ATX TV fest: Noah Hawley talks about new novel, ‘Fargo’

Beau Willimon, left, and Noah Hawley at the ATX Television Festival. (Charles Ealy)
Beau Willimon, left, and Noah Hawley at the ATX Television Festival. (Charles Ealy)

Austin’s Noah Hawley, who has a new thriller titled “Before the Fall,” sat down with Beau Willimon, the creator of TV’s “House of Cards,” on Friday to discuss Hawley’s new book at the ATX Television Festival. Hawley, who’s also the showrunner for the FX series “Fargo,” had a few choice words about doing double duty as a novelist and TV creator. Here are five highlights from the session.

1. Hawley says he has resisted restricting himself to one medium, like television, because of a simple fact: “If you do just one thing, then that thing owns you.” So he splits his time pursuing various passions, like writing movies, writing teleplays and writing novels.

2. Since he’s the showrunner, he also has a few tips on how to manage up, i.e., how to handle studio or corporate executives, especially when you’re trying to create art for a corporation, which is a bit subversive in itself. A notable piece of advice: Ask yourself: “How do I get what I want while making them think it’s what they want?”

3. Hawley, who’s a father of two, says he sees stories as an “empathy delivery device” for his kids. That’s why he thinks it’s important to tell stories to kids — especially stories that feature people “who aren’t like you.”

4. He always stresses characters when writing TV shows and novels. “If you can solve the characters, you can solve the mystery” of a novel or show, he says.

5. He’s intrigued by characters who have great power or wealth – and especially how they act. “The quality of a person is what they do with their power,” he says. “You can use it punch people down or lift them up.” And there’s a particular character in “Before the Fall” who pushes people down. He’s a TV commentator for a right-wing network.

If you’re interested in buying a signed copy of “Before the Fall,” the book is available at Trinity Hall, 311 E. 5th St., throughout the festival, which runs through the weekend.

Casting directors discuss diversity at ATX TV Fest

Casting directors Tracy Lilienfield, left, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd and Jen Euston. PHOTO: JESSICA MIMS
Casting directors Tracy Lilienfield, left, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd and Jen Euston. PHOTO: JESSICA MIMS

You probably want to stay on Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd’s good side.

The casting director of “Moesha” and “Being Mary Jane” joined fellow casting directors Tracy Lilienfield (“Grace & Frankie,” “Dream On”), Jen Euston (“Girls,” “Orange is the New Black”) and Alyssa Weisberg (“Lost,” “Workaholics”) in a lively, alternately serious and funny discussion of television casting Friday during the ATX Television Festival.

“I don’t see myself in the future!” African-American Byrd said late in the discussion, making a point about the lack of racial diversity in science fiction programming and pointing out that casting directors are often hamstrung by the characters that writers create.

“I think somebody’s trying to tell me something. I’m just thinking, where are the black people? Obviously there are no black people in the future. Okay, who created that? There’s gonna be a black woman in your future in the parking lot!”

The line drew huge laughs from the (mostly white) crowd.

Byrd basically told the crowd (which surely included some aspiring television writers) that it you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

“We’ve become a culture of complainers instead of appreciators or changers,” she said, referring to people who complain about lack of diversity in television. “It’s easier to complain. But start creating some stuff; start writing some stuff. Create the change you want to see and write in those characters.”

Panelists also pointed out that diversity doesn’t just pertain to race.

“Change is slow,” said Lilienfield. “(But) we have a responsibility, because we are the next thing after it’s on the page. We have a big chance to keep saying, ‘what about women? What if it was African-American? What if the guy was gay?’. And we have to. Sometimes it feels a little forced, I think, but I think everything that is a seismic change is a little forced at first and then it becomes the norm and it becomes easier.” Lilienfield cast the groundbreaking network sitcom, “Will & Grace.”

The point drew sustained applause from the crowd.

Panelists agreed that diversity is much more common on cable shows (especially pay cable) because the heads of those networks trust creators more and let them push boundaries beyond the rigid confines of broadcast television, whose honchos routinely give casting mandates. And the current boom in diversity is partly due to the fact that the exploding number of outlets for video programming has created a seemingly endless need for fresh and original content. Finally, in television, success breeds imitation.

The casting directors also touched on the challenges of the career, with all but one of them confessing that they get little sleep and have no lives outside of the job.

“Trying to date is very challenging,” Byrd revealed, speaking for the female-dominated occupation. “You can’t go to the movies; I can’t even watch TV with a man. You don’t even understand. I’m like, ‘stop! Stop that commercial! Run it back. Oh, she’s really good!’”