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Production Blog

Get the latest word from the set of Justified with interviews, recaps, behind-the-scenes stories, videos and more.

Could you introduce yourself and what you do on the show?
I am Jennifer Kennedy and a staff writer on Justified.

You co-wrote this episode, “Alive Day” with Ben Cavell. How did you break up the
work?
Ben generally handled the stuff with Raylan and the Tigerhawk guys. I tended to do Ava
and Zachariah.

Who is your favorite character to write for?
Boyd is great, but I also enjoy writing for Ava, and Zachariah is a lot of fun—Sam
Elliott, also.

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What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Actually writing. Pitching is great, and it’s fun to be in a room with a lot of people
throwing ideas around, but the solitude of writing is always a nice break too.

Were you a fan of Elmore Leonard’s work before working on this show?
Yes. I like City Primeval, Out of Sight, Freaky Deaky, that’s all I can remember right
now.

What is it about his books or style that really appeal to you?
His humor, and the situations feel much more real than contrived. He has criminals that
aren’t necessarily great at being criminals, but they are sort of driven by need and
violence, and that’s much more interesting, I think, than the super smart criminal that is
found in most novels.

You went to Harlan this year. How was that experience?
It’s beautiful. A lot different from California. It’s crazy when you go and see all these
plush forests and you go, “Wow, we’re in a drought.” But it was great. The people are
really nice and friendly, and it was fun driving around with the Kentucky State Police. It
was great when they told us what to do should anyone shoot at us, which consisted
mostly of running into the woods—which I was fine with. Mostly it was the people, who
have great stories.

Did any of your Harlan experiences make it into the show?
What generally happens is pieces of people’s background that we get from being in
Harlan would end up in different episodes, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went in
and what didn’t, but the trip definitely added to this season.

You’ve also worked a lot in comedy. Do you have a preference between drama and
comedy?
I like drama a lot; it’s what I prefer to do, but without comedy, I’m not interested. I don’t
like uber-serious drama. It’s just too much. If you don’t have the levity of comedy, you
can’t feel the pathos of tragedy.

Do you have advice for anyone who’s an aspiring TV writer?
Do something else. No, kidding, just keep at it. You can get really lucky or it can be a
long haul, but if you stay at it and you really love writing and you like doing it, chances
are you’ll be able to do it as a career. But you just have to hang in there.

Thank you Jennifer!

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“It’s always been important to us to write bad guys who aren’t just evil– to give them understandable motivations and make them complicated and interesting people,” says Ben Cavell, co-writer of “Alive Day.” In this episode, we get a glimpse into the motivations of Markham’s ex-military muscle when Choo-Choo refuses to kill the prostitute Caprice, a witness to his murder of Calhoun Schreier. Although he’s reluctant to betray his brother-in-arms, Walker eventually agrees to kill Choo-Choo to preserve Markham’s larger mission. “In Elmore Leonard’s work, bad guys betraying bad guys is very commonplace,” Cavell adds. “We wanted to make this feel different from the usual betrayal– it’s not just a criminal code that these guys are breaking, they’re violating a military code of honor.” In this exclusive excerpt from the script of “Alive Day,” Markham plays on Walker’s desire to remain loyal to his unit: 606 Alive Day Script Pages

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You wrote Episode 605, “Sounding” with Dave Andron. How did you two divide the work?
Which scenes did you end up writing?
We divided the script by storyline, so Dave took the Raylan story, and I wrote the Boyd story.
Then we occasionally overlapped or intersected with Ava and the Tim/Rachel story.

Do you have a favorite character to write? Why?
I think it depends on the context, but in general I have a great affinity for Boyd for many
reasons; he’s a charismatic and articulate criminal with a deep and complicated backstory,
making him a fascinating character to explore. Additionally, I love his literary yearnings, his
love of language, and how sanguine he is despite the obstacles confronting him.

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“Sounding” is a big episode for Ava– caught between Raylan and Boyd’s demands, she
runs. Can you talk about her trajectory this season and the ways she’s changed since
Season One?
Ava is a woman caught in the strong currents of other men in her life, whether it was Bowman,
Raylan or Boyd, and her trajectory this season seems to be navigating those riptides as best she
can. She’s changed insofar as she’s learned quite well the hard and relentless lessons of the past,
and in many ways she’s slowly realizing that saving herself from drowning will be dependent not
on those who promise her help but on trying to depend on herself. In many ways the evolution of
Ava since we first saw her shortly after shooting Bowman is her coming into her own voice.

Our readers may not know it, but you’re one of the earliest risers in the office, if not in all
of LA. Can you describe your morning writing routine and how you started working like
that?
The early morning to me is the purest and cleanest time of day — free from distractions, with the
sense of possibilities in front of you, and the remnants of the subconscious lingering as you begin
to write. I get up very early — anywhere from 4 to 6 in the morning — and pretty much get
writing as soon as I can. I’ve always been a morning person; my family has stories of me as a
five or six year old getting up while it’s still dark out and either practicing piano or tae kwon do
in the living room and waking the house up. They didn’t need to set an alarm, to their chagrin.
When I began writing seriously I read biographies of writers I admired and all of them wrote in
the mornings, so it was very easy to adopt their routines.

On the surface, your fiction seems to take place a world away from Justified– your
protagonists tend to be Korean-Americans living in urban America, rather than outlaws
and lawmen in the hollers of Kentucky. But the themes of your work would be right at
home in Harlan county– the tangled family ties, the gang violence, the elements of noir.
Can you talk a little about the similarities and/or differences between your fiction and your
work on Justified?
I knew of Justified long before it went to pilot — not only did I know of Elmore Leonard’s work
(and of Graham’s previous shows) but I knew “Fire in the Hole” fairly well. What drew me to
this world was the convergence of crime, community and family, often with an acute sense of
history. I feel sympathetic to both Raylan and Boyd for being willing and unwilling descendants
of criminals, since there’s a similar line to trace in my own family, and instead of the insular
Eastern Kentucky communities centering around coal mining, my fiction often examines insular
immigrant communities struggling with their own burdens as their strive to better their lives
however they can. I love this show for many reasons, but when I hear Harlanites talk of whose
family did what to a feuding rival family, I feel at home.

Can you tell us a little about your next novel, The Lockpicker?
Well, not surprisingly it’s about crime, family and the legacy of violence. A professional thief on
the run hides out at his (straight) brother’s home, triggering long-buried memories and
resentments of their tumultuous upbringing. The title refers to the main character, a thief who
takes lockpicking to an art form, and when he visits his brother, things go badly.

 

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Wondering where everyone’s favorite bottom feeder is hoping to retire? We asked Jere Burns, who plays Wynn Duffy, for answers.

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Could you introduce yourself?
I am Ingrid Escajeda, one of the writers and supervising producer on Justified.

You co-wrote “The Trash and the Snake” with Chris Provenzano, how did you two
break up the work?
He took the Raylan stuff, and I took the Boyd stuff.

Who is your favorite character to write for?
I hate to say Ava because it sounds so cliché because I’m a woman, but she is because I
love the idea of a badass chick. And Joelle Carter is doing such incredible work that it’s
been an absolute delight.

You’ve written a couple of pilots in the world of law enforcement, what about those
characters and that lifestyle interest you?
I’m fascinated with people who walk towards danger while the rest of us run away and
the adrenaline rush of it all. I’m fascinated by the mindset of what makes somebody
choose that. One of my specs was about bomb squads because it’s that slow walk to the
danger, and I’m thinking, “What goes through somebody’s mind as they’re doing this?”
I’ve learned that it’s an adrenaline rush for them but a much more controlled thing. I
think the hero aspect has a lot to do with it because I think I would run from stuff like
that, and these people won’t. They run toward it.

Do you enjoy writing the bad guys as well as the heroes?
I will admit the Boyd of it, the whole criminal with a code, is also very attractive to me.
The idea that they’ll do crime but there’s a method to the crime that goes into it. It’s the
Robin Hood aspect—though Boyd was never giving to the poor—but I always like the
idea of contradictions. So the idea of somebody who does all these crimes but has a code,
I think appeals to me because those two things aren’t supposed to go together necessarily.

You come from a comedy writing background. Do you think that helped you enter
the dark comedic world of Elmore Leonard?
Definitely. This show especially is finding humor in the darkness. The f***** up and
funny. That’s right in my wheelhouse, and a lot of my comedy came out of situation and
character as opposed to the one-liners. Dewey Crowe is the perfect example of that. He’s
a guy who doesn’t realize how funny he is. Justified was perfect for me in that my style
rolled right into the show’s world.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Depends on what it’s for. If it’s for Justified, I think it’s being in the room. I love the
energy of being in the room and everybody’s sort of bouncing ideas off each other and
it’s great. When it’s pilot writing or my own projects, I think the research phase is what I
enjoy most. I tend to research a lot, like with the bomb squad thing. I really want to be
immersed in the world I’m writing about so that the characters will flow naturally. If I
know it, then I can put it on the page a lot more easily.

And I should say, with Justified too, I went out to Harlan three times, and that was
probably my favorite aspect of all of this—meeting people and hearing stories. What
energized me most of all was seeing the people who lived out there and then getting to
translate a lot of their stories to the screen. And hearing from them afterwards, “Oh my
god! I recognized this or that!” It was very fun and made extremely happy that I could do
them proud.

Do you have any Harlan stories that made it into the show?
I met a gentleman out there who had story after story, like about the elections we ended
up using a ton of. There was, I will say, the inspiration for Constable Bob that came from
one moment that was burned in my brain. I was doing a ride-along with KSP [Kentucky
State Police] and I kept seeing this little white Dodge that had the rack of police lights on
it. I finally asked, about the third or fourth time I saw it, “Who is that and why do I keep
seeing him around town?” And the KSP guy I was with said, “Oh, that’s our town
constable.” He told me all about the role of the town constable in Harlan, and I thought
that was incredible. I came back, told that story, and that ended up being Constable Bob,
who is so brilliantly portrayed by Patton.

The same gentleman who told me about the election stuff took me to a snake handling
church. During season four, Chris Provenzano and I went out there, and going to that
service with the snakes was incredible because we were out in the middle of nowhere. It
was eight miles to the nearest holler in the mountains. So you’re in this tiny cedar
building with these people who are so moved—they’re crying and they’re testifying, and
you look out and you see the sea of green outside.

I remember this one woman got up and started telling this story, who was bawling, which
made me start crying with her because it just such an overwhelming human moment, and
I thought “Wow, this has been going on in this little building for hundreds of years.” And
the idea of traditions passed on, it just was extremely overwhelming in a good way and
was one of those things that I took back from Kentucky in my heart back here. And mind
you, it became a story about Boyd finding a snake handling preacher, but all that sort of
love and openness was really eye opening and incredibly memorable.

Thank you so much Ingrid!

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Could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do on the show?

Cami: I’m Cami Patton, and I’m a casting director and producer on Justified.
Christal: I’m Christal Karge, and I’m a casting director as well.

Tell us about how you select guest stars for Justified. How does the process start?
Cami: We start this show earlier than we start any other show in terms of talking to the writers about new characters. We start coming up with ideas when there’s very little to go on. And often the actors we suggest inform the characters they write, if that makes sense. For example, we knew the basics of the Markham character fairly early on, so we made a list of actors and started checking their availability. When Sam Elliott and his people told us he would be open and interested, we took that back to Graham [Yost] and Fred [Golan] and Dave [Andron] and everyone, and they got very excited and were then able to write that role with Sam in their heads. It’s different every time but when we get that kind of time up front, we’re able to tailor the character together.

Once we get into the swing of the season and the scripts are coming in eight days before shooting, then we basically hit the ground running. We read the scripts, we talk to the writers in case there’s anything specific we need to know, but if we think we understand the character we immediately start reading people and seeing who’s out there. There are a lot of people whom over the years we’ve really wanted to get on the show but for whatever reason haven’t gotten it. So often we’re able to use one of their previous auditions to get them the part.

The other special thing that happens on this show is that they’ll introduce a character that they know is going to have quite a bit to do down the road, but initially has almost nothing to do, so there’s no material for us to use to read them. In those cases, we really rely heavily on people whom we’ve either worked with before or who have already come in to read for Justified. We’ve hired so many people like that. Like last year–

Christal: Justin Welborn [Boyd’s henchman Carl.]

Cami: Justin Welborn last year, yes. And in Season 3 we had Demetrius Grosse who came in one time in Season 2 for a guest spot, and ended up playing Mykelti Williamson’s [Elstin Limehouse] right hand man Errol all of season 3. [Demetrius] never auditioned for that part; there wasn’t anything for him to read. We just sent in his audition from Season 2.

Christal: I actually don’t think he had any dialogue in the first episode.

Cami: He didn’t; you just saw him. So on his part it was both luck that he got the role without an audition, and also a leap of faith that the role was going to become something.

What kind of information do you get about characters before you start looking for actors?

Cami: Sometimes all we get is what’s in the script! Often the writers aren’t sure how much they’re going to use the character until they see an actor in the role and fall in love and want to write for that character.

Christal: Sometimes we don’t even have the script, it’s just an idea.

Cami: What helps is that we’ve worked with Graham for a long, long time. It’s helpful that we have a pretty good idea of most of the actors he knows– that we can speak in a kind of shorthand.

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Would you say that there’s a common denominator among the actors you pick for this show? Any kind of tonal similarity?

Cami: Yes, completely. We read more actors on this show than on any other show I’ve ever worked on, including pilots. And it’s because the tone is incredibly specific. It’s not enough that they feel authentically Southern, it’s not enough that they have humor. It’s a specific kind of humor that comes from a very real, grounded, believable place and is just a little bit twisted. And people can love this show and think they understand it and not be able to do it.

Christal: You can intellectually understand it but not be able to channel it.

What are some common misconceptions about casting TV?

Cami: Whenever casting is mentioned there are people who will jump in with an opinion. People think we’re pencil pushers or list-makers, that we just go to the same people over and over again, and that’s such a misconception. It is our job to find out who’s new and to constantly be searching for people from all kinds of different places. At the beginning of this season alone, there was one new role as a member of Boyd’s gang who had maybe one line of dialogue. We didn’t know anything about him except that they called him the Pig. But we knew if he was good, they would lean on him because he’s one of the few members of Boyd’s gang, at this point.

I got a postcard from an actor that had a URL for a comedic short he did called “The Gunfighter,” and just based off his picture, it looked like he could fit in our world. I watched his short and it was hysterical and really good, and it was obvious that the actor would work in the world of Justified. I had nothing for him to read, but we sent the link to the short to Graham and Fred and Dave, and they loved it, and he got the part. That’s the kind of thing that I think people don’t realize, that we’re trying to turn over rocks everywhere. We see so many people, we talk to so many people, we get so many submissions. We go through every single submission. This week alone on the Pretty Girl role, we had how many submitted?

Christal: I think it was 1,128.

Cami: A thousand. And we looked at every one of those pictures because you never know where you’ll find someone.

Christal: People come out of nowhere. I remember the season before we started using Jacob Lofland, I had seen [the movie] Mud, and there was a kid in it whom I hadn’t seen before, and I knew he must not be from LA because we’d read all those kids. [Jacob’s] great and he’s someone we filed away, and when we happened to have a part for him, we tracked him down in Arkansas. So anything from watching a feature to seeing stuff online–

Cami: Going to plays… You name it.

Do you have any great audition stories? Love at first sight?

Cami: We do. Actually two of our favorites happened in the same season. When we got the first episode of Season 2 and we had the Mags Bennett character, the very first person I thought of was Margo Martindale. But she’s never in LA, she lives in New York, and it seemed impossible to get excited about somebody who doesn’t live here. I called her agent just to see if, by any chance, she might be here. He said actually, she’s in LA right now.

So she came in, she read seventeen pages of material, and we had goosebumps. She just owned it. She was unbelievable. It was just so exciting to be in that room and to have her actually be here and be exactly the image of what we wanted. And on that same episode…

Christal: We were casting for Loretta. Anytime you have kids it’s a much bigger search because they change so quickly…

Cami: And the Southern accent is really hard, if you’re from California.

Christal: Exactly. And they come with their parents, so there’s a huge overwhelming amount of people in the office, and Kaitlyn wasn’t someone we were super familiar with. She had just done one thing for HBO. But her manager called, and she came in, and during the audition the camera literally broke.

So we have a waiting room full of kids and no camera, and halfway through Kaitlyn’s audition, we were saying, “This is the girl– we have to get this on tape. We cannot let her leave, this is so amazing!” Because it’s a hard role! She looks so innocent, but to be able to throw the dialogue around, do the Southern accent, be a pot dealer and be as tough as she was…

Cami: To be able to go head to head with all these people on our show…

Christal: As a fourteen year old! She actually looks that age. The poor girl had to sit there for over twenty minutes waiting for us to get a new camera. Cami and I are the only ones in the room when people audition, and we had to get it to the writers. We didn’t have a ton of time and there were so many people in the waiting room…

Cami: It was a nightmare.

Christal: But we knew this was the girl who had to get the part. She was just so great.

About how many people do you see for each role on Justified?

Cami: On average, we see anywhere from thirty to fifty people. But it depends on the role– we’ve been known to see more than a hundred. And when you multiply by how many guest roles we tend to have on this show… we’re moving a lot of people.

Christal: And best case scenario, we usually only have seven days.

Cami: As we move into the last season, we’re at a point where we know a lot of actors that we love but who just don’t work on the show. And we also have people whom we’re determined to cast before the end of our run. We had an actor who came on last year –Bill Tengradi, who plays Cyrus– Christal, was it thirteen times he had read?

Christal: We’ve read quite a few people thirteen times. Sometimes that’s the magic number to get the part.

Cami: He’d read for us so many times over the years and we finally found a role for him. And it was recurring! It ended up being fantastic that that was the one he got. There are people who want to do the show so badly and they come back and come back and for whatever arbitrary reason have not been the answer. We had a couple actors this year whom we were determined to get on the show before the show ends. And it’s worked out several times, even with the co-stars, who are harder than the guest stars.

Christal: At the end of every season we have a list of people who would be great, who fit the tone and can do the accent. It’s really important to feel like they could fit in the world.

Thanks so much for your time!

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The writers of “Cash Game” talk about Justified’s final season, the writing process, and cats named Raylan and Ava.

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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.

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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.

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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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We sat down with Damon Herriman to talk about Dewey’s life, times, and untimely end.

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