Listening & Learning with Fred Armisen and Jason Schwartzman

By Ben Larned · November 1, 2018

Keeping up with content is a stressful component of industry life. When we have so many shows to binge and movies to seek out, with more recommendations piling up every day, it’s difficult to think about anything else. It leaves gaps in our knowledge, holes in our understanding of the world. In their recent discussion on the A24 podcast, Fred Armisen (Moonbase 8) and Jason Schwartzman (A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III) speak to this stress, and provide a few tips on how to turn it into a benefit.


It’s more common to encounter people who don’t know something than people who do, and we can all take comfort in that fact. Not knowing doesn’t mean ignorance or misunderstanding, either. For instance, both Armisen and Schwartzman are fascinated by the complexities of sign language, though neither is an expert. Armisen recounts his visit to an Icelandic comedy club, where he could track the cadence of jokes without understanding the language. 

Schwartzman speaks on the value of books for dummies as well – the benefit of explaining concepts in a simple, understandable way. There are endless books for dummies, apparently. Armisen agrees that this resource is valuable. Admitting that you don’t know something is rather essential, especially in a complex, constantly-shifting world, and it’s fine to seek out that knowledge in an easy-to-grasp way.


While ruminating on the intensity of playing football – stepping onto a field with several dozen massive men who could easily bulldoze you – Schwartzman and Armisen also discuss the importance of vulnerability. Like these athletes, we come up against frightening situations that could go either way – you win or you get destroyed. And like them, we have to go forth anyway.

It might seem insane to walk right toward impending disaster. That’s where belief comes in. Superstition – roads constructed around troll-mountains, villages that protect their fairy doors – gives the human race much of its charm and purpose. Schwartzman finds excitement in talking to his daughter and her friends about their belief in magic. “There’s no way to weaponize” this kind of faith, says Armisen. “There’s no bad purpose to believing in [fairies].”


But beliefs and purposes change. In a conversation centered on things that they don’t know or want to learn, Schwartzman and Armisen come back to a common theme. At one point, they bring up Daniel Day Lewis, who has retired from acting and set about cobbling. After mastering one craft, he goes on to another. 

Most of us aren’t Daniel Day Lewis, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share his principles. It’s a vital reminder to people who are new to filmmaking as well: it’s a craft like any other, and it takes time to master, but that is what time is for. Their last words speak to this, encouraging listeners to keep going – you never know when you’ll stumble upon success.

Their conversation ends on a rather heartbreaking anecdote about a doctor who recognized symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in a stranger. While many others might have stayed distant, the doctor let the stranger know, which allowed him to get properly diagnosed. It’s a testament to the importance of knowledge, and sharing it with others. Isn’t that what writers are born to do?

Listen to the sixth A24 podcast below:

Do these discussions help you in your own process? Keep up with A24’s podcast, and The Script Lab, for more advice!

BEN LARNED is an independent genre writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He has written for outlets such as Blumhouse, Bloody Disgusting, WeScreenplay and ScreenCraft. His column Forbidden Tomes is published twice a month on Daily Dead. His short stories have been published in The Book of Blasphemous WordsDanse Macabre, and WitchWorks.

Photo credit: A24.

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