Interview with Colette Burson, co-creator of Hung

by Melissa Silverstein on July 30, 2009

in TV,Uncategorized,Women Producers,Women Writers

Hung creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson

Hung creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson

When I first read that HBO was going to air a show called Hung my first reaction was huh?.  Why would I want to see a show about a guy’s dick?  But since I had once spoken on the phone with the show’s co-creator Colette Burson and thought she was great, smart and feminist and since HBO shows are usually awesome, so I figured I’d give it a chance.  And I was right.  I really like Hung.

In case you don’t know, the show is about Ray (Thomas Jane) a former pro athlete and high school teacher and coach whose life is in the shitter.  He’s broke, his house has basically burned down, he has no insurance so he is living in a tent in the backyard and it’s cold, his kids have moved in with with ex (Anne Heche) and he is all around miserable.  But he does have one thing going for him…he’s really well endowed.  Jane Adams plays Tanya the woman who encourages him to use his gift to make other women happy.  So she becomes his “happiness consultant” aka pimp.  Jane and Adams both rock.  I especially like watching Adams gain self confidence as she gets better and better at her job.  While the show is about prostitution and sex work it does not glorify it and the women who use Ray’s services are treated with dignity and are given back stories that are interesting.  I’m excited to see where the show goes.

Hung airs on HBO on Sunday evenings.  Check you local listings.

Women & Hollywood spoke with Burson about the show.

Women & Hollywood: How did you come up with the concept of Hung?

Colette Burson: We (she and her co-creator and husband Dmitry Lipkin) were looking for a male character that would be interesting to write.  We felt that violence was tired and we wanted to create a character that was very masculine yet not violent.  Ray comes across as extraordinarily masculine and by that I mean not only having masculine sex appeal and a masculinity that hangs on him like a perfume, but I also think he presents a masculine perspective as he goes through the world of women.  The show does not emasculate him nor does it feminize him.

W&H: Talk about why Thomas Jane is so good as Ray.

CB: As writers, and for me as one of the female creators I felt that Ray was sexy being imperfect.  There is something in women that really responds to a man who is imperfect and struggling.  The female mind turns off when they are imperfect and not giving a shit about it.  But something deep happens in the female psyche when they are trying to keep their head above water whatever their problem is.  We really root for them.  And so Ray is not perfect.  He’s beautiful but flawed.

W&H: And the other characters? The kids are not typical TV kids.

CB: We wanted the kids to be real.  Our goal is to make all of our characters real as well as idiosyncratic.  So I was not interested in the eye rolling teenager.  I was not interested in open defiance because I have seen it on TV.  My best friend in high school was very passive and stoic.  Her parents were going through a divorce and she was really my inspiration for these characters.

W&H: And Jane Adams as Tanya?

CB: There is this whole thing about how everyone wants to be a writer and that connects to the fact that in most everyone is a well of creativity that could come out in all sorts of ways.  I do feel that a lot of creative people through geography or fate or fear are trapped in uncreative places.  There is such a level of being trapped as a creative person in a world that does not value creativity.  There was a line in the pilot – “it’s not my fault that things that should be valued and cherished aren’t valued and cherished.” (some version of that).  Saying it’s not my fault that creativity means nothing in this world.  She’s not a conquer the world type.  So when we write Jane’s character we really feel like we are writing to the secret creative longings of people everywhere and particularly those in the mainstream.

W&H: Do you think that women and men see the show differently?

CB: Yes.  This is just fascinating and I didn’t realize it at first.  When I watch the show I watch Ray.  My eyes are on him.  I am always aware of how we are crafting him.  In the editing room they always joke that I’m sort of the warrior for Ray.  I am very conscious of how we are presenting him to the world.

But I also think that as a viewer I am wondering what is he going to do now?  How is he going to react to this woman alone in a room?  Whereas men are hooked into the women he encounters. For example when he is alone with this character horny Patty, I’m thinking of Ray and the men are thinking would I like to fuck Patty.

Someone told me that in romance novels written for men they go from woman to woman and the narrative for women is that there is one man that the heroine has her eye on.  She follows the one man.  I do think our show mirrors that and I think that perhaps it may help with its popularity that men and women can have completely different experiences of it.

W&H: There are so many loaded issues regarding sex & prostitution and most of the prostitution stories in popular culture are about women and exploitation.  So I am wondering what kind of cultural conversation do you think this could spark?

CB: People ask us whether we do research on prostitution and the answer is that we really try not to because for us we are tracing the journey of this one guy and this one woman and how they approach it.  So for us we don’t care if people insist on being paid afterward because our pimp wants to be paid upfront.  That’s the way she’s going to do it.  We like her idiosyncratically feeling her way through how do I go from being a poet to being a pimp.

I am aware that everything just got turned upside down so when a woman is sitting on Ray’s lap and says show me your pecks it’s the complete opposite of show me your tits and suddenly you are thinking whoa, that things just got turned upside down.

W&H: Did you are Dmitry write all the episodes for this season?

CB: We wrote all or part of 7 of the 10.

W&H: What’s it like working with your partner in this way?

CB: I feel that I could not have created the show with anyone else.  It is a deep amalgam of the both of us.  It’s a great and challenging thing because Dmitry and I are both obsessive over text, structure and dialogue.  Our writers joke that we can spend 2 hours obsessing over a comma.  It’s not a casual endeavor for us and I do think the final product is great although sometimes it’s very difficult.  Usually one of us writes the first draft and the other one will rewrite it and then it gets passed back so it’s a constant artistic battlefield on a certain level.

The end product is fucking fantastic.  It’s great for our show and exhausting for us.

W&H: What’s it like to be a showrunner, executive producer and creator of a major TV show.

CB: It’s fulfilling in that your life is set up to maximize your creative decisions.  Someone gets your lunch so in that time you are making creative decisions.  Every atom of mine is plugged in.  I feel like there are USB cords coming out of my body.  I go to work and I plug in.  It’s intense because we also have two small children under the age of five.  I gave birth 2 weeks before we started shooting the pilot.  It’s not easy.

W&H: Any advice you have for writers?

CB: I do think that creative energy finds an outlet.  I went to school with 40 writers and then I was in a theatre company with 20 writers and over the years I have known hundreds of writers and there is not a one where I could say oh god they tried so hard but it never happened for them.  I just don’t think that is the way creative energy works.  I think that you need to be devoted to your craft, keep at it and stay open to the possibilities that life brings you.  Don’t be too hermetically sealed off or too fragile or vulnerable that you don’t put yourself out there in the world.

I think if you are open to life’s experiences and keep trying to write in different ways and roll with all the punches success comes to everyone.

W&H: That’s very optimistic

CB: Sometimes it takes 15 years.  For Dmitry overnight success took 15 years.  It was almost like an alarm went off at year 15 and suddenly things were really easy.  But at the same time you can’t get a job that takes up too much of your creative energy.  If you are devoted to your craft it will come through for you in the end.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

grrljock July 31, 2009 at 4:33 PM

So what do you make of Colette Burson’s remark, as quoted in the NYT article about Anne Heche?
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02heche-t.html?ref=magazine

“…“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

The hardest part may be getting them to admit they’re over 35, but Heche doesn’t lie about her age…”

Is this just a throwaway remark that’s used of context? A joke? Or is it a matter of auditioning actors not being truthful about their age? In any case, this just makes me want to pull out my hair, yet again.

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