Two weeks back I got invited to the THQ Game Preview Event in Dublin. It was an interesting two days, getting to meet tons of games bloggers and journalists, and getting some cool previews of some upcoming games. I got to play 2 hours of Darksiders 2, after which I sat down with its lead designer Haydn Dalton. Although I’ve participated in roundtable interviews and press conferences before, this was my first ever one-on-one interview! I was pretty nervous and my questions aren’t as brilliantly formulated as I had hoped, but it was a great first interview.

What’s your role on the game?

I’m the lead designer on the project. So I obviously help come up with the initial ideas and the structure of the game, and then I oversee the execution of the game. Like how the combat plays out, how the encounters work and how the levels are designed. I get to be involved in a lot of different disciplines on the project; the programmers, the animators, whoever it might be. It’s more overseeing things and making sure things are built to a certain level of quality.

So how does the process most of the time work? With what would you start? What do you focus on first?

We firstly try to figure out what type of game it is and what type of things we’d like to see. Obviously we try to see what other games in that genre are doing; you need to know your competition and understand what’s working and what’s not working. And then you try and think of “well, how could we be different in that genre? What can we add to that genre?” And you think of all your cool ideas and you come up with a basic plan of how to execute that idea. That’s when you start to think: to do this we need these tools, and we need these people to do it. Usually it’s coming up with a groundwork plan and you build upon that plan and execute that.

You usually find out that whatever you write down as an idea, sometimes you find out when you’re doing it in practice and you see, that actually it doesn’t quite work. So sometimes you have to either change the idea or you just have to scrap it entirely. We scrapped a lot of things for Darksiders 2, cause it didn’t quite fit. There was potential there, but we didn’t have time to fix it all.

Seeing as this is built on Darksiders 1, how much of those ideas did you already have with the first one?

The cool thing we took from Darksiders 1 is a certain level design philosophy that we have there, and we do puzzle design as well. So those two things were the things that were core: we had to have that. We also brought over the pretty frantic combat from the first one. And then we really wanted to look at the things that didn’t make it into the first game. We originally wanted more NPCs in the game for instance, and more items. Kind of like the loot system we now built.

The first thing was: let’s get the things we really loved from the first one into this one first, and then let’s layer it with cool new ideas on top of that. So yeah, the loot was a big thing, that took a long time to get the balance right on that. And then all the side quests that we did; we didn’t have any side quests in the previous one. It was all about giving the player a lot more choice.

The main characters of the two games have some similarities, but how was it designing a completely new character?

The core set of abilities are similar, but there were certain things we wanted to do: we wanted to bring out more agility in Death. We had seen some original sketches that Joe did for Death; during the first project he had done first concepts for all of the four Horsemen. And Death was a lot more athletic and thin and gangly build, whereas War is more broad and stocky. So we thought what would fit a character like Death and it seemed like he was a lot more agile, a lot more nimble. In combat he doesn’t really stand and block, he kind of flips around, he’s a slippery character. That also fed into his traversal sets; he can scamper up walls, scamper across walls, swing on the bars, he’s a lot more about shaping around the environment, being very fluid. It’s the same thing in combat; rather than blocking, he’ll switch out and attack the person from the side. it was really what did we want to do from an actual gameplay point of view and what sort of character did we want to provide the story and bring those two together.

What about the third and the fourth Horsemen? We briefly see their silhouettes at the start of this game… do they show up during Darksiders 2?

[laughs] You’ll have to play the game to find out. The other two are basically Strife and Fury. Fury is the female Horseman; she’s the one with the whip. Then you have Strife who uses pistols. They definitely have their own character; and we have ideas as to how they’d be like if you ever got to play them. But we can’t really tell right now if they turn up in the game or not.

I love the look of Fury, even only her silhouette looks awesome. I want to see more of her!

Yeah, Fury’s pretty bad-ass. I like the whip that she’s got; it segments and extends out. I can imagine that being a very cool thing to use in the game. You could use it to latch on to things…

That sounds a bit like Ivy’s [from Soul Calibur].

Yeah, she’s got a sword that segments too. Ours is kind of like an energy whip with metal bits.

We saw some of the Realms in the demo; how many different ones are we going to see?

Well, you start within that snowy Realm. Then you’ve got the Maker’s Realm, which was the kind of lush one. That’s one of our biggest Realms. Then the third one is another big one, that’s the Kingdom of the Dead; that’s pretty much the same size as the Maker’s world, but it’s all based in the underworld. And then we got an area for Angels, and also an area for Demons. They’re not as big as the Maker’s world and the undead world, but they’re pretty big areas.

When I was playing the demo I came across some areas that I couldn’t figure out and access yet. Are they just difficult puzzles or are there some abilities that you only gain later on  that allow you to access those?

It could be a bit of both. We do have some places that are vey clear challenges or barriers. The way we design the levels usually we have a hub area and spokes, like corridors and sets, that come off it. Now when you keep passing through this central area you become familiar with things within that area. For instance, something that’s considered a gating mechanism might be in that central area; so when you pass by it several times and when you see whatever it might be, like the yellow glowey balls on the walls: you’ve seen it, but you’e not quite sure what it is. Then as you pass through it a few times, you might get the ability down here to clear those things and you always remember: “oh, I passed that thing like two, three times in that area.” So you go back to that area and that usually progresses the story on in a much more advanced way. That’s how we design things for small areas that you at least pass once or twice; it keeps it in the player’s psyche when he’s playing the game. So there are visual gates where you can’t get passed.

Then some of the bits are just about trying to read the room: look at where the traversal points are, see if it’s a traversal problem. Or do I need to use an item that I’ve already used before, but now I have to use it in a unique way in this instance. It’s forcing me to make that logical jump; sometimes that’s a little bit hard for players; normally games don’t puzzle the player logically. They’ll do it physically, like: I’ve got to beat this guy down, that’s very clear. But then when you already know how to push a switch in a wall for instance and when you get to part where there’s a switch you can’t get to. You start thinking “well, how am I going to do it” . You realize you’ve got a bomb and think oh I wonder if I can throw that against the switch, will that be pushed in cause of the explosion? And that’s what it is: the player is making that logical step to do the next bit on their own. We try not to do too much hand-holding with that. It’s very fulfilling from a player point of view; you’re sat they’re thinking “what the hell am I supposed to do” and then when you do it, it’s like a little mini moment for yourself, it’s satisfying and you feel all good about yourself. That’s what’s different about Darksiders from an actual action genre type of view; we have a lot of those things in the game, where we just expect a lot more of mental challenges from the player.

What type of levels of achievements/trophies can we expect?

Usually people talk about the 60/20/20 split: 60% is for the core game, then there’s like 20% for skilled players, which are skilled based achievements, and then there’s 20% which is for the ADD I-need-to-collect-everything type of guy. Ours is more like 70% for the main play through, and then we probably got 20% for the skilled player and then 10% for the guys who really want to collect everything and find every single item. If you just play the game start to end, you’ll get a big chunk of achievements just for playing the game. We know that not many people finish games now, so it’s like at least you’re rewarded and giving them a little push to keep playing on.

I think it’s a little deceiving; at the start you just think “oh, it’s just a simple action game”. And then you start seeing the loot, and you start to realize how deep that system is. And you’re like “hang on, I have to start managing all this stuff”. Then you really got to start thinking “what’s my thing, what am I trying to focus on”; do I focus on skills, do I focus on magic? And then you start looking at the skill tree ; and then you go “well, okay, my thing is strength, I’ll start looking at Harbinger stuff, which is based on melee combat”. And maybe my skills and weapons should feed into that as well. So it’s all about these little choices; the player can choose to invest as much or as little time he wants in it. We definitely think if you invest time in it, the character will definitely be more tailored to the way you play.

A couple of days ago I posted an awesome short called Spoiler (watch it here if you haven’t seen it yet). The director and writer of it, Daniel Thron, kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about it!

Can you tell me a bit about your background – how did you get interested in filmmaking?

I’ve been a film nerd since I was a kid.  Stuff like Star Wars obviously blew my mind, but I also used to stay up late to watch The Movie Loft on TV38, where they used to put on movies like Serpico, The French Connection, Sorcerer, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, etc – all uncut.  Really set a groove in my head as to what movies should feel like.

I didn’t pursue film immediately though, even though I always talked about it. Instead, I started doing freelance illustration, and sort of stumbled into videogames as a texture artist.  It was a while before I really got my act together. But I ended up doing more and more concept work, and was soon storyboarding sequences for in-game movies. Finally I ended up directing them – I did the cinematics for the Eidos’ ‘Thief’ series and some others. And that gave me enough of a reel to get into the VFX industry, where now I’m primarily a matte painter and concept artist for Digital Domain.

It was here that I met Karl Denham (Spoiler’s producer and cinematographer), and we’ve worked on a ton of projects together, including the feature film he directed, ‘The Waver,’ which is in post now. He also shot Ben Hansford’s hilarious ‘Tron: Reboot’ web series that I star in, in some sadly tight spandex.

Where did the idea for Spoiler come from?

Spoiler came to me when my wife and I were house-sitting for Karl while he and family were vacationing. At the time they lived in a large apartment – a great place, but the complex itself had a really strange sort of fortress-like flavor, and it had some problem with its alarm system – night after night the whole place would start ringing for no reason. I had some really bizarre dreams out of this, one of which turned into the basis for the script.

Karl and I are both big zombie movie fans, but that genre is definitely stuck in a rut. There have been some amazing breakout novels that take a different tack – World War Z, which is fantastic, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth – but movies all seem to break down into repeats of 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead — so it seemed like a real opportunity. We wanted to make something that could essentially be an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, only a little zombified. Our favorite films work like this, Blade Runner could be a Dashiel Hammet story easy. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love story that happens to be sci-fi.

Can you tell us a bit about what went into creating Spoiler?

The production of the film itself was strung out over a number of weekends; we had a very, very small crew and almost no money (the budget was around 4 thousand bucks); everyone was working for free, donating time we could never afford in a million years. Luckily, working in VFX, we got a lot of great folks on board — Dan Platt, who did the makeup for our zombie, worked with Karl on Tron: Legacy, and did a lot of the practical effects for Exorcist III (the unsung great Exorcist movie!), and the my friend David Bryant, who played the trapped husband, has also been doing VFX for years. Much of the settings were utterly stolen, guerrilla style stuff — including a lot of the apartment exteriors. It was pretty amazing that we had guys running around in HAZMAT gear, and no one gave us a hassle, but there it is. The actors are all friends of ours, as well — I’ve known Michael Faradie and Luke Albright for many years, and have been dying for a chance to work with them.

The technical stuff: We shot almost everything on Cannon 7ds, though some of the interiors were shot with Panasonic HVXs with lens adapters. The 7ds are amazing because they are so portable and light-sensitive that you can pretty much shoot anywhere with a skeleton crew. We lit some of the scenes with ipads — no kidding. Chris Stack, our godsend of an editor, cut on Final Cut Pro, and the color work was done by Karl in After Effects.  But all of this is for nothing without great sound design, and I owe Robert Flynn a case of whiskey for saving our bacon.

Will you return to the world of Spoiler?

We are so excited by folks response, it’s hard to describe, but yeah Karl and I are looking at both a feature and TV development, and have had a lot of serious interest in both. We’re really proud of the world we built out for this thing, and this short only shows a fraction of it, so we’re anxious to expand. We’ve talked about the possibility of a Kickstarter campaign as well, so hopefully we’ll be sending you some good news shortly! But in either case we are so psyched that you dug the picture, and can’t wait to start shooting some more stuff.

Q: Which side of this movie appealed to you more: the cowboy side or the alien side?

OW: I would say the western, because it’s something I never thought I’d have the chance to be a part of, because I felt maybe the genre has died for the most part. I certainly didn’t think there’d be a female role in a western that was this interesting, this tough that I would have the chance to do. So I would say the western is what got me.

Q: Could you give us some more detail about the craziness of doing the stunt when the aliens lasso you? How did you persuaded mr Favreau to let you do it and exactly what was involved?

OW: That stunt was supposed to be done by my great stunt double and we started off with me on a mechanical horse, which was the horse that they used in Sea Biscuit, but it looked way too slow for our movie. So I ended up getting on the real horse and Jon let me do it. I didn’t convince him, our stunt coordinator convinced him. He said he was confidant that I could pull it off, which made me very proud. And I felt safe cause Daniel was riding next to me. I galloped through two 80 foot cranes, and then at one point a bungee cord attached to a harness from my waist yanked me back forty feet into the air.

The danger was that I would get stuck in the stirrups, so the trick was to not get my feet stuck and get ripped in half. And that was the challenge. And it was a lot of fun, it was amazing to be floating above the set and to have this unusual perspective and there was our crew looking like little ants and these incredible deserts and mountains and canyons around us and it just made me realize how ambitious it was to lug these giant machines and cameras out into the middle of nowhere to tell a story. It was just really beautiful.

Q: I’m told you are a Trekkie, and indeed that you have a deep desire to play Captain Kirk.

OW: Well, I grew up watching Star Trek with my family often and my sister was a Trekkie as well. There have been great female characters in Trek over the years and still are. But I think playing captain… well, there was Captain Janeway, she did it well, she’s got that voice that I could never compete with. But I would love to play more powerful women in science fiction. I think what Sigourney did for women in science fiction is just incredible and I think she sort of set the standard. And I love the genre and I would love to do more of it.

Roberto Orci: Do you mind if we paint you green?

OW: That’s fine. I’d do anything.

Q: In the western for every thousand saloon girls and school mums, there is a Belle Star or an Annie Oakley. Your character clearly is in the minority. And I wondered about the research first of all into the very few women who toted guns in the West, instead of doing the other stuff.

OW: I loved doing research for this role, because I got to learn about women of the old west, which was really fascinating. There’s a great museum in Los Angeles called the Autry which I spent a lot of time at and they had a very helpful exhibit at the time called Women Of The Old West which was nice. I loved reading about how tough these women would have to be, I mean everyone had to be tough in order to be these pioneers, to settle in these border towns was not easy. I don’t know how long I would have lasted. But I did have some ancestors who did just that, and it was really interesting for me to do this research.

In terms of looking at characters in films I didn’t specifically look for female characters, I looked probably at a lot of the same guys we all were. I thought that Ella had a great kind of Clint thing to her as well. I was so excited when I realized I was literally going to step out of the shadows in the saloon to approach Daniel. I was kind of like “oh cool, I get to be the woman in the shadow and come out” and it was just one of those moments where you really fell “ooh, this feels westerny right now”. So I think I inspired by all those guys. I mean when I grew up watching westerns I wanted to be Steve McQueen, I didn’t want to be the girl, so I had fun being inspired by them as well.

Q: How you established the fact that convinced you knew what you were doing with the handgun, the practice and all that sort of thing you had to go through?

Daniel told me how to shoot my gun. Which was cool, cause now I can say James Bond taught me how to shoot a gun. But it was cool, because the guns were really beautiful and I’m not a big gun person, I’m a pacifist, I don’t really love guns in general, but I loved these antique guns, they were so interesting. And not easy to shoot. We did have a gun expert teaching me how to spin the gun, but then I never got to spin the gun on camera. I think sometimes in the wide shots we’d all be spinning the guns, hoping that we could do it and Jon would say “Guys, not all of you can spin your gun. Stop doing it”. But I did learn how, and now I have that skill. But I did then learn how to shoot it and now I can do that. I have tremendous respect for all of our props, I thought they were very cool and just another thing that made the whole experience so fun.

And another month has almost gone by without me having blogged… I’m now in the final weeks of my thesis, only 3 more weeks until I hand my report in and 5 more weeks until my final thesis presentation. Scary. Suffice to say, I haven’t been really enjoying the summer that much (not that there’s much “summer” to enjoy), and have mainly been working and working and working. I have put some time aside though for interesting blog related events that might crop up, like last week’s one…

Last week I got to attend a press conference for Cowboys & Aliens, with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Jon Favreau and Roberto Orci all in attendance. So much of what was said during the press conference was interesting (well, it was at least interesting to me) and I’ve been trying to figure out how to blog about it all; should I just do one massive post, or one post with only the cool bits? Instead I’ve split it up into four parts: this first one features all the questions for Daniel Craig and his answers. I’ll try to post the rest later this afternoon. Enjoy!

Q: I wonder if I could regress you to the summer of 1977 and ask what your 9 year old self might have thought of sharing the screen with Mr Ford?

DC: The truth of it is I don’t really know when Bladerunner came out, but I went to the cinema and sat in the cinema on my own, because not many people went to the cinema where I went to. I had no idea what was playing and Bladerunner came on. I thought then I want to work with that man. And I did.

Q: When a stranger arrives in a western town, you immediately think of Clint Eastwood. Do you go with that or do you try and fight it?

DC: No, god, you go with it. I mean, no, I wouldn’t try and fight that. I don’t really know what the question is, but if you’re asking me whether or not I watched Clint Eastwood for this movie, yes of course I did. But I watched everything else as well. You know, I watched a lot of John Wayne, Butch and Sundance, I’m just reeling off westerns now, it’s easier than answering the question. But yes, I kind of stole everything I could, but nothing specific.

Q: Have you got a favourite cowboy film of all time and/or a favourite alien film of all time?

DC: Little Big Men, I think, is most probably my favourite western. And Alien.

Q: This is quite a physically demanding role, Daniel, was it more so than the role of Bond? Did you pick up more bruises and grazes from playing this than you did from playing 007?

DC: It was just different. I mean, I don’t get to ride many horses in Bond, so that was really kind of the main distinction. No more than usual. There’s a lot more that I couldn’t do in this, because horse riding, although I’m getting better at it, I’m no expert. So a lot of what you see’s my brilliant double and brilliant stunt men. Funny enough, I picked up more bruises at the studio when we got back to LA than I did out when we were filming. I think everything’s sort of made out of fibreglass and that seems to scrape and bruise you worse than the real thing.

Q: How much of the classic Steve McQueen technique of going through the script and ripping out your lines did you do? Just so that you could say something with a look rather than with a line of dialogue?

DC: It’s kind of a natural process how it ended up being like that. As far as I’m concerned, the less I have to say the better. The more the character sort of talked about how he felt about things, the less real it seemed. He’s a man of action opposed to a man of words.

Isn’t there a Clint Eastwood legend that he only has 11 lines per movie? The character just wasn’t more verbose; it was literally saying “I don’t think he’s going to talk about his feelings before he goes in and starts shooting”. He’s going to start shooting and maybe talk about it afterwards, it’s simple as that. I make a joke out of it, but it was something that happened completely naturally as opposed of it being a conscious decision. It just seemed when gong through the script that sometimes I just went “I don’t need to say that. It’s already been told. That story’s already been told with the actions that I’m doing”.

A couple of weeks ago I got to participate in another Fringe conference call, this time with leading lady Anna Torv.

Q: I imagine when you play a role for two seasons, you become one with the character. When they asked you, then, to do a second version, what sort of acting challenges did that pose for you?

A. Torv: I was so excited when it first came up and then we’ve sort of kicked in. I haven’t really had the chance to play the Alternate Olivia properly for herself. It’s been our Olivia, thinking that she’s the Alternate Olivia. Then, the Alternate Olivia pretending to be our Olivia. So, it’s been a little bit tough to work that line.

What I found has been interesting is how my attitude or how clearly I am now seeing Olivia, which I don’t think you do. I don’t think you get those opportunities where you actually get to step back and look at a character from a different perspective while playing the other. You keep trying to think, because you’re playing each—each of them has them has their own impression of the other that they haven’t met really properly. So, it’s been tough, but fun.

Also, I would have loved it if we had gone right out there and made her a completely different character, but essentially, the differences are subtle there. They both ended up in the same job. They both ended up to the point where they even had the same partners. It’s just gentle little shifts. It’s been fun. I think all the guys that have had that chance would say the same, too. It’s also been so fun to play on the other side, which does feel like, “Wow! This is a completely different energy.” Then, to pop back. So, I’ve loved it.

Q: What has surprised you about other Olivia on our side or our Olivia on their side?

A. Torv: I don’t even know where to start with answering that. I think everything. I didn’t know what they were going to do when they first opened up the prospect to this parallel universe. I really didn’t know. As I said, I’m looking forward to playing them as they are in their own world. I think that’ll give me a little bit more of an understanding. I didn’t answer that very articulately, did I? I guess, everything surprised me. Everything.

Q: Well, certainly the aspect of playing a relationship with Peter in character, that must be something surprising.

A. Torv: Right. I think that’s so fun, on the whole Olivia/Peter thing. Of course, you want them to be together. It’s set up that way, but what do you do when all of a sudden your two guys end up together? It then just becomes— What? Romantic drama or comedy. The fact that they’ve been able to kind of give a little bit of that and yet, it’s one step forward and ten steps back. I think it’s brilliant. Obviously, this is an assignment for Alternate Olivia, but Peter’s a charmer. I don’t know what she’s going to think after they’ve been together for a bit.

Q: Overall, what is it about Fringe that you like?

A. Torv: I like that it’s just so broad. It doesn’t fit in any particular genre. I think it’s scary. I think it’s kind of mystical. I think there’s sometimes we’ve had episodes that I think are really quite magic. I think there are parts of it that are really heightened. There’s parts of it that are really kind of down and dirty. It’s got humor and a little bit of romance. The fact that it’s so broad in its spectrum and in its stories and that it’s unafraid to go, “Let’s just take this leap, shall we?” We all go, “Yes! Let’s!”

Q: Are there any particular topics that have fascinated you that you guys have covered?

A. Torv: Really early on—I think even the second episode or something—there was a case where Walter was talking about his research with William Bell where they were working at developing soldiers, seeing how quickly they could grow these—genetically engineer these soldiers. There’s been other ones since then, too, but any of that kind of like that real ethical fine line, it always gets me interested because I’m interested in that ethical and moral divide between humanity and science and how far can you take things for the greater good, and what is the greater good and what isn’t. Those bits always pique my interest.

Q: A lot of stuff last year was about how Olivia was very repressed, and she’s not in touch with her emotions. Now that you’re getting to play her, both versions of Olivia, much more emotional and open, is that a welcome change?

A. Torv: Absolutely, but I didn’t mind her being that repressed. I actually think that there was something—this sounds so counter-intuitive, but there’s something actually liberating in that. So often, you’ve got the guys that are the quiet, silent types that do all the tough stuff. Then, you’ve got the girls that are all emoting and chatting and talking about their feelings, working out their relationships. I think that that’s kind of one of the things that Fringe has always done different.

You’ve got the woman who doesn’t talk all that much, who’s extremely repressed, who just goes and does the job, doesn’t have much of a life at home. Then, you’ve got the two guys who sit around in the lab, which essentially is the kitchen cooking cookies and trying to work out where they stand with each other. I actually have always found that side of it interesting. Why can’t a woman be a little cooler in her emotions and a little quieter and a little repressed without it being a huge thing? So, I’ve actually always quite enjoyed that, to tell you the truth. Obviously, getting out of this pea soup has been a little bit of fun.

Last Monday I got the chance to participate in another of Fox’s conference calls, this time with the executive producers and writers of Fringe, Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman. I’m so looking forward to this new season of Fringe! I loved how last season ended and am really curious to see what direction the show will go.

It might be a bit obvious, but BEWARE SPOILERS for previous seasons and general sneak peeks of the upcoming season.

Q: The episodes, I heard they’re going to alternate from one week taking place over here and another week it will be over there. Is that true?

J. Pinkner: It is true. What we’re really excited about as this season gets underway, is that we have left our heroine on the other side, what we refer to as over there, the alternate universe. Our universe being over here. We thought that the best way to thoroughly tell these stories was to dive into them wholeheartedly. So an entire episode will take place over there with the alternate Fringe team and then another episode will take place over here. Rather than trying to tell an episode that takes place in both universes simultaneously within the same episode, we wanted to thoroughly explore a Fringe case over there and the journey that our heroine is on and then come back over here because the character that we refer to as Bolivia, or short for Bad Olivia, is here embedded in our team. We have point of view characters in both universes and it seemed to us the perfect opportunity to really explore in a thorough fulsome way the alternate universe.

J. H. Wyman: Yes, we just loved the idea and it became apparent to us that we felt that the fans would appreciate a mythology in two places. That gave us the ability to have two shows about one show which you never get the chance to do on television. It just presented itself in such a natural organic way to evolution in our storytelling. Once we got in there we realized it’s great; we can have a fantastic compelling mythology over there and get people invested in that universe with someone at the heart of it that they absolutely identify with and care about and then come back over on this side and have the mythology carrying on here. So we’re excited to see what fans say about that because we believe in it 100% and we think it’ll be a great journey.

J. Pinkner: One of the challenges we’ve had is that the idea of an alternate universe is both heavy and intellectual but as soon as you start to experience it you realize that it’s really emotional and easy to grasp. In season one we sort of acknowledged an alternate universe. Season two we visited it. Season three we really want to spend time there and get to know what the conditions are like over there which really just reflects on our own society and what life could be like here in our own world had certain things gone differently.

Q: You guys have also said that, obviously Olivia’s going to be over there for a good portion of the season. Obviously Olivia, and Bolivia as you call her, they’re obviously both out of place. They’re going to be working with different team members for several episodes. What sort of dynamic can we expect between all of these characters?

J. Pinkner: Last season was about secrets. This season we’re going towards the concepts of duality, the concepts of choice, the concepts of who are we as people. What happens when you make a different choice, those consequences? So as a blanket theme I think self actualization for our characters this year is where we wanted to go and when you start to look at two versions of the same person you can get into some very profound questions and areas that are interesting because you’re going to see someone who is not Olivia dealing with Walter. Somebody who is Olivia dealing with alternate Broyles. You’re going to be able to see different aspects of people’s personalities and how they are. I mean, there’s obviously that great tension when it’s the quintessential spy on a mission kind of concept but we get to do in a way that fortunate for us I think fascinating because it’s the same person.

J. H. Wyman: Not to mention we have one of the most unique potential love triangles in that its one guy with two different versions of the same girl.

Q: Now getting to the alternate universe time travel kind of thing, for shows or films dealing with that it can get complicated very fast. Did you guys split the episodes that way to keep track of everything or was it just for story?

J. H. Wyman: That’s an interesting question because obviously you don’t want to confuse anybody and it just became so apparent that that was the best way to lay out the story that we wanted to tell. You’re really short rifting some compelling moments if you’re cutting back and forth in one episode and you’re going over there for two scenes and you’re over here for two scenes. It sort of was a like an evolution in our storytelling, a natural progression, where we went “Hey, you know what? This is really cool. We have so much to say about over there and the people in it and we have so much to say about the people here so how do we do this?”

So of course, the concept of, “Hey, we’re going to have the red credit sequence and the blue credit sequence” and we’re going to actually devise a way of telling two shows about one show for a certain amount of time in order to let our fans really experience over there as its own piece because the reaction that we got, that we received from our fans is more like, “We love the alternate universe” You know what, they like the weird things like the amber and the zeppelins. So we’re just sort of doling out these little packages of information over there in a way that Jeff and I both felt was palatable to somebody that would want to follow the story and actually invest in it and let their imagination get away with them without worrying about tracking of it the “Where am I now? What’s going on?” So it just sort of was a natural decision. We knew it was right, right away for us to tell more deeper, more profound stories without confusing anyone.

J. Pinkner: We sincerely hold ourselves up very strictly to the confusion barometer. To us, our show is very much like a family drama masquerading as a science fiction show or as a procedural show and family drama, the theme of the story we’re telling, we want it to play against the big backdrop. We want it to be a story that a broader audience can understand and appreciate because we think the things that we’re talking about are universal and have great appeal.

We’re not trying to tell a genre show that’s a cult hit like as much as like, yes, nothing would be greater than to have people passionate about our show, which is incredibly important to us. It’s something we’ve said before is not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice and we’re thrilled to be licorice. At the same time we honestly and sincerely show these stories to our parents and we say, “Can you guys follow this?” When they go, “Yes, totally,” we know we’ve hit it because we want to be a show that is accessible. Should people want to come watch we really want it to be welcoming and the way we figured to do that was to tell episodes over there. The concept, as soon as you see it, is really not that hard to grasp at all. There’s so many metaphors that apply or analogies that everybody understands. There’s like, “Oh, there’s the dream life and the waking life.” There’s daytime and nighttime. It’s the idea of two worlds, we didn’t invent it.

J. H. Wyman: It’s not hard to get but the more accessible the show is the better it is and we realized early on that the science fiction becomes good when they become more about universal truths and morality and what’s its like to be a human and live here. The red licorice analogy is interesting because sometimes it takes a certain type of person to really say, “Hey, I like Sci-Fi.” We’re hoping that we get all those people because we love those people but we want to get those people that say the show is Sci-Fi when its aspirational to be Sci-Fi at its best where there’s real stories that are identifiable for people living here now.

Q: This being a family drama, I guess we’ll be seeing a bit more of Peter and Walter who obviously had big problems last season and now they’re back working together. Can you talk more about what we can expect with those two?

J. Pinkner: Last year what John Noble did with that character always left us breathless because he really transcended everything that we had written and he became so heartbreaking as a character. That’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because what happens is that played itself out in a way that we are very happy with—the breakup of Peter and Walter. So what becomes a challenge is how to get John and Josh to play something that we haven’t seen before and that got us thinking and that made us like, “Okay, how is this going to begin to resolve?” I say begin because it’s like if we really try to look at the relationship like a real relationship and when things break down in a relationship they’re not easily put back together. People have very strange feelings when they’re trying to reconcile. There’s so many difficult muddy, ugly things in a true father/son complex relationship that once we started looking at that portion of our program realistically we realized we had a lot to play. We realized that we could give John and Josh something to really chew on this year that’s different from last year but just another shade.

So what’s going to happen is they’re going to be okay and then they’re not going to be okay. Then things are going to be solved for a minute and then further complications are going to pop up. Because the lie that was perpetrated against Peter and what Walter has done, if you take it for face value and you really look at it, it’s the quintessential kidnapping story. There’s feelings there.

So this season we did say that the journey of self actualization for all these characters, this is a big part of it, this relationship and these people are going to come into their own. Peter is going to demonstrate things apart from his father for a certain amount of time but definitely emancipated emotionally and he’s going to self actualize and figure out where he plays into who he is and who he thought he was and all these things.

Walter, by the same token, will do the same. He will get to the point where he realizes that he has to go through insanity to get to the place he needs to be okay. So we can promise there’s going to be some really nice drama between them and our impression of a real relationship and how those conflicts play out.

Q: You guys have a lot of fun with the alternate universe; changing up the theme titles and having Olivia meet Bolivia face-to-face. Any fun stuff you have coming up like that: people meeting up and playing around with the format of the show and stuff like that?

J. Pinkner: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we love about the alternate universe is it’s an opportunity to world build. We spend a lot of time and attention and what’s been so wonderful to us is the level of attention and detail that all of our departments in Vancouver and all of the writers and all of the actors weigh in. Like everybody, the idea of what would our daily life be like? What would our universe be like? What would our world be like if certain decisions had just been made differently? One of the obvious being if the White House had been hit instead of the Twin Towers? If, as intentionally intended if the Empire State Building was a docking station for zeppelins and the Hindenburg had never exploded and people traveled via zeppelin, what would consequences flow from these things?

If our universe had started to breakdown—now we’re getting more global—if our universe was starting to breakdown and the Bermuda Triangle was actually in the middle of New York Harbor and boats got sucked into vortex’s… The analogy for us is, if our world, if we were living in World War II like conditions all the time, what we looked at is that sort of tough times forge more noble, stronger people. So what would that universe be like? So everybody’s taken up the charge and those episodes that take place over there, the level of attention and detail shocks and delights even us. That our set designers and set dressers and art department get into.

Now of course, from a character standpoint, we get to really spend time with a different version of Broyles. One who is still married and the consequences and how he’s different as a person. We get to really experience what Bolivia’s life is like. Our Olivia was essentially abused as a child. She was given these experiments which changed her worldview. Bolivia, that never happened to. Charlie on the other side is still alive and has a different life.

So for our characters and for us, as storytellers, exploring these characters by which hopefully people in the audience will on some level think like, “Oh, what if I instead of breaking up with that guy back in college I had married him? What would my life be like right now?” It seems to us like Facebook is so much an opportunity for people to explore the choices they made and reconnect with people from their past and imagine how their life would be different or “What happened to this person?” It’s such a subconscious theme in our world these days that we get to play it actively through our show.

J. H. Wyman: Part of your question I think is that we can say that members of our team will be aware of doppelgangers of themselves on the other side. So it’s not just going to be Olivia and Bolivia but you’re going to understand throughout the season and that’s going to be neat because that’s also as Jeff said, there’s something that we want to investigate. Imagine seeing a version of yourself that’s just a little better. That could be depressing.

Q:Does Bolivia begin to see things a little differently on this side of the alternate universe?

J. Pinkner: In the season finale Bolivia is charged with the notion that people from our side have invaded their world, have damaged their world and we are the enemy and Walter’s lying which is metaphorical is that they’re monsters in human skin. He doesn’t mean it literally; he means they’re the enemy. She’s now going spend time living with our characters, living with Walter, living with Peter, living with Broyles and just exploring our world and of course its going to affect her worldview. Of course. That’s one of the things that we’re really interested in. At the same time she’s an agent with a mission and she’s very loyal and dedicated to the life she’s living and to the people she works for.

J. H. Wyman: Therein lies the conflict.

Q: Will Olivia form any new relationships on the other side as she’s trying to work out her situation there?

J. Pinkner: We love these characters that we’ve got to meet on the other side. Lincoln Lee, played by Seth Gabel is just delightful. We’re so thrilled to have Kirk Acevedo back. Lance Reddick is really playing two versions of Broyle and we had a conversation with him yesterday and it was odd because it really felt like we were talking about a character and not about a performer playing two different characters. It’s a unique situation where we have actors creating different characterizations of characters that they’ve already created.

Walternate is so different from Walter but so understandable. His son was taken. It changed his worldview and it’s very much, but we get to see from the backend of the telescope how life events changed these characters. So Olivia will absolutely spend time interacting with all of them and that’s going to change her worldview as well.

Q: Besides struggling with his relationship with Walter, it seems like Peter’s also struggling with the fact that this doomsday device is reacting to him. How much is that going to play into where his character goes this season?

J. H. Wyman: It’s going to play a lot. Look, that’s a major thing. Last year, if you look at it again, it’s the season of secrets, it’s like subjectively Peter did not understand the secret. Everybody else knew and he didn’t know. So he’s had this huge revelation at the end of the season that gave us a lot of gasoline for the season for him. But now, that’s different.

This season when he comes in he is now the person who knows more than anybody and wants more than anything to find out how does he fit into this. Why him? What does this mean? These questions become ultimately his core want: to figure out some form of answers that nobody on his team actually is qualified to answer. That’s going to be a big part of his self actualization. There’s a lot of answers that we think are compelling and mysterious and interesting this season that he’s going to start to put together a really nice sized jigsaw puzzle that will be eventful at the end of the season.

J. Pinkner: One of the things that we’re really trying to attend to and that we both learned from experience as viewers and as storytellers is that MacGuffins, like the weapon, are only as important as how it affects the characters and how it drives them and changes their emotions. The other thing that we have found that works for us really well is ask questions but then give answers and then play the consequences of those answers. So the doomsday machine, we will explore it, we will learn more about it and what Joel was clearly saying is what we’re really interested in is how that’s going to affect Peter as a person.

Q: It almost seems like Peter is doomed to be tragically unhappy for the rest of his life because first he finds out about Walter and now he’s got the whole Olivia thing going on. Is he ever going to find happiness?

J. H. Wyman: Well, you have to go through darkness to get to light so that’s his journey right now. Just keep in mind when he first showed up on the team, this was a guy who was sort of rudderless and had absolutely no concept of who he was. He was a conman with very many personas and didn’t really commit to anything and didn’t really have substantial relationships in life that he could connect with. So if anything, I guess one could argue that he’s found a family, sometimes that he doesn’t want, but he’s found and has become a more dimensionalized human being.

So in that journey, it’s like real life. Sometimes dark, terrible things happen and you have to move through them. They don’t go away very quickly. They actually form who you are once you pass through the other side. It’s a difficult journey, but once you get through the other side you come out at least stronger and more enlightened.

I love a character, and I know that Jeff does too, that basically is trying to do the right thing but is having setbacks on an emotional level or on an intellectual level. He’s confused, but he’s trying to be a good person. He’s trying to do the right thing. He’s trying to get answers and trying to find happiness which we think everybody is today. Everybody goes through that so he’s sort of like this walking metaphor for us of people like, yes, every time you think you’ve got something great something comes around the corner and it can set you off balance and you have to deal with it. So that’s how we see him. I think that he’ll find happiness in increments and where they really count.

Last week I got another great opportunity for a conference call, this time with Tim Roth from Lie To Me. I was really looking forward to this, especially cause my thesis is based on the work of Paul Ekman, the psychologist on which Tim Roth’s character is based. I messed up completely though and failed to make it to a computer to catch the interview. I got to listen to the recording and got the transcript of all the bloggers’ questions, but it’s still a shame to have missed out asking something myself. Anyhow, here’s the interview:

Q: What can you tell me about any of the upcoming episodes?

Tim Roth: I think that the overall thing is that we’ll be looking at Foster and Lightman’s relationship. We look at how they met, which is a fun thing that we do. There’s my relationship with my ex-wife and also with my daughter. The daughter stuff will feature more and more heavily, I think, because she’s such a good character and the actress is so very good. But we’re writing to that. And the case is strange and a little bit more adrenalin floating around this season, I think.

Q: Now that you have so many episodes under your belt, have you gotten used to the machine that is producing this show?

Tim Roth: At the beginning I found it difficult and I think that a lot of that had to do with the scripts. They were trying to find the show. The writers were firstly trying to find the show as much as we all were. Gradually, I think we started to find our feet. The second season has been much easier in that respect. Once again, the two writers that rose to the surface in the second season have now gone on to run the writers for the third. So it’s gotten progressively smoother, which makes the job of acting in it much easier. So gradually, I think, yes, it’s become a much better experience. It’s a lot of fun now, actually.

Q: And the “will they, won’t they” romance between Cal and Gillian, is that something we’re going to see gel a little bit more this season?

Tim Roth: Yes, in the second season you do. There’s a boyfriend that rolls up for her and there’s the odd fling for me in the second season. But in the third, they’re actually sitting down to determine how the character is going to progress right now. So, I’ll find out before you guys do.

Q: You met Dr. Ekman to play your role. What was he like?

Tim Roth: He’s really the sweetest fellow. He’s a very cool guy. It’s very different from my character, but the science is his. One of the best things he said to me, I was quite nervous being around him because I felt that he was reading me all the time, which, in fact, he is. He can’t just stop doing it once you learn how to do it. But one of the best pieces of advice he gave me, I asked him if he was ever aware of his body language and did he get to be too self aware. He said actually not. He said, “I’m not on stage, they are. Everybody else is on stage.” I took that and ran with that notion with the character because he truly doesn’t care how he looks, as long as he gets a reaction that he’s looking for from the characters that are across from him. I found him to be a very charming man, a very cool guy.

Q: Since you’re on FOX and the show is based on this fascinating character, just like House is, do you have any input on the script like he does and maybe are you involved in the executive production of the show?

Tim Roth: I’m not officially, but yes I do. I talk to the writers all the time. They run ideas by me and so on. We have now a completely revamped writer’s room, which is now going to be run by an English writer, Alexander Cary and a guy from Brooklyn, Dave Graziano. Those two have taken over. They were my two favorite writers from last season. They have a very interesting group, new group around them. And I’ll be meeting with them, actually, for the first time on Tuesday and we will be running ideas by each other and I will be part of that. I’m very heavily involved in the making of the show, which I think is a good thing. I think you should be if you’re central to it.

Q: What were some of the initial acting challenges you found for stepping into this role?

Tim Roth: I didn’t want to know this science. I didn’t want to have that ability. So one of the biggest challenges was trying not to learn this stuff because I don’t like taking my work home, but as you were around it, it does seep in a bit. The challenge really for me was always to try and get the material to be better. Once you have established the character, you can play around with it and you can change him and I did do that.

But once I was allowed the flexibility, the next question was trying to get this material to be better and better. By that I felt I meant really was I want to know the background of these guys. I want to know how they relate to each other. I want some kind of background history that I can sprinkle into the scripts and so on. So that was the challenge really. It’s a day to day challenge. It’s a tough job, but it’s a very, very enjoyable job or can be anyway.

Q: Are there any particularly enjoyable scenes that you can think of with some of your guest stars that are coming up?

Tim Roth: I usually like it when they laugh. We have a tendency to assume the guest actors when they come on. You’re usually required to hit your marks and say your lines exactly the way they were on the page. We have an atmosphere in which you can play around and improvise. I think it’s quite unusual in television. So when they come on and once they find out that they can do that, then it makes for a very, very fun time. So usually, I’m trying to make them laugh during a take and see if I can do that. Those are my good times.

Q: Is there anyone in the world you wished that you could read or tell if they were lying.

Tim Roth: The president. Actually, it was fun to be doing this show in the middle of the election because when those guys trot out, you can really use science to see that lie, to expose that lie. But some of them are better at it than others. Someone that could make the world unsafe, you want to know if he’s telling the truth or maybe you don’t. Maybe that would be too scary.

Q: Are there any other upcoming projects that you’d like to discuss, any movies or anything?

Tim Roth: I did a film called Pete Smalls is Dead, which is a very strange film. I did it with Steve Buscemi and Dinklage and Seymour Cassel and all these guys. It’s very, very low budget, but a lot of fun. That’s coming up. I always have a backup plan. I have a couple of things I want to direct.

Q: Was Cal Lightman intended to be British from the get go or did they change that once you were cast and how do you think being British influences the show?

Tim Roth: The reason he’s British is because when I was doing the deal with these guys at FOX, I said I’m not doing an accent because I figured that I will be working very, very long hours and seven days a week pretty much because you’re preparing the next script on the weekends any time you have off. So if I have to do an accent on top of that, that would have been a workload that would have been a 20 hour day. So I said no and there was a lot of back and forth about it, but not really from me because when I was talking to them about it, I can always just go back and do movies. So I had that going for me, I suppose and then they agreed and they were worried about it and more worried about it.

But after a while, they realized it’s quite refreshing. It’s different sound on American television than you normally get in a television show. They embraced it wholeheartedly. They’ve been very, very cool with it, actually. I’m glad it’s happened. I think it makes the character a little more interesting for me to play. We have one of the show runners that is from London as well, so he really understands that world.

Q: We’ve had some interesting episodes where Cal goes up against like poker players, battling the wires. I wonder if there’s anybody that you would really like to see him go against as a challenge, or if there’s anything that stands out as somebody he might square off against.

Tim Roth: I think his daughter would be interesting. We do a bit of that in the remaining episodes. My aim is – and I think we’re exploring that for the third season – is somebody that is way better than him at what he does and how do you deal with it. How do you deal with that? If you keep not being able to read them and your face and your face gets rubbed in at time and time again, how would he deal with that, I think that might be fun.

I got invited to participate last week in a conference call with Joss Whedon about him directing this week’s episode of Glee. The episode is called Dream On and guest stars Neil Patrick Harris, Idina Menzel, and Molly Shannon. The wifi flaked out on me, so I didn’t get to ask anything myself, but I’ve written up the more interesting questions for you.

The interview is about yesterday’s episode of Glee (in the US), so beware there are a couple of (tiny) spoilers in it (mainly about set pieces and dances).

Q: What was it like directing someone else’s show?

Joss Whedon: Directing somebody else’s show is – I’ve done it once before, twice just with The Office. It helps if the show’s unutterably wonderful. That takes a lot of the pressure off. It’s a little tricky. You’re living in somebody else’s house and you have to make sure that you’re fulfilling their needs. It also takes some of the burden off you. You don’t have to be the guy who sees the big picture. You just take what they give you and make sure that you’re servicing it as best you can. Having said that, Glee is probably harder to shoot than any other show in recorded history, with all the different elements going on and whatnot; it’s a different kind of challenge, but ultimately enormous fun.

Q: What were you able to do with the dance number that maybe you weren’t able to do in your other musical episode from Dr. Horrible?

Joss Whedon: Well, dance would be one thing. There’s more real hard-core dancing in the show, not in every number. Some numbers are just about movement. Then I get to be seriously involved in creating that movement. Then some numbers are real dance numbers and that’s all Zach Woodlee and Brooke, the choreographers, they’re phenomenal. There were numbers that I didn’t know exactly how they worked narratively until I saw the choreography and then said, oh, this all works just fine. I got to really shoot some fun dancing and most of the stuff I’ve done has been more just movement.

Q: Could you talk about the dance number, the mall number. How did that fit in? Was that the most difficult?

Joss Whedon: You know, the thing about that number is that really was Zach and Brooke getting it done. Ultimately, it’s a complicated, it’s a big, big number, very gratifying, I think because we’re seeing things we haven’t seen before. I do pride myself on being the guy who knew we were actually going to be able to shoot it pretty quickly because once it gets dialed in, you pretty much just shoot them doing it. Because of the number of extras and the enormity of the number, people thought it was going to be much more of a bear than it actually was. We had two film cameras and four video cameras going the whole time, so the thing actually went pretty quickly. We were able to tack on another scene that day, which is great, because those schedules are a bear.


Q: What was it like working with Neil again?

Joss Whedon: I am so tired of that guy. Why do they always make me direct Neil? Why the pain? Neil is a consummate pro and a dear friend, which is an ideal combination. There’s no problem. My only complaint was that I wanted to shoot even more of the kids than I got to, that and certain craft service issues about not having caviar, but really that’s in my contract, actually.

I feel like he’s one of those people who expresses the way I wish I could express myself. He’s like a muse, and he’s friends with Matt. The sort of rivalry/affection between them just informed the whole thing so much. We had such a good time. He came in the day after the Oscars, the day before How I Met Your Mother. He fit this into his schedule in the most bizarre fashion. I even got him and Jane Lynch to come in late on Friday night after finishing How I Met Your Mother, just so that we could knock a scene off because the schedule was so hard for him. Always cooperative, always imaginative; Neil’s the man.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how much fun you had doing the flashbacks and how collaborative you guys were about what Neil was going to bring to this episode.

Joss Whedon: You know, Neil’s great because he looked at the script. He was very excited. He had some very specific questions even based on the vocal arrangements, what kind of guy am I supposed to be. So, it was a real collaboration. As for the mullet, there was definitely some talk about “Isn’t that kind of the ‘80s, I mean, it’s sort of the ‘90s, what’s with the mullet?” Sean Ryan, without missing a beat said, “Achy Breaky Heart was ’92.” So, he’s really on top of his game.

Q: Are there other shows that you’d like to direct? What are some of the other shows that you enjoy, that you’re a fan of?

Joss Whedon: I’m going to just go ahead and make a blanket statement. I don’t want to direct the shows I’m a fan of anymore. It means I always have to read the episodes that come before it. It’s like a giant slew of spoilers that quite frankly is not fair. I would say after Glee, Friday Night Lights is probably the show that blows me away the most. But, I definitely don’t want to direct one of those, because I’m still on Season 2.


Q: Obviously the show has its own plot line, it’s well underway. Were you involved at all about the song selections for this episode?

Joss Whedon: Oh, no. They select the songs well in advance. They give you the script, not quite as well in advance, but much longer than I usually give the script, actually… You’re there to service what they’ve already thought up. Quite frankly, I felt very fortunate. First of all, because I actually knew all the people, which is not always the case. I think a lot of people feel that because I’ve run shows that I was going to go in there and be working with them on it. But, honestly, I am just a visiting director in this situation.

I would definitely give my thoughts, “Oh, I feel like the song should go like this, is there any way we can change on this line,” little stuff like that, trying very hard not to overstep. I certainly wasn’t about to say, “Oh, do this on one, well I may not get the rights to one song, and so I’d like to get another.” That would be the only thing. This really is Brad who wrote it, and Ryan and Ian. This is their world and I’m privileged to walk in it. But, I’m not going to walk all over it.

Q: I just wanted to know how Glee was different from anything else you’ve ever worked on.

Joss Whedon: Glee is different from anything else period. Every show is different. I would just say that the enormous amount of work that everybody is doing at all times on that show kind of spun my head around. It’s not an easy show to make and the kids, the whole cast works so hard and are busy working on every episode. So, really, I don’t remember we’re shooting four episodes at once. It’s hard to keep your head around all of it, the rehearsals, the recording, and the show moves as quickly as it moves. Production is tough and you have to be on your feet at all times. You’ve got a different aesthetic, an old-fashioned aesthetic in the lighting and the camerawork is very classical. It’s not edgy in that sense. The edge comes from taking a very comforting milieu, the comfort, and ease of set, and then putting something rather kind of shocking. Either shocking because it’s so snarky, or dirty, or funny, or because it’s just so open hearted in the middle of it.


Q: Could you talk a little bit about how you approach music from a visual narrative standpoint? How are you able to work that?

Joss Whedon: When I approach music, obviously, if it’s a dance number, some of the work is done for you because you pretty much know where you want the camera based on the movement. If it’s just about movement, then I approach it very strictly from the narrative of the emotion. Particularly in “Dream On” and “I Dreamed a Dream” I got to pitch my own movement and my own staging for those numbers to try to work in all the emotional elements and emotional reality of the thing, and at the same time, keep it kind of fluid and keep it exciting. It’s one of the great joys of the show to be able to do that. Then to have the actors respond and to understand and just take what you thought up to the extreme. It’s kind of the same way you block a scene, you’re just looking for emotional reality and visual panache, except it’s way more fun because there’s music.

Q: You obviously did a musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. How does that compare to Glee? Did it prepare you in a way?

Joss Whedon: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Doing Buffy and doing Dr. Horrible were both great prep for something like this. This is obviously not my first rodeo. It’s different, Glee, obviously, but knowing a little bit of the realities of the difference in a day’s work between shooting a musical number and shooting just a regular scene, is very useful. It’s the kind of thing that I would like to spend a lot more of my time doing. I love musicals deeply and dearly. This was a return to home for me. Not my home, but a very welcoming one.

Q: So, would you do another episode of Glee in the future?

Joss Whedon: “Nevah, nevah.” Oh, yeah, I choked, totally. Sorry. If I had the window and they would take me, yes, in a heartbeat.

As promised, the second part of the interview with executives producers Jeff Pinker and J.H. Wyman. If you haven’t read the first part yet, check it out here.

Q: You guys have really done a great job with not only developing a fascinating story and a story line, but the clues go beyond the show. There’s all these mock websites with massive dynamics, food trust, all these hints and clues that are spread everywhere. I am very involved with the fan community and every week we get together and we go over all these things. We’re really wondering if there’s anything we’ve missed.

Jeff: I would say that there’s definitely things you’ve missed, but that’s part of the fun, right?

Q: So, we have missed stuff. Any hints maybe? No? Yes?

Jeff: Part of the fun for us is driving people back to those early episodes and seeing that, oh my god that was planted; from the pilot that stuff was already planted in there. We take this notion of world building really seriously. By the time the series ends, we want to make people re-examine everything they’ve watched from the beginning.

Joel: In the season finale, there is one hidden thing in there that I and Jeff will both be really impressed if anybody picks up. So, there you go. There’s one to look for in the season finale that’s very telling about next season but also very hard to find.


Q: I wanted to know what kind of steps have you guys had to take to keep plot lines and scripts and those kinds of things secret, cause these shows get such rabid attention and the fans just go crazy. Have you had to really take some steps to do that?

Joel: Yes, part of the scripts when they get out, usually it’s from production or from somebody that’s not supposed to deliver them, but what we find is that everybody on the show – from our writing staff, from the office staff, from the actual physical production – they’re still invested in the project. They don’t want anything to get out. So, everybody sort of takes care of our scripts and gets it delivered to the department heads and then they allow them to get out after a certain point, but we’ve been really lucky that everybody is so invested, they take extra care with their own copies of the script, and they don’t let it out.

Jeff: I think what we’re finding more and more, and it’s sort of like we’re in that world where it’s incredibly flattering to know that people are trying to get your stories ahead of time. There was definitely a period a few years ago where things were spoiled far more often. Somehow somebody on the internet would get ahead of a script; it would spoil it. I’ve been on shows where we haven’t been above writing fake pages, even filming fake scenes just for the fear of that. We have done a minimal amount of that here when we felt something was really important to us, but we’ve also found that more and more when people do one way or another learn secrets about the show they’re keeping it to themselves. They’re actually being graceful enough to not spoil things, which we’re finding the pendulum has sort of swung from people getting pleasure out of revealing secrets to people getting pleasure out of keeping secrets, so that’s been actually really great for us.

Q: Assuming there’s a nice big cliffhanger coming up – do you have to really think about what’s coming next season, like plot that out before you even go to this season’s cliffhanger?

Jeff: I think to a degree we do that and to a degree we get some pleasure out of – we know the long term and we like to write problems for ourselves because often figuring ways out the problem provides the most creativity.


Q: Will Peter stay kind of in his own kind of separation from Walter or will we see at least a piece of them coming back together again, even if it’s to set up what you guys do next season?

Jeff: Relationships are complex and just for the very same reasons that I think that throughout the seasons, we never really want it to be easy – that just because it’s a TV show in the United States of America, that the handsome male lead and the beautiful female lead should be together. You have to earn those types of things, we believe. So, when we’re playing the emotion of a betrayal like that on a level that it is, I think that it’s all up to the human heart, which is complex.

So, Peter’s going to have a very realistic reaction to the things that he’s now aware of, and I think that that’s the first step in a journey back to some sort of common understanding of a relationship. I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy, and it should supply us with a lot of material because it’s such an interesting dynamic. You just don’t want to just say it’s all forgiven. But you also want to have other flavors of the relationship – not just, you betrayed me. So, I think that’s where we are.

Q: End of last season, you set up the idea of the other universe and so now there’s obviously the revelation of Peter realizing he’s from there, where are we kind of barreling towards as we come toward the end of the season and what are you setting up for us to kind of jump from as you prepare for season three?

Jeff: Last year, our season finale we thought was effective because it sort of introduced concretely an idea that had been sort of talked around for the entire season, and we managed to, I think, be satisfied with the thoughts and the expectations of the audience. I think people really enjoyed that. So, it was a huge challenge for us this year to figure out well how can we turn the page in the next chapter and how can we have the same effect because I think it really was for the audience satisfying that we had last year this year. So, we believe we’ve done that.

At the end of the season, I think that you’ll be wow, now this is a whole other world and this is really interesting. Not a whole other world literally but a whole other chapter that has been sort of talked around but now concretely you will understand a lot more. So, if we’re heading towards anything, it’s that. It really sets up a satisfying conclusion to what people have invested in this year but also sort of opens up a whole other level of understanding that hopefully will propel us into season three and further. A lot of very exciting things that we’ve come up with that we’re really excited to tell.

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.

Joel: Exactly.

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.

Come back tomorrow for the second part in this interview. Or you can use the Miss Geeky RSS feed or get daily email updates!