Will Forte and John Ridley discuss their very different network TV shows at SXSW

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Eugene Hernandez, left, interviews Will Forte, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord about their network television projects. DALE ROE / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Eugene Hernandez, left, interviews Will Forte, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord about their network television projects. DALE ROE / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Eugene Hernandez, left, interviews Will Forte, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord about their network television projects. DALE ROE / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Time/date: 12:30 p.m. Monday

The gist: John Ridley (“American Crime”); Chris Miller, Phil Lord, & Will Forte (“Last Man on Earth”) discussed the differences between working in film and television, explained the genesis of there shows and offered advice to aspiring television writers.

Takeaways: Ridley explained that the pilot of “American Crime,” filmed in Austin in 2014, set a template for a series that would tell its stories through families  — “regular people caught up in the system” — as opposed to the usual lawyers and cops procedural format. “Everything in my life that happened good was in Austin,” he said. ABC picked up the show and Ridley explained them as supportive and not meddling.

The “Last Man on Earth” team had a similar experience with its network. “Fox is willing to let us fail,” Lord said. “So we said, let’s die on our own hill; et’s make the thing that’s in Forte’s head. If it bombs, let it bomb.”

“Bombing is my comfort zone,” Forte added.

Lord suggested that the fragmentation of the viewing audience due to the glut of original cable programming is advantageous to people who want to do singular work on network television.

The panel discussed the long-from attribute of television vs. film (Ridley wrote “12 Years a Slave” while Lord and Miller wrote and directed “The Lego Movie.”)

“My show is an anthology, so when this season is done, it’s done,” Ridley explained. “If we get to come back, we get to reinvent, which is nice.”

Miller said he enjoys the chance to dig into his characters more than he would be allowed in movies. “If they did a movie version of ‘Game of Thrones,’ you’d have, what, three storylines, maybe?” he asked.

As far as career advice, Lord urged writers to find their specific voice. Forte said that it’s all about “working hard and not deviating from your thing. Success may or may not come, but if you wait long enough and work hard enough it will be more rewarding if it does happen,” he said.

Ridley agreed. After what he considered a long string of failures, “When I began doing things I loved, people began paying attention,” he said.

The highlight of the panel took place when Lord and Miller goaded Forte into singing a song he had created years ago for a character he created called “the Gold Man” when working with Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings. It’s lyrics are unprintable here, but turned hilariously profane when they began to describe the degrading thing the character had to do in order to obtain gold face paint (Google it, if you have to know).

“That was my audition for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and I got hired,” he said.


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