December 03, 2020

Alum Enzo Mileti on Fargo Season 4, Homework, and Failure

Glynn Turman, Chris Rock, and Enzo Mileti on the Fargo Season 4 set. Glynn Turman, Chris Rock, and Enzo Mileti on the Fargo Season 4 set.

The first step in the writers’ room for Fargo season 4 was homework, something University of Utah alum Enzo Mileti is familiar with. “Before we got to the room, [Show-runner Noah Hawley] sent all of the writers about 300+ pages of various documents, essays, and research,” Mileti shared. “We became very steeped in the history of Kansas City in the 1950s, of the Italian mafia, of Jim Crow laws… a lot of the best ideas in the room were borne from that research.” This season of FX’s Fargo anthology series, on which Mileti was a writer and co-executive producer, is set in 1950s Kansas City, and focuses on rivals in organized crime: the Italian mafia and the rising Black crime syndicate. This follows a larger pattern in Mileti’s work, much of which has been research oriented— from writing about the 1987 market crash in Black Monday to researching the Iran-Contra affair for an untitled Oliver North series sold to Amazon in 2017. Throughout his work and journey into the industry, one thing is clear: for Mileti, homework didn’t end upon graduation.

Starting in Park City where he grew up, Enzo Mileti’s path to Fargo is one with many twists and turns. In fact, he wasn’t initially planning on going into film at all: “I thought I was going to be a soccer player.” Mileti was prepped to play soccer for University of Connecticut, until disaster struck: right before he left for Connecticut, he severely injured his foot. “I couldn’t play soccer,” he said. “I felt a little aimless, and I wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something.” As he tried to figure out what to do next, Mileti fell back on his love of film and writing. The following summer, he took some film classes at the U, and though he was accepted into other film schools, it was the U where he decided to stay. 

Enzo Mileting talking with Jason Schwartzman on setEnzo Mileting talking with Jason Schwartzman on the Fargo Season 4 set

Looking back, Mileti values how much hands-on experience he got while at the University of Utah. “The [classes] where we were sent out to make our own shorts were great and really, really beneficial,” he said. In particular, he remembers his 16mm cinematography class. “I remember we were shooting everything on 16mm, and we edited on the flatbed… we even had to cut our negatives!” And he credits the screenwriting courses he took with Paul Larsen—“he’s such a kind, generous teacher”— as integral to his screenwriting journey. 

It was this experience actually making films and writing that kept him at the U, but Mileti fondly remembers many film studies courses as well, such as a survey course on Alfred Hitchcock taught by Professor Bill Siska. “I just remember watching all the Hitchcock movies, studying Hitchcock, and writing about it.” Mileti appreciated the time to watch great films— as well as the chance to see films he wouldn’t see elsewhere. He still thinks about the films he saw in the Experimental Film History course he took from Professor Brian Patrick. “That’s where I saw Chris Marker’s La Jetée for the first time,” Mileti said. “I remember being blown away by that, and how powerful film could be.” 

Mileti would turn back to the film studies mindset after graduation, when he found himself waiting tables in Los Angeles as he tried to get his career off the ground. He won’t deny it was a hard period— and with few industry connections and no direct path, it was a long period as well. “It’s scary and it’s hard and it’s difficult,” he said. But as hard as that time was, Mileti now views that experience as invaluable. “That’s where I got good at writing,” he said. “It starts in college, but you just have to keep doing it.” As Mileti honed his craft, he found his voice and dialed into the kinds of stories that he wanted to tell. 

Aside from giving him time to work on his craft, waiting tables also provided Mileti with something else: connections. It was there that Mileti met his eventual writing partner, Scott Wilson. “On our first shift together I threw out a line from Raising Arizona, and he threw a line back at me,” Mileti remembers. Their friendship was founded on their shared tastes in movies, especially their love of Coen brothers films, and the partnership felt natural. “The way Scott and I write is really by talking,” Mileti said. “He’s an actor and I have an acting background, so we’ll act stuff out and bounce ideas back and forth. A lot of bad ideas will eventually turn into good ideas after they ping-pong.” Together, they wrote a feature that got them representation and a foothold in the industry. 

Enzo Mileti on set at Union StationEnzo Mileti on set at Union StationOf course, the work didn’t end there. But after writing some feature-length scrips, Mileti and Wilson started to feel they were no longer writing the kinds of stories they’d like to see. So Mileti returned to the basics— the homework that he had come to depend on. “Film studies never ends for me,” he said. “I still study film. I still rewatch a lot of the same movies. I’ll watch movies with the sound off to really focus on what the camera’s doing, I’ll just listen to film scores, I’ll still watch a lot of video essays.” Returning to the films they’d studied and loved, Mileti and Wilson decided to write a pilot on Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair, “in the vein of Dr. Strangelove or Paddy Chayefsky’s Network.” Their unique voice on this project ended up getting major attention, and Mileti can draw a direct line between that pilot and getting staffed on Fargo, something that wouldn’t have happened without his film studies perspective. “I think some of the biggest strides I’ve had in my career have been the direct result of just continuing that film education.”

Mileti describes the writer’s room for Fargo season 4 as the best he’s ever been in— and he’s been staffed in “some really great rooms.” But right away, this was a special opportunity. Not only had he and Scott Willson become friends because of the Coen brothers, they would now get to write a series based on a Coen classic, with Noah Hawley, a showrunner with whom they already had a great rapport.

Based on Noah Hawley’s concept and opening episode, there was a lot to cover in this season of Fargo, from mob bosses to serial-killer nurses to the whip-smart teenage girl around whom the series revolves. Mileti says the most difficult aspect of the season was finding the right tone— neither too comedic or too earnest, with that idiosyncratic Coen lens-- “Which was difficult, particularly in this season when you’re writing a story that has such serious themes,” Mileti said. “[There’s] real weight and gravity when you’re tackling racism and injustice.” Mileti found himself relying on homework once more, depending on the historical research the room had completed, and turning to the Coen brothers’ films to find the voice of the show.

“There were Coen rules,” Mileti said. And this was not just for writing, but also for production. As co-executive producers, he and Wilson found themselves in the role of “Coen Police,” making sure that the directors for each episode were following that distinct aesthetic. It was daunting, but Mileti had his film school education to lean back on, and a habit of life-long learning to propel himself forward. Mileti echoed advice he received from a colleague, that “every show we’re in, we’re just auditioning for future jobs.” This collaorative, generous outlook resulted in the critically acclaimed season. Enzo Mileti with actors Karen Aldridge and Kelsey AsbilleEnzo Mileti on location with actors Karen Aldridge and Kelsey Asbille

Mileti and Wilson are under an overall television deal with FX, and have a few projects in development. While we’ll certainly see more of Mileti’s writing and filmmaking soon, for the time being Mileti is patient, and continues to use his passion for film to ride out the ups and downs of the industry. It’s that patience that he urges students and recent alumni to find: “The time at the University is the time for you to fail. And the time after that is also the time to fail. All the best art is born from failure, is born from trying different things.” And, like he’s done many times throughout his career, Mileti once again emphasized lifelong learning. “Recognize that [failure] is the continuation of your journey and education,” he said. “Once you do get busy, you’ll miss all that time you had to just watch Kurosawa movies and just think and dream.” 


written by Merritt Mecham

Last modified on December 03, 2020