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Lila Byock, acclaimed TV writer, comes home from the picket line
Plus: A dream team of Missoula singer-songwriters play a backyard show
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On a bright afternoon last week in downtown Missoula, Lila Byock, the Emmy award-winning writer and producer behind shows like HBO’s “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers,” stepped out of the fierce sun and into the gentle clamor of Montgomery Distillery.
Lila was back in her hometown—with her husband, the showrunner and writer Sam Shaw, and their two young sons—for an annual month-long respite from Los Angeles.
This year’s visit, however, marked a different sort of pause: nearly every day since it began in early May, Lila (that’s Lee-lah) has picketed with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) to demand better pay and better job security for movie and television writers.
She often takes the early morning shift on the picket line—as long as two individuals remain present at any given moment, the Teamsters, who control studio production trucks, won’t work either.
The studios had “refused to negotiate in good faith with our demands,” Lila explained, sitting down in a quiet corner of the distillery. Writers’ rooms had been halved: from a dozen-odd people down into “mini rooms,” which offer much less job security, and much less pay. Plus, with the advent of streaming, “our residual payments are much, much lower, and in some cases non-existent.”
Yet despite the writers’ anger, the strike has provided them with the chance to catch up in what has otherwise become an “atomized” work environment.
“It’s been an exercise in whatever the opposite of gaslighting is,” Lila said with a small laugh. She took a sip of her crisp Porch Swing—house-made gin, mint, lavender syrup, lemon juice and a little soda water. “We're all suddenly talking to each other and we're all like, ‘Oh, wait, Netflix did that to you, too? I thought it was just me.’”
In 2019, Lila won an Emmy for her work on the dazzling and heady adaptation of the iconic dystopian graphic novel “Watchmen.” Some of her other projects include collaborations with her husband, Sam: “Manhattan” and the Hulu original series “Castle Rock,” based on an amalgamation of books by Stephen King. “We've been reading each other's work and helping each other with their work for more than twenty years now,” she pointed out. “I think we compliment each other very well.”
Reflecting on her early years in Missoula—Lila grew up in town, and attended the University of Montana—also brought up feelings of camaraderie. “I always knew writing was a career because so many of the adults I was closest to were professional writers,” she explained. “My best friend's mom was the director of the creative writing program at the University of Montana, and I used to hang out with MFA students when I was a teenager.”
“I don't think I ever would've become a writer if I didn't grow up in Missoula,” she said.
Lila went on to write fiction for years, and worked as a fact-checker at the New Yorker, before getting into TV.
Although neither has been produced (yet), she has written two 30-minute pilots set in Montana: a comedy set in an abortion clinic in Missoula, and a “whimsical sci-fi comic thriller” set in Helena. She had also been working on an adaptation of an existing European series that would take place in the Paradise Valley, but the strike interrupted that project.
She spoke gleefully—and, it seemed, a tad wistfully—about Missoula’s brand-new, glamorous public library, and the city’s largely electrified (and free) fleet of buses—to her eye, the fruits of a functioning government. “It feels like home much more than LA does,” she said. “My kids think of this as a second home.”
Does she think about moving back? “All the time.”
Lila had lots planned for her two remaining weeks in Montana: a sojourn to Chico Hot Springs, where she got married, river time with family, lots of microbrews. But the strike was nonetheless calling her name. “I actually miss it,” she said with a laugh.
Shortly thereafter, Sam arrived, kids in tow, and the family retreated to a low-slung table by the window to play a board game. I passed them on my way out the door: all four seemed fully immersed in the game, and in the world of their family.
One more thing…
A handful of terrific local songwriters will join New Orleans’ Mr. Sam for an intimate concert in Missoula at a private location tomorrow, Friday, July 14. Come for sets by Dylan Running Crane (Cry Baby), Riley James and Jake Howell (Cosmic Sans). Snacks provided by Sydney Terry.
Email DaisyChainPresents@gmail.com for the address. BYOLawnChair. 6PM. $10-15.
Thanks so much for being here. In the meantime, you can always reach me via email, the comment section below, or on Facebook.
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