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Inside Job

Carter Covington on the Actor-Writer Relationship

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Carter Covington on the Actor-Writer Relationship
Photo Source: Matt Sayles

“Greek” and “Hart of Dixie” television writer and Trevor Project supporter Carter Covington tackles the half-hour genre with his newest (and somewhat controversial) show, MTV’s “Faking It."

Did you have a hard time casting the leads?
I needed to find two actresses that had enough chemistry with each other that we would believe they were that close. It was funny, [they] had been auditioning for the same role [Karma] for several different callbacks, and in the waiting room, they really hit it off. [At the network test] I said, “I honestly don’t know which of these two girls to pick, because I’m so in love with both of them.” The president of the network said, “Well, clearly, Rita is Amy.” It had never crossed my mind that she could play the other part.

Is the half-hour format easier than one-hour?
I personally love the half-hour genre because you get to tell the same emotional stories that you would tell in an hour, just in a half hour. You get to cherry-pick the best moments. You can hack away all of the extraneous story and tell the tightest, sharpest story possible. It’s much more rewarding as a writer, and as a viewer.

Is it challenging writing for teens?
The great thing about targeting and working with teenagers and writing shows for them is that if you can tap into the universal feelings that we all felt when we were teenagers, then the show can transcend being just a teen show. I would like to be someone who writes about the common rites of passage that we all go through…someone who writes about universal truths. 

What’s your writing process like?
I have to get in a space where I feel very connected to myself, and safe and not critical of myself. I tend to work best when I’m listening to music that relaxes me, or puts me in the mood of the scene that I’m writing. [It’s] like I have to tuck myself into bed and get ready because you have to be vulnerable and willing to explore different things. I am a very strong inner critic and if I don’t tell myself that I’m safe and shut down that critic, then I’m constantly just tearing apart my ideas.

What’s something you’ve learned through your writing experience?
Not to be precious about my work, because collaboration is the most amazing part of this business. When you come with a very locked-down, ‘this is the way it has to be’ attitude, you are missing out on so many other creative people’s opinions.

When you’re auditioning actors, what is it that you’re looking for?
Am I intrigued by this person? Do I genuinely like this person? Am I curious about them? To me, that’s where TV is very different than film—you have to want to have a relationship with this person every week. That is beyond talent to me, that’s a certain charisma and confidence and a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ I try to find actors that give a convincing performance and find the comedy and find the drama, but also exude this part and this character.

Do you ever reconsider your vision of a character according to the actor’s choices?
The more I get to know the actors and their quirks and their senses of humor and their soft spots…the more I can tap into that with the character and really make sure that the actor is playing stuff that they feel connected to. So I find that the writer-actor relationship is really important, and I work very hard to try to get close to my actors as people and understand who they are so I can write better for them.

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