If you’re not already on the train for I’m Sorry, the TruTV comedy series co-created, produced, written (and sometimes directed) by, and starring Andrea Savage, you really, really should hop aboard. It’ll be your favorite half hour of the week—or your favorite several hours of one week, if you end up bingeing it as I did. Which you will want to do, trust me. Savage has honed her writing skills for years, and it shows—I’m Sorry is smart, emotionally compelling, and so, so funny. Savage sat down with Paste recently to discuss all that time writing scripts, how she developed the series, and the importance of building a great team. [Editor’s note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.]
Paste Magazine: Where are you from, originally?
Andrea Savage Los Angeles.
Paste: Los Angeles. Wow.
Savage: Los Angeles, yeah. Born and raised. One of the few.
Paste: What part? The Valley?
Savage: I was born in Santa Monica. I grew up mostly in the Valley.
Paste: I’m really interested in people who grew up in the Valley, because I’m a rabid Adam Corolla listener, and he always talks about growing up there.
Savage: Yeah, he grew up like deep Valley, I mean, not too far away from where I grew up. And yeah, I grew up in the Valley, my mom grew up in the Valley.
Paste: Were your parents in the industry?
Savage: Not at all. Legitimately, there’s not one person [laughs] in my family in the entertainment industry on any level. Like, not even the outskirts of it.
Paste: What did they do?
Savage: My family is, you know, typical… you know, lawyers, dentists, doctors. A lot of teeth people in my family. Orthodontists.
Paste: I want to talk to you about you doing exactly what any actor at any level— anyone from my kid sister to Angelina Jolie—should be doing, that you’re already doing, which is creating your own content. Tell me about that journey for you.
Savage: Well, this is my seventh show—
Paste: Wait, were you a co-creator on Man Bites Dog?
Savage: I was not co-creator, I was just writer/producer. I had developed—I think this was my seventh show. I have to count. Seventh or eighth.
Paste: Seventh or eighth created?
Paste: No way!
Savage: Yeah, yeah. But it was the only one—
Paste: I have so much bingeing ahead of me—
Savage: No, no, no! It’s the only one that made it, so I—
Paste: Oh, OK!
Savage: That’s what I’m saying: it’s the only one that was made. I sold seven shows but none of them went, so I decided, “You know what, I’m not going to develop a script again, I’m going to do a proof of concept.” So I shot a pilot presentation. I hooked up with the Lonely Island guys, who had a deal with Fox at the time… to shoot pilot presentations. And so we shot a 14-minute presentation, and that’s what I went and sold.
Savage: And I, to be honest, didn’t know TruTV, they came in really hard and they were really passionate about supporting the writer/performer. They offered a good budget and they were really excited. And we went with it. And they have really come through on all their promises of really supporting the writer/performer. The show—for better or for worse—that you see is truly my vision from beginning to end. And that just doesn’t happen without people putting in all their input, so many cooks in the kitchen. This is—again, for better or for worse— this is my recipe.
Paste: And on top of all that, of what they’ve done, I have heard of it!
Savage: They have marketed it so beautifully.
Paste: There are people that I’m fans of that have made shows on much bigger networks than TruTV that five years later, I go, “Wait! You had a show? That you created?”
Savage: Yeah. There are shows that friends of mine are on that I’m like ‘Wait? Is that still on?”
Paste: Is that still on?
Savage: Wait, wait, has it come out yet?
Savage: [TruTV has] done a great, great job; and they’re really supportive, and they really allow Joey Slamon—who’s my co-show runner—and I to be very involved in the marketing. Which I think has been really beneficial, because the marketing is very much in line with the show—because we do a lot of it ourselves, and they’re really collaborative and let us put our stamp on it.
Paste: That’s great.
Savage: And say ‘No’ to a lot of things. [Laughs] Which is huge in marketing… It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I wear a lot of hats. And because I wear so many hats, our production period’s very long, because we have to wrap everything—like, wrap all the writing before we start pre-production; wrap [pre-production] before we start production; wrap production before we start the edit.
Paste: Because you can’t split yourself.
Savage: Because I can’t split myself any more than I’m trying to. So it’s long, and it’s hard. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done. But it is truly the most satisfying thing to go like, “This was my idea, and this is where it ended.” And that’s what I wanted.
Paste: That’s my baby!
Savage: That’s my baby! I really feel like I have—well I have one real baby, who’s almost 10. And then I have almost twenty little weird babies. And—
Paste: And then you have the show!
Savage: And then I have the show! I’m very busy having sex and having babies. That’s most of what I do.
Paste: And we have a headline.
Savage: Yeah. [Laughs] But it’s great.
Paste: So, I simultaneously hate and love the fact that you sold seven shows before this one went. Because when I’m giving a screenwriting workshop, one of the things I always quote, and I don’t know if it’s true or not—
Savage: It doesn’t matter.
Paste: Even if it’s not true—
Savage: It doesn’t matter. It’s the way you say it.
Paste: That’s right. I heard a study quoted, a survey of Hollywood screenwriters and they said, “How many—what number screenplay sold?” And the average was nine.
Savage: I could believe that.
Paste: It’s funny, I talked earlier today to Chris Kelley and Sarah Schneider, and they were like, “Oh, yeah, this is the first pitch we’d ever made.” And I was like, “Chris, how about Other People? Was that your first?” and he was like, “Oh, yeah, that was the first script I ever wrote.” I’m like, “I hate both of you! ... Chris, I’m cutting this out of the podcast!”
Savage: Yes! Cut it out! No!
Paste: Make my point for me about how hard you had to work before something got made.
Savage: I mean, I had to work incredibly hard… for many, many years. And, by the way, I was doing—I say I was a very successful failure. I was selling a show every year. One or two! And I was also acting in a pilot every year. I was very lucky. I would get one every year, and then I’d sell one or two every year. And this went on for a solid however long it was, you know. And by the way—a couple of them, the first couple, probably—I should go back and read them. And they were good or whatever, and then a couple of them were fantastic. And the networks even loved them. But for whatever reason it was like, “We already have a female-driven show” or “We already have a blah blah blah show.” ... There was a lot of that kind of stuff, where there’s so much behind-the-scenes stuff that you have no control over. And that’s what was frustrating, because it’s like: You loved the script and you’re still not making it! And so it was a lot of being punched in the throat.
Savage: Yeah, it takes a long time sometimes.
Paste: Yeah, no doubt.
Savage: And I had successes along the way.
Paste: I was just going to say that. It was not like you were doing nothing.
Savage: No. I was doing well.
Paste: You were on great stuff.
Savage: I was on great shows.
Paste: So, with all of the hats—I’ve got this in my mind because I had my first narrative feature come out last year, and I was the co-screenwriter, I was the director, I was the producer. And then, I only was in it for one day of shooting, right? ... Every time I see that section of that movie, I’m actually proud of my performance, but I also think I could have been so much better if I weren’t actively wearing every hat there on set. So how do you preserve your actor hat to just be in the moment? It’s hard enough to act.
Savage: It’s not a very lofty answer. First of all, we write all of our scripts ahead of time so the writing part is done. I do all my last-minute rewrites on Sundays before we shoot that week… so everything, all the tweaks, are done for that week. And I learn all my lines on a Sunday. I will say, my performance takes the backseat to everything else I’m doing that day. Luckily, it’s a version of myself. I’ve gone through all the scripts; I know it so well; it’s all in my voice; I know exactly what I want from the scene. So I’m able to do it sort of a little bit without having to spend a lot of focus on it, because all of my focus is spent on producing when I’m on set. It really is.
Paste: Talk about an all-encompassing job!
Savage: Yeah, and I direct some of them, too.
Savage: It’s no joke. it’s multi-tasking and all of that, and trying to keep as relaxed of a set as I can, and really great people around me and really keep the vibe up. And not, you know, have any assholes, really.
Savage: I mean, I have a “No Asshole” policy, so—
Paste: So key. How many of the people around you are people that you’ve worked with before? Or were people that you already knew or people you had relationships with before you started?
Savage: Acting-wise, quite a few. Jason Manzoukas, Judy Greer, Gary Anthony Williams. I mean, almost everyone on the show: Allison Tolman, Nelson Franklin, Lizzy Caplan, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Scott Aukerman. I mean, most of my friends. In terms of the production side, not a ton. Joey Slamon, who’s my co-show runner, and I never knew each other. I just interviewed her post-pilot, to have a partner. We did not know each other. Most of the directors we’ve used I have not known—I mean, the majority of people I did not know. And we’ve just worked through the process. And now we’ve got people that I love, and I’ve worked with on both seasons, and I love and want to work with anytime I do anything in my life. [Laughs] But yeah, I mean, it was a very big learning curve.
Paste: When did Season Two premiere?
Savage: Season Two premiered at the beginning of January. Once it finishes on Tru, it will then premiere on Netflix. It took a while for it to get on Netflix, and it went on last fall and it really changed everything. Like, it really exploded on there. Which is great.
Paste: And is this the kind of thing that your shooting schedule is such that, because you’re wearing so many hats, you don’t really—until this run is over—you don’t really have a chance to do anything else?
Savage: Correct. I legitimately for two and a half years have done nothing.
Paste: Nothing else.
Savage: I shot one movie, in Atlanta a year and a half ago, Summer ‘03, which came out last fall and that is the only thing. I legitimately have not seen the light of day until about a week ago. So I’m like, “Oh my God, there’s a whole world out there!” I have done nothing.
Paste: Are there muscles that you would like to stretch through the show that you have not been able to yet?
Savage: I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to do. Nothing’s really been left on the table thus far, so it’s kinda figuring out what that season would be and can we keep it fresh. Do we shake it up a little bit? But we’ve gotten to do pretty much everything we wanted to do.
Paste: Do you know how amazing it is that you’re able to say that?
Savage: Yes! I’m a woman in my 40s. I’ve been doing this a long time. I very much know how amazing it is to say that. It is not lost on me, I will promise you that.
The Season Two finale of I’m Sorry airs tonight at 10 p.m. on TruTV.
Michael Dunaway is a filmmaker, journalist, film festival director, and professor. He is Paste’s Editor at Large and host of the Paste podcast The Work. His latest film is Six LA Love Stories.