What fun to see Feud. What fun to see the credits and the name, Michael Zam. My stepdaughter, age 28, a huge Feud fan, got excited when I told her I know Michael, the co-creator, producer, and writer of the 8-part series about the Bette Davis/ Joan Crawford rivalry. Years ago, when he was the NYU SPS writing program director and my boss, we discussed writing, teaching, movies, plays, books, and more.
Over lunch recently, he told me about the making of Feud. It took more than 10 years from the time his friend, Jaffe Cohen suggested they work together.
“I love collaborating,” Michael said, mentioning George S. Kaufman as one of his writing heroes.
Michael and Jaffe agreed that the actresses’ ‘total rivalry’ was great material. He and Jaffe did research, came up with stories and how to tell them. Michael knows movies. Has always known and loved movies. Watching old ones, as part of the research, was a blast. When he and Jaffe weren’t together, they’d Skype.
Feud originated as a script. They turned it into a series which Ryan Murphy pitched to FX. Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon were interested from the start, the latter admitting she was “kinda scared” to play Bette Davis.
Michael feels passionate about whatever he is working on. Of course, he got under the skin of both Davis and Crawford. “You have to be. You have to feel what your characters are feeling.” We talked about how things haven’t much changed in Hollywood, how hard it still is for women over 40. We discussed Judy Davis' wonderful performance as Hedda Hopper. And all those hats!
Michael is the first writer in his family. When he begins a project, he has a word in mind—one word—that captures what the story is about. For Feud, it was competition. He still teaches, still tells his students not to just write what they know, but also to write what they love.
Our conversation turned to favorite authors. Like me, Michael is a huge Philip Roth fan. We got into favorite movies. His? Jules and Jim.
Talking to Michael was a treat in his NYU office years ago and a treat now.
What are your favorite movies? Then? Now? Let's start a dialogue in the comment section below.