50 FASTCOMPANY.COM MAY 2018
CREATIVE CONVERSATION I JONATHAN NOLAN AND LISA JOY
exchange that is incredibly vibrant and challenging. We keep iterating until it pleases
both of us—and pleasing just one of us is a high bar.
Lisa, after spending most of your career as a writer and a producer, you recently
directed an episode for the first time. What was that like?
LJ: It’s a new angle. The world can feel very dark lately, but there are acts of everyday
feminism, support, and generosity that I have been the beneficiary of in so many
ways on this show. I had a baby and was
still breastfeeding, and I had this mammoth, crazy episode [to direct], full of all
the things you’re scared of as a first-time
director. I thought, I can’t do this. It’s irresponsible right now. When I faltered,
Jonathan pushed me out the door. He
said, “You got this.” He took on this role
at home so I could live a typically masculine dream.
JN: [Laughs] I also wanted to see our kids.
I’ve heard showrunners describe
their shows as being either auteur-driven or collaborative works. Which
JN: Lisa and I were walking around the British Museum many years ago, visiting my
family. Lisa was the more attentive student in college, and a more sophisticated thinker.
LJ: I don’t know where this story’s going.
JN: She introduced me to the German concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the idea of a
total artwork [that combines] images and sound, [which was] sort of a dream up until
the Lumière brothers.
LJ: It comes from opera, initially.
JN: That’s what we get to do. We get to go to work with up to 700 of the most talented
artists in their field, the very best in the business. We ask them for the impossible—to
achieve that synthesis of light and emotion and music and form—and they accomplish
it over and over and over again.
dissected on social media by a
rabid fan base. How do you deal
with all the online noise?
JN: I’m not on social media, but I do
spend time on Reddit. It’s a natural
place to keep tabs on [things like],
are people understanding what
we’re putting out there? That’s useful. But we have to be extremely
careful. If you dive down that rabbit
hole too deeply, you wind up letting
it influence the way you’re telling
LJ: We’ve always handled it a little
bit differently. I don’t really do
things [online] except read articles
that interest me. I like to use the
internet to learn about innovations in technology and finding
new poets, things like that. I’m less
interested in reading about myself
or the stuff we do.
Westworld is often compared to
Game of Thrones because of its
grandiosity, both in terms of production value and story. How has
that show influenced you?
JN: Game of Thrones was the model
for how to do a show technically.
They want a glacier [scene], they
go shoot on a glacier. They want
a desert, they go to a desert. The
cocreators [David Benioff and D.B.
Weiss] were supportive as we were
going through it, because the first
season was very challenging. You’re
trying to make 10 movies or 10
hours’ worth of movie on an ample
budget, but one that’s dwarfed by [a
typical] cinematic budget. We got
their input and feedback on how to
put these things together.
How do you work together? Does
being married make it easier to
JN: The first assumption we get is
that Lisa writes the female characters and I write the male characters. That’s not the case. One of
us will get a handle on a moment
with a character and there’s a constant back and forth. There’s no set
LJ: Because we are married and
we’ve known each other for so long,
some of the niceties go out the
window. What you get instead is
a free-flowing current of ideas, an
FAMIL Y FAME
Nolan and his brother,
Interstellar, The Dark
Knight, and more.
FIRS T GIG
The film Memento,
starring Guy Pearce,
was based on a short
story Nolan wrote
in college. (He also
coded the website
for the movie.)
Nolan created CBS’s
sci-fi crime drama
Person of Interest.
Chester, New Jersey
Joy was a writer on the
ABC comedy series
Joy worked in criminal
law, specializing in
FAVORI TE WES TERN
Sergio Leone’s genre-flipping Once Upon a
Time in the West
“BECAUSE WE ARE MARRIED,” SAYS JOY, “THE NICETIES GO OUT THE WINDOW. WHAT YOU GET INSTEAD IS A FREE; FLOWING CURRENT OF IDEAS.”
Evan Rachel Wood’s
Abernathy, leads the