“Shows That Ask a Profound Question” Melanie Marnich on ‘Apples Never Fall’ 


I didn’t grow up in a place where I was hanging out with screenwriters,” says Melanie Marnich. “I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. I was a voracious reader and I think that sparked something in me, but I didn’t know that that would be a career.” In college, Marnich was a journalism major with an emphasis in advertising. “I wound up doing and loving TV and radio commercials.” She loved the job, but felt limited writing in spurts of 30- or 60-seconds. 

Then I got the theater bug.” Feeling that she had some of the right instincts, but wanting a more formal degree, she went back to graduate school to learn the ins and outs of becoming a playwright. “That was the big leap, going from advertising to being a playwright. But again, after a few years, I felt like there was something more to do.

Following her gut instinct once more, she pursued a career in filmmaking. “Out of the blue, my theater agent sent a play of mine to an agent in LA, who, unbeknownst to me, sent the play to the Showrunner of Big Love.” She went on to write twelve episodes of the hit HBO series. 

In addition to Big Love, Marnich has credits on My America, The Big C, Low Winter Sun, The Affair, The OA, The Son, A Murder at the End of the World, and now Apples Never Fall. “I think it was an extremely necessary path and the right path for me. I like to say that advertising + theater = TV.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Melanie Marnich. Photo courtesy of Peacock

I think if I had gone into TV sooner, I don’t think I would have had the tools I needed as a writer to build a career out of it. I think I learned a lot every step of the way and those various versions of storytelling that created in me someone who understood TV and had a specific toolkit beneficial for TV.

The Entrepreneurial Writer 

Her career in advertising, among other things, linked together the creative thought process with the entrepreneurial one. “You’re very aware that you are writing to connect to an audience and you are very aware of budget, of client, and that something needs to perform a certain way.

When she went to the theater, she carried this sense of audience responsibility with her. “It’s one of the hats I wear. I don’t just want to write for the sake of writing. We write to connect with people. I always thought, when I was writing plays, not just why this matters to me but why it matters to others.

You have to follow this spark inside of you of what stories you choose to tell, but never forget that you are telling them to be received by somebody,” she continues. “In terms of the entrepreneurial hat, a producer needs an awareness of the bigger picture, be that budget, managerial, or [other aspects] that make you look at the work differently.

Internally, this leads to a variety of emotions. “When I’m in the flow of writing, I don’t doubt myself. I’ve got a cup of coffee, I’m deep in the script, and I’m going. But getting up that point, I can have anxiety about, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I going to nail this one?’ We always judge our beginnings by our last ending and that’s so unfair,” she exclaims.

It’s hard to let the beginning work be a hot mess and to always trust that you have the skills, the instincts, to take that initial dump of impulses, information, gestures and ideas, and use all of your skills to shape it into something special. But when you approach a new project, there’s a sense of amnesia. It’s the old adage to trust the process and admit there is a process.

“I think what good writing asks of us is to be vulnerable and not come from a place of ego, yet to push yourself to achieve something. It sounds counterintuitive, but you end up with a thick skin and a solid ego. When I start on anything, I have to remind myself that I know how to do this.”

How to Tackle Writer’s Block

Despite the eventual gravitational pull of the flow state, we all have difficulties facing the blank page. Marnich’s hack for these times is to “not start at the beginning.” She says, “My first script for The OA Season 1, I wrote it backwards. I loved it so much and I had an outline, but I didn’t know how to start it. There was something about jumping in that was daunting to me. I wrote from the end so I could sneak up on the beginning, and it worked.

Every one of my projects has embraced moral complexity and characters who were very complex morally. They’re not good. They’re not bad. They’re people with wounds, with damage, with dubious motives. I’ve always been drawn to figure out how to craft those characters in a way where the audience feels they’re relatable rather than weird.

Specifically, she wants the audience to think, “That person contains many contradictions, so do I.” Her characters, such as those in the new adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel, are complicated and intriguing to the audience. “I love shows that ask a profound question. I see all of my [past shows] differently, but all of these shows asked a question that I too was asking at that point in my life.

I like to invest myself in a job or project, and bring a lot of myself and my experiences, or whatever I’m going through, to the scripts, to the rooms, to the storytelling. With Big Love, I had just gotten married and I was fascinated by the topic of love. I wasn’t interested in examining traditional marriages, but how big love could be. With The Big C, I had just lost my dad to cancer. I always think, how do you mine growth out of loss? That was at the heart of that show. The OA, I was always convinced that what we see is not all there is. Your work should be about exploring the question that you as a person are fascinated in.

In addition to deep psychological questions, she always wants jobs that feel difficult to crack. “I love looking at a book like Apples Never Fall, realizing it’s a great book, but something that is so hard to adapt. I’m in. If I see it too clearly, I’m not that interested in it. I like having the story be a problem I have to solve. I love being challenged narratively.

Writing Apples Never Fall

On one hand, it’s amazing to have an incredible piece of IP and you think that’s going to make it easier. But it’s a lot of putting your shoulder to it and it’s a million Post-it notes and just dissecting everything and really looking at what makes it work as a book. Then, when you do the second read on it, what of this translates to TV?

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Joy (Annette Bening) Photo by Vince Valitutti/ Peacock

At this point, the problem is trying to turn internal monologues into a screenplay, or backstory from thirty years ago into character traits. “The stuff that is incredible, vivid action in a book are things you can’t do on TV. A lot of the things that really matter in a book aren’t external, so it’s about taking those things and turning them into externalized story.

In hindsight, she breaks down the plot first to describe what is actually happening. Then, she goes back to dissect what’s happening on an emotional level. “All of these emotions and thoughts the characters are having… how can they become plot? I don’t know how to do it efficiently. It’s a lot of reading, Post-it notes, and labor.”

The major complication with Apples Never Fall was determining the structure. “It has multiple points of view, multiple timelines. What Liane Moriarty did so well in her book, was toggle between characters, but that lays out differently in a book than a TV show. Then you have to figure out what structural construct will hold all of this.

What will let me and the writers’ room tease out the strongest stories and weave them together so it’s structurally interesting but also captures the spirit of the book. It’s a meticulous, long process. Maybe other people do it quicker, but there are no shortcuts.

While reading the book, Marnich saw Annette Bening as Joy Delaney. “I can’t believe we got her. She’s such an incredible creative partner. Everything came from that.” The series also stars Sam Neill, Jake Lacy, and Alison Brie.


A Mysterious Family Drama 

The plot reads, “The Delaney family seems happy but Joy disappears, forcing her husband and four adult children to reassess their family history.” To make the story work, the writers had to think of each individual timeline, along with the greater mystery. 

One thing I do, which I get tired of thinking about, I sit down with it and just type quick loglines for what I want. Joy does this. Stan does that. The cops show up.” This provides initial beats for the characters, the crime, and the story itself. 

It’s taking those things, looking at them separately, and asking if they hold water. If you weave things together too soon, you don’t see the weak spots. But when you see a clean storyline on its own, you see what works.”

So I do the beats separately, weave them together, and for this particular project, it wasn’t just a matter of toggling between the now and then, or character and crime, but how to weave it together, where those threads are twisting and complicating each other.

This all goes back to Marnich’s internal need to keep the story entertaining for the audience. “How do we keep the story alive and light on its feet? We were tireless around that. In the writers’ room, we might feel a moment is solid, but what is the “Apples” version of that? What makes it us? What makes it this show? Then, I think things only get better by compression. When you make it smaller, the whole thing has gas.

This interview has been condensed. Listen to the full audio version here.

[Melanie Marnich On ‘Low Winter Sun,’ ‘The Big C,’ ‘The OA,’ & ‘The Affair’]


Brock Swinson

Contributing Writer

Freelance writer and author Brock Swinson hosts the podcast and YouTube series, Creative Principles, which features audio interviews from screenwriters, actors, and directors. Swinson has curated the combined advice from 200+ interviews for his debut non-fiction book 'Ink by the Barrel' which provides advice for those seeking a career as a prolific writer.

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