David Milch's Active Imagination

David Milch is my new hero. His incredible work on Deadwood is one of the great works of (literary? dramatic? cinematic?) art in the 21st century. And I’m not one who is normally given to such statements. Honestly, I think that extremely well-made “series” such as Six Feet Under and Sopranos that have a coherent long-term story arc over four or five years are *the* new great art form that we’ll look back on in 10 or 20 years and say “damn the 90’s and 2000’s were the golden age of that.”

Anyway, Milch is amazing. Anybody who has heard an interview with him or seen the commentaries on the Deadwood DVD’s has to either be a stone idiot or completely enthralled with the guy.

In this interview I found from 2002, I discover that he studied under Robert Penn Warren, managed to kick a heroin addiction, and was an even bigger part of the best years of NYPD Blue than I realized.

Here’s a link, and a quote I found awfully helpful in my own striving to make something literary.

David Milch’s Active Imagination

I don’t linger a lot in self-delusory exercises in control – don’t describe too much or even have to have an objective idea of what a scene is about. My only responsibility to an active imagination is to submit myself to a state of being where characters other than I move around and I try to serve that process. I just get to that – I don’t plan scenes. I don’t outline. I feel my way along because I have come to believe everything you believe about writing instead of writing is bullshit. It doesn’t apply. You can make an outline but an outline is not going to work because it doesn’t apply to what is actually written. I am content to work in uncertainty much more than I used to be – content to not know where I am going.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at andrewhinton.com.

2 thoughts on “David Milch's Active Imagination”

  1. So Andrew, because of you I rented the entire first season of Deadwood from Netflix. The first episode was quite hard to follow because of the violence and because I could understand only about 65% of the dialogue (and likely not the relevant 65%).

    But we stuck with it, and I had the (brilliant, I have to admit) idea to get the English subtitles on, so I could follow the action. Now we are hooked, and we watch about 2 episodes each evening. Watching a show with subtitles is kind of weird, but it’s better than having to ask Scott every 3 seconds “what did they say?” “What did just happened?” “Why did he do that?”

  2. Aha! Gotcha!

    It’s true, the language and violence can be hard to stomach. I am, however, impressed with how well the writing shows the full human cost of every violent decision. I highly recommend the DVD commentary on some of the episodes (I don’t recall which has Milch’s, but his is especially enlightening) … every facet of the language has been thought out with rigor.

    And you’re not alone with the subtitles — I use them frequently on this show too. And I still have to google the occasional bit of archaic english.

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