Written By Summer 2013 : Page 38
Wise G FROM THE VAULT MAY 2007 38 • WG A W Written By SUMMER 20 13
From The Vault
A conversation between David Chase and Tom Fontana.
IN Season Six of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano lies close to death in a hospital bed after being shot in the stomach by the senile Uncle Junior.Tony dreams about a trip to Southern California where he is accidentally given the identity of another man. The “Join the Club” episode displays a unique mixture of fantasy and reality as the burly New Jersey crime boss wanders unrecognized around suburban Costa Mesa, California.
I find myself thinking about this fictional moment as I carry recording equipment down a dark street in New York City’s West Village. It’s a cold, wet night and steam comes up from a vent in a manhole cover. I’m following a man wearing frayed jeans, rain jacket, and battered hat, and then suddenly we both stop at the same doorway. The man turns into the light, and I realize that it’s David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos—one of the most critically acclaimed and influential series in the history of television.
The 61-year-old Chase grew up as the only child of an Italian-American family in New Jersey. After drumming in garage bands during the 1960s, he ended up at the graduate film program at Stanford University. From 1976 to 1980, he was a writerproducer for The Rockford Files and won an Emmy for his television movie, Off the Minnesota Strip. Chase spent two seasons as a writer-producer for Northern Exposure and created the short-lived and much-admired series Almost Grown in 1988.
None of this early success suggested the phenomenon caused by the first season of The Sopranos, the most popular cable series of all time. The Sopranos has won a multitude of awards for its writers and actors, including this year’s Best Dramatic Series from the Writers Guild of America (the winning staff: Mitchell Burgess, Chase, Diane Frolov, Robin Green, Andrew Schneider, Matthew Weiner, Terence Winter), and Chase received a Banff Award of Excellence for exceptional writing achievement.
After nine years of working on what seemed like a never-ending story, the father of the Soprano family has left the location where he’s been directing the final episode to have a conversation with an old friend.
I introduce myself to Chase, and he presses a door buzzer. A moment later, we step out of the cold and enter the Manhattan home of Chase’s friend Tom Fontana. The 55-year-old Fontana has had a strong influence on American television as the writer-producer of St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Oz, for which he has received Emmys, Peabodys, and Writers Guild Awards as well as a Humanitas Prize. In 2005, Chase and Fontana stood together on the same stage and received a special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He, too, is taking a break from the arduous task of writing and co-producing a pilot for NBC, M-O-N-Y, being directed by Spike Lee.
In addition, Fontana is writing his first novel, so it seems appropriate that we end up in the townhouse’s library where we are surrounded by thousands of books. There’s a faint Victorian feeling in the air as the two friends sit in club chairs near a window overlooking the night streets of Lower Manhattan. Fontana drinks tea and talks about Europe while Chase sips a glass of merlot. Both writers are equally perceptive, but there are differences in personal style. Fontana is friendly and ebullient while Chase has a quiet, intense manner. The creator of The Sopranos seems tired from the strain of working on the show’s final season but smiles and gains energy as the two writers begin to talk about their craft.
Tom Fontana: Here you are on the precipice of finishing the show. How are you feeling? You’re at that point where it’s really going to be over after all this time.
David Chase: I guess the reality has hit me, although maybe not really. We had the last cast table read today. We came in, and the regular cast were there. We usually have everybody who’s in the show come in for the table read, but we stopped doing that the last three or four episodes just to minimize the chance of people talking [publicly about the plots]. So the regular cast was there, those of us who started out in the beginning and some of the newer people. When it was over—and I didn’t expect this—it got quiet and nobody moved for a long time. Then Edie Falco was crying— and she’s not a spigot. And then it was like group therapy; people started talking. Jim Gandolfini says, “This is fucking weird.” And we said why we’re doing what we’re doing. I finally began to realize I needed to say something as the guy who created and ran the show. I said, “Obviously, this has been a life-changing thing for all of us…” Then I said a few more things. Still, nobody moved.Somebody else said something, and still nobody moved. Nobody wanted to leave that room. It was very nice but odd. It was quiet, and nobody was getting up. It was really something.
Why We Write
Tom Fontana: Before we talk too much more about The Sopranos, I want to go way, way back, to the beginning, before you were a writer. Do you remember the first moment you realized something that you had seen or had read or heard was written? In other words, is there a moment where you said—whether you were a year old or 10, or whatever—somebody created this, as opposed to, “That’s really Superman”?
David Chase: The first time I remember was when my father took me to the public library at night. I got a book—I was probably seven or eight—on Greek mythology. Flash forward to 1965 When I went to see Roman Polanski’s Cul de Sac at the theater here on Third Avenue. When I came out of there and stood in the lobby, I remember thinking, Wait a minute, that’s the work of one guy. I wonder if I could do that. I was beginning to understand that films didn’t come out of a factory somewhere, that those names on the titles were like an author’s name in a novel.
Tom Fontana: What did you start writing when you started to write?
David Chase: When I was a kid in high school, I had this idea that I would be a writer, that I would write novels. And I got a few pieces of paper and pencil and started writing a novel that was loosely based on the cook and his daughter at this summer camp where I had worked as a dishwasher. I got two pages into this thing and thought, Well, now what do I write? What happens next? I put it aside and never came back to it. In college, I did the same thing. But I took a creative writing course in my freshman year where I wrote one story, three pages long.
Tom Fontana: What did you study in college?
David Chase: English literature. But I was never serious about it and I never wrote much at all. I did mostly school assignments.What happened was I became besotted with film and then realized that however that works, the only way into it would be through writing. So strangely enough, in a way, I don’t consider myself a writer. I mean, I do, but I don’t think I could write anything but scripts and screenplays.
Tom Fontana: Well, writing a novel right now myself, I said to my editor, “You should call this the first and last novel by Tom Fontana because the process is too overwhelming.”
David Chase: To me, it’s so daunting I won’t even go near the thought.
Tom Fontana: It’s stupidity; it was complete stupidity for me to undertake this.
David Chase: What was so bad about it?
Tom Fontana: When you’re writing a script, especially episodically, you go, Okay, I got that, I got this scene. I’ll fix the other scene on the set, or the actors will carry the water, or the music will come in here and it’ll save my ass because the scene really kind of doesn’t have the oomph I thought it would. When you’re writing a novel, you’re sitting there literally going, Holy shit, there’s nobody but me! You’re climbing the literary ladder and you’re looking at Faulkner’s ass and Chekhov’s ass, all these other guys who are a billion times better than you are, and the book is going to sit on a shelf somewhere—
David Chase: You’re in the ring with the big guys…
Tom Fontana: Yeah, and I’m like a lightweight in a heavyweight boxing match.
David Chase: I’d be, “How do I find just the right word every time?”
Tom Fontana: Exactly, exactly.
David Chase: Every fucking time.
Tom Fontana: Every time and not repeat. The other thing I’ve learned is, again, because we write dialogue the way people talk, you don’t really care if the grammar’s good or you’re repeating words or stuff like that. With this [novel], I go, Man, I only know six words and they all stink. But enough of me whining. Right now, you’re doing what you wanted to do, direct and write, create a show—
David Chase: No, my goal was never to create a show. Television— I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again— television was never part of my life goal. I wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to make movies. I got hired to do a TV show. The money got into my head, and I kept snorting that money for a long time. I went from term deal to development deal to development deal. I wasn’t Aaron Spelling, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to be that. I never wanted to be somebody who had more than one show. I don’t know how people do that. I never wanted to have a series.
Tom Fontana: But you created a show that is one of my favorites, Almost Grown, in ’88. I hope some day it’ll be out on DVD—it’s a really intricate family story about two people who you meet in three different places in their lives.
David Chase: High school, college, and divorce.
Tom Fontana: And you meet all the people in their lives at different periods. The stories, the scenes, slide in and out of each other and compliment and contradict each other—
David Chase: Rock ’n’ roll was really at the center of it. Almost Grown is actually the name of a rock ’n’ roll song by Chuck Berry. For some reason, we didn’t go out and get the rights [to the song]. The idea was that there would be a song in the present day, which, at that time, was 1988—someone would hear an oldie or a song that would be a mnemonic device to send you back to that period in their life and you’d play out a story back there and then come back to the present.
Tom Fontana: Every week it was almost like you were reinventing the franchise, in the sense of the audience couldn’t say, “Oh, this is what they do every week, they go between three time periods.”
David Chase: Yeah, and then a couple of times we went to the disco period, 1976, ’77. That show was satisfying to work on. It was just starting to get some attention when CBS cancelled it. Almost Grown has certain similarities with The Sopranos.The tone is similar.
Tom Fontana: The family is at the center of the story…
David Chase: …The family and the annoying mother. Almost Grown was the lab for The Sopranos.
All Unhappy Families
Tom Fontana: Let’s talk about The Sopranos. You created a show and, out of the blocks, blew everybody away. Was it a surprise first of all?
David Chase: A tremendous surprise. Not only to me, to everyone who worked on the show. And, as you know, HBO is different from the broadcast networks. We had finished 13 episodes out in Queens—no one was shooting out there then—and in New Jersey. No one was telling us what to do, we were left to ourselves, so we all thought to ourselves, Well, this was too much fun, so this isn’t going to happen again. I thought critics were going to say, “Another mob show? Please! How many times do we have to do this?” I really did think we’re going to get slammed.Strangely enough, the opposite did happen. But we were all done, and we thought that would be it.
Tom Fontana: I just read an article in Commonweal that says The Sopranos is about “faith and it’s about the lack of faith.” Was that your intention? Or is it like, “I’m going to write about this theme, and however anybody wants to interpret it, they interpret it.” That first season, did you say to yourself, I’m going to create something that people are going to hold up and examine from 15 different angles?
David Chase: What I said was, “Now that I’m away from a lot of these strictures that I’ve been working under for so long [at the networks], all I want to do is entertain people.” So this is what I thought: I want to give them action, comedy, tears, suspense, and really good rock ’n’ roll music. Seriously, that was my goal.At the same time, I said, “I’m going to tell stories without all this exposition.” It’s what I’d seen in foreign films. In those films, someone says something, or something happens, but it’s not commented on—there’s no arrows that point to it. Even though the characters don’t talk about it, the viewer starts to say, “Look at that, there’s some sort of a pattern there.” That’s what I did Want to do. I had been working in the business for so long I was so tired of episodic television. Did I want to make a grand statement?
No. But I did want to make films in which the audience had to pay attention.
Tom Fontana: Okay, so now you’re the most heralded show in television, and your first season is over, and you get a call from Chris Albrecht, and he says, “We’re back, let’s do it again.” How intimidating is that? Did it constrain you or liberate you? Did you go, like, “Fuck it, I don’t care”?
David Chase: I was still in the “fuck it, I don’t care” mode, which is what I had been in season one. Let’s just do it—let’s just do what we want to do. But what we had real problems with is that the story of The Sopranos was a feature pitch—and I call it a pitch because I did pitch this as a movie, which was a mobster in therapy having problems with his mother, who’s also involved in some sort of a gang war or mob business problem. A few years after I came up with this pitch, I had one of my first meetings at Brillstein-Grey. My manager, Lloyd Braun, walked me to The elevator after the meeting and said, “I want you to know that we believe that you have inside you a great television series.” Huh? I had never thought that way. I didn’t care about creating a series. Really. But I was, I guess touched is the word. I was moved by this confidence. I didn’t think he was bullshitting.
Tom Fontana: No, Lloyd doesn’t bullshit.
David Chase: So I was driving home and I thought of this discarded pitch that I had. I thought about turning it into a story about a TV producer and his mother. Then I thought, That’s such a wussy thing. Like some yuppie and his horrible mother. So I had thought, Well, maybe if the guy’s a gangster, he’s at least a tough guy. He’s everything I’m not, you know. I thought about that and suddenly thought, Well, as a TV series, if this is a television show, you’d be able to concentrate on the women, starting with the mother. For a TV show, that’s good, because it’s mom, dad, junior, and sis. That seems to work for television.
Tom Fontana: I remember you saying to me in passing that the heart of the show was about the relationship with the mother, and that was something you wanted to write about and that you had found a unique way to do it.
David Chase: But that relationship was destroyed at the end of season one because Tony’s mother had tried to kill him. Obviously, they weren’t going to be having any scenes together—realistically, there’s no way that there would be any reconciliation after that.The actress, Nancy Marchand, was Tony Soprano’s mother, and her character was supposed to die. But Nancy was sick with cancer, and she said, “David, just keep me working.” So Tony didn’t kill his mother with a pillow and she didn’t have a stroke, but the character was used very sparingly in season two.
Tom Fontana: Did you feel extra pressure in that second season? Forgetting about competing with anybody else in television, you now had to compete with yourself on a yearly basis, on a weekly basis. Did that haunt you?
David Chase: No, I don’t think it bothered me in season two. It didn’t concern me.
Tom Fontana: Did the media attention ever start to?
David Chase: Well, I try not to read that stuff, as much as I can. I try not to read reviews.
Tom Fontana: I know from my own experience, doing shows like Homicide, where it’s critically acclaimed and you’re feeling so good about the work. Then we had a huge shift in the show when Andre Braugher left at the end of the sixth season, because his character [Frank Pembleton] had become so central to the series. You put his character in the box with a criminal and you basically— I mean, a lot about what was fun Writing the show was, “How can we make it impossible for Andre the actor to play this next box scene?” That was the challenge because he was so good that the writers were like, “We can’t just give him the same old baloney we gave him last week. We have to give him something harder to do.” You were in somewhat of the same situation because Nancy Marchard was so integral to the show initially; then, bit by bit, because of her illness—
David Chase: Yeah, that freaked us all out. What do we do?At the time, I decided that Tony needed a nemesis, somebody who wanted his job. But how many times can you do that?You take care of Richie Aprile and then the next one was, the character Ralphie, Joey Pants. It was mechanistic and stupid when I look back on it—
Tom Fontana: I don’t think so, David. It is the heart and soul of what we all do: set up a protagonist and an antagonist.If you don’t find that, it’s just a lot of characters standing around, going, “Good work, nice whack!”
David Chase: That’s when I figured we could also start to do more stories about the kids—Tony and Carmela as parents— which we did do, and people did like that. Then I loved it, this little conceit of this mob boss kind of being as powerless as any—
Tom Fontana: Father.
Tom Fontana: Talk a little about your work habits. Do you have a routine? Do you write the same time everyday? Do you write the same place everyday? Because I had heard at one point that you would dictate— this is like the mythology of David Chase—in a van, and you would dictate as you went from New Jersey to Silvercup Studios in Queens.
David Chase: That never happened. I did have a van that was supposed to allow me to write or look at dailies in the van, none of which I ever did. I’d sleep in the van, and then get to where we were going. No, I never dictated. I’ve never been able to do that.I’ve always had to be in front of the keyboard and actually doing it. I heard about people who do that. I don’t get it.
Tom Fontana: Yeah, I don’t either. But then again, I don’t even have a computer. I write longhand.
David Chase: You do?
Tom Fontana: Yeah. I’m completely hopeless. Do you write the same time every day?
David Chase: No.
Tom Fontana: You intermingle the producing with the writing?
David Chase: Yeah, I intermingle it all.
Tom Fontana: See, I’m the opposite. I get up at 5:30 and write for four or five hours, and then I take off my writer head and I put on my producer head. I’ll fix a piece of dialogue on the set; but in terms of conceiving a whole scene once the producing starts, forget it.
David Chase: Any writer on our show who’s going to do a teleplay has a completely beated-out story that has been generated in the writers’ room. I don’t know if you do that or not.
Tom Fontana: I do a half-assed version of that.
David Chase: Ours is pretty tight. They go away with 36 to 42 scenes, with even key pieces of dialogue in some of the scenes. That would be me or Terry Winter or Matt Weiner, whoever’s doing it.
Tom Fontana: How many people are in the writers’ room?
David Chase: Uh, well, all the people. Probably five this last season—me, Terry Winter, Matt Weiner, and Andy Schneider and Diane Frolov were the team. That’s it. From the beginning, this is how it worked. We would come into the room and break story, as they say, so people go away with a completely worked out outline. I don’t write every episode like you do.
Tom Fontana: I just finished the rewrite on this pilot I’m doing for NBC, and we start shooting next Wednesday. I finished the novel up to a point where I could stop and still be able to get back to it when we’re done with the pilot. I’m facing about a week’s worth of nothing to write. I know tomorrow I’ll get up to write something, a short story—I’m compulsive about writing, and I truly love to write. I have to write. It’s insane.
David Chase: I think about ideas all the time. I write them down. I could conceivably write a screenplay, which I haven’t done because I don’t have time. But I do not go downstairs and write everyday. I don’t have that.
Tom Fontana: Part of me envies you and part of me…
David Chase: No, now I feel like I’m a fraud. Or lazy.
Tom Fontana: We talked just for a little bit about the whole Commonweal article—the idea that The Sopranos is dealing, thematically, with redemption. The show has also dealt with politics, with race, with addiction, and certainly psychotherapy—the pros and cons of psychotherapy—violence, language as a weapon as well as a tool, and emotional brutality. First of all, do you feel that the show has a responsibility to depict those kinds of issues, or do issues come up out of the environment that you’ve created?
David Chase: I don’t think the show has a responsibility to deal with anything except be entertaining.
Tom Fontana: So all of those things pop up as a result of the storytelling—certainly the way that you’ve handled Christopher’s addiction forces the viewers to go, “Oh, wow, that’s very real.” Normally, in television, somebody has an addiction and then 43 minutes later they’re cured.
David Chase: I can’t stand that kind of thing. But it all comes out of the characters, I guess. And I don’t know what you’d call it. I find that so much of television nowadays is teaching and lecturing and hectoring and sermonizing, and characters are mouthpieces for guys who live in West Los Angeles. The characters are not really characters. They spout things, and they talk about issues. Facility with words is nothing. Anybody can do it with a junior college degree. It’s anti-magic. People who aren’t communicating with each other is much more interesting for me than people saying exactly the right bon mot.
Tom Fontana: You’ve had a great cast. How have they helped you, as a writer, develop the characters? Obviously, the first season was what it was. But did you have conversations with the actors to say, “Where do you think we should go with your character?”
David Chase: Jim Gandolfini had a lot to do with Tony’s personality. And this was done without much conversation. I think the Tony Soprano that I was originally thinking of was not as tough as what the character became. Jim showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be. We never talked about it. I just saw it. The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood. In the script, it said something like, Tony slaps him. But when we shot it, all of a sudden Jim was out of his seat. He picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar, had him almost off the ground and said, “What?! Are you crazy?” And I thought, Of course, that man’s a motherfucker.That guy is surviving the mob. He’s really a dangerous person. He’s not a fun guy.
Tom Fontana: What about the other actors?
David Chase: It was the same thing. Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts, was originally mostly a day player who had worked in a few movies. But we began to watch him in scenes and began to know more about him. Tony Sirico is so interesting that we began to graft elements of Tony onto Paulie: the cleanliness fetish, the devotion to his mother. At first, Tony didn’t want anybody messing with his hair. He was a little leery of doing things that were silly, but he did it, and he handled all of it. Now he’s one of the standbys of the show, one of the pillars.
Tom Fontana: I always feel in terms of the actors who I’ve worked with on shows that there’s this interesting metamorphosis, over a long period of time, where who they are as a character and who they are as a person somehow morph together. It’s fascinating to watch. I remember what Bill Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett said to us once on St. Elsewhere. They were husband and wife on the show and in real life. A new script came out, and there was a scene between the two of them. “Were you listening at our window last night?” they said to us. “Because this is the argument we had last night.” Obviously, we weren’t listening at the window, but we were listening to them, and you just start to absorb that stuff. But I also feel, in terms of Sopranos—and this was true for me with Oz—I found that the actors gave me courage that I had previously not possessed as a writer.
David Chase: Our writers would talk about a particular actor and say, “I bet he can play that scene.” Working with good actors is like energy flowing back and forth. You see them, you give them more, and they do more. Then it just grows. It’s organic.It’s great.
Tom Fontana: That’s exactly what I was talking about. It’s the thrilling part of doing episodic television. Because you’re making this long-term commitment to each other.
A Killer Script
Tom Fontana: One of the things that I have always loved about the show is Christopher’s dance with show business and showing the joys and sorrows that we all go through. How much of That is Chase’s revenge against all those assholes that you had to deal with?
David Chase: Obviously, it’s allowed us to take a few swipes at things. I would say it’s also allowed us to puncture our own pretensions and narcissism and ego. I’m sure it’s not a great secret. There’s always been a somewhat close symbiosis between both businesses, going back to The Godfather with Johnny Fontaine, the whole Sinatra thing and all that. I’m sure you know that here in New York these guys approach you with screenplays. There are connected guys like Christopher with screenplays. It’s not far-fetched.
Tom Fontana: No, no, not at all. That’s the beauty of it.
David Chase: These guys talk about The Godfather a lot. They reference it as to what would really happen. That was a conceit early on, that this will be a gangster show in which they talk about other gangster movies, and it has been important. But there are guys who have these scripts, so it’s not that bizarre. The idea of this was not for me to get back at anybody working in Hollywood, although we’ve taken a few shots at some stuff. Christopher’s character allows us to make fun of ourselves.
Tom Fontana: You just won another Writers Guild Award for the show, you and your team. You’ve won so many awards for the show. Did you have to add a wing in the house in France just for the awards?
David Chase: I don’t know how you feel about awards—
Tom Fontana: I love to win them, I like being nominated, and it doesn’t bother me when I’m not.
David Chase: When you’re not nominated?
Tom Fontana: When I’m not nominated. Because a lot of times I’ve been in categories nominated with people whose shows I didn’t particularly think were all that great.
David Chase: That’s the problem. See, it’s hard to talk about this without sounding arrogant. But it’s one of those things where, if you invest in the fact that you are nominated or win, then how can you not invest in the fact when you aren’t or don’t?
Tom Fontana: Yeah, exactly.
David Chase: So how can it mean something when it’s good, and not mean anything when it isn’t? Awards can be a little bit toxic. They’re great, and I try to say, “Look, it’s just fun.They nominated you, you lost, you won. Who really cares?” But you can get annoyed when you see what else is out there and what else wins. Because you think to yourself, I don’t get it.We worked hard on this show. We do so much of X, and Y—I mean, what’s the point? Why did I come all the way out here for this show?
Tom Fontana: We’ll both get in trouble for this, being East Coast people, but it’s so funny. I will stand out in Pasadena—at least the last time I went to the Emmys, that’s where they had the awards—and it’s like four o’clock in the afternoon, I’m in a tuxedo, and it’s hot, and I’m thinking, I don’t care if I win, I just want to go home. To me, the event itself becomes debilitating.
David Chase: Exacerbated by the terror that you might have to go up and speak. I think to myself, It’s also my responsibility to be entertaining while I’m speaking. Then you get There and you realize, Okay, so you’re not going to be as entertaining as Ellen DeGeneres… And you don’t say anything amusing because you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, humor-wise.
Tom Fontana: Exactly. I always have this terror that they’re going to see me. My hair used to be very, very, very long. And, one year when I won, all I kept thinking as I was walking up to the stage is—it was right after the opening dance number, which was terrible, and the first award was our award—and I walk up and my hair is really long, people are like, “I don’t want to see him! Oh, my God, that long-haired freak is disgusting!”
David Chase: Who is the writer anyway?
Tom Fontana: That’s the thing, the audience is saying, “Where is Ellen DeGeneres? Where are the stars? We don’t care about this writing nonsense.” But, as I said, on the other hand, I love to win because it’s like Sally Field: “You like me, you really like me.”
David Chase: I don’t know if I feel that way. I guess it’s just pure competitiveness. Actually, I don’t believe “you like me, you really like me.” I don’t believe they like me.
Tom Fontana: “They begrudge you, they really begrudge you”?
David Chase: No, I don’t mean that. Well, I guess all awards are different. I was starting to think, Why would your show win the Emmys? Because they love you, they really love you? Or, [because] it was time? And what the hell does that mean? I think you need to be deprived a little bit, because we didn’t win anything this year except for the Writers Guild Award. So by the time the Writers Guild Award came along, it was, Somebody loves us!
The Sopranos Movie
Tom Fontana: In terms of The Sopranos as a movie, would you approach it differently than you would doing the series?
David Chase: I don’t know. I haven’t done it. Probably not. Would it be more than a two-hour Sopranos?
Tom Fontana: At one point, I was asked to do Oz as a feature, and I was like, “Oh, that’s pretty cool!” I worked out this idea in my head of what an Oz movie could be. And they said, “Oh, no, no, no, it needs a hero.” And I went, “Have you ever seen the show? There’s no hero! It is what it is.” And they said, “Well, then you can’t have that happen because then we’ll get an X rating.”
David Chase: It’s a different business.
Tom Fontana: People who would go to see an Oz movie would probably do so because they’ve seen the television show. So the question is, would the restrictions of a feature—getting an R rating— start to play a part in it, or would you have to find a way to do the story in a different way?
David Chase: Our goal from the beginning, from the first episode, has been to try to do a little feature every week. For example, the college episode with Tony and Meadow. To me, that’s a movie in itself. Hopefully, every one of the episodes is like that. “Pine Barrens” was like that. So, I wouldn’t be that daunted by doing it. But seeing these characters five years from now, I don’t know if that’s interesting to me.
Tom Fontana: You wouldn’t want to write a Sopranos version of The Brady Bunch Reunion where they all go to Hawaii?
David Chase: See, it would be tough. My guess is we’d have to go back and pick a day like in 2005 and show something that happened in some week that you hadn’t seen in 2005.
Tom Fontana: Or would you write a screenplay about Tony’s father? That’s a movie I’d pay full price for—to see he and the mother, but when they were kids.
David Chase: That would interest me as a story—to do Newark, New Jersey, in 1960. That’s where my family comes from. But then wouldn’t people say, “Where’s James Gandolfini? This isn’t The Sopranos; this is something else.” Maybe if there is a way to go back and forth because I can’t conceive of doing it without a very strong Tony-Carmela component. It would be interesting to go back to Newark in those days.
Tom Fontana: Yeah, you’d write the shit out of that.
David Chase: Newark had a big Italian-American community.Little Italy in Newark was the next biggest Italian-American community in the country to lower Manhattan. Typical Jersey statement.
Tom Fontana: So where are the pages? Come on, let’s go, let’s go!
David Chase: I think I’ll write a novel about it.
Afterward: As the conversation comes to an end, David Chase finishes the glass of wine, pulls on his battered hat, and shakes hands with Fontana. I follow Chase into the tiny elevator that connects the different floors of the townhouse. Both of us are silent as the elevator grinds slowly downward to the street-level entrance.
I’m reluctant to say anything and break the mood, but it’s my only chance to make my own comment about The Sopranos. “I just wanted to tell you how I admired the ‘Join the Club’ episode of the sixth season,” I tell him. “All those scenes in Costa Mesa looked real, but they felt like a dream.”
Chase stops in the hallway and nods slightly. “Thanks. Some people had problems with those episodes. They couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
He hesitates for a moment and then shrugs as if the distinction between dream and reality is always significant. Out on the wet sidewalk, we shake hands and Chase moves off in the opposite direction.
There’s a siren in the distance, coming closer. The bluish glow from a television set illuminates an apartment window. Standing on the curb, I watch Chase walk alone beneath a patch of streetlight and then disappear into the shadow.
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