SPEAKER: This is a production of Cornell University.
ROGER GILBERT: My name is Roger Gilbert. And I was chair of the English department when this lecture was planned. So I get to have the enormous pleasure of introducing today's speaker.
And if you're here, then you already know that Semi Chellas was closely involved with the amazing television series Mad Men from its fifth season on, serving successively as its co-producer, supervising producer, and co-executive producer, if IMDB has those titles right. Even more significantly for the purpose of today's talk, she was a writer for the show. She shared credit with creator Matthew Weiner for two of its most admired episodes, Faraway Places and The Other Woman, both of which play some very interesting tricks with narrative time.
And in the show's final two seasons, she ran the writers room, about which I am hoping we'll get to hear all kinds of juicy, inside stuff today. Semi also co-created and wrote a highly acclaimed Canadian TV series called The 11th Hour. She's written and directed several other films.
And I'll mention that an interview she did with Matthew Weiner appeared in the spring 2014 issue of The Paris Review in that very prestigious Writers at Work series. So you can look that up online if you're interested.
We are especially delighted to be welcoming Semi Chellas back to Cornell, where she was a graduate student in the English department in the '90s. In fact, the other day my colleague Michael Cook handed me a copy of the Cornell literary magazine Epic, containing one of her early screenplays. Probably the only work in that form ever to grace the pages of Epic-- or am I wrong about that, Michael? The only one--
SEMI CHELLAS: That was actually my first script ever.
ROGER GILBERT: First script ever? And it was in Epic. We got it. All right!
Many of us have been thrilled to see her name in the opening credits of Mad Men, a show that has a tremendous fan base around here. And let me confess that I'm a total Mad Men geek myself. I consider it the most literate and literary of the great TV dramas that have come along in the last 15 years. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and of course, Mad Men have totally redefined the possibilities of serial television as a medium, enlarging its scope and deepening its resonance beyond anything previously seen.
I'm certainly not the only member of the English department who feels this way. And in fact, our newest colleague, Caroline Levine, who will be joining the department next fall, started out as a scholar of Victorian literature, but has recently been writing and publishing critical essays on The Wire and Mad Men, discovering in them the same narrative complexity and thematic richness found in the novels of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. So this is stuff that's really getting taken very seriously by a lot of smart critics and scholars right now.
Of course, a key difference between novels and TV shows like Mad Men is that the latter are written collaboratively by a team of writers, often working under the supervision of a creator or auteur. In the case of Mad Men, that's Matthew Weiner. We're going to hear a lot about that creative process today.
I just want to observe that there's a striking parallel between the way that the ad men in the show gather to brainstorm and pitch ideas and the way the show itself is written. The image on the poster for today's lecture shows one of the conference rooms in the ad agency where Don Draper and his colleagues gathered together to dream up ad campaigns. But it could easily serve as the writers room for the show itself. I think, though, that the actual writers room was a little less elegant. I've seen pictures of it.
Fiction and reality collided in a beautiful way in the final episode of the series, which included a scene in one of those conference rooms with all the creative people being given their assignments. And if you look closely, you'll see that one of the people sitting at that table is none other than Semi Chellas. She's sitting between Peggy Olson and Stan-- Rizzo, is it? Is that-- she doesn't look too happy. Maybe because she's-- someone else is running the meeting, and not a very nice person in my opinion.
Anyway, I would like to thank the Department of Performing and Media Arts for their generous co-sponsorship of this event. I'd also like to thank Sarah Rice and Lynne Lauper and Linda Glazer for their help organizing and publicizing it. And there are lot of other people who are helping out today. So thanks to all of you.
A few bits of housekeeping-- please turn off your cell phones. And after the lecture, we will have a reception in the English department lounge, which is 258 Goldwin Smith. Since this is the first event that we've held in this brand new auditorium, I will suggest that the easiest way to get from here to the lounge is to go up the stairs right outside the door, up two flights, take the corridor on the left when you get to the top of the stairs.
And then, when you get to the end of the corridor, the lounge is just to the left. The corridor goes into Goldwin Smith Hall. So I hope to see you all at the reception. The title of Semi Chellas's talk today is Telling Secrets-- Notes from The Writers Room. Please join me in welcoming Semi Chellas.
SEMI CHELLAS: [INAUDIBLE]. All right. I looked grumpy in that shot because of the underwear. I was in underwear from the 1960s and it was really, really, really difficult. It made me much more respectful of the actresses in this series.
I'm going to start with a clip, actually, which is possibly the most famous moment from the eight seasons of Mad Men. And by the way, this talk is going to be totally full of spoilers. [INAUDIBLE]. So if you have a problem with that, leave now. And I think there's a couple of clips that might be disturbing in a Mad Men way, so be warned.
- And by the way, I know it kills you, but guess what? There is no Danny's idea. Everything that comes in here belongs to the agency.
- You mean you.
- As long as you still work here.
- Is that a threat? Because I've already taken somebody up on one of those tonight.
- You know what? Here's a blank piece of paper. Why don't you turn that into Glo-Coat?
- Are you out of your mind? You gave me 20 ideas. And I picked out one of them that was a kernel that became that commercial.
- So you remember?
- I do. It was something about a cowboy. Congratulations.
- No. It was something about a kid locked in a closet because his mother was making him wait for the floor to dry, which is basically the whole commercial.
- It's a kernel.
- Which you changed just enough so that it was yours.
- I changed it into a commercial. What? Are we going to shoot him in the dark in the closet? That's the way it works. There are no credits on commercials.
- But you got the Clio!
- It's your job! I give you money. You give me ideas.
- You never say thank you!
- That's what the money is for!
SEMI CHELLAS: So they're not talking about advertising. They're talking about television writing. And that's in Matt Weiner's script from Season Four.
And he's been both of those characters, the boss and the staff writer. I love the exchange they have where Don says, "it was a kernel!" And she says, "and you changed it just enough so that it was yours." And he says, "I changed it into a commercial."
And neither of them is wrong. I mean, he's-- Don is an auteur. But it turns out that there's a whole bunch of voices that are making everything that he does-- making his authorship possible. And that's the sort of complicated, messy dynamic that I want to talk about today.
I'm really thrilled to be here. Thank you so much for having me. When I was asked to speak here today, I was, like, what an opportunity to not finish the script I have due.
And then I did what any TV writer worth their salt would do, which is I called a bunch of other people that I work with and asked them what I should say. And they all pitched on it. So a lot of this, I'm going to say right now, is from the other people who helped me think of what might be interesting to an audience.
Writing for television can mean a particular kind of collaboration that demands doing something that is usually very introverted and doing it absolutely publicly. It's about putting your writing process, that super secret incredibly private, truly ineffable process on display in front of eight or 10 or 12 complete strangers-- that you didn't hire, that someone else hired and put you in a group with. And I just don't know any other kind of writing like that. Although someone said to me sketch comedy is a little bit like that, so maybe SNL.
It's a really messy process. And it's really risky. And there's got to be a high level of trust. You know, a cone of silence, or as Janet Leahy, who is a writer on the show would say, the colander of silence.
Yeah, that's right. I used her joke in my speech, TV writer. And that's why I called this talk Telling Secrets, because we were locked in this room for years, telling each other our secrets. And now I'm going to tell you a bunch of them.
Like I said, I got in touch with a bunch of people to ask whether I could use their stories. And they were, like, oh, use it. Yeah, use them.
I said, you know-- I said, you know, I'll give you credit. And they went, yeah, no. Let's not bother.
So Mad Men was created by Matthew Weiner, Matt Weiner. And he was not only the auteur of Mad Men, but the very model of an auteur. The show is totally his-- it's his voice, it's his character, it's his sensibilities. His hands were on everything on that show.
Like, you would walk on set, and you would open a filing drawer. And in the files would be their fictional clients, files on their fictional clients. And if you opened them, there would be invoices typed-- not from a printer. He had the most sort of perfectionist, meticulous details anyone had ever seen.
And it was his story. But it was not necessarily his stories. It was a collective effort. And there was, I think, upwards of 30 people who wrote on that show over the time.
The writers room on any season was 10 or 12 people. Some days it was more or less. Because some people came in seven days a week, and you would be on set, or you would be off writing. They were drama writers and comedy writers and playwrights and feature film people and people from advertising-- advertising now and advertising in the '60s. We had one man who had worked on Madison Avenue from, I think, 1960 to 1969.
The age range while I was there was from 27 to 84. There was just incredible writers, multiple show runners. One year, we went to a celebration of the top 100 series of all time. And one of our writers had been on seven of them. She'd been on staff of seven of them.
We had Frank Pearson, who wrote Dog Day Afternoon. We had Robert Town, who wrote Mission Impossible and Chinatown.
At the beginning of the season, we would all show up. And Matt would come in and he would tell us what he wanted to do that season. So he would tell us what year it would be-- which first of all, was always sort of a surprise-- and what month it would start, how long the arc of a season would be.
And he would tell us where Don was, where the other characters were, sort of broad arcs over the next 13 episodes. He would tell us what the season's themes would be. But also, actually, but mostly-- he would tell us a bunch of other stuff, like images, lines, ideas he had, just something he wanted in there, moments between characters.
He would tell us his dreams. He would tell us movies we should watch. He would play songs for us. It was all this uncategorizable stuff. And stuff like this.
- Lady Lazarus. I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it-- a sort of walking miracle, my skin bright as a Nazi lampshade, my right foot, the paperweight, my face, a featureless fine Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin, oh, my enemy. Do I terrify? Yes, yes, Herr Professor, it is I. Can you deny the nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath will vanish in a day. Soon, soon, the flesh the grave cave ate will be at home on me and I a smiling woman.
I'm only 30. And like the cat, I have nine times to die. This is number three.
SEMI CHELLAS: So he came in and played us Sylvia Plath for an hour, reading her own poetry. One time, midseason, he came in and told us the entire plot of this Max Ophuls' film, The Earrings of Madame Death. Max Ophuls is a 1930s German director. And it's a very long intricate plot.
And it had no relation to anything. And he told it to us in real time. So we were, like, OK. But people were sort of, like, are we taking a note here? You know, and he would sort of think out loud sometimes about what it was about. But not really-- not often-- how it was related to Mad Men.
I should say that there were no screens in the room. We didn't bring our phones, and we didn't have computers. There would be one writer's assistant who would take notes of everything and sort of keep track of all the conversation. But otherwise than that, we were just sort of sitting there together. And we worked 10 hours a day on most days, but never less than that.
So he would come in at the beginning of the season and give us this whole sort of messy bundle of stuff. And then we would all go off. And we would have a day or maybe two to return with 10 stories of our own that sort of expanded or contributed or ran alongside of what Matt had brought in.
Which is an incredibly short amount of time to do this. Because there was no way you could get a head start. You had no idea before that what year it was going to be or what he wanted to do with the characters.
But he would send us off of this incredibly short amount of time. And you could do research maybe, or something that was happening in the timeline he'd given, but the important thing was to bring in truth, like Matt had just done-- to bring in your own stories, your own memories, your own accounts of things, your own ideas about things, and even your dreams.
Secondary sources he really discouraged. He didn't want us reading anything that looked back on the era or anything that would synthesize. He really wanted us to stay in the moment that the characters were in.
So we would go off. We would come back in and draw numbers to decide who would go first. And then everyone, whoever got first, would start going and start pitching their stories.
And it would take us weeks to get through all 10 people, all doing 10 stories. And the writer's assistant would be writing them all down. And mostly, it was Matt going, like, no, we would never do that.
We would never do that in our show. Why would you even pitch that? We would never do.
Because, as he told me once, he said to me once-- if you pitch me something and I say no, and then I come back a little later and I pitch it to you and I just thought of it, then you're succeeding. There was something about him that had to internalize the stories and kind of live with them and have them come forth from him. So there was this long two week period where we were pitching, no, no, no, no, no. And we would sort of keep track of all of these ideas.
And at the end, we would have, like, 120 cards all over the room, all in a very cryptic code to which no key could be kept because Matt was very, very afraid of spoilers. So we would have these weird one word that was supposed to remind us of this whole story about the Empire State Building or whatever up on the board. And then after that, we would get to work, one by one, breaking the episodes of this season.
So my first season at Mad Men, I drew number two, which was a nightmare. So I had to go second. And I had worked frantically for 24 hours. I had known that I had the job for, like, 48 hours.
I get in. Matt talked for, like, three days. I took-- the first day, I took 48 pages of notes. Like, I was, like, oh, my God. What's happening? I don't even know, whatever.
And then after three days of this, you know, 42 pages every day of notes, he was, like, OK. You have 24 hours. Then come back with ten pitches.
And I was, like, oh, my God, oh no. Oh, my God. So I had literally not slept. And that season, Season 5, promised to be in large part a meditation on the price of success in business and in love.
They had started their new agency. He had married Megan in between seasons. He was in love with his wife, and the business was doing well.
And that was sort of an interesting thing that Matt had brought in. He was, like, what are the stories of success that we've ever seen? How do you tell a story of people thriving and still make it dramatic? And of course, it's cataclysmic by the end of the season.
So I said-- so I'd gone off and worked frantically and sleeplessly. But I had played hooky for a couple of hours and gone to the library to hear one of my favorite writers, Francisco Goldman, read from his new novel, Say Her Name. If you haven't read it, you should all run out and buy it and read it. It's an amazing, amazing book.
It's a novel. But it's based on a real tragedy, which was the accidental, untimely death of his young wife, his much beloved young wife, Aura. So Francisco read about a moment before Aura's death where they got their wires crossed, and he ended up at a subway waiting for her. And she didn't come.
And he wrote about this moment as a premonition of death. And the passage that stuck with me was "Moments of temporary separation and absence and even loss that were like little rehearsals for what was coming-- not premonition, but actual visitation. Death coming through its portal, taking Aura away, putting her back, receding into its hole."
I was really struck by that. So my first nine pitches were these, like, beautifully wrought, really intricate stories with, like, setups and payoffs. And some of them ended up getting into the sort of DNA of that season. But pitch 10, I just read that quotation that I just read to you from Frank's book.
And I said, so I was thinking about Don and Megan having a fight. And then, she, like, walks away. And then he thinks she's dead. [INAUDIBLE]. That's all I have.
But then, Matt sort of perked up. And he was really interested in that passage. And he said, well, you know, what happened? And I started telling the story of Frank's marriage and how he had met this woman. And she just was the love of his life and much younger than him and had died just completely unexpectedly. And his grief and the sort of talismans that he wrote about in his book of her, and the tendrils of that story got woven right into the episode months later when we were breaking this story for what became Faraway Places. So I'm going to show you a clip. So--
- Get in the car!
SEMI CHELLAS: [INAUDIBLE] set up. And so Megan, who's married to Don, is working as a copywriter at his agency. And he gets wind that Howard Johnson's-- this is actually one of my other pitches-- Howard Johnson's was trying to compete with McDonald's, which was just coming in. So they had opened all these-- right off the highway-- rest stops where you could eat. One of which I remember going to when I was little.
And so we had created this story where he comes and gets Megan out of work, where she's working with Peggy and the other people who have that job. And he takes her upstate on kind of this junket. And I don't know if people remember this episode. But it's one of my favorite moments, which he's really excited about making her try orange sherbet. He just knows that this is going to be, like, the best thing ever.
And she sort of is pissed off, anyway. Because he's pulled her out of her job and he's being Don. And she tries the orange sherbet, and she doesn't like it. And then he's snippy about it. And then she's, like, [INAUDIBLE].
You saw this orange sherbet, which is incredibly hard to shoot because you can only eat so much orange sherbet before you have to cut and, like, clean off the actress and, like, put more orange sherbet. And it's, like, a nightmare. [LAUGHTER] And actually, this is completely a tangent, but my favorite detail was-- this is how detailed the amazing art department on Mad Men was. They had gotten the cookbook from the '60s that Howard Johnson's used and were cooking from it in the kitchen of the Howard Johnson's. So it smelled like Howard Johnson's. It smelled exactly like Howard Johnson's, because it turns out Howard Johnson in the '60s cooked their hot dogs in melted butter, like a vat of melted butter. I mean, just put the hot dogs in there. Anyway, this total tangent-- sorry. So back to Frank's sad story, the little tendrils of death. And this is what we came up with. So Megan gets really mad. And Don gets mad about the sherbet. And they walk out into the parking lot.
- Leave work! Take off your dress! Yes, master!
Don't you dare pull away! I'm talking to you!
[CAR HORN SOUNDING]
- Excuse me. Was my wife just in here?
- She was.
- Where did she go?
- I don't know.
- To the hotel?
- She was talking to those fellows over there. They all left. They went towards the parking lot together. I thought she was looking for you.
SEMI CHELLAS: That's like a story that the regular version of it might be they have a big fight. She left. Where is she? But instead, you can see it on Jon Hamm.
And that clip goes on. I could play it for, like, another five minutes. Because he goes and he looks in the bathroom. And he talks to the manager.
And then he goes out in the parking lot, and he looks again. And you can see that the anxiety there is not the anxiety of is my wife mad at me. That's in the car. He's, like, oh. [INAUDIBLE].
But in the parking lot, it's that-- I feel like what we were trying to write was this sense that maybe she was dead. And actually, I have another-- I wasn't going to show this clip, but we actually used later-- when he drives back-- so he looks for her, and he stays in the diner, and then he drives back to New York City in the dark. And we took a scene that had been cut from Season 4.
After he proposed, there was a scene where they were in the car driving home in the dark. And they had just been to Disneyland. But it was winter in New York. And he's really, really happy, because they're in love. And it was just a happy sort of scene that ended up not getting into Season 4.
And we put it as a flashback in this episode. And for some reason, because they're all happy, and they've been to Disneyland, and they're wearing ears, and it's dark, and it's winter, it feels like he's driving on, going, like, oh, my God. My wife is dead.
So a little later, while we're doing this episode, Matt came in talking about another Max Ophuls movie-- we're all, like, oh, here we go-- Le Plaisir, which is a movie from 1952. And it's amazing also. Go watch this movies. It's an amazing movie.
It's three short stories by Guy de Maupassant. And the last one is about an artist and a model. And this is a spoiler for the movie, but it's fine. They have an idyllic relationship that goes awry.
And Matt came in. He was, like, oh, my God. You have to see this fight. So I'll show you-- there's no subtitles on this. But you really don't need them.
- [SPEAKING FRENCH]
SEMI CHELLAS: I just love that scene. So that sort of long tracking shot and the way the fight evolves into just, like, a violence that kind of unites them. And that is the inspiration for the end of that same episode, Faraway Places. I'll show you the clip.
SEMI CHELLAS: OK. So as soon as he sees the chain, he realizes she's not dead.
SEMI CHELLAS: She's not dead, because she put on the chain. So now he's mad.
- Go away!
- Open the door.
- Open the damn door.
- I don't want to see you.
- Open the door, or I'm going to kick it in.
SEMI CHELLAS: [INAUDIBLE]
- Leave me alone!
- I said I was sorry.
- I don't care!
- Where the hell were you? I stopped every 20 miles and called the apartment. Why didn't you answer the goddamn phone?
- Because you're a pig. You left me there!
- Where the hell were you?
SEMI CHELLAS: [INAUDIBLE]
- I thought you were dead.
- 6 and 1/2 hours on a bus. And then try getting a cab at Port Authority at 5:00 in the morning. Try getting anything but an offer.
- I thought you were dead.
How could you do that to me?
- I don't know. It was a fight. It's over.
- No. Every time we fight it just diminishes us a little bit.
SEMI CHELLAS: You can see-- you can see how that ends up with him sort of kneeling and, like, and hugging her as she stands there. And she's, like-- and I mean, you know, we had sort of-- one of the things that came in with that season was I want to do a story about how for some people, a fight in a relationship actually like leeches the relationship. And for some people, it's just a fight. And then they move on. And that's sort of how that evolved.
We always would break each story line in an episode by itself. You know, Don was doing something or Peggy was doing something. We would try to make those stories so they were full stories and could be told with their wholeness. And usually, it ended up being three or four story lines in an episode.
And then we would sort of braid them together and see how they overlapped and how those plots would affect each other. In the case of this episode, Far Away places, there were three story lines that took us to the heart of something. There was Peggy, who had been left alone when Don went off on his junket to pitch, ending up spending the night late with her colleague, Ginsburg. And he tells her this incredible story that he was born in a concentration camp.
There was Roger and his young wife that sort of same day. It resets, and it's at the beginning of that day, ending up taking LSD, and their marriage coming to a head. And then there was Don and Megan going to Howard Johnson's. And so we had figured out these three stories.
And usually, we would put them together. And then, because of Le Plaisir, being three stories and how enjoyable it was to watch those three, we had this thing where, in the room, all at the same time, we were, like, hey, let's just leave these three. Like that-- and that's how that episode ended up being the three stories one after another.
If it's not clear already, we wrote the outlines all together for every episode. We did the work all together, like, 10 people in the room and in really-- in very detailed ways. So people would pitch dialogue and jokes. We would know where scenes started and end.
And Matt, he would sometimes just start doing a scene with all the characters. And sometimes it would end up in the script word for word. And you wouldn't know which episode you were going to go off and write until that outline was done.
So little bits of all of us went into all the episodes. And you would hope that your work would be so absorbed in the rest of it as to be sort of unrecognizable. You know, just an example that I thought of-- we had this amazing ad executive named Josh Weltman, who's a creative director, who came to work on Mad Men.
And he'd done a bunch of fast food campaigns, like Taco Bell and Carl's Junior. And he always really wanted to do a story where they get a fast food. And I really wanted to tell a story about how it was really important to my mom, who was a working mom and a very active feminist in the '70s, it was really important to her to have family dinner on the table. And those stories kind of entwined and became ultimately Peggy's pitch for Burger Chef.
And then there's this pitfalls to this sort of truth telling. And when that occurred to me was we had built this story about a childhood friend of Joan's coming to spend a weekend in New York. And it was sort of meant as a story that would give us a window into Joan's previous life. And you know, the fact that she had been married before the show ever started.
And I was, like, oh, we should name her Kate after my friend who always comes, who visits me. And so we did. And we worked on the story. And then it was almost ready.
And one night, we stayed late. And we're, like, this story isn't working. We've completely [INAUDIBLE].
And the friend ends up cheating on her husband. But her name is still Kate. And it was, like, all this stuff, but, like, she came and visited her friend. So I actually had to call my friend Kate and be, like, [INAUDIBLE]. She was, like, can you call my husband?
Frank Pearson, who is a truly great writer, told us this story from his childhood that we used, actually, verbatim in a scene. I didn't bring the clip. But Grandma Pauline says to Sally, my father-- I remember one day he was sleeping on the couch in the living room. And I walked by.
And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he kicked me so hard that I actually flew across the room and hit a piece of furniture. And he looked at me and said, that was for nothing. So watch out.
Frank told us this story. And there was this kind of silence. And Matt was, like, can we use that? And Frank said, make it yours. I don't want it anymore. And then that line was above the writers room for the rest of the show.
We also had a research department at our disposal, obviously. We had-- amazing-- it was, for a nerd, it was amazing. Because it was, like, every newspaper article from the given year.
We had all The New Yorkers. We had all the Time magazines, all the Newsweek's, all the Life magazines. And at Mad Men, every episode takes place on a very specific date. You know, if there was something going on in New York, if there was a three day weekend, if there was weather, we knew about it.
I remember before I was on the show, watching an episode. And Don came in with-- his jacket was wet, like rain on the shoulders. And that would have been because it was raining that day, no other reference to it.
So in Season 6, we had talked a lot about A Tale of Two Cities. And well, I thought we were talking about the book. Until it turned out we were talking about the movie with Ronald Colman. Because in the movie, well, as the book, Charles Darney and Sidney Carton are sort of these paired, rival, mirror images. And that season was, in a huge part, about the rivalry between Don and Ted Shaw.
So I went off to write a script where the two men are going to fly to Ithaca, actually. I had forgotten that it was to Ithaca in Shaw's plane. And the idea was that they were going to meet the head of Mohawk Airlines, which was a client of theirs and an old friend of Don's and an old client of Don's, but that he would be totally besotted by the fact that Shaw had flown his own airplane and that this would change the rivalry. So I was writing away. I had my outline.
And Allison Mann, who was the amazing head of research, came in to tell me that that day in New York there had been a terrible storm. And it was so bad that the traffic shut down on the George Washington Bridge. And there was no way they could have gotten to Teterboro to take off.
And I was, like, can we change the day? We tried to move around. Couldn't change for reasons in the other story. And so then we were like could they take off from Westchester? Is there any way to park a plane in the Bronx?
We went through this whole thing. We had, like, The New York Times out. OK, so they closed the George Washington Bridge at 1:10 PM, which is, like, burned on my brain. Could they have gotten uptown?
But they had to have this other scene before. They have to have already been drinking. Like, how early could they have been drinking in the morning, right? So that became this scene. Hold on.
So then we were, like, what if we just went with this? This is Susan's favorite scene. Because I'm terrified of flying.
- It's raining pretty hard. We can wait a couple hours.
- Don't worry about that. Once we're above the clouds, it's sunny as summer.
[AIRPLANE ENGINE RUNNING]
- How long have you been doing this?
- Not now!
There we go. You can relax now. We're leveled off.
- I am relaxed.
- Sometimes when you're flying, you think you're right side up, but you're really upside down.
- Gotta watch your instruments.
You don't want to take in the wonder of God's majesty?
SEMI CHELLAS: Anyway, you can see-- so in fact, there's no scene with Henry Lamotte at Mohawk Airlines when they get to Ithaca. We just cut the next scene because you don't need it. The storm became the story-- that Don Draper is, like, white knuckled hands, sweating. And then Shaw had these aviators on.
Became, like-- they come back, and they say, yeah, [INAUDIBLE]. Doing whatever we say, or whatever. But we didn't need to do the extra scene. So sometimes the research would actually become the story.
Many is the Sunday night that I have done as much as I could of The New York Times crossword and then gone to sleep with it unfinished and woken up and just, like, filled it in. Does that happen to people? Without having thought about it, but I just woke up, and I was, like, oh, I know what that is.
You know? That's the clue. It took me, I feel, too long in my life to understand that this is a way to solve writing problems is to let your unconscious work on them. You know, like, writing problems where the plot doesn't make sense, or the timeline doesn't work, or the mystery isn't mysterious, or you know.
And the great thing about writing in a group is that you sometimes get these little unbreakable knots. And instead of just a solution, you get this kind of explosion of complexity and depth. And the example that I always think about is at the end of Season 5, we were working this story where Jon had an opportunity to pitch on the Jaguar account for the car. And it was, like, the brass ring, you know, the car account that he really wanted to land.
And then the wrinkle is that the client in question asks to spend the night with Joan. And I don't mean dinner and dancing, is what Pete says when he presents it. So this is the episode, The Other Woman. So this presented a unique writing problem.
So if landing the account was in Joan's hands, so to speak, if landing the account was up to Joan, then Don's pitch is totally beside the point, right, dramatically. And for all that Jon Hamm is a charm machine, I promise you do not want to sit through him pitching a Jaguar account if you don't care, if there's nothing at stake. But if the inverse was true, if Don's amazing pitch was going to win it, then Joan's story just becomes pure pathos.
So we literally could not figure out how to structure the end of those two stories. We knew both-- you know, when we had them separately, we knew both where they ended. And we couldn't figure out how they would be together.
Now the obvious solution is just intercut them. The problem is that the client is in both seats. The client has to be sleeping with Joan and listening to the pitch. So we were, like, well, we can sort of fudge the time. And then here's what we came up with, which hopefully is in sync. Because-- but although, it's a lot of sound over pictures.
- Hello. I'm Don Draper. I work with Joan. Is she in?
- Yes, of course. Please come in.
[KNOCKING ON DOOR]
[STREET NOISE, CAR HORNS SOUNDING]
She'll be right with you. [INAUDIBLE]. I should take your coat.
- Oh, I won't be long.
- Well, I will leave you two alone.
- I'm really sorry to bother you if this is a bad time.
- Well, I was just stepping into the shower. But how can I help you?
- I wanted to tell you it's not worth it. If we don't get Jaguar, so what? Who wants to be in business with people like that?
- I was told everyone was on board.
- I said, no. And they voted when I left the room.
- You're a good one, aren't you?
- So you understand what I'm saying?
- Yes, I do. I'm all right. And thank you.
- So you have a nice night. And I'm going to go prepare.
SEMI CHELLAS: So he basically comes and says don't do it. And then we go into this sort of-- let's--
- --creates desire.
SEMI CHELLAS: Then we go into the pitch itself. And just scroll there. Here they come. It's a Jaguar. They're all ready for-- and here comes out the agency that's just pitched, which is, like, the mirror image of them.
- You must get tired of hearing [INAUDIBLE] this car is. But I've met a lot of beautiful women in my life, and despite their protestations, they never tire of hearing it.
SEMI CHELLAS: So then Don starts pitching for Jaguar. And the tagline is something beautiful you can truly own. And I'm going to see if I can--
- Because it is, by nature, unattainable.
SEMI CHELLAS: Now [INAUDIBLE].
- You look radiant, Joan. May I call you Joan?
SEMI CHELLAS: Now here's Joan, going off to Herb Rennet.
- I should hope so.
- We're talking [INAUDIBLE], but function is all that matters.
SEMI CHELLAS: Back to Jon.
- But we have a natural longing for this other thing.
SEMI CHELLAS: So anyway-- [INAUDIBLE] fast forward [INAUDIBLE] Herb Rennet puts a necklace on her. I thought a woman with your complexion would look good in emerald.
- It is life.
SEMI CHELLAS: And back to Don pitching.
- I feel like a sultan of Arabia and my tent is graced with Helen of Troy.
- Those are two different stories.
SEMI CHELLAS: That amazing joke. So and then and he's disgusting. And then he's really disgusting. And she undresses.
And see, at this point, it's still playing, like, is she going to decide not to. I don't think they're thinking about time, you know, hearing the pitch. We're cutting to his reaction. And it's still Herb Rennet here, listening to this pitch. Then we go all the way through, and there he is, being disgusting.
- --car, pretty, if they weren't temperamental, if they weren't beyond our reach and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do?
SEMI CHELLAS: And here's John being, in his own way--
- Jaguar, at last, something beautiful you can truly own. So there's Herb Rennet sitting there listening. He loves that, 'cause right? It's a great pitch and he got what he wanted. Now she takes off the necklace.
SEMI CHELLAS: And here comes the knock.
- Mr. Draper's here to see you.
- Why'd you tell him I was here?
- He's your boss. You should see him.
SEMI CHELLAS: So now we know that she's come back from sleeping and that we've wound around to the beginning of the whole sequence. She just came back from having sex with the disgusting Herb Rennet. She took off her necklace. Now she's going to put on a robe, like she just got out of the shower, and come out.
- Well, I will leave you two alone.
SEMI CHELLAS: And Don's going to go, don't do it.
- I'm really sorry to bother you if this is a bad time.
- I was just stepping into the shower. But how can I help you?
SEMI CHELLAS: And so then the original scene plays out. So again, trying to solve this problem as a collective, we came up with this way to do the time that actually adds to the story. Because there's this beautiful suspense, and there's this horrible irony that Don was telling her don't do it, for whatever reasons. And it may be because he wanted to win the account on his own. But it was already too late, which you only find out at the end of the five minute sequence.
And when I was talking to Matt about this talk, I reminded him of the Sylvia Plath. I was, like, I'm going to make them listen to the Sylvia Plath [INAUDIBLE]. And he was, like, oh, that was for a reason. And then he had this whole explanation.
And his explanation was, quote, "The college cliche is that because she killed herself, you think she's modest. And then you hear her read." Well, that-- first of all, that doesn't explain anything. And that's not what he's talking about.
But he basically is saying now that he wanted us to adjust our assumptions about Betty. That he was playing that so we would hear something and think differently about one of the characters. But that is now. And I feel like at the time all he knew is that we all had to have heard it together.
Oh, my goodness. It was still out of sync, yeah. The story-- this one I can just tell. But the story we were braiding into that Jaguar proposition story with Joan and Don was this story that had been suggested by one of the people who works in advertising, who told us how, when there's, like, a big fish on the line, as an agency like the Jaguar account, all the other clients get completely neglected. Because they're the ones you already have.
And so we were making this story about how Peggy was holding everything else together. And we're, like, every scene that you see Peggy, she has a different account. And she's done all the work for it or whatever. And that Don is totally indifferent to that.
And at some point, she gets really mad, because she comes in and she saves the account for Chevalier Blanc. And she thinks that there's a junket to Paris in it. And Matt was, like-- and then Don goes, you know, if you want to go to Paris-- well, I'll just play it. But hopefully, it will be-- but Don gets really mad.
This is Matt. So we were, like, OK, so she comes in. And she really wants to go to Paris. But Don gives it to Ginsburg, because-- and Matt was, like, yeah.
- Ginsburg? I thought that--
- It was his account.
- So I guess I'm not in charge of everything.
- Jesus! Peggy, you know what? You want to go to Paris?
SEMI CHELLAS: You want to go to Paris?
SEMI CHELLAS: Go to Paris.
- Go to Paris.
SEMI CHELLAS: And he nails her in the face. Which by the way, the way I remember it, Matt pulled out the money to see if it's possible, and flicked it right in my face. And then I was talking to another writer about this talk. And he was, like, no. I think that that happened on set.
He was, like, I think it happened after Jon Hamm called up from set and was, like, I can't hit her in the face.
And you were on set. And Matt came down and nailed you in the face on set. And then someone else was, like, you know, I think that you nailed Jon Hamm in the face with the money, which is-- because I'm a writer, that's the way I'm going to tell it from now on.
But I'm pretty sure that I got nailed in the face with the money. So Matt was, like, great. That's a great story. He nails her in the face with the money. And then he left.
And then there was this weird lull in the writers room. We're all sitting there. And then everyone had the same realization at the same moment, which is Peggy is going to quit. She's got to quit.
And it was like this weird thing. Before anyone spoke, everyone knew that that's what everyone else was thinking. And everyone started talking at once, and everyone had a different reason why.
Mine was, like, you can't stand for that money in the face thing. And someone else was, like, you know, you have to-- if you start as a secretary somewhere, you have to go laterally to ever be promoted. They will never see her differently.
Someone else said, like, at the end of this episode, she's going to find out that Joan just made partner. And she's going to be, like, how did that happen? And she's going to quit. So her reasons were really over determined.
But we were collectively certain that that's what was going to happen. And we knew we were going to have to talk Matt into it, because she's, like, the star of the show. Just like-- and you don't want to do that. You don't want to just have her quit and then come back.
So before we even pitched it to Matt, we had to figure out all of Season 6. And some of us in the room knew the end of the whole series by then. Matt knew it at the end of Season 4. And so some of us knew.
And so we knew we were on our way-- spoiler to [INAUDIBLE]. And we knew that Peggy was not just going to storm out. She's not just going to quit and storm out. So she would go and get advice from Freddy.
And we sort of built this whole idea that she would go to Cutler, Gleason, Chaogh and that it would lead to a merger. And then we took that story-- hopefully, this will work. And actually, this one doesn't have dialogue.
So we took that story and braided it in with the Joan story. And because of the timeline, because Peggy had to go talk to Freddy and then get an interview with Chaogh and get the job, the time worked out that--
SEMI CHELLAS: And they're celebrating getting Jaguar right when she quits. And I tell you this is one of those miracles when we were braiding the story is that we didn't know it would be like this. Joan sees her leave. Why is Peggy not celebrating? But Joan doesn't care because she just made partner. Here's Peggy.
[ELEVATOR BELL RINGS]
[ELEVATOR BELL RINGS]
[MUSIC - "YOU REALLY GOT ME"]
SEMI CHELLAS: It was pretty ballsy. Because nobody went and told Elizabeth Moss what was going to happen in Season 6. And so as we got to the end of the whole series, you know, as we wrote this final season, we knew that Joan would not fit in at McCann, at this bigger agency, that that was going to be a disaster. And we knew that we wanted Joan to end up starting her own business.
Because there was this idea Joan loves to work. From the first episode, she loves her job, and she loves to work. And so we were moving her towards this confrontation with the head of McCann. And it was paired with the story where Don actually gets up in the middle of the meeting and leaves advertising. But part of his excuse then is that he's going to be driving Sally back to her private school.
So our research-- Allison got towards sort of figuring out what day Miss Porter's started school that year, because Labor Day was, like, a late-- late that year, whatever. It was very complicated. And then, when we married those stories, we realized that the week before, on August 26, 1970--
- 50 years ago today, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution gave women the right to vote. On this anniversary, a militant minority of women's liberationists was on the streets across the country to demand equal employment for women, care centers for mothers, child abortions for anyone who wants them, general equality between women and men. Here's how the demonstrations look, starting with Bob Shackney in New York.
- [CHANTING TOGETHER] Women's liberation now!
- It turned out there really weren't a lot of would be liberated women willing to stop their work for the day in New York Early demonstrations tended to be small. And the onlookers were by no means always sympathetic.
- What do you want!
- [INAUDIBLE]. You don't know what the hell you want.
- We don't want you!
- Oh, is that right? Neither do I want you!
- A few thousand did gather at City Hall to hear and cheer author Betty Friedan, the principal organizer of today's--
SEMI CHELLAS: That was August 26. And so it was a week before this.
- I've tried to be patient. But I don't care about your SC&P partnership. I don't know if somebody left it to you in their will. But your little stake doesn't mean anything here.
- Is that what you want? Because I'm perfectly happy to take my half a million dollars and be on my way.
- Other people always say you're the kind of gal who doesn't take no for an answer. But no, you're not telling me how to run my business. Now find a way to get along, or you can expect a letter from our lawyer.
- I wonder how many women around here would like to speak to a lawyer. I think the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has one.
- Women love it here. You want to threaten us? You'll be all alone.
- No. I think the second I file a complaint, I'll have the ACLU in my office. And Betty Friedan in the lobby with half the women who marched down Fifth Avenue. I guess you didn't see the headlines about what happened at Ladies Home Journal or Newsweek.
- Do you have any idea how much space McCann buys in The New York Times every year? We could get them to print Mein Kampf on the front page.
SEMI CHELLAS: So that was an amazing clip there. Joan is actually going in to ask for her money there. It's not a giant feminist moment for Joan, who previously in the episode has actually politely said, no, thank you, to the women who came and asked her to join the consciousness raising group. And it was one of those weird things where, like, we were, like, oh, this is happening on Tuesday. And Thursday last week, Betty Friedan was outside of their office with her megaphone.
And so when Joan is sort of feeling around for how to threaten this man, that's what she came up with. It was just this weird confluence of time. That episode, the title of that episode is Lost Horizon. And the movie Lost Horizon had been on our minds.
And if I had to say why, I would say it's because of Ronald Colman from A Tale of Two Cities, who also starred in the movie Lost Horizon in 1937, the Frank Capra movie. And Lost Horizon is about Shangri-La, which was on our minds because, you know, [INAUDIBLE] the end of the show, we knew we were heading to this moment for Don. And so it was-- somehow we got this idea that Lost Horizon was related to where we were taking Don Draper. So we all went and watched it at the beginning of the last 14.
And then when we were working on the premiere, so Episode 1 of 14, two years before that, Don buys Megan a new color TV, which she doesn't want. She's in California, and he's trying to save his marriage with a giant TV.
And because we know what date that story had to fall on, we looked up what was on TV then. It was Lost Horizon. Isn't that crazy?
And then later, the second to last day of shooting of all of Mad Men, Matt's out shooting that scene where Pete and Trudy are getting onto a Learjet, which also was always in the works. Like, the whole trajectory of [INAUDIBLE] was so that Pete could take the Learjet account and move out of New York. The idea, sort of that we had always been driving towards, Pete would lose New York, but gain Trudy. Because he loved New York, probably, more than any of the characters.
And they're out there shooting. And the guy that runs the airline hangar is, like, you know what they shot here-- the opening of Lost Horizon. So I'm not a mystical person or a particularly spiritual person, but that kind of thing, the only way I can get near to explaining that stuff is that kind of collective thing that happens when we are captive in that stinky room for four years.
There's something about that many brains on one thing that resists even later analysis. It's, like, you get this unconscious that actually is empirically other. And you begin to dream someone else's dreams. And that's as close as I can get to talking about how you write collectively [INAUDIBLE].
OK. I'm tired of talking. I would love to hear your questions.
Oh, here, wait-- I have them. This is the-- Roger mentioned the cameos. This is all the writers in their cameos [INAUDIBLE].
This is not actually Tom Smuts-- not actually [INAUDIBLE].
We-- almost all of us were somewhere in this show at some point. Questions? How could there be any questions after so much talking?
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you got into screenwriting.
SEMI CHELLAS: Oh, me personally? OK. Well, I got into screenwriting because of the thing that was in Epic. It was a friend of mine who's at film school asked me to write a script for him and then make a short film. And then I ended up, through that, going to Canada and being a screenwriter.
And this is a really boring explanation. But I wrote-- I wrote what I thought was a movie that was made in the United States. It was a TV movie. It was nominated for an Emmy. So being Canada, they were, like, would you like to make a TV series? We see you have an Emmy nomination.
And I had no experience in TV at all. And I pitched an idea. And I ended up writing my show. Which is not how it should work-- I'm really against that. So I sort of-- I guess the answer is I was writing for people, and I was around, and I grabbed opportunities.
But I had a meeting with the network. And they were, like, we'd love it if you pitched a series. And I had lunch with someone from the network. They said we'd love it if you pitched a series.
I went in, and I pitched it. I really didn't know what I was doing. And they said yes, and I went and bought a TV. Because I did not at the time own a TV. So I was, like, oh, my God, I've gotta get a TV.
And then I remember, right after that, I watched all of 24 in 24 hours. That's how long ago that-- so that's not a good answer in America. That's Canada. It's a really different system.
But through that, I wrote a lot of features. I wrote a lot of things. And the only thing, I think, you could take a lesson from was that my agents in Los Angeles were always, like, do you want to do TV? Do you want to do TV? And I was, like, no.
I just want to do Mad Men. Just get me on Mad Men. Just get me on Mad Men. Just get me on Mad Men. And then eventually they did.
AUDIENCE: You were talking earlier about using personal experience [INAUDIBLE] writing. And I think most readers are reluctant to or apologetic for doing that because we feel like it's unoriginal in some ways to mine ourselves. And you had said something really interesting about Matt Weiner's attitude toward that sort of material and originality.
SEMI CHELLAS: Yeah. I feel-- so Matt is really dedicated to not repeating himself for anyone. And he has really-- he has an incredible memory. And so if anything is like anything, he can remember what it's like. He doesn't just have that feeling.
And he really believes that if you don't use your own experience, you'll end up imitating something that's already been done. And that the only way to truly be original and get past that is to just use what's actually happened to you or what you actually think. And so, you know, a show set in a different period is great cover.
And a show where you're writing with a bunch of people and a bunch of your stuff is in episodes that don't have your name on it is great cover. But I'm telling you, like, everything in Mad Men was, like, people like opening their wrists and, like, bleeding into the show. It was very close to the bone.
AUDIENCE: So if you said-- this is a related question. You said that you didn't-- you weren't supposed to go back and just research, for example, of the '60s or anything like that. How did did you end up feeling it in any way? It's a time that's not yours.
But then you said there were all of these different times with your own history. But then these earlier films within the framework of the show--
SEMI CHELLAS: Well, we did a lot of research of the moment. Like, we read a lot of articles of the moment and tried to figure out where we were in time. It was more that you didn't want synthesis before the actuality. He didn't want us to take synthesized ideas of what that decade was or who the people were, and go back.
I mean, there was also-- every department has their own research. So costumes and sets dec, and and even, you know, [INAUDIBLE], this incredible head of research that we had, would check all the idiom in all the scripts to see if it was period appropriate. And you know, everything that appeared in the frame, somebody was checking for.
But I also feel, like, you know, it was partly people's memories. We had people from the period always in the room. And a lot of stories came from ideas they had.
And I just think Matt really understood, for his own show, what the tone and the time period was. And he was our filter. And lots of stuff he would be, like, that would have never happened in 1968. And we'd be, like, that happened to my mother in 1968. And he would just, like, no, no.
But you know, for some of us, it was-- my mother is exactly the same age as Peggy. And she worked in New York in the '60s in offices. And so, in fact, when she went on set she picked up a stapler. And she's standing there with a stapler, like, couldn't believe the period detail of the desks and stuff. So I feel, like, that-- but then there was also young people who don't even, you know, who didn't even grow up-- I grew up with the furniture from that era. It's still, like, moldering in the living room.
AUDIENCE: It was the classic furniture [INAUDIBLE].
SEMI CHELLAS: Yeah, the sort of mid-century modern was, like, you know? I was a little kid in the '70s. And when I was watching Mad Men before I was on it, like, I remember there's one episode where Sally Draper-- they're having a card party.
And Sally's mixing the drinks. And she's, like, 9 or something. And I was, like, oh, my God. That was exactly my grandparents' house, like exactly how they ran things. So there was a lot of that.
But it was also-- there was a lot of more contemporary truth. And you know, it's obviously-- I mean, I hope I'm sort of talking about how it becomes a story, right? It sort of gets-- and I think that that's-- I never know how exactly people write.
But I think it's sort of, like, writ large, the process that goes in a writer's mind. Where a song floats through and an anecdote floats through. And sometimes you feel like you're not supposed to use that stuff.
And then I was telling-- [INAUDIBLE] a particular example, which-- my father will kill me. But there is a moment where we were saying-- Matt wanted to say, how will we say that Meghan's mother is an alcoholic without making it a big deal. Because I don't think anyone at that time would've been, like, you are an alcoholic.
But she is. So you know, in that episode-- and I said, oh, you know, my father used to tell me a story about going-- his mother would be passed out. And he would take the cigarettes out of her hands and butt them out. And we just had that little scene. And that was all that it was. But it was, like, a very true story that I had heard about that moment. It just came-- it kind of came into the story.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] about that period? I mean, did it change your relation to your own [INAUDIBLE]?
SEMI CHELLAS: That's an interesting question. No. I mean, it's funny to me how-- it did, actually. I mean, I guess my grandfather was-- on Madison Avenue, like, he worked as-- he was a PR guy and worked on Madison Avenue. And I guess it changed my sense of those scandals. But I had been very interested in that already.
So it more gave me sort of a playing field to deal with that stuff. It's weird how long ago it is. All of a sudden, Mad Men is 50 years ago. Whereas, when I started watching it, it felt to me like my childhood. It felt sort of closer.
But now it's so long ago. [INAUDIBLE] with George Martin dying, that's as old to my kids now as, like, you know, The Rite of Spring was when I was three, or whatever. It's so weird. Anyway--
AUDIENCE: Wonderful. Thank you for your talk. It was really great. I'm wondering if you faced any-- what I call loose women problems to, like, push back and with a woman writing in the writers room?
SEMI CHELLAS: Not at Mad Men, like, at all. I had been-- the husband and wife team rat it for six years before me, the six seasons before I did. And Maria Jacquesmetton, who I really learned a lot from, was sort of a force. It was a very balanced room, gender wise.
I was saying this morning that a bunch of the women that worked in the room had long careers in television and had a long history of being the only woman on whatever show they were on. And so I definitely had heard those stories. But I feel, like, I never experienced it on Mad Men. I mean there was lots of other stresses and strains.
But not for that. Hollywood is a bigger place. I mean, it's definitely a thing. It's definitely a thing. Stephanie!
SEMI CHELLAS: Hi.
AUDIENCE: Did the actors-- did particular actors inspire or maybe even suppress [INAUDIBLE] scenes that the writers were talking about around the table-- did some of them inspire opportunities and others [INAUDIBLE].
SEMI CHELLAS: That is definitely-- I mean, that's the great pleasure of working in TV is that you find out things about the actors and you can kind of braid them in. And you kind of have to be careful, because it can run away with you. But there were certainly things, like, obviously Robert Moore singing a musical number.
But even Ken, tap dancing, we were, like, we have to get that in there. He was in Mamma Mia, that actor, for like years and years. We're, like, we have to get him tap dancing.
So occasionally there would be. But you know, I don't know if this answers your question, but another thing that Matt did really thoroughly and interestingly was he was in all of the casting, which is really unusual for show runners, because it's a big time suck. Because you watch 20 auditions, and you pick one guy to do one line or whatever.
And he always would-- he's really, really good with the actors. And he really, much more than most people in that kind of food chain, he really took time with every actor to-- even run lines. He'd always ask them, like, where are you from? Where'd you grow up? Where'd your parents grow up?
He would want to hear their real voice before they went to LA and hear their regionality or what did your mother sound like? Or what did your father-- or how did your father talk? And that, sort of, sometimes would play a part in the smaller roles.
Like, that waitress-- that waitress-- again, talking out of school-- she's a great actress, the waitress that tells Don that his wife went off with those guys? So she's great, or whatever. And the conceit right before that, before the orange sherbet, they order everything on the menu. Because Don might be representing the account, so he has to have tried all the food.
They have their whole thing. And she's supposed to come up and be, like, do you want your check? And she's collecting or whatever.
So she comes up, and she starts collecting it. And everyone who's been a waitress is just, like, oh, my God. That woman's never been a waitress.
She's supposed to be a waitress at Howard Johnson's, and she can't-- she's, like, got a plate. She's going to take it back in the kitchen. You're, like, no, you have to get all the plates.
And Jon Hamm, God bless him-- he was a waiter until he was in his late 20s-- got up and showed her how to load up plates, and had, like, 20 plates. It was one of those moments, you were just, like, oh, my God. That was the most-- it was so gentlemanly. And it also, like, he's the star. But he suddenly saw this window into-- he was a waiter for so long before he was Don Draper. Anyways.
AUDIENCE: How difficult was it to plot out the children's plot lines? Because you weren't sure how [INAUDIBLE] age [INAUDIBLE]. Is that something you accounted for?
SEMI CHELLAS: Yeah, I mean, that's an interesting question. Because, by the time I was on the show, Sally had already showed-- like, Kiernan is really an amazing actress for some who was cast as a four-year-old prop, basically. And I feel, like, probably those kids kind of grew up in Mad Men acting school. So that was why they were sort of up for it.
But with Sally and Bobby, you know, Matt was very-- he just wanted to tell the stories that he wanted to tell. And he was, like, we're going to make it work. But they really rose to the challenge.
I did once pitch a story. I went to pitch an elaborate story that I was very fond of for Baby Gene, which is the third, the little, little boy that Betty has. And I was, like, oh, and then this, and then grandpa and then [INAUDIBLE] and whatever.
And then Matt was, like, are you kidding me? Do you know how much dialogue there is for, like, a five-year-old in that? So there were limitations.
AUDIENCE: Also with Sally's boyfriend, I forget his name. But were you, like, was it known that-- from that first scene that he had with Betty Draper, where there was this weird sexual tension, that you know, last season that would come back?
SEMI CHELLAS: I don't know when that ending to that story happened. But when I joined the show, it was known that Glenn would go to Vietnam. And that he and Betty would have some sort of interaction when he was a young man. That actually-- that actor is Matt's son, his oldest son. So he was available to us. We knew we could get him.
The great thing about being on Mad Men is you can get people, which is not-- I mean, it certainly was in my experience making a tiny Canadian show. We'd be, like, can we have this person? No. Can we have this person?
But Jim Hobart, that Joan's confronting in that thing, he's in one scene in the first season. I think the first season. When he when there's a Coke thing with Betty. And then when we were, like, we need that guy. Jim Hobart-- go get that guy.
And then he was in a couple scenes in Season 7. And then in Season 8, he's, like, a main character. And he had no idea. And they were just, like, you know, book him. And then the poor actors are not allowed to tell any one that they were on Mad Men until the whole thing. has come out or whatever. Because the secrecy was very intense. I actually feel like this weird paranoia talking about it out loud even now.
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In this lecture, "Telling Secrets: Notes from the Writers' Room," Semi Chellas reflects on the singular nature of television writing. Cornell University, March 10, 2016.