Screenwriter Dan Erickson’s journey from Olympia to Hollywood has been an arduous one. Rather than allowing his struggles to stifle his creative pursuits, the Western Washington University graduate used them as inspiration.

“I had a series of office jobs when I first moved to Los Angeles,” Erickson said. “At one of them, I found myself wishing that I could jump ahead to the end of the day. I wanted to disassociate for the next eight hours. I thought, ‘That’s a messed up thing to wish for. We should want more time, not less.’”

Erickson recognized that a lot of people do turn their brains off when they’re at work, though.

This propelled him to ponder a lot of other questions, the result of which was the story of “Severance,” out Feb. 18 via Apple TV+. Set at the seemingly mundane Lumon Industries, the thriller revolves around Mark (Adam Scott) and his team of employees, whose work lives have been surgically separated from their personal ones. This means that as soon as they begin their shifts, they have no memory of their existence outside of the office, and vice versa.

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It was actually during his time at WWU that Erickson really began to write.

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While he was studying English, he began to “mess around with the theater department,” writing 10-minute plays and honing his craft inside the college’s “great creative incubator,” which allowed him to find his artistic voice. After Western, Erickson went to graduate school at New York University, where he got his master’s degree in dramatic writings with an emphasis in TV.

It wasn’t until 2016 that “Severance” started to draw attention for Erickson, when it appeared on BloodList’s annual collection of the best unproduced genre screenplays. Finally, in 2019, it was announced that Ben Stiller would be executive producing and directing “Severance” for Apple TV+, with Scott, Britt Lower, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Yul Vazquez and Patricia Arquette starring.

Stiller was incredibly enthusiastic about the script, and Erickson says he was also very protective of how “Severance” explored the “idea of disassociation,” and how people “intentionally hide certain parts of” themselves.

More than that, Erickson believes that Stiller latched onto the “initial sadness of the idea” and that “one man would willingly cut his life in half,” something that he found “simultaneously really funny and deeply sad.”

When it came time to work with Stiller, Erickson was in awe of his “amazing, crazy imagination,” and how Stiller’s constant stream of ideas immediately enhanced what he’d written. “I was such a fan of his work as a director. He’s so great at that really specific kind of very human dark comedy,” said Erickson, who cites the work of Charlie Kaufman, especially “Being John Malkovich,” as well as Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” “The Truman Show,” “The Matrix,” “Office Space” and even Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” as other inspirations.

As a result, “Severance” has a very unique tone. While it starts off as a science-fiction show, it then shifts to the thriller, workplace and dark-comedy genres without ever missing a beat. “I knew I wanted it to be whimsical and wistful,” Erickson said. “Plus I knew there was also something inherently scary about it, too.”

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For Erickson, that’s what makes it “really weird, exciting and unpredictable.”

Erickson credits Stiller for making sure the show stayed “as grounded as possible,” as the director didn’t want to lose the “heart” or the “human side of the story.” He even recalls writing a number of thriller plot lines that began to push it “a little further away from that initial concept,” only for Stiller to “pull us back and remind us why we started it.”

Unfortunately, over the course of the show’s nine-episode first season, Erickson is the first to admit that “Severance” doesn’t quite manage to “solve the work/life balance” that people the world over battle with on a daily basis.

Instead, Erickson is hopeful that audiences will find comfort in seeing their toil reflected on-screen. “I want them to feel like we’re telling their story,” he said. “I just hope that people remember that they’re a lot more important as human beings than they are as cogs in a company. Because we’re all cooler, weirder and more interesting than the value we have to someone’s bottom line.”

You can find “Severance” on Apple TV+ as of Feb. 18, but Erickson teased that we’ll have to “wait and see” about a second season, before admitting that “it’s a big world and there is plenty of story to tell.”

“Severance”

Premieres on Apple TV+ Feb. 18.

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