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Investing in Characters with 'WeCrashed' Limited-Series Co-Creators Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello

Co-creators Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello speak with Script about how the Wondery podcast of the same name was a great blueprint for the story foundation and why it was important to understand these characters fully so that it gave the show a reason for being.

Inspired by actual events — and the love story at the center of it all. WeWork grew from a single coworking space into a global brand worth $47 billion in under a decade. Then, in less than a year, its value plummeted. What happened?

The WeWork saga is rich in storytelling fodder for any writer. The WeCrashed co-creators, co-showrunners, and writers Drew Crevello and Lee Eisenberg were able to extract the core essence of the rise and fall of this empire, by focusing on the love story and passion behind the scenes. Both Drew and Lee spoke with me about how the Wondery podcast of the same name was a great blueprint for the story foundation, conducting additional research in the writer's room, and why it was important to understand these characters fully so that it gave the show a reason for being made.

Jared Leto as Adam Neumann and Anne Hathaway as Rebekah Neumann in the limited series WeCrashed. Courtesy Apple TV+.

Jared Leto as Adam Neumann and Anne Hathaway as Rebekah Neumann in the limited series WeCrashed. Courtesy Apple TV+.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: How did you two initially get attached to this project?

Lee Eisenberg

Lee Eisenberg

Lee Eisenberg: Wondery podcast and I had been talking about finding a project to do together, and they actually sent me this podcast before it had been released. And I'd read a few articles on WeWork before the podcast had happened. And the documentary was excellent, and really kind of provided a great overview of what the story was. Drew and I have known each other for 15 or so years, he's one of my best friends, and we had been talking about finding a project to do together, and I said, 'Hey, would you listen to this podcast and see what you think?' We both really gravitated towards the same ideas and dynamics in it and both saw what it could be as a limited and just kind of took the ball and started running with it.

Sadie: When tackling the story and building that foundation for this limited series, what was that anchor for in to carry the show?

Drew Crevello: I think there were two things; how we approached it structurally, the podcast was so useful in terms of giving us the organizing structure to us to a large extent - these are the major moments or beats in a story. We knew from very early on that the sort of hinge of the show, that crucial midpoint was when Adam and Rebecca get $4.4 billion, so we knew that 12-minute tour that he gives Masa that then leads to billions, was really the kind of the middle midpoint hinge of the show. So, we kind of had this sketch of what we thought this the show was. But really the anchor, to use your term, was really the relationship between Adam and Rebecca. I don't know if we would have done the show, if we hadn't settled on that very character-oriented hook or way into it. The world doesn't necessarily need another rise and fall story, and Lee and I are not people who would set out to just do a business kind of story. But the fact that these two wildly unique people came together to build something to such incredible stratospheric heights, but also led to it falling apart was just an irresistible character story for us.

Drew Crevello

Drew Crevello

Sadie: It felt like you were tackling three different love stories all at once. One with Adam and Rebecca obviously, Adam and Miguel and Adam and WeWork. Was that intentional?

Lee: I think that's really interesting way of putting it. The Adam and Miguel story was always fascinating to us. And Miguel as a character was incredibly hard to cast and we found Kyle Marvin, who is just a marvel on the show and just such a lovely human and you see that there's someone there who is not an alpha. Miguel in an interview said, 'Stand next to the guy, he was not the guy himself.' And you see in all these opportunities for Miguel to kind of come forward and really put Adam in his place as the co-founder and say, 'We're expanding too fast, I won't stand for it.' And every time that he even pushes a little bit, he ultimately ends up backing down. And it's just an interesting dynamic that I hadn't quite seen before.

In the final episode, when Adam leaves the company, and they have this exchange in Miguel's office late at night, the two of them are the only ones left there, he says, ‘I love you.’ I find it very emotional and I do feel that these two people really complimented each other and did have a real affection for one another and built an incredible company together.

Kyle Marvin as Miguel McKelvey in the limited series WeCrashed. Courtesy Apple TV+.

Kyle Marvin as Miguel McKelvey in the limited series WeCrashed. Courtesy Apple TV+.

As far as Adam and the employees, I feel similarly, whatever people think of Adam Neumann, and some people have said, ‘He's a con man,’ some people are rooting for him the entire time, I do think that there was a real love; I think he's someone who love to be social, loved to be surrounded by other people. And I think that he was incredibly proud of the business that he built, and the people that surrounded him.

Sadie: How much research and preparation did you do beforehand, on top of having the Wondery podcast as your blueprint?

Drew: Yeah, as you mentioned, we had the fantastic resource of the podcast, and all of the research the podcast had done, which was a real treasure trove. And then, in addition to that, we hired this wonderful researcher named Nicole Landset Blank, who often works with book writers, so she is used to doing these really extensive deep dives and working with authors. She worked full time on just basically digging up whatever she could from high school yearbook pictures, to childhood friends, we spoke to roommates of theirs, we spoke to a bunch of different employees, and we spoke to high ranking officers in the C-suite. We acted as if we were kind of doing all of our own research, and then added all of that to the Wondery treasure trove.

Our five fantastic writers, we would give them assignments, or they would find things on their own. So every day someone was bringing in an article or a link, or 'Hey, this tangentially relates to us, but we should give this a look.' So, it was just this fantastic machine really examining a lot of material.

[Setting a Thematic Anchor with ‘Dopesick’ Creator Danny Strong]

Sadie: Speaking of the writer’s room, what were you looking for initially in voices to round out this limited series?

Lee: It's always hard to put together a room; you get sent 100 scripts, and you're kind of sifting through all of them. The things that we really gravitated towards were writers that were able to kind of create a world. We were reading pilots, and some of the writers had written business stories and that was useful, and having writers that could kind of speak that language was vital to the room. But other writers, the worlds were not at all contemporary and business focused, and it was, ‘Wow, they captured a world,’ and they had characters that we were incredibly invested in quickly. And more than anything for me and I'll let Drew speak for himself, for me the most important thing is specificity. That to me is what separates a good writer from a great writer and capturing the feel of a restaurant, or capturing what someone's office feels.

There was one writer that Drew had read a script before I had, and he said, 'By page four, you're going to want to hire him.' And I read four pages of the script and completely agreed with Drew and his dialogue and the way a scene went in a way I did not expect at all, and it was like, 'Oh, we need this guy in the room.'

Sadie: In terms of the casting process, once you had the trio locked in that is Anne Hathaway, Jared Leto, and Kyle Marvin, how much additional time was spent re-working their voices on the page and working on their individual arcs?

Drew: Well, I'm going to give ourselves credit and then I'm going to give them some credit and I'm going to give my conclusion. [laughs] I would say that one of the things that Lee and I worked the most on in the pilot was the tone. And I think we did a good job of staking out a tone in the pilot, that was not sort of a self-serious business story. Nor was it comedic satire. It was really something kind of in between, that it was dramedy to use a term. And that the sense of humor would come from character and would be very grounded. And so, I think, Jared and Anne in reading that pilot, everyone kind of knew what the tonal bullseye was from the beginning, because we had done a pretty good job of establishing it.

[Blending Tone and Texture from Page to Screen: An Interview with ‘The Great’ Creator Tony McNamara]

That said that, as Jared and Anne and as the show progressed, we started writing to how they were interpreting the characters; they were giving us feedback on the scripts, they were improving things in character every episode. So, in production, it then became a fluid kind of thing where you work as hard as you can to make the script excellent, but then these performers interpret it, and they bring something totally different that maybe you didn't expect sometimes to the table. And then finally, in post, with the help of our fantastic directors and our editors, it's then taking all of that and kind of almost rediscovering the tone. I would say where we landed was close to the pilot, but a little different and I think in a great way, because the tone had been pushed and pulled by the process of making it.

Sadie: Any advice for writers who are adapting both a true-life story and podcast?

Drew: Well, there's so many different kinds of podcasts, and they do so many different kinds of things that, I think for us, the podcast was very factual, so it gave us a great overview, but then we had to find the characters for ourselves. Whereas other podcasts might come at things from different directions. The advice I would give, and I give it humbly, having only done it this one time myself, is that I think you have to find how the story and the characters resonate with you. And the podcast might be excellent, as was the case with WeCrashed, but if you can't find your own highly personal way into the story, you might feel like you don't have anything really to add. That's what we tried to do here is find a very kind of personal way in through the characters that gave the show a reason for being.

ws_truestory-500_360x

Lee: I think Drew summed it up really well. You're building characters, and you're building characters whether you're starting from an original or you're starting from a podcast or a book. And if all you do is take what exists in the podcast, and then script it, then there's no reason to make it a series, right? I mean, you want to try to get at an emotional truth in everything that I think you're writing, and that to us was the ultimate goal with this is, how do you find empathy in these characters? What makes someone tick? And I think that a podcast and I think a documentary can kind of hint at those things, but it's up to you as a storyteller, in a responsible way, to fill in the gaps for the audience, so that also they're seeing the story in a different light.

There's plenty of material on WeWork if you wanted to understand on a kind of a superficial level about Adam and Rebecca, and about Masa, and about the story of a company rising and falling, you could get that online within minutes. I think to really invest in character and to understand what makes these people tick separately and what they're like as a couple, that was all the heavy lifting that we did over the course of months and months of rewrites and speaking to more people and Drew and I debating things late into the night, that's the heavy lifting of the process.

WeCrashed. Courtesy AppleTV.

WeCrashed. Courtesy AppleTV.

WeCrashed is now streaming on Apple TV+.


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