AT: What did you do after college?
BW: After I graduated there was a weird year where I worked for the Ministry of the Interior for the Estonian government in Talin, moved to the Lower East Side and lived in a fifth floor walk up where I didn't even have a bathroom in my apartment. I had a job where I was trying to find jobs for homeless people, cold-calling businesses: 'will you hire this single mother of four who just got her GED?'
For months I was living in Hanoi, and then I was in Brooklyn and started grad school, by that point interning for 50-year-old New Dramatists, one of the only organizations devoted wholly to playwrights, from unknowns to heavyweights, which changed my life. They organize dramaturgical readings, have an amazing library of plays that all the members have written. It's a safe place for playwrights to experiment and explore, a support system. And I had seen great playwrights like David Lindsay-Abaire, who I am now in a writing group with.
AT: Do you believe in writing groups?
BW: You have to find people who will be brutally honest with you but do it in a way that's respectful, with no competition. If criticism is coming out of pettiness then it’s worthless. Everyone enjoys a pat on the back.
AT: How do you train to be a showrunner?
BW: I've been writing for almost 15 years, seriously writing, not writing well. Those three years of grad school I wrote terribly. I was by far the worst student. I had no idea what my voice was. I was deeply impressionable so I was just copying all the playwrights that I loved. I knew no one in the business. I felt like all of my peers who had been wanting to write plays since they were six years old knew everybody, and every play that had ever written. I knew a lot about the visual arts world but I didn't know about the theater world. At the time I wouldn't have presumed to think I would write a film or TV show.
AT: In the theater it's not just about words, it's about space, it's about time...
You become addicted, looking for the next fix, but I wasn’t actively seeking it. Jay went on to work on Bill Bradley's campaign and he pulled me on for that, and Hillary's campaign in 2000... I was his confidante. In politics you always need those people you can fully trust if only to have a sounding board.
AT: Was 'Farragut North' based on him?
BW: It was based on him, not that he did those things. The very first copy I ever printed out went first to Jay Carson. He read it and he still has it. I wanted him to approve.
AT: Did you learn screenwriting from working with Clooney and Heslov on 'The Ides of March?'
BW: I had dabbled before that. I’ve never taken a screenwriting class. Screenwriting takes a rewiring in the brain structurally and in terms of the way you see things visually.
AT: It’s limiting?
BW: I see it as the opposite. Every medium whether it’s screenwriting or plays or short stories, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. On the stage you can have a 14-minute scene and it really can be about language and on the screen you rarely have that available to you, but you have a much broader canvas. You have the close-up. You can really get in on someone’s hands. Sometimes what someone is doing with their hands is all you need in that scene. I didn't feel like screenwriting was something I needed to be trained for. If I could write a play, I could write a movie.
AT: How did you get to adapt your own play?