Writers Behind ‘Expats,’ ‘Masters of the Air,’ ‘The Sympathizer’ and More Break Down Inspirations and Working with Authors to Develop Limited Series

Writers Behind ‘Expats,’ ‘Masters of the Air,’ ‘The Sympathizer’ and More Break Down Inspirations and Working with Authors to Develop Limited Series

While in development for the Amazon Prime drama “Expats,” creator, writer and director Lulu Wang knew she had to pay tribute to the lives lost during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Having been in China at that time as a child, she remembers how scared she was when her father nearly left to join the protest which ultimately led to the death of hundreds.

“My father was supposed to go to this protest and my mother said to him a speech, which is in the show. She said, ‘Out there, you are an ant. You can give your life and it will not make that big of a difference. They’ll forget about you. But you’re my whole world, and you’re Lulu’s whole world,'” Wang said during Variety‘s Night in the Writers Room on June 13. “I said to the studio and I said to [Nicole Kidman], ‘If I do this series, there’s no way that you can silence me because if I don’t talk about this, that silence is going to be incredibly loud considering where I come from.'”

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As part of the event, Wang was joined by showrunner and writer on “Feud: Capote v.s The Swans” Jon Robin Baitz, showrunner and creator of “Manhunt” Monica Beletsky, showrunner of “We Were the Lucky Ones” Erica Lipez, writer and creator of “True Detective: Night County” Issa López, showrunner of “Apples Never Fall” Melanie Marnich, writer and co-creator of “The Sympathizer” Don McKellar, writer of “Masters of the Air” John Orloff and creator and writer of “A Gentleman in Moscow” Ben Vanstone to discuss how they developed some of 2024 most popular limited series. The conversation was moderated by Variety senior TV features editor Emily Longeretta.

While adapting the novel “We Were the Lucky Ones” for Hulu, Lipez was lucky enough to work “very closely” with author Georgia Hunter, who had done 10 years of research before publishing her novel in 2017, based on her family’s experience. Lipez described working with Hunter as “one of the great collaborations of my life.”

“[Georgia] has the soul of a TV writer. [Her book] is written with so much heart but also a lot of propulsion. It was an amazing spine to build a TV series off,” said Lipez. “When I met Georgia, it was a natural collaboration. And she was with us every day in the writer’s room and with us on set in Romania. It was really wonderful.”

Vanstone had a similar experience working with Amor Towles to adapt “A Gentleman in Moscow” for Paramount+. Capturing “the spirit of the book” was the main focus for Vastone and his team, so for them, having Toweles in the writer’s room was an “incredible” experience.

“If you want to write something original, just go off and do it. But if you’ve got a piece of material, a great novel, then your job is to take all that in, capture that spirit moment and then recreate it for television,” Vanstone said. “Amor was a brilliant collaborator who read everything and I could ask him questions whenever I wanted to. He was brilliant at feedback.”

For McKellar, he was “really grateful” Viet Thanh Nguyen did not want to be in the room while he was adapting “The Sympathizer” for HBO, adding that he would’ve been “terrified” to work in front of him. Having so much respect for the source material, McKellar at first wanted to pass on the project until he heard that director Park Chan-wook wanted him specifically as the writer.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I can see that. He’s got a similar cinematic tone that has the same wit and subversion as the book, but it’s different. It’s parallel in a cinematic way.'” McKellar said. “I’m also really grateful that [Nguyen] loves what he saw because I was terrified through the whole process that he was going to feel that we’d massacred [his story]. But, thankfully, he loves pop culture, he loves television, he loves the movies, and he wanted us to be inventive.”

Watch the full conversation above.

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