it’s more naturalistic.
What are your favorite movies this year?
I’m still in the middle of screening movies, but so far Boyhood was my favorite movie this year. I’ve seen a number of the pictures and a number have been interesting, but –and maybe this is my preoccupation because I have young kids– I like that movie a lot.
What about three of your favorite movies of all time?
The Conformist. It’s still a pretty spectacular movie and a really good example of a director, cameraman, and production designer working in tandem. The Godfather– all of them combined. And probably Lawrence of Arabia. Those would be my three.
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