The man behind the 'Glee'

Prospector Features Editor Beth Rowe sat down with 1996 graduate Ian Brennan, one of three co-writers and producers on the hit Fox musical comedy “Glee.”  While Beth’s feature story on Ian’s experiences are highlighted on the front page of this month’s print edition of The Prospector, here is the full transcript of her interview.

Ian Brennan
Ian Brennan

Prospector: How did you develop the idea for Glee?
Ian: Originally, I thought it’d be a good idea for a screenplay.  Then I was put in contact with Ryan Murphy [creator of NipTuck] and Brad Falchuk.  Ryan was [really into that stuff], he was in Glee Clubs in high school and college.  Basically, the three of us just sat down and re-envisioned it as a show.
P: What was your role in the process of making the show?  How often were you on set?
I: I’m on set almost every day.  In four to five months [of filming], I missed I think one day.  [Filming consists of] 14 hour days, and I’m there eight to ten hours. We didn’t hire a writing staff, so when I’m not on set, I’m writing. We (the three of us) write everything, so we had our work cut out for ourselves.  We write all of the episodes together, even though we’re credited separately by episode.
P: Are any characters or plot lines based on people/events from PHS or other specific parts of your life?
I: Not really, because it’s not just me writing.  It (the show) is a composite of a million people we all met.  There are a few incidents from my time at Prospect, but it’s really creating a new world around this Ohio show choir.  It’s very fictional.
P: What were you involved in at Prospect?
I: Mixed Company was not my main thing at all.  I was [more focused] on Speech Team and Fall Play.  Show choir was just something that it just seemed like I should be doing [in order to get a lead in the musical].  Speech Team was the place I learned to act; it was a huge influence on me.
P: Did any teachers have a particular impact on your life?
I: John Marquette was very influential in getting me involved.  There were five or six kids very into acting that he really took a shine to.  John Meyers, Jr. was one of the Speech Team coaches, and he really helped me hone my OC (Original Comedy) skills.  I went to state three times with my OC and DDA (dramatic duet acting).
P: I know you originally set out to be an actor.  What led to the switch to writer/producer?
I: I still consider myself an actor, [that was my major in college and everything].  I acted all throughout Chicago, [and I was able to save up some money].  Then, I went out to New York for five years [and was able to find work in] Off-Broadway shows, TV, film, and commercials.  I had some time off—about a month—and I knew I had this idea for a screenplay. I finished it in four weeks, [and that screenplay ended up being the original script of Glee the movie].  I didn’t really plan it; I sort of came in backwards.  I sat down, and I just needed to write it.  Prospect is not just another high school in the suburbs.  I hope that comes across in the show, especially in the character of Spanish teacher Will, who I really feel reflects a lot of teachers [at Prospect].  I have a lot of respect for people who work a really thankless job for mediocre pay.  I couldn’t do it, so I’m glad there are people who can.  I can’t really control if people will watch, [you just have to] do the best writing you can, writing what you love.  Last night, I got an order for 9 more episodes, [and I’m glad it’s going so well].  It’s one of the most artistically fulfilling things I’ve done.
P: What do your family and friends think of the show?
I: They all like it…at least that’s what they tell me.  So far it’s been very well-received critically and by peers.  I think it’s because it’s very different—there has never been a show like this before…an hour-long musical comedy.
P: What is your favorite part of your job?
I: Every day there’s at least one time where I laugh really, really hard.
P: What was involved in the process of choosing music for the show?
I: It was Ryan Murphy—that’s kind of his thing.  Brad and I take backseat for that.  Sometimes we suggest songs or alternatives, but we rarely veto.  He has a really good ear for it.  Music has to line up with the story.  We think of it once we have a story line and theme.
P: Which character on the show do you most relate to?
I: I would have to say the Cheerleading coach; I write her character.  I really think I have a mean streak.  She allows me to let go and let loose my inner bully—she just doesn’t give a [damn].  It’s very freeing.  Jane Lynch is an absolute genius and dream to work with—and from the Chicago area, so she’s a local girl.
P: How does life before Glee compare to your life now?
I: It’s very similar.  I still drive a [crappy] car.  I don’t live extravagantly.  I’m busier now; the show takes priority, so I don’t get to visit family and friends as much as I’d like.  But I’m busy with something I love.  And it’s nice not to worry about not being able to pay for electricity and having it shut off; it’s nice to have that cushion.  Although, ironically, it is now because I went to Spain and forgot to pay my bills.  I am right now sitting in my New York apartment in the dark…I’m staying at a friend’s tonight.
P: How do you think going to school at PHS prepared you for life?
I: [I don’t know…] it’s a really good school.  That area is very fortunate.
P: It’s the greatest place to raise a family in the U.S.
I: I heard about that!  I sort of wanted to write in and…dispute it.  My frustration with Prospect is lack of diversity.  If there was one thing I could have changed about my high school, [that would be it].  But I worked really hard there, [whether it’s due to Prospect or not], I think I have a good work ethic now.
P: D you have anything you want to say to the students of PHS?  Any shout-outs?
I: Enjoy it.  I busted my hump, but it’s a good time in your life.  In retrospect it was a really special time.  My closest friends today are still friends from Prospect.
P: We touched on this a bit before in the process of writing the show, but what was it like getting the show picked up?
I: It was pretty fast and painless.  I was working with very established producers, so my inexperience was not a deficit.  Fox was looking for this kind of show [from Ryan] already.  The process took about four months, which is very short.  Three months later, the show got picked up.  The whole process for me was very surreal.  Even getting the call for more episodes.  There’s like three minutes of celebration, then six months of ‘Oh, [crap].’  It’s weird.  You’re hoping, hoping, hoping, and if finally happens.  I find it strangely disorienting.
P: How does Glee the movie compare to the show?
I:  It could not be more different.  The movie was much darker, [but at the same time] I love what the three of us have made [of it].  It’s exciting to see it has broad appeal.  It’s not a kid’s show, and you’d be shocked at the people who like it.  Old Prospect people send me facebook requests saying ‘I love the show’, and I look and see that they’re working in construction.  It’s not for girls or dudes, and hopefully it will run for many years.  Hopefully I’ll be doing this for a long time.
P: Any fun stories from the set?
I:  Hundreds.  Early on I was the guinea pig for slushies in the face, which, [if you’ve seen the show], happen a lot.  While filming the pilot, we were behind on time and we needed the shot of her [Lea Michele] with a slushie in the face.  There was only time for one take because if you didn’t get the shot right, the actor would have to take a shower to get all of the [slushie] out of their hair, and go through hair and make-up again.  So I volunteered to let Mark Sailling, who plays Puck, to practice on me.  I figured it was just a slushie, not so bad.  It [expletive deleted] hurt.  When we did it, it was great and it was done in a take.  Then I kind of became the slushie guy.  I kept having to do it again, and [it became] more and more ornate: one, two, a team of slushies.  Finally I asked like, ‘Can’t we just get a dummy?’  They were like, ‘Yea, we could’ve gotten one before.  We just thought you like it.’  So now we have one, and I will never get hit in the face by a slushie again.
P: Some people have said the show is sort of racy, or controversial…any coments?
I: I don’t think any high school kid watching the show would think it’s controversial.  In fact, a high schooler would laugh at adults who think it is.  I don’t want to insult people’s intelligence by dumbing it down.  We don’t plan to corrupt America’s youth.  We want to stay true.  If it wasn’t real, it would seem stupid.  They have no problem with their kids watching SVU, which deals exclusively with rape victims, but kids doing a sexy dance, it’s like ‘Whoa!’
P: Thank you very much.  Everyone on Prospector really likes the show.
I: Thank you!  I really think the next episode is one of our best; it’s so funny.  I’m really excited for Wednesday.