Interview: 'Girls' producers Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner
The 'Tiny Furniture' director talks about her comedy of sexual misadventure in Brooklyn
When I first sat down to watch HBO's new comedy series "Girls," I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't at that point seen the movie "Tiny Furniture," which, like "Girls," was written by, directed by and starring Lena Dunham. The actors were mostly unknowns, and though Judd Apatow was attached as a producer, I assumed with his feature career he wasn't going to be nearly as hands-on as he was with "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" a decade ago.
But the series — in which Dunham plays Hannah Horvath, a wannabe writer struggling with work, sex, friendship and money in Brooklyn — wowed me from the start. I'll have a review closer to the premiere (next Sunday at 10:30), but by the time I was done with the first three episodes I knew I wanted to talk to Dunham, and with her showrunning partner Jenni Konner, whose career started as a writer on "Undeclared."
I sat down with them both back in January, after the "Girls" panel at the TV critics press tour (with Dunham looking considerably more glam than she allows herself to appear on the show) to discuss the series, the inevitable "Sex and the City" comparisons, what it's like for Dunham to direct herself having (a lot) of bad sex (usually with one of the creepier male characters I've ever seen), the way viewers react to women who behave badly versus men, and a whole lot more. It's a long interview, but Dunham and Konner are very smart and articulate about what they do, and it should make good weekend reading to prep you for the "Girls" premiere on the 15th.
I want to start out with the line that you say to your parents. You tell them, "I'm the voice of my generation," and then you immediately walk it back to, "Well I'm a voice of a generation." There is always a danger in shows declaring “I am about this universal experience and everyone will watch me and they will say 'This is me.'” How universal do you feel this story actually is, or is it specific?
Lena Dunham: Well it’s funny because I've gotten a few tweets from people that were like, “Do you really think you’re the voice of your generation?” And I hoped that the fact that she’s on opium and about to faint makes it pretty clear that she is grasping at straws there, but in terms of the universality with the show, something I learned through the process of putting out “Tiny Furniture” was that things that feel super personal actually feel really universal. It’s sort of the more you really identify something specific within yourself the more people connect to it because ultimately we are all connected in some way.
Jenni Konner: Yeah, I'm always surprised. When we did our sales conference thing with HBO, the Time Warner sales people -- just all of the people -- coming up to Lena saying “I am you, I am you” in every shape and size and color.
Lena Dunham: Yeah, that was amazing. It ranged from girls my age, who probably are me, to 55 year-old men and I think it was just a connection to a feeling like you couldn’t quite get it right but believed there was something great that you had to say, and I think that that’s a pretty identifiable struggle.
I don’t want to harp on it too much, but it is talked about quite a bit, and the media is lazy, and we’re just going to say "This is the 'Sex and the City' of 2012."
Lena Dunham: I'm lazy. Sometimes people ask what the show is and if I'm very tired, I'm like, it’s kind of like “Sex and the City.”
Jenni Konner: But with really bad sex or really awkward sex scenes.
Lena Dunham: And weird parts of the city.
Beyond that, what would you say are the things that most clearly delineate you from that?
Lena Dunham: I think once you watch the show that the tone is so vastly different. That was always my hope, was that people watch it and the connections sort of fade away because it’s such a clearly different tone, but I also think that things that delineate it are the time of life-
Jenni Konner: Yeah, because the early 20s are so vastly different from the mid 30s. So it’s a very different idea about women and their ideas are very different and goals are different.
Lena Dunham: It’s a little bit of a different take on female friendship I think.
Just economically it’s just such a different strata. (On "Sex and the City") they never had to worry about anything financially.
Jenni Konner: Yes, that’s right.
Lena Dunham: Yeah, everyone has to wear flat shoes here because they have specifically limited means of transportation.
Jenni Konner: Exactly.
How many of Hannah’s experiences are drawn specifically either from your life or from the lives of your friends and how much are just pure invention?
Lena Dunham: I’d say we take a lot from life, but we also have our writer’s room of girls who are going through this, have been through this and will identify with her.
Jenni Konner: Yeah, I would say there is very little invention in that. That’s one of the things that I have always learned from Judd and something that she came to us with, but is just to find the truth in everything and so it’s much easier if you start with the truth.
Yeah and that relationship you have with Adam (the character played by Adam Driver), it’s just so mortifying. I can’t remember seeing a relationship quite like that on TV where just the power imbalance was that extreme.
Lena Dunham: It shifts as the season goes on and we try to show that the relationship is complex and that it’s not simply a victim and aggressor thing, but that there is something that she is getting out of the relationship that she needs and something she thinks she doesn’t deserve that she’s not getting from him. There are many shades of it, but the basic experience of watching it even for me is like sometimes watching the woman in the horror movie running into the basement. You’re like, “the killer is in the basement!”
Jenni Konner: "Don’t go in there," totally.
In terms of what you were saying on the stage about how you felt that there are probably better actors, but this was specific to you and you wanted to do it. Woody Allen would say similar things in his younger age. He doesn’t act much anymore. He has proxies. I know Judd is a Woody fan. Are either of you?
Jenni Konner: Yes, huge. And I have always thought just in my personal opinion that when people compare her to a lot of different things and that is the comparison that I understand the most, especially after watching the PBS documentary this year I was like, "Oh my God that is Lena." That is who she feels like to me.
Lena Dunham: That’s a lovely thing to say, but watching his documentary it was amazing to me to see the duress under which he started performing because I didn’t experience that. I didn’t have other people (saying) “Lena, you got to be in your movie,” but I did sort of trick myself into starting to work this way.
Do either of you have a favorite Woody movie just out of curiosity?
Jenni Konner: Mine is probably “Manhattan,” but I also really love “Stardust Memories.” There is something about it — I know that’s not the most popular one, but there is something about it that kills me, kills me.
Lena Dunham: And actually I love “Mighty Aphrodite.” That’s good for me.
Jenni Konner: I also love “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” That’s one of my favorites. I thought that was so amazing. I saw that like three times in the theater.
I go very old school, “Sleeper.”
Lena Dunham: “Sleeper” is amazing.
Jenni Konner: You like the big, broad comedy.
Lena Dunham: His more kind of absurdist stuff.
Jenni Konner: Yeah, so you like “Bananas” too.
I like “Bananas," but “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is brilliant.
Lena Dunham: He is such an amazing physical comedian, which is something that he doesn’t get the opportunity to do as much of in his later movies, but when I was making “Tiny Furniture,” “Manhattan” was the constant reference, the Gordon Willis cinematography, the way that it wove in the city, but didn’t have too many grand helicopter shots of things. I mean he’s amazing.
How do you feel about your performances? A)Do you get self conscious because you’re directing yourself and you’re in the editing room and all of that? and B)How do you feel that you’ve grown as a performer from the movie through to these episodes?
Lena Dunham: Well I'm really lucky because I surround myself onset with people who I really trust to give me feedback, so I'm directing myself. Then I also have Jenni at the monitor giving me a sense of whether something feels real or whether something feels appropriate to the moment and I need that. I need to watch playback. I need to talk to people. It’s not like I go in and say a line and go “nailed it guys.”
Jenni Konner: She’s also really fearless. I mean she will just be doing the craziest, most awkward sex scene you’ve ever seen completely naked and then be like, "All right let’s go again," just right away, giving someone direction and telling someone to change the lighting. It’s really quite an amazing thing to watch.
What’s that experience like for you?
Lena Dunham: The experience of directing yourself in a sex scene is, in a way, great. It’s the fantasy we all have in our lives all the time, but it’s-
But it’s not good sex.
Lena Dunham: No, it’s terrible sex and I often am doing it and going, "Why do I have to do this?," and then suddenly realize I'm the one making me do this. But in terms of growing as a performer, just the sheer stamina of acting every single day. I had done it in pockets and I don’t really act in other people’s work, so it’s not like it’s a muscle I'm keeping flexed all the time, so just the experience of every day going in and performing no matter your mood, no matter how you feel expressing a different feeling, which is -- I believe -- called acting, but it was funny. Jenni and I were once talking about casting. We were trying to figure out how to cast a part and she named a guy and I said I don’t find him that cute and she was like, "Well that’s why it’s called acting" and I suddenly realized "Oh, I could do that."
Would you be interested in acting in other people’s stuff? Louis C.K. does it occasionally. Woody did it occasionally back in the day.
Lena Dunham: I acted in Judd’s new movie this year. I did a week of shooting and it was amazing. He is someone I'm so comfortable with already, and although I [was] still terrified I would get fired, it was amazing. I like acting in other people’s stuff as a way to see other people work. I did a little part last year in my friend Ti West’s new horror movie, which is called “The Innkeepers,” and that was just amazing. The acting was fun, but the real joy was like seeing Ty direct an insane ghost murder scene. That was what I was excited about.
Is there an arc to these ten episodes or is it just what Hannah and her friends are up to?
Jenni Konner: No, there is that definite arc. It’s all leading up to stuff.
Jenni Konner: Ghost murder.
Lena Dunham: A ghost murder. We both love sitcoms and watch them and talk about them, but we were very happy last night. It was the episode of “Friends” where Phoebe finds out that her gay husband is straight.
Jenni Konner: That’s amazing.
Lena Dunham: Which I forgot is an incredible episode, but I was-
Jenni Konner: That show was perfect.
Lena Dunham: Yeah, it’s amazing, but the thing is that we are always conscious of not wanting it to feel like, "Here is the one where they go to the store, here is the one where they go to the moon." Like it’s really the ups and downs.
Jenni Konner: Well that’s also the benefit of working with HBO that you’re allowed to do a serialized show and even in the half hour, which is unusual. So we plotted out the whole season before we started and knew exactly where we were going. A couple things changed obviously, but we sort of had an idea.
In terms of what was being talked about in the panel about the women making bad choices and Judd saying, "We want you to be annoyed by them sometimes," do you feel that sometimes female characters are held to a different standard by audiences, where people expect them to be more inherently likable or good in some way?
Jenni Konner: I don’t know if that’s true. I think our male characters are also kind of annoying too and one of the things we do sometimes to just let people know it’s okay, is that we have Alex Karpovsky often call out things; he will call the girls spoiled or call them privileged or self centered or any of those things. We wanted to make it clear.
Lena Dunham: I do think that there is more of a precedent for sort of an irksome, crotchety male lead by a television show. I mean, there is more precedent for a flawed guy leading that, but then I also think about Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda and even we talk about Meredith on “Grey’s Anatomy.” We’re like, "What a prickly, fascinating heroine!" So they are there, but it’s going to be really interesting to see how people react to four girls and none of them is sort of the clear kind of sunny winner in the group.
Talk about the origin of the title and how much discussion went into it.
Lena Dunham: Well we started and we were coming up with a lot of titles and all my titles were awful, but had "girls" in the title somewhere.
Lena Dunham: I literally just made one up. It’s “Ordinary Girls,” but that wasn’t what it was.
Jenni Konner: Like “Modern Girls” I feel like was one. We just had a whole list of-
Lena Dunham: I think I said “Girls like Us,” which turned out to be the name of a Carly Simon biography and you had some great ones that were a little kind of sharper and more specific. Someone suggested “Cut Off” to me, and we made like crazy amounts of lists, but got fantastical by the end. It would just be like “The Hand Job Trilogy.”
Jenni Konner: And then Judd was like, "It should just be 'Girls,' you don’t need anything else. Just call it 'Girls.'” We were like, "Okay."
Lena Dunham: And then all of the girl-titled shows came out-
Jenni Konner: Yeah, and then we panicked a little.
Lena Dunham: We did because my dad saw the “Two Broke Girls” busses in New York and, because he needs glasses, he just saw the word “girls” and not “two broke” and he was like, they’re promoting your show already. But it was actually my dad who said, "Don’t back down, you guys have the meta title." It’s the meta title.
I'm curious: “girls” versus “women,” what specifically do you feel that says?
Lena Dunham: I think it’s a lot about how they think of themselves. I don’t think that they feel like women. It’s less about how the world views them, but I think that these are girls who will feel like girls until they’re 35 maybe. I had this experience the summer I was on the street in New York and this teenager came up to me and she was crying and she asked if she could use my cell phone and of course I gave it to her and I could hear her talking to her mom. She was like, "I don’t know whose phone I'm on, some lady" and she called me a lady and I was despondent for a day.
Just getting back to the issue of Hannah as a flawed character. I also find her to be really quite charming despite all of the many bad decisions she makes. What in your mind is the key to making people like her in spite of all the stupid stuff she does and says?
Jenni Konner: I think the thing about that character is that I think she is trying her ass off even though she’s failing a ton. She is always trying to improve herself, improve her situation, get a job. It’s all misguided and sort of terribly executed, but I think it comes from this place that everyone has been, like I'm going to be Mary Tyler Moore, I'm going to throw my hat up in the air and twirl around and so when a truck hits her you go, well she was trying. I think that’s part of the key for me.
Lena Dunham: I always thought the saddest feeling in life is when you’re dancing in a really joyful way and then you hit your head on something. It’s sad and embarrassing and I feel like Hannah’s entire life is like dancing and then hitting her head on something and so she’s really making an effort and I think the fact that I'm always really comforted by the fact that Marnie loves her, by their connection. She couldn’t be too useless because she has this friend who’s not giving up.
It was just funny to see the promo though with all of the moments of everyone telling her how much she sucks piled one on top of the other.
Jenni Konner: I know. They did that. We were so happy when we saw it. We were like, that’s so smart.
Lena Dunham: It was amazing.
Do you feel like you almost need to prepare people in that way?
Lena Dunham: It’s funny. I don’t get Google Alerts about “Tiny Furniture” but my mom loves to get them and forward them to me and the complaint is [that] even people who like the movie will recognize that it’s a character who is a little hard to sit with because her situation is superficially so good, but she can’t get with it and Hannah has her financial issues, but ultimately she has parents who love her. She has friends who are there for her, but it’s sort of proof that until you’ve gotten right with yourself none of that is going to save you.
Jenni Konner: I was just thinking more about that gender question you had and, thinking about this, I now am amending [my answer] because I do think actually that if you present a guy who is slightly limited and selfish then you do actually just accept that and know how you’re supposed to feel, but with a woman or a young girl it really is like are we supposed to like her? Are we allowed to hate her? And I think that’s part of why that promo works. It’s saying you have permission.
I brought that up in part from my own anecdotal experience in writing about TV. Whenever I write about “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” — and those are admittedly dramas — people will forgive Don Draper or Walter White anything and the least little thing that either of their wives does [will be] jumped on every time it seems.
Jenni Konner: Right, that’s so interesting.
Lena Dunham: You know what, that makes a lot of sense to me and I think that-
Jenni Konner: Tony Soprano killed (the person that he kills in the final season of "The Sopranos").
Jenni Konner: And we still like him.
Lena Dunham: But yeah, then we’re really mad when women cheat on people on television. I think it’s sort of a risk we’re running. I always acknowledge that, but it feels to me like it’s time for this to kind of be okay — or I hope it’s time for it to be okay — but I know exactly what you mean and I even notice it with very evolved men and even other women that I know having that reaction.
It was interesting, again this is anecdotal. This is me polling the room. In the early days of press tours what we do is we sit around and we talk about shows. The people who were responding most strongly to the show tended to be men, which I was not necessarily expecting.
Jenni Konner: To our show?
Jenni Konner: Really?
Yeah, when we sit around at lunch, we'll ask each other what we liked of the new shows, and there were definitely more men who were like, "I really liked 'Girls.'"
Jenni Konner: Wow, that’s great.
Lena Dunham: Wow, that’s amazing.
Jenni Konner: Because of the hand job jokes.
Lena Dunham: I always say that you can divide the world into two kinds of women, those who are attracted to Adam and those who aren’t. Well I think women have seen the pilot are like, "I totally get it, he reminds me of my boyfriend in my mid-20s," and then there were women who were like, "I would never touch him with a ten foot pole and I can’t relate to a woman who would."
Yeah, I watched it with my wife and she was cringing through pretty much every Adam appearance.
Lena Dunham: Yeah.
Jenni Konner: From recognition or-?
No, I think it was just that he is so skeazy, so-
Lena Dunham: There is something wrong with me because I think he’s totally hot.
I want to talk a little bit about the body image stuff. There was a “30 Rock” joke a few years ago. The Jane Krakowski character spent the summer in “Mystic Pizza” on Broadway and she puts on the exact wrong amount of weight and Alec Baldwin says, "She either has to lose 20 pounds or gain 60."
Lena Dunham: I know. I love that, “Mystic Pizza” on Broadway. I remember that. It was incredible. She gains like 12 pounds and it’s just enough that she can’t be sexy, but she also can’t play hilarious fat women.
And you deal with that quite a bit in the early episodes, with people talking about Hannah’s size and how she feels about it and how they feel about it. Is this an issue that you have had to deal with either personally or professionally?
Lena Dunham: Definitely. I mean, professionally it’s been amazing. I've never had to deal with it professionally.
Jenni Konner: Professionally we actually have gone the other way occasionally, which is say her hair looks too good, that shirt looks too nice on her. We’ve gone the other way because she is an underdog and you don’t necessarily want her to look like one of the people in “Sex and the City.” We’re going for a specific thing.
You don’t want her to look like (she does right now).
Jenni Konner: Yes, that’s right.
Lena Dunham: Yeah and I love “The New Girl,” it’s literally my favorite show of the new season, I’m obsessed with it. When there were those “adorkable” promos I was like, "She is adorkable, but she’s also just hot." That’s just a hot lady to me, which is again not a problem for the show .
Except for the scene in the pilot where like she puts on the black dress and the roommates were like “Oh my God..." Wait, did you not see her?
Lena Dunham: I know. You’re like, "That’s Zooey Deschanel. She was standing there the whole time."
Jenni Konner: But I think actually Liz has done this amazing job. They acknowledge she’s pretty and you still get why it’s hard for her to date and why she does have this personality that gets in her way and I think they’ve done a really good job of that in a way I've not seen before.
Lena Dunham: I think so too.
Do you feel if you were to go out and do projects that were not yours, like try to act in projects that were not your own, that would be a barrier for you?
Lena Dunham: I don’t feel like there are a tremendous amount of roles for the size I am. There is your sassy chubby friend [or the] part of an ingénue and I've hoped that in a certain way I'm not either of those things, but I feel lucky in that the same way I've surrounded myself with people I'm creatively comfortable with, I've surrounded myself with people who are accepting of the way that I look. But it is an issue. If you live in the world and look at magazine covers — no matter how many gender and women’s studies that you took in college, no matter how aware you are that it’s a trap for women -- you can’t avoid it. And Hannah is a funny character, because she is in some way really self-hating and in another way really kind of bold and confident. And so she’s this weird mix of totally thinking that she’s sexy and that she deserves to have good sex, but also kind of thinking like, "I'm a little chubby so I should take what I can get." She’s really working it through and so we try to make that clear on the show and she’s also just, like me, has trouble resisting fine pastries.
And the tattoo story that you tell, is that something actually out of your own life?
Lena Dunham: Yeah, I started getting tattoos when I was 17 and I didn’t have the awareness when I was 17 that that’s what it was, but I think it became to clear to me in hindsight that it was my way of sort of owning my body, kind of like the women I’d seen who looked cool and were curvy had this sort of rockabilly look going on and it just seemed like a way to express confidence that wasn’t just about wearing a tight skirt or something.
Is there (another) show that you would point to, to say "This is what this is like" for someone who is coming to ("Girls") cold?
Lena Dunham: That’s tough.
Jenni Konner: It’s pretty specific.
Lena Dunham: I hate to be the person that’s like, "We’re doing something that’s never been done before," but there are shows we love that we talk about all the time. I try to force everyone to make Mary Tyler Moore’s apartment their desktop on their computer.
Jenni Konner: Yeah, there are certainly shows we’re influenced by.
So what would you say then are, without making yourselves sound pretentious, the things that you would say that you’re doing that have not been done before specifically? Or is it just your voice that makes it?
Lena Dunham: I think it’s a few things. I also think that Jody (Lee Lipes), the DP that I worked with on “Tiny Furniture," has given the show a look and feel that’s pretty different from other stuff I've seen. It’s been described as sort of an indie film look, although I think it’s just we’re kind of covering things differently and colored differently than a lot of half hour comedies and so that was something we were really concerned about. I think that we were really conscious about trying to give it this cinematic look that is maybe on the forefront of the viewer’s mind, but which you can feel. And then I think also (about) this conversation we had about the kind of women at the center of it. And as we write we’re not super concerned with act one, act two, act three. It’s in there, but we give ourselves room to kind of let the episodes meander and find their shape.
Jenni Konner: And there is an episode where she goes home and it’s just her and her parents.
How many writers are there beyond the two of you?
Jenni Konner: Well Judd and then we have-
Has Judd actually written a script?
Jenni Konner: Yeah.
Lena Dunham: Judd and I co-wrote a script which was a really awesome experience.
Jenni Konner: And he also I would say he’s playing down his role a little bit. He’s been more involved than he made it sound like. He’s just giving us credit, which is awesome, but for the pilot there was the three of us in a writer’s room in the hotel pitching it. And now there are eight of us in total. Most of them are very low level female writers, because we just wanted a freshness and generate more stories and then we have an EP, Bruce Kaplan, who used to work on “Six Feet Under” and he’s also BEK, the cartoonist for the New Yorker, and Murray Miller, who is a comedy writer who has done mostly animation, but who came in this year and it’s been really great for us too.
Jenni, what are the challenges and how long did it take you to get comfortable in basically adapting your writing to her voice?
Jenni Konner: Her voice is so specific that it’s actually easier to do because there is not a lot of leeway because she knows her voice.
Lena Dunham: And Jenni has been in it from the beginning, so we’ve been writing together from the first.
Jenni Konner: From the first episode, but I also think because she knows who she is so clearly it makes my job easier because there are just a couple of ways you can go and I say which way is that and she says that way for sure. This is what makes her a good director too. She is incredibly decisive and I find that to be really helpful.
Lena Dunham: I never really even delivered lines that somebody else had written. Even acting other people’s movies I’d sort of improv’d around and so and I remember it was such an amazing pleasure because the first scenes Jenni handed me I was getting the experience of reading characters I knew and loved and laughing my head off and not having to do the work and I was like, this is amazing. I can really get used to this and we have a lot of fun writing together.
What was your initial reaction when you saw “Tiny Furniture?”
Jenni Konner: Well Judd actually jokes that he used to refer to me as the distributor of “Tiny Furniture” because I first saw it long before I met Lena and actually Sue Naegle gave it to me, but just because Liz Meriwether told me about it. She said, "It’s this girl, she’s 23, she directed her own movie, she’s running around in her underwear," and I was like, "I don’t need to see that movie." She was like, "Trust me." So then I was with Sue and Sue gave me the DVD and I became completely obsessed with it. It spoke to me in this incredibly strong, truthful way. It felt so similar to my experience. I thought it was so courageous. It just blew my mind. I just had never seen anything like it and I couldn’t believe this young woman did it and then I literally was so excited about it that I just gave out DVDs. This is probably illegal, but you couldn’t get them because they were holding it for Criterion Collection.
She was taking money out of your pocket.
Jenni Konner: I know literally.
Lena Dunham: I'm totally comfortable.
Jenni Konner: Judd used to tease me. Like we were at the premier of “Get Him to the Greek” and he was like, "Do you have 'Tiny Furniture' in your pocket?" Because I was just so excited about it.
Lena Dunham: We met through agents in the process of putting the pilot together, but it was one of those crazy things where I didn’t know that a professional meeting could become what our relationship became, so it was-
Jenni Konner: I didn’t either.
So how would you describe the relationship now?
Jenni Konner: Best friends.
Lena Dunham: We’re best friends. We’ll be at dinner together and then we’ll go home and we’ll text for like an hour.
Jenni Konner: And send each other scenes.
Lena Dunham: We’ll send each other scenes and then send each other weird photos.
Jenni Konner: And then live-watch “Grey’s Anatomy” together.
Lena Dunham: Jenni had laryngitis for a week around Christmas and my days were really weird and she was really sick and sort of off the radar and I was like, what’s so weird about today? And then I realized that I was not in touch with Jenni’s routine and it was stressful to me.
Given the age of the characters and the world that they occupy, do you intend to do more social media stuff in the real world than the average show might?
Jenni Konner: Yes, for sure.
So what are some of the plans? There is going to be a Hannah Horvath Twitter, but what do you do with it?
Lena Dunham: I'm worried it's not going to be different enough from my own Twitter, so we’re going to work on that.
Jenni Konner: We’re all already on Twitter and we’re always tweeting at each other and tweeting about things and we’re trying to cast Donald Glover so we tweeted at him yesterday. I just think we use it as this format and I think it will also seep into stories because it is a reality in this world that we’ve created and so that’s why we want to keep it alive and progress it.
Lena Dunham: It’s funny. I used to think Twitter was a waste of time and sort of ran counter to my ability to be productive and to write and now Twitter feels like a really cool part of the creative experience.
Jenni Konner: It’s really fun.
Lena Dunham: You get reactions and you connect to people and I love Twitter.
Jenni, how do you feel it changes story? Ten years ago you were writing about kids who were not that much younger than Lena’s character is now, but there was no Twitter, there was no Facebook, so how would the interactions within stories change as a result?
Jenni Konner: I think enormously. I haven’t actually started to build the grid in my head of ten years ago versus now, but you just think about the way you used to be able to write a scene where someone didn’t get a message. You were calling someone and the phone just rang and then that was it. They couldn’t reach them or something and now communication is so immediate that I think our stories are probably truncated in some way because none of the stories can revolve around trying to get in touch with someone really unless it’s like, “he won’t return my phone call or text.”
Lena Dunham: When I was doing “Tiny Furniture,” I read all my mom’s journals from the 70s and she would say like, “I couldn’t find Larry, so I went over and climbed up his fire escape.” Now if you went to someone’s house to look for them, you would be a psychopath.
Now there is a lot of, "Why are you even calling me? Just send me a text."
Jenni Konner: Yes, I feel that way.
Lena Dunham: I know. Someone told me the other day that they think it’s rude to leave your friends voicemails. I was like, "I don’t know what’s happening to us anymore."
But it’s interesting you bring up your mother’s journals because Hannah's tweeting about everything in her life, and for a lot of people in your generation, it’s like their whole lives are an open book. They’re out there. They’re on a blog. Things that would once upon a time be like, "I don’t want anyone to know this," it’s all out there.
Lena Dunham: Yeah and it’s interesting. This is a whole other topic, but I think self exposure and the age of the over share -- my sister and I were just talking about this -- is another kind of self-defense in a certain way. It’s like, I'm going to tell you everything about me so you can’t tell me anything about me that I don’t already know.
Jenni Konner: And you can’t judge me for it because I'm putting it up there.
Lena Dunham: Yeah, exactly. Because I think what people really hate is to be caught by surprise by criticism, so if you’re on Twitter going “I ate too much today, okay guys? Back off!,” you’ve already stated it.
Although sometimes I wind up having conversations with someone where it’s like, "Yes, I saw your tweet, thank you." "Okay, we’ll sit here in silence."
Lena Dunham: I had a really embarrassing experience where I made a joke at a party that I had tweeted. I’ll never do it again. And this guy was like, “nice quoting of your own tweet from today,” and I’m not that easily embarrassed and I just wanted to become of a puddle.
You brought up “My So Called Life” in the panel and it’s a fantastic show, and a great precursor of “Freaks and Geeks,” but again, Angela was a challenging and difficult character. What was it about her that you drew from her that you were drawn to when you watched it?
Lena Dunham: I loved that show so much and it was amazing. Did you re-watch it recently?
Jenni Konner: I didn’t re-watch it, but I just remember when everyone was watching “Friends.” I started watching “Friends” really late and I finally realized it was because it was on at the same time as “My So Called Life,” and you couldn’t tape two things at the same time back in the day.
Lena Dunham: “Friends” is perfect for Christmas. I got Jenni every episode of “Friends” ever on DVD, because you should buy other people the thing you most want in the world for yourself, but I remember just seeing how tortured Angela was just by the minutia of everyday life and it made so much sense to me.I always say that if I ever have to do anything resembling crying onscreen it’s just an impersonation of Clare Danes crying. Her face gets kind of snotty and no one was trying to cover any of those real painful truths of being a teenager up, and also the fact that Angela thinks she’s going to fix Jordan Catalano and is such an asshole to Brian Krakow and I always talk about the Jordan Catalano-Brian Krakow paradigm, which is so present in “Felicity,” like the Ben-Noel contradiction, and so the Adam and the Charlie.
Jenni Konner: I also think they let her be flawed and that’s a really surprising time for a female character to be flawed and she made such asshole choices. She treated her friends badly and you still you loved her despite it.
Okay, so the last one is just in terms of “Friends,” “Sex in the City,” etc. TV does not really do a good job of depicting what it would actually be like to have to live in New York and the size of your apartment and budgetary issues and all of that. You guys clearly [have a] commitment [that] their apartment is only going to be this size.
Lena Dunham: It makes shooting much harder.
Jenni Konner: Yes, we really work on it. We now understand why everyone gets much bigger apartments.
Lena Dunham: I know.
Jenni Konner: Because it’s impossible to shoot.
Lena Dunham: And it’s funny. We get really frustrated by it, but at the same time it’s so great to watch the show and go, oh you can actually feel the limitations of this space. I kept saying like to our production designer, I want it to look really tight, close quarters-real, but not as depressing as a Mike Leigh movie. Let’s just find that-
Jenni Konner: The balance.