So ever since the TV miniseries my writing partner Jen Enfield-Kane and I created went into production, I’ve been living that executive producer life again.
Which sounds glamorous, but in reality it’s more paperwork, scheduling, emailing, and budgeting then I ever thought I’d do in a lifetime.
The show itself is a thriller following two con artists, Iris, a lone wolf, and Jonah, the architect with a god complex, who team up to get what they need from their marks.
Jen and I split up the episodes and each wrote our own before rewriting the season as a whole, and I remember when I wrote the first episode, I was anticipating a much darker show (especially since poison and murder is my jam.) But when we were casting our Iris and Jonah, Jen and I realized that what we wrote skewed more to a buddy-cop with con artists instead of a dark drama.
We’ve still got dark elements to our show and in the classic Shakespearean genres CON is considered a tragedy, but we’ve also embraced the lighter side of our story. Like sandwich making as a contact sport and the unruly laws of grammar, or taking mysterious phone calls in dark alleyways:
Writing the “Odd Couple” of Con Artists: Iris and Jonah
The reason why Jen and I work so well together is because we both make each other justify our characters’ motivations, lines of dialog, jokes, production decisions, and casting choices.
When I sent Jen the callbacks video of my favorite actors who played Iris and Jonah, I was expecting to have to explain why I thought they were perfect for the roles. Instead, Jen just said: “CAST THEM NOW.” End of discussion. Nicole Dambro and Joey Livingston became our amazing leads.
We knew we didn’t want Iris and Jonah to be love interests for each other. The story engine of the “two main characters of opposite sexes who don’t get along but have a ton of sexual tension so the fanbase roots for them to get together” is popular in TV because it works. However, it can also become a tired trope, and we wanted to stay away from that.
Another important aspect of these characters was to decide how they went about getting what they want. We knew that Iris was reckless with a silver tongue — she preferred jumping into a con and talking her way out of any trouble. Jonah, on the other hand, would plan and deliberate and be meticulous about how everything unfolded. These inherent differences in their personalities made them the perfect opposition to each other.
Jen and I also spent a lot of time drawing out character relationships, and trying to figure out the function of each side character and how they affected Iris and Jonah’s journeys.
The hardest part about sketching out a season one was keeping in mind produceability as we wrote scenes and thought about scene locations. We still have more ambitious scenes in the story such as a nightmare scene on a never-ending chessboard, but we had to scale down some other aspects of our story, which actually led to a fun bottle episode that takes place in the radio station.
Writing What I Know
I can’t speak for Jen, but a lot of what I write is based on life experiences. While I’m the furthest thing from a con artist, I try and relate everything I write back to personal experiences to make my scenes honest and relateable.
I mined old love letters that had been written to me by ex-boyfriends for bad metaphors and also sweet one-liners. Jen and I took a class where we had to actually use social engineering to convince people to give us personal information, which helped me write the scene where Iris convinces Aiden to get her into a party. This same class taught me how to lockpick and hack into computers, which added to my knowledge of skill sets con artists might have.
I stole mannerisms and traits from people I knew in real life for my characters, and created a world I thought reflected reality even if that reality was more intricate then the world we actually live in.
Personal experience is just as important as craft, because it makes the story more honest.
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