Show runner of AMC’s Seattle murder mystery explains her sleepy writing trick — and talks about the show’s Laura Palmer Dilemma
How does Veena Sud create the dreamy, hypnotic tone of AMC’s “The Killing”?
By writing the show when she should be dreaming.
The show runner of the AMC series, which debuts Sunday, tricks herself into forgetting her deadlines by nestling into bed in pajamas, with her nice, warm dog and a hot cup of coffee — and then writing for hours.
The series follows a female Seattle detective, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) as she tries to solve the murder of a young girl, Rosie Larsen. The supporting characters include a boundary-crossing new investigator; Rosie’s parents, Mitch and Stan; and a mayoral candidate prone to secrecy.
The show's influences include “Forbrydelsen,” the Dutch series upon which it is based, atmospheric thrillers like “Jennifer 8,” “Seven,” and “Silence of the Lambs,” and realistic cop shows including “The Wire,” “Prime Suspect” and “The Shield.”
And then there’s that other show about a young girl’s murder in the misty, mysterious Northwest: For our second edition of The Writer’s Room, TheWrap’s new feature on writers and how they write, Sud tells us how she and her writing team dreamed up “The Killing” — but not how they'll handle the Laura Palmer Dilemma that bedeviled "Twin Peaks."
You wrote the pilot, the next episode, the tenth episode, and the finale, in addition to supervising all of the writing as the show runner. Isn’t that a lot?
I think that’s par for the course. I did that on “Cold Case.” Usually I would definitely do the first one and then jump in in the middle of the season and then do the last one. That was 24 episodes though, and this is thirteen. So yeah, I’m tired.
What’s your process like?
It’s a group process… we spend a lot of time together in the room, myself and my writers. We spent a good solid month at the beginning of the series… and just kind of built these characters from the ground up. There’s this giant board with all our secrets and all our characters.
It was just saying, who is Mitch? What are her dreams? Who is Stan? Let’s talk about the marriage. … We wanted to make sure that there were deep, deep, deep character stories we were telling.
When you sit down to write your episodes, when do you write?
The normal workday is just jam-packed usually… the best times are really late at night, on the weekends and really early in the morning. When the phone’s just ringing and there’s silence. … For one hour, two hours, three hours I can just immerse myself in the story.
Does losing sleep help you write in a way? I’ve been told that Kurt Vonnegut used to set his alarm so he could write when he would have entered R.E.M.
I think it must, right? Because so much of your defenses are down if you’re tired. You’re forced to come to your screen or your writing pad tired, exhausted, unable to distract yourself. It certainly helps me. I started to do things like write in bed, write in places that didn’t feel official. Here’s a place where I can just sit and relax and be myself and let the characters speak.
Does that work when you’re on deadline?
You know how Dalton Trumbo wrote in the bathtub? I remember being like, that’s so bizarre, I wonder why he did it. And I think it’s because you trick your mind a little bit. … There’s so much time pressure in a TV script and on a television show to deliver. It helps me to almost psychologically trick myself like, gosh, this is such a wonderful, leisurely place, I can be in my bed and be in my pajamas with my dog. I’m working, and part of myself knows that I have a deadline, but I don’t start cramping up and start worrying and fretting about that deadline.
And you never just doze off?
Coffee has been a huge key to the last year.
The big question "Twin Peaks" had to address was what to do after the murder was solved. What do you do about the Laura Palmer Dilemma?
We’ll see when we get there. [Laughs.] We'll totally see when we get there.
Do you know who the killer is?
And did you have to know when you started?
Our killer’s different from the Danish series, and no. I had ideas in my head, but that was one of the great things that happened. We locked ourselves in the room and said, how could this happen? And because there weren’t any kind of preconceived notions that it has to be this person, coming to that moment where the decision was made was just great.
The first two episodes of “The Killing” air at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC.