Last week I had the opportunity to attend a TimesTalks conversation with Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Kim Barker to discuss their new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Tina and Robert have been writing and producing together for nearly 20 years, and have collaborated on some of our favorite shows, including: SNL, 30 Rock, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kim Barker is the author of the book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which the film is based on. She was a War Correspondent with the Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009, and is currently an investigative reporter for The New York Times.
How the Project Came to Be
Tina’s agent raved about the book and recommended it to Tina and Robert. They found Kim’s writing and self-deprecating sense of humor to be very similar to Tina’s and thought a war comedy would be a different and challenging project to develop.
Adapting the Book For the Big Screen
When it came time to adapting the book, Kim had no qualms about how it would turn out. She had complete trust in Tina and Robert. Please, she’s been through a lot worse! Since the film was not going to be a bio pic, there was no pressure for the cast to get their characters’ likeness and mannerisms down. What was most important was to create Kim’s journey to reflect the insanity, hilarity, and chaos that goes into being a conflict war correspondent in under two hours time. This meant that time had to be compressed, characters combined, and other scenarios added in order to make the best film possible.
You Don’t See Too Many War Comedies These Days
People get very nervous with war comedies. No one involved with the film wanted to disrespect the military, so to get around this they made Kim’s character, a civilian journalist, be the butt of the jokes. Even when writing the screenplay and later in editing, it proved to be very challenging to strike a delicate balance between being funny while trying to capture the danger that our military and journalists face during war time.
Portraying Strong and Complicated Women On Screen
Tina loved that Kim is a strong, intelligent, funny, and flawed character. In a lot of romantic comedies, the female lead typically has a desk job at a magazine, and in this film Kim trades in her desk job to go to Afghanistan and report on what’s really going on in war-torn countries. She makes mistakes along the way, but she’s going after what she wants and fights for what she believes in. When Tina reads scripts, one of her main criteria is looking for female characters that she wants to see on screen. She wants to see women being portrayed as fully developed characters.
Why This Film Means So Much To Tina
The film is dedicated to Tina’s father, Donald, who passed away last October. He served in the Army during the Korean War as a code-breaker. Following the war, he got his degree from Temple University and was a lifelong writer and painter. Tina and her family have set up a scholarship in his name at Temple for veterans who are interested in studying journalism. If you are interested in donating, please click here to go to their website.
Get Kim Barker’s book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan and make sure you check out Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in theaters now!