On the Road Again

Roadies’ Winnie Holzman on partnering with Cameron Crowe and what she’s learned about writing that every new writer should know.

©2016 Showtime
Imogen Poots and Luke Wilson in Roadies.
July 8, 2016 Written by Dylan Callaghan
Showtime Winnie Holzman

One of the things about being a writer is that you feel like you’re always at the outset. When you’re writing, in an odd way, you always feel like you’re starting something new that you don’t understand how to do.

Over two decades ago, through a random wrinkle of fate, writer and occasional actress Winnie Holzman got a bit part in Cameron Crowe’s classic film Jerry Maguire that, though tiny, had her on set for several weeks, during which, she met Crowe. “Ever since then, I’d hoped our paths would cross again,” Holzman explains. So when a call came last year from J.J. Abrams asking if she’d be interested in getting involved in a TV show he was developing, she knew the answer before the call ended.

Nonetheless, she read the pilot, which further cemented her desire to come on board and help Crowe flesh out a season of Roadies—his first-ever crack at TV with a series that focuses on a group of people arguably more beloved to Crowe than the rock stars he covered as a teenager—the road crews on tour.

Holzman’s own youthful, quirkily romantic voice—most notably on display on TV’s My So Called Life, the feature film ‘Til There Was You, and soon with the big screen adaptation of the Broadway megahit Wicked—augments Crowe’s own. Roadies stars Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino, and Imogen Poots, and is a sunshiny, sweet take on the grimy, grueling and unglamorous life of a rock and roll road crew.

Holzman spoke with the Writers Guild of America West website about the new show, her own obsessive tendencies with music, and why, despite the romantic, fun nature of much of her work, writing can get really lonely.

How big is the writers’ room on this show?

We don't really have a writers’ room. We approach things a little differently. [Cameron] had given a lot of thought to this on his own and he and I had already done a lot of thinking about the season. We had a shape and a lot of very clear episode ideas.

My thinking was, because he was new to TV, and we had very limited time, I brought in three people who just seemed like the right three people to us—Tom Kapinos, David Rosen, and Hannah Friedman. The purpose of that was to sit together for several weeks—so we did have a mini-writers’ room. Cameron and I laid out what we thought the season was and we very methodically went through each episode with that room and rebuilt each episode with those writers helping us. Then we assigned out some scripts from there and everybody disbanded and we went from there.

This show is about a road crew on a major music tour, but I'm curious for you what the show is about on a thematic, dramatic level?

Well, there are a few things: the search for a family or the need for a family, [and] there's an element of what are you running to and what are you running from, which flows through the season. The time that they're on the road is almost like its own time—time out of mind—its own universe, and then “real life.” You have to come back to real life when you come back from the road. That's one of the things we're playing with, sort of the dream of your life versus the life you really end up living.

There's an element that these are the unsung heroes that are behind the scenes that you never see and we shine a light on them. We're trying to explore that and celebrate that.

How much was Almost Famous an inspiration or something Crowe wanted to move on from here? Obviously, this show focuses more on the road crew than the band…

Yeah, but Almost Famous is really about a band and him at a young age. This is autobiographical too, because so much of his life has been about being on the road with bands, and seeing the behind-the-scenes. He has a real genuine respect and affection for the crews that he wanted to express. Almost Famous is a period piece—it goes back in time. Our show is very much in the present.

But, yes, there are correlations. They both come from him.

The pilot has a really nice, sunshiny, sweet vibe to it. I’m curious, being on Showtime, and with the tenor on cable these days, where you see the season heading tonally?

It’s a departure, honestly, for Showtime to some extent. I don’t think it’s something that’s already been on Showtime. There’s real music and bands featured in every episode. You know, we never show the headlining act, but because in the story they keep losing supporting acts, we show real bands coming through on every episode— people that are just breaking, people that are famous.

There’s a lot of romance to the season—I’ll just say that. It’s romantic in the way that his work and my work are romantic, if you’re familiar with our work. We both have an element of a certain approach to romance and when were put together, we ended up with quite a romantic—in eccentric and unexpected ways—season.

Is there any lesson you’ve learned about writing over your career that you wished you’d known at the outset?

One of the things about being a writer is that you feel like you’re always at the outset. When you’re writing, in an odd way, you always feel like you’re starting something new that you don’t understand how to do. If I had one piece of advice, it would be that that is normal and what it is to be a writer. So if someone is experiencing that when they’re young or starting out, not to worry about it—it’s a normal and natural and part of writing.

So the great lesson is that not knowing what you’re doing never goes away?

That feeling of being lost, that you don’t know what you’re doing is part of being a writer.

What routine or ritual do have when you’re writing by yourself?

Every project is a little bit different. It goes with the project. In other words, there’s a certain way I’ll do Roadies and a certain way I’ll do Wicked—it sort of tends to be based on what you’re doing at the time and every one of the has been different.

A tendency I have lately is that I like to write on my bed, for whatever reason. I didn’t used to do that as much as I do now. I’m not sure what that mean…

That must mean you’re very comfortable and confident.

I just do whatever works, you know what I mean?

Do you ever listen to music when you write?

Yeah, always. I have a tendency to get a little obsessive—like I’ve had times when I was only listening to Bob Dylan—like only. And interestingly, I haven’t listened to music much while writing Roadies, which you would think I would have. A lot of times l like to have the TV on with a movie that I’ve seen a lot of times that I love in the background.

So the sort of rhythm and tone of a movie that you know really well…

Yeah, sometimes I feel it inspires me a little and I also think that writing can sometimes feel lonely and it keeps me company.

© 2016 Writers Guild of America West

READ ALSO: Winnie Holzman and Irene Mecchi share secrets about Wicked and The Lion King