Do you love the Coen Brothers’ first film, BLOOD SIMPLE, like I do? I’ve seen this movie so many times— I’m crazy about it. When film critic April Wolfe invited me to do a Switchblade Sisters podcast, talking about a genre film that’s influenced my own work as a director— there was only one choice. I loved digging into what makes the movie great, why it stays with you, and how it affected me as I was figuring out film directing. (I admit to stealing a shot from Blood Simple on my first TV directing job.) April did her homework and I learned some fascinating things about the making of the movie that I didn’t know.
We also got onto the subject of working with amazing actors like Francis McDormand and Felicity Huffman. (I’m not embarrassed to say I gushed a little… but when you’re dealing with talent like that, damn.)
Take a listen on the Switchblade Sisters Apple Podcasts feed or the Maximum Fun website (HERE) and let me know what you think.
I spent the month of November on a writing retreat at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming..(www.ucrossfoundation.org) and my oh my what a wonderful place. It’s a thousand acre working ranch that supports residencies for writers and visual artists. They offer a studio, meals and uninterrupted time to work on the project of your choice. Heaven.
I worked in the Marvelous Studio and it was. I forgot to sign the guestbook, but was very impressed by the other writers who wrote notes there, having worked in this studio before me. I think their hovering spirits helped me focus in the most creative and fruitful way I’ve experienced in years.
I worked at a standing desk overlooking a field of frozen grass, old bent trees, and herds of deer, antelope and cows. As always, ever-changing nature— weather, animals— never fails to inspire. It snowed, it rained, it was so sunny I had to close the blinds… and it was rutting season so I saw a lot of deer frolicking and chasing each other, hopping fences like you and I take steps.
The wind was my companion throughout and even made it into the play I was writing.
I finished a draft of a play called Drunk at the Base of the Bodhi Tree. It was started in a silent retreat with Erik Ehn in June in Bolinas, and I definitely owe him and the other silent retreatants a debt of gratitude. The ground for the play was turned there and the seeds planted; in November, with the deep attention made possible at Ucross, the first draft was completed. First new play in several years.
I also started a second play, working title— Just Curious. This one is a science story and will require some research, but I hope to get a draft out later this year.
I also (miracle!) worked on a few prose pieces, including an essay called I Can’t Close My Mouth, which I’m submitting for publication now, about the long-term effects of sexual assault and the obstacles I’ve faced in trying to tell those stories in television from a female point-of-view.
All said, it was the most productive time I’ve had as a writer in many years and I could not be more grateful to Ucross and to Mame Hunt and Roberta Levitow for introducing me there. BTW— I’m now working at home at my new standing desk! Fingers crossed to keep the productivity going…
Laura Tremaine, host of the podcast The Smartest Person in the Room, interviews Julie Hébert about her career in theatre, film and television. Julie takes us on an inspiring journey from small town Louisiana to her current position as Executive Producer/Writer/ Director on the award-winning ABC series American Crime.
We get a glimpse of the dynamics in the Writer’s Room of a television drama and the responsibilities writers feel to their audiences. Julie discusses being a woman in a male-dominated industry and why it’s important for directors to wear boots. We also get a sneak-peek into current and future projects.
Laura leads a fascinating conversation giving an inside view into the workings of Hollywood and the life of a free-lance writer/director.
Hi friends! I’m delighted to be moderating a discussion Friday night November 11th with Dana Calvo, Jeanine Oppewall and Cynthia Pusheck, creators of the new Amazon show Good Girls Revolt. We’ll talk after a screening of their pilot at the beautiful Wilshire-Ebell Theater. I’d love to see you there. Come and get some inspiration from this true story of women banding together to create change.
Hey ya’ll, I just finished directing the second episode of this season’s American Crime, written by the almighty John Ridley and involving a conflagration pulled off with the help of my old buddy Tom Bellissimo. The episode will air in January. So loved working with our returning ensemble… Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Richard Cabral, Benito Martinez, Connor Jessup… and with our stellar new cast… Cherry Jones, Sandra Oh, Dallas Roberts and Tim DeKay. A real honor.
We completed our latest Look What She Did! shoot at the end of August in Julie’s backyard (and two in the front yard– we got wild). Our all-gal crew was amazing (!) and we filmed nine interviews in just one weekend, our biggest shoot ever. Two incredible, inspiring days filled with crazy-great women talking about other crazy-great women. Stay tuned, we’ll be posting new videos soon.
Here are our newest co-conspirators:
Writer/director Julliette Carrillo on writer/director Jo Anne Akalaitis
Theater Critic Sylvie Drake on the mind-blowing Queen Hatshepsut of Eqypt
Screenwriter Anna Thomas on anthropologist Carobeth Laird
Documentary filmmaker Grace Lee on Civil Rights activist Grace Lee Boggs
Filmmaker Tamar Halpem on journalist Nellie Bly
Actress Elisa Bocanegra on playwright Maria Irene Fornes
Downtown Women’s Shelter communications director Ann-Sophie Morisette on homeless advocate Mollie Lowery
Musician/writer April Wolfe on badass aviator Pancho Barnes (yes, she’s a woman…)
Playwright Laural Meade on suffragette Sara Bard Field
Okay, second visit to the Emmys– way more relaxed. We knew our way around this time, starting with driving up Pico instead of Olympic to get there, which saved us at least 20 minutes of waiting in a line of cars. Good start. We also knew to eat a little before we left, AND I brought almonds in my purse in case we became desperate. Turns out this was unnecessary because not only did they have mini-burgers in the lounge when we arrived (Kenn had one and said they were good) in the middle of the broadcast Jimmy Kimmel sent around lunch sacks from his mom filled with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, a cookie, an apple and a juice box. By that time everyone really was hungry and we — along with 7000 of our over-dressed colleagues — scarfed it up. It was a kick to see elegant men in their tuxedos and women dripping in diamonds licking their fingers and enjoying the pbj’s. One of my favorite moments. Thanks Jimmy’s mom.
Walking the red carpet was more chill this time, too, despite the 100 degree heat because they’d erected a cover and hedges and had water available and all the folks guiding us along were cheery and helpful. They did a great job of moving thousands of socializing people into place for an on-time start to a live broadcast. Not easy and they did it with grace. I don’t know if it was aired on the Emmy broadcast, but before the show started three kids from Stranger Things sang and danced Uptown Funk and I LOVED it. They were adorable and fun and super-talented. Glad I was in my seat ahead of time to see it.
I’m pretty bad at recognizing famous people and I kept saying to Kenn: Look, that’s so-and-so! and he’d say: No, it isn’t. And he was right. I mis-identified several seat-fillers but thank god I didn’t request their autographs. Meanwhile, I was so delighted to see some of my favorite people up on the big screen for their nominations, including Lili Taylor, Felicity Huffman, Lesli Linka Glatter, Lily Tomlin and many more. When Lily Tomlin didn’t win, you could see her mouth the words “Oh, damn it!” I love her. Also absolutely loved that Susanne Bier won best director for a limited series. She is a phenomenal director and it makes me so happy for women of talent to be recognized. Then, of course, our own Regina King won best supporting actress in a limited series for American Crime, and we leapt from our seats with tears in our eyes. Okay, Michael McDonald and I did, not Kenn, but he was proud of her, too. Turns out Regina’s win was the ONLY win of the night for anyone from broadcast television. Gave us a little lift.
Afterwards, we tromped over to the Governor’s Ball (my feet in stiletto heels were beginning to scream at this point… ah, vanity…) but when we walked in– the decor was breathtaking. Kenn says it’s like the most over-the-top high school prom you can imagine. Last year it felt like we’d been catapulted out into the universe and this year it was more Hobbit-like with lush, draped greenery
hanging from the fifty-foot ceiling. An elevated, wedding-cake-like platform in the middle held an orchestra and singers who keep shifting through the evening. Magical.
We found our table then wandered around talking to friends and colleagues. Very happy to see some of our brilliant Season Two cast including Joey Pollari, Elvis Nolasco and Connor Jessup, as well as Ms. Cherry Jones, who will be joining us for Season Three. Damn, it’s fun to know amazingly talented people who are all such sweethearts.
Dinner was yummy and at our table we ate, drank and chatted with writer-producers Diana Son and Keith Huff and his wife Georgette, as well as our AD Kayse Goodell. Really lovely.
And we were out– except for the long walk back to the valet. I admit removing the stilettos and enjoying the red carpet in bare feet! Goodbye 2016 Emmys.
Regina King accepting her Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress
On Mother’s Day weekend the Hebert clan gathered on Grand Isle, Louisiana for a little family reunion. My family has been coming to this funky beach town on the Gulf of Mexico for over a hundred years. We have photos of our maternal great-grandparents there before 1920. Our paternal grandfather built a camp on the island in the forties and we went there every summer to play on the beach, fish, boil crabs and get eaten up by mosquitoes. One of my very favorite memories is sleeping underneath the big window fan on the porch, to the sound of the waves. This is the island Kate Chopin wrote about in The Awakening, first point of landfall for many hurricanes. Since the ’60’s it’s been inundated by the oil industry; Grand Isle was one of the areas most affected by the BP oil spill. Happy to say it’s rebounded– beautiful, clean and thriving with migrating birds, wildlife and sea creatures once again. We watched porpoises frolicking in the breakers every morning.
My two brothers and my sister came with their extended families and we were able to introduce our own little 16-month old Mari to her many cousins. When we were leaving she shocked us all by saying “Bye, ya’ll.” Her first Southernism! Turns out she loved the warm Gulf waters as much as we do.
We ate like Cajun royalty– a shrimp boil, a crawfish boil, a fish fry, charbroiled oysters and a homemade chicken enchilada dinner (courtesy of island fishing guide and hostess extraordinaire Anne Smith, who also brought kayaks and lots of beach toys.) We also devoured shrimp and oyster po-boys from the Starfish Diner. And we drank, yes, you bet (including a pitcher of the notorious Red Knot concocted by good-timer Lecta Bourgeois). A flaming great time was had by all– oh did I mention the bonfire on the beach and the non-stop dancing? A beautiful long weekend. We have all vowed to continue to get together now that Mom, Dad and Mitch are gone, and times like this one on Grand Isle make it easy to keep that promise. One of the best parts is seeing all the young cousins playing and getting to know each other. Love those kids.
For the last few years I’ve been writing prose in addition to my usual scriptwriting. I’ve taken a few workshops with the inimitable Jack Grapes which have been instructive… and a blast. I’m working on a collection of short stories, but meanwhile here’s a crazy lighthearted piece to get started. I’ll be posting more prose and poetry on my website periodically. Hope you enjoy it.
Adam and Julia come over for dinner. I grill oatmeal skirt steaks, sea bass and rotisserie a chicken, which takes much leisure-suit longer than anticipated because we run out of propane in the middle of it. They’re cool, especially because I ply them with Margaritas. I make Adam’s beach umbrella twice as strong, doubling the tequila, but he slurps it down so fast I stomach-pain to get him another before Julia and I are even half way done with our screened-in porches. Julia helps me finish up the grilling while the guys chat in the interview room, nibbling on handcuffs and olives. The ears of corn keep going up in flames but I’m not bothered, I’m writing my play. Jim calls “Emergency!” but I say we have to pick tomatoes first. Finally, the flurry of food and smoke settle and we sit down to eat. For some reason, Jim starts talking about the Monkees and we can’t get off the living-room-floor subject for an hour or more. It’s crazy. Jim is trapped in a pratfall monologue. Julia keeps asking Red Buttons questions and egging him on and Adam and I are falling asleep in our meaty-rific plates. Suddenly Jim stands up and yells, “Okra in my nose!” and runs into the house. We’re mystified, but secretly relieved the Monkees story is over.
We start talking about movies and other things, a regular conversation, not a monologue and Hushpuppy swamp girl is being dissected when Jim sweeps back in saying, “Where was I?” Oh Lord. He tries to pick back up with the Monkees but I ask what happened to his rainbow suspenders and he proceeds to describe a stalagmite in his nose, which no one wants to hear about. “I thought it was pepper,” I say, but he corrects me, no it was a giant grandma falling out of his nostril and he wanted to save us from seeing it. But now he’s talking about it and it’s just as bad.
“How about those Jets?” Adam offers, grinning bleachers through his lips. Back to the Monkees and we settle in for a long make-out session on the sixties. And of course the possible murder because of greed and the hot-cha-cha-cha third wife and her criminal brother. Oh yeah. Disco halter tops, white-jeans-so tight-youhave- to-zip-them-up-with-a-hanger days. We’ve floated around to the seventies, I guess. Eventually we realize something is wrong with the skirt steaks, way, way, way too coast of Spain hot, wait I mean salty. Briny. Salt-lick-like. Yeah. Jim takes a bite, warns off the others and throws them away. What a coyote dinner.
When I bring out the tarte tatin for dessert I put the platter of French window-box chicken onto the coffee table to get it out of the way, then race back inside for the whipped cream. When I come back down the hall vacation people are screaming and the dog looks guilty. Magnolia. She stole the chicken and dragged it across the kissing-in-a-tree patio, smearing Julia’s pretty red flats in the process. I walk out with a sequined parrot on my head and serve the whipped cream. Ta-da. When Jim disappears to clean up, we talk of work, Adam and I, with Julia asking the probing pogo-stick questions, as usual. Leading us into the John Street of it all.
“Was your dad a good dad?” How’d we get to that?
Jim walks out and looks at me to see what I will say. Little League, check; hardworking, check; still married to my mom, check. Yellow-gray-hair-involved, I say, stern from a distance. “Not engaged,” says Jim. “Involved, but not engaged.” Okay. I begin the defense, the tidal wave of good deed and sofa-talk moments with my dad. Before he blew it. Now I’m in my own Monkees monologue and I can’t creature-destroying-Tokyo get out of it. Adam is drunk on tequila so he doesn’t care and Julia seems deeply fascinated. I think she can turn her hi-beams in any direction.
The looks begin, time to leave, they’ve had enough of motel parking lots. Easing toward the front door and an elegant Walker Percy goodbye, I notice Julia is barefoot. I don’t realize until later her dark red satin roses were smeared with chicken grease from Jojo’s caper. Bad dog.
Julie was honored to continue her work with John Ridley and Michael McDonald for the second season of critically acclaimed American Crime on ABC. The Writers Room on this series is one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse, on television, leading to the powerful, original storytelling the show is known for. Collaborating with these writers was an unforgettable experience. Ridley and McDonald extend this dedication to diversity both in front of camera and behind it, creating an artistic community reflective of our society. Julie directed Episode Four and wrote Episode Nine. Shooting with the mondo-talented cast and crew in Austin was the highlight of 2015.
Check out the promo videos below for American Crime Season 2!
American Crime Season 2 promo video:
American Crime Season 2 Episode 4 promo directed by Julie:
American Crime Season 2 Episode 9 written by Julie: