‘True Detective’ creator enlists Aspen novelist Lasser for new season
Ernest Hemingway advised novelists to avoid Hollywood at all costs, famously warning his literary brethren to meet producers at the California state line: “Throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came.”
But the onset of the so-called “Golden Age of Television” and the demand for complex, novelistic storytelling in this post-Sopranos era of prestige programming could have changed Hemingway’s mind.
It lured “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto away from writing novels and teaching at colleges to penning scripts in Hollywood, where he enlisted Aspen novelist Scott Lasser last year to help write the second season of the Emmy-winning HBO drama.
The pair met and struck up a friendship at Aspen Summer Words, where, in the years before he became the revered writer-auteur behind “True Detective,” Pizzolatto taught Beginning Fiction workshops in 2008 and 2009 and screenwriting in 2012.
Lasser, a former board member of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation (now known as Aspen Words), regular instructor at the annual literary retreat and author of four novels, talked shop with Pizzolatto at the conference as they were both setting their sights on film and television.
“I had already been coming [to Los Angeles] for social reasons, not for work, and we had a conversation about how this was the place to be,” Lasser told me recently from L.A.
Pizzolatto, author of the short story collection “From Here to the Yellow Sea” (2006) and the novel “Galveston” (2010) moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and wrote for AMC’s “The Killing.” He began “True Detective” as a novel, but adapted it instead into what became the first season of the show starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana State Police pursuing a serial killer over two turbulent decades.
Last May, as Pizzolatto was working on the second season — which features a new mystery and set of characters — he called on Lasser to help hammer out storylines.
The show doesn’t have a traditional television writer’s room, in which a team breaks stories and writes episodes together. Lasser is the only staff writer who worked with Pizzolatto on season two.
“The show is 100 percent Nic,” Lasser says. “I’m just a cog in the machine. It was an honor and a great experience to work with him.”
The Internet is clogged with speculation and chatter about the new season, but little is actually known about what’s coming when it begins on Sunday, June 21. HBO has imposed an effective gag order on everyone involved with the show, with which Lasser is abiding. But, of course, most fans don’t really want the story spoiled.
Lasser knows the feeling. Early last year, he met Pizzolatto and “True Detective” executive producer Scott Stephens for lunch in Los Angeles as its first season was debuting, wowing critics with its dark, philosophical take on the buddy cop genre, and leaving fans quoting Rust Cohle’s “Time is a flat circle” monologue.
Lasser gave the pair a quick “no spoiler” warning.
“I said, ‘Please, please do not talk about the plot,’” Lasser recalls. “Fans of the show are like that. They don’t want to know.”
What we do know is that the new eight-episode season stars Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch as cops and Vince Vaughn as a career criminal who, according to HBO’s press shop, are brought together by a “bizarre murder” and “navigate a web of conspiracy and betrayal in the scorched landscapes of California.”
Plot-wise, the tantalizing season trailer doesn’t tell us much more than that. But its tagline — “We Get the World We Deserve” — suggests we’ll get another serving of existential theory along with some intense sleuthing.
Lasser, a Detroit native who lives in the West End, has marked time as a ski bum, steel worker, bond trader and novelist. He recently sold a screenplay adapted from 2013 novel, “Say Nice Things About Detroit,” and has several film and television projects in the purgatory of “development.”
“The process is long and torturous,” Lasser says of Hollywood writing. “But I’ve worked in a steel mill. It’s better than that. There’s uncertainty and you deal with it.”
This year’s edition of Aspen Summer Words also opens Sunday, June 21 with the Colorado Book Awards ceremony and continues with a week’s worth of workshops, panel discussions and perhaps some future success stories like this one.
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The coronavirus pandemic provided an unlikely springboard for the Aspen Brain Institute’s programs, allowing them to go virtual and global and sustain a large audience outside of its Aspen bubble.