NATPE streamed the 2013 conference, and I watched. For the second year I was watching while working in TV. What, it’s like going to a seminar, it’s work! 😉
Anyway the final panel of my #NATPE 2013: THE WALKING AD FORMULA was called: Storytellers that Shaped the Face of Pop Culture: In Conversation with Glen Mazzara & Damon Lindelof. It took place Tuesday 1/29 in the Fontaine Ballroom, which streamed live all day. Here’s my recap and notes.
Moderator(s): Alex Ben Block, Senior Editor, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Speaker(s): Glen Mazzara, Executive Producer & Showrunner, THE WALKING DEAD, AMC; Damon Lindelof, Co-Creator, Writer, Executive Producer, LOST and STAR TREK
The moderator opened with a reminder to turn phones on silent but to feel free to twitter at #NATPE. After introductions, Damon Lindelof remarked on how a writer used to hand in his copy and move on, but now the model of writer/showrunner is thriving. However… you have a hit and everyone thinks it’s laissez-faire at the network. Not so for Lost! The pilot did great… and then everyone was wondering how they were going to move forward. They had actually inherited Lost (something I did not know) so they weren’t sure. They decided to do little stories and flashbacks so the piece could move forward in real time. But once the network realized it was a hit there were about 7 more executives that came around to say “OK it’s a hit, don’t fuck it up!”
A question was asked, we all know the notes process, but when it becomes a hit show who do you get notes from? The Walking Dead’s Glen Mazzara says he wanted to involve everyone. The notes process is extensive, 15 different producers, they all give notes. There is also an open door policy for actors. AMC is unique because it’s the studio and the network. 35 pages of notes on a 48 page script. Obviously can’t reach consensus but he will go through and do rewrite trying to include those voices/perspectives.
Lindelof: There were 25 episodes of LOST in it’s first season, then 24, then 23 – at any one time he’s working on 5 different episodes. He then has 5 different sets of notes on 5 different stages of development. That means on average, every 8 days you have to generate a new script. By contrast, a movie can take 2-3 years which leaves lots of time for notes. In TV you can try things. Notes that affect production you have to solve. Going back to the open door policy, the actor and the writer are both like the parents of a child – you’re both trying to rear the character so you have to take into account actor feedback. Glen Mazzara pointed out that everyone’s in the room to pitch out the arc of the season. So what happens isn’t going to surprise anyone in those kinds of notes.
Lindelof goes on to talk about pacing, that “good” unpredictable means earning it. You’re surprised in the moment but they laid tracks the entire season, so you can’t deny it. The comments they got back from viewers was that people talking was considered “filler.” They disagreed, but realized that for someone to commit an hour of watching television they have to make it eventful. There’s also a balance before people just throw up their hands and say it’s ridiculous.
Glen Mazzara: LOST was seminal and influential because you really cared about these characters. You want people to feel invested in the character.
Lindelof: What makes television work is your relationship with the characters. That’s why in the Walking Dead they decided to change a story from the book because people related so much with a triangle. Some people are uncomfortable with it. They also have a lot of unexplored territory as opposed to playing out the comic book storylines.
Glen Mazzara thinks that it’s not interesting to break the tension to fill in backstory, that it would stop the horror and make someone feel safe. He reminds that the Walking Dead is a thriller. Then Damon Lindelof wondered what the best way is to consume these shows. “Ultimately, the way your work is goin to be viewed is like a novel.” He didn’t get to see The Wire or Battlestar Galactica when LOST was on, but when it finished, he watched all of them.
If you drop the audience right into it, it’s on them to go back and look into backstory. If you’re trying to get more people in the tent the loyal ones are going to feel less special. Midseason and season premieres would have to give a little something to give entry. But by the time LOST got to the third year and they wanted to do a special, they realized how ridiculous the show was. They figured less is more in terms of explaining everything… LOST. (Don’t tell me what I can’t do!)
Glen Mazzara tries to get the best show he can, regardless of whether it will foster audience debate. He uses twitter to engage with fans, but doesn’t debate everything and tries to just let the work speak for itself. Realizing it’s not necessarily resolution but that fans want to talk about what they just watched, and what they just experienced.
On LOST, they had a plan, but if it wasn’t working they changed it. They said it was planned the whole time but they were in tune with the fans’ opinions. If they didn’t like something, LOST could agree or disagree, but either way they tried to impress that they listened. They had a podcast. They would respond on twitter.