Last week there was another Fringe conference call, this time with executive producers Jeff Pinker and J.H. Wyman. It took place before last week’s musical episode, and gives us a bit of a glimpse of what might be coming up (no real spoilers though).
I’ve split it again into two parts: one today, one tomorrow. Hearing these guys though makes me realize I should really pay much more attention to the details in the episodes; so many easter eggs!
Q: So, I want to talk about the musical episode. Obviously, Fringe takes place in a very heightened world where there’s monsters and great science and things like that but a musical is even a step beyond that. Can you talk about balancing the two and how you make it work in the episodes?
Jeff: We knew we wanted to tell an episode – the last episode that aired, Peter learned that he was not from our universe; he learned pretty much the truth about his own identity and origin and confronted Walter about it and turned his back on Walter. So we knew we wanted to tell an episode that really explored; we have this phenomenal actor in John Noble and this great character and we wanted to explore how that affects Walter before we sort of plunge forward into the end of the season.
We came up with a narrative device to really explore Walter’s feelings. We had largely all the elements of the episode in place and Fox called and said, “Hey, how would you guys feel about if we asked you to have some musical element in the show? Anything, like just feature a song playing.” They didn’t ask us to do Glee. And we instantly, before we got off the phone, said, “Well, this is what we’re thinking for the episode and here’s an idea how that could work for us.” We turned their request into what felt like a positive for us and really deepened and sort of blew the episode out even further in the direction we were already taking it.
It’s all an opportunity. Something we find that we do a lot in the show is we hold mirrors up to reality by telling these fantastical stories, which in one way or another are metaphorical for what’s going on in either our world or our characters’ lives. This episode provides an opportunity to just sort of hold a mirror up to Walter’s perspective of the world and the individuals Olivia, Peter, and Aster, that he interacts with, and sort of we get his fractured take on the world and certainly his condition now that Peter has left him.
The music really sort of supports the storytelling, and it takes us out of it in a fun way, but the whole thing is sort of a fantastical episode anyway. And I think it was important to us that if we felt in any way we were damaging the story, we would’ve just said, “Thank you very much but it’s not going to work for us.”
Q: As a followup, now that you’ve done a musical episode, how are you going to top it next season? Are you going to have a Saturday morning cartoon animated episode or anything like that?
Jeff: You may be closer to the truth than you realize.
Jeff: Remember that question. Deep in next season, remember what you just asked us.
Q: Fringe is almost becoming notorious now for all these secret little hidden Easter eggs within it. I was checking out websites today that were breaking down the signal from the other side that came last week, and I think even to see what the license plates were on the cars. Is that something that everyone takes a part in or is that part of the writing – putting all those little things in? When do they come into play?
Jeff: Some of them are in the writing. Some of them are specifically scripted. There’s probably in every episode the Observer up here is somewhere, and that we won’t script because that’s one of those things that we want people to have to find. But during the production process, we will figure out where is best suited for this story and then production.
What’s really nice about the series now is all of our departments are so invested in making a complete in-world building and making a really rich textured program, from set dressing to props to visual effects – everyone participates in ‘hey, what about this, what about that, here’s an opportunity to do an Easter egg here’. I don’t know.
There was an episode a couple of weeks ago that was sort of like inspired by the game Clue and in different scenes, all of the sort of signature murder weapons of the game Clue are just featured as props, background, in one scene or another. That’s something that the writer of the episode and the prop master came up with together. Every episode has sort of a clue somewhere… what the next episode will be about and that’s largely driven by visual effects.
Joel: So, in short, some of them are driven by the writers and a lot of them are driven by the rest of production all the way down to postproduction. Right before we get on the air, we’ve been known to change our visual effects up until the day we’re airing.
Q: I wanted to ask about the look of this week’s episode and sort of, I guess for lack of a better term, noirish kind of vibe. Were there specific things that you drew on or is it just sort of an overall kind of 40s vibe?
Jeff: Early in the season, we were graced with being on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and they chose to dress our characters. They had Olivia and Peter sort of as 40s detectives noir look. We knew we wanted to tell – just for cultural ease, we wanted to tell a sort of Princess Bride-type story where Walter was relaying a story. As soon as we saw that cover, we said, “Oh, it has to be a detective story,” because one of the themes of our show is it’s not quite a procedural but Olivia’s a detective and in some ways Peter is the person – the show already lends itself to that sort of vibe and so we wanted to leap in wholeheartedly.
We took care in the episode to not make it 100% 40s noir. There’re a lot of anachronistic things in it, which is sort of the ascetic of the show anyway. But, it was really fun. The actors get to play different versions of their characters, which was really fun for them, and it just sort of presented different version of the show, which stands on its own.
Joel: And noir’s traditionally are morality tales and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We felt that that was a great way to get across Walter’s mind frame and where his head is at right now with his son missing. There’s a very good reason from the point of view that you’re seeing – Walter’s relating this story – there’s a very good reason why it’s noir. That’s because of his own history and things like that, which you’ll see next week, but that whole … really meets Willy Wonka-esque kind of – just really, it gave us a lot of bandwidth to play it. But, the morality was a big part of it because, to us, I think noirs work best when they’re morality tales.
Q: And when you have the characters in this sort of even more alternate reality than what the show usually has, do you have to pay extra attention to sort of where they’re going with the story and it being true to who they are or can you kind of go off the beaten path?
Jeff: They’re all representations from Walter’ perspective. I mean, it’s really cool. When we start talking about the episode, we kind of at first thought it would be like an overture. At this point, to get people in a really fun way to understand what the emotional points of view are of each character and what a great way to do it is through telling a story. Our Walter letting everybody know where his mind’s at. That’s great. So, you get to see who the characters are of course, but they’re enhanced a little bit in his mind.
So, they’re not altogether different. I think that they all have the same – Olivia’s inherently good and Peter is sort of something else in this episode, but he’s something else in the real show. So, we had a chance to examine different facets of their personalities and characters but all within the realm of who they are.
Joel: All of our episodes, or our best episodes I think, are sort of metaphors or conditions in the world, which is the best of Sci-Fi. This episode is sort of a metaphor for a metaphor. A lot of the storytelling is shorthand or themes that have arisen since the beginning of the show. And we sort of, as Joel was saying overture – if this was the only episode you ever saw, you would understand emotionally where all the characters are enough to enjoy the last four episodes of the season.