Friday, May 13, 2011

Falling Skies Cast Episode 1.06 - Noah Wyle Teleconference

I had the opportunity to be a part of a teleconference with Noah Wyle yesterday. He gave us lots of insights into TNT's Falling Skies.  You can hear the audio from the interview on episode 6 of the Falling Skies Cast.

I was never given the floor from the moderator, but I was able to be a part of a great time with Noah Wyle.  One thing that was not directly addressed, was how deeply Wyle is involved in the decision making process with Falling Skies.  He makes several comments that sounds like he is involved with scripting, story decisions and even what elements should be cut out.

The first question came from Patrick Douglas with Great Falls Tribune.  Who asked Noah to talk about how Falling Skies picks up in the thick of the madness instead of building up to it.

Noah Wyle: Yes, it’s sort of a typical story telling in the sense that we don’t start with everyday life going on business as usual and then suddenly everybody’s eyes turn to the heavens and say, what’s that coming in towards our planet. 
We do, we pick up six months into what has been a devastating alien invasion and meet our characters already in a pretty high state of disarray which is kind of exciting storytelling because it allows you the opportunity to fill in the back story through episodic storytelling and also opens up the possibility of being able to track back in time down the road if it seems (dramatically) appropriate.

Douglas also posed the question that is own many of our minds, "how involved is Steven Spielberg in the production of this show?"
Noah Wyle: He’s pretty damn involved. His fingerprints are all over it. He was instrumental in helping craft the original pilot script and certainly in casting the pilot.
And he came out and was on set when we were shooting the pilot and he made lots of editorial decisions and even drew some storyboards for the reshoots on the pilot and then helped craft the overreaching story (arks) for the season, watched all the daily’s and made lots of editorial suggestions all along the way in bringing those shows to their final cut.
So I would say he’s instrumentally involved.
The next question came from Jay Jacobs with who asked Noah if he were the position of Tom Mason, what he thought he would miss most and if it would be an exciting opportunity for civilization to start over? 
Noah Wyle: I’m guessing a variety of diet would be the thing I’d miss the most.  And hot food. But we sort of tried to (pepper) each episode with exactly that. What are the cons and disadvantages to the state we’ve been thrown into but what are the sort of more subtle pros whether it’s seeing a group of kids having to exercise their imaginations at play and actually relishing in the opportunity to do so or the quality of relationships between families being that much enriched without all the other distractions. 
There’s a sequence that comes midway through the season where a women who’s among our ranks is pregnant and is throwing a baby shower. And having been to quite a few baby showers this was unlike any event I had experienced in the sense that it wasn’t so much about the gifts and the swag and stuff for the impending birth it was really more about the spiritual aspects of brining a new life into the world and your responsibilities are as a parent and what we collectively - what are our collective responsibilities for this new life?
And those I find very rewarding aspects to the storytelling because it allows us an opportunity to kind of pick and choose between separate the weak and chafed from what’s important and what’s not.
And our next question comes from Mike Gencorelli from who asked Noah to reflect on how many people are saying that the pilot has the look and feel of a feature film.
Noah Wyle: Yes, sure. Well, it wasn’t intended to be sandwiched together. The pilot was a standalone hour and it’s being married to the first episode which we shot as a first episode for the season to build it into a two-hour block.
So it was never scripted to feel like a movie but I think anytime Mr. Spielberg’s name is above the marquee you can’t help but to make a cinema comparison. And it’s got a lot of rich production value. The budget on the pilot was pretty extensive. So we had a lot of bang for our buck and that wasn’t necessarily the case in every episode so I think getting a sense of what the series is going to be like comes probably more accurately from the second half, second hour, than the first.  But, yes, it’s got a very cinematic feel to it.
Gencorelli asked if the ten episodes would enough for the show "to spread its wings in season one?"
Noah Wyle: I think - well, I had lunch with Michael Wright who’s Head of TNT and we discussed if this came to a second season whether he would be interested in picking it up for more episodes. And his philosophy, which I tend to agree with is, that if you’re writing for ten episodes you can really write to a focused point and make sure that all of your T’s have been crossed and your eyes have been dotted. 
And if you’re trying to slug it out through 15, 17 or on a network 22 to 24 you run the risk of dissipating the potency of your story telling and falling back on sort of (heck nine) clichés. And he really didn’t want to do that. He really is very proud and pleased with the show and wants - should the second season come to pass it to have the same kind of punch that the first season did which I think you really only get from shooting a truncated season of 10, 12 maximum.
Kate Blake from said she enjoyed the family dynamic and asked Noah to talk about how they approached keeping the Mason "family together in this broken world?"
Noah Wyle: Well, dramatically I think that was probably the theme that was most interesting to me. I haven’t had a lot of experience working in the science fiction genre so that had a certain appeal.  But I went into this with the confidence of knowing that the spaceships and the aliens were going to be just fine with Mr. Spielberg designing them. And so my responsibilities really fell to making sure the human aspects of the show were as compelling as they could be.
And I found that dual conflict that we set up in the pilot to be really provocative of a guy just trying to keep his family intact and alive being given the larger responsibility of having to care for 300 (veritable) strangers and the conflict between the two; very interesting.  But that’s really, I think, what’s at the core of the show is once the reset button on humanities been pushed and these characters, should they survive, are going to become the next founding fathers for the next civilization. What are the best aspects of the previous civilization that you would want to retain and what are the more superfluous or ascerteric ones that you wouldn’t mind dropping?  And certainly the notion of family and the quality of human relationships comes to the floor and that’s what I think we pretty successfully explored through the first half of the season.
Piedro Philaphoni from the Daily Blam mentioned Mason's relationship with Weaver in the show and then asked Noah to share his thoughts about how distinguishes Tom as a leader as opposed to other projects that automatically show the militaristic personalities taking charge?
Noah Wyle: That’s an interesting question. I would say that when you traditionally have a character whose career military like Captain Weaver is their strong suit is leading men who have been trained and focused for the battle and mission enhanced. Whereas in this particular scenario most of our military has been eradicated already and it’s a civilian militia that is being trained. 
It’s exactly Tom Mason’s back-story as having been a teacher that puts him in a little bit better (sted) to teach mostly kids how to arm themselves and defend themselves than it is for Weaver to fall back on the military paradigm.
And it’s sort of - it’s looking at the realm of academia and saying that’s a little dry for what we need right now and looking at the role of military and saying that’s a little dogmatic for what we need right now and trying to find a synthesis between the two that I think makes my character a leader of a different strength.
Philaphoni also asks if we might see Tom’s breaking point in season one of Fallling Skies?
Noah Wyle: He comes damn close to it. He comes very, very close to it. Yes, I would say episode, yes, in the four or five range that’s where he starts to wear a little thin.  Although, you know, there was an adage that we used to say a lot on my other show where you really didn’t have time to feel sorry for yourself during the course of the day because you had another patient to treat or two or three.  So you really had to earn whatever private moments you allowed yourself to reveal, whatever inner life was going on. 
And the same holds true for this show is that there’s such a constant and eminent threat underneath each and every scene that these characters who probably if they had a week off would develop all sorts of the hallmarks of PTSD and go through all sorts of debilitating briefs don’t have the luxury of doing so because there’s just too many other things that need to be done.
So I would say that the big breakdown is still coming but we definitely show glimpses of it.
Patrick Douglas asked about comparisons with Walking Dead and how Noah prepared for his role in this post-apocalyptic story.
Noah Wyle: I’m in a bit of a disadvantage. I haven’t seen Walking Dead yet so the comparisons that I’ve heard I can’t say whether they’re well-founded or not. From my own preparation, nothing could be more isolating then pulling a guy away from his family and sequestering him and (throwing into Ontario) for five months.
That’s the tongue-in-cheek answer. The straight answer is, you know, we watched a lot of movies, we red a lot of books, we passed stuff around from trailer to trailer trying to get everybody on the same page.
In terms of trying to find a level of continuity between everybody’s performance so that we were all playing relatively the same stakes but individualizing them.
We talked a lot about encounters with the aliens serving as metaphors for encountering the worst aspects of our own personalities. So if you stop thinking  of them as scary alien creatures which would force you into the limited choices of acting like Fay Wray in a King Kong movie and tried to personalize it a lot more and having them represent something that you really did not want to  encounter at all costs.  Then the level of threats always existent but it’s very specific to character. And I think we accomplished that pretty well.
Eric Resnick with asked another question that have probably been wondering, how much perpation was involved for the role of Tom Mason?
Noah Wyle: Oh, I probably should have done a lot more. I showed up and we all had a couple of days of running around the sound stage and learning gun safety. But in terms of physical preparation I found myself at a disadvantage trying to keep up with Drew Roy whose part (springbok). He plays my oldest son who very early on in the pilot we had to sort of run and jump and dive and whirl and roll and do all these crazy things. All of which, eventually, I got more comfortable at. But it’s certainly not wearing the white coat everyday.
Resnick also asked if Noah was able to do a lot of his own "stunts or was a lot of it done by a stunt team?"
Noah Wyle: Kind of both. I mean, there’s stunts but they’re not real stunts. I mean, running and jumping and sliding and diving all that stuff looks so much better when the actors doing it. And so I did a lot of that kind of thing.
And then whenever - there was one sequence where I’m fighting one of the aliens in a steam tunnel and I did all of that fight with the exception of one throw where the alien sort of chucks me. And that required some wirework to get thrown high up against a wall.
And I had to learn how to ride a motorcycle for this show which I’m still kind of terrified by. So I can start one and I can stop one and I can kind of coast through a scene on one but anything requiring any more acrobatics than that I give to the double as well.  Things like that.
Jason Hunt with

Jason Hunt asked about the brother related themes with Weaver and Band of Brother's mentality about soldiers vs civilians, the Mason brothers will do to help each other and with a possible set up with Mason and Pope.  Hunt want to know if these were planned or if they were a natural outgrowth of the story.

Noah Wyle: I think kind of both and not to give to non-specific an answer, you know, relationships especially when you’re starting up a new show, it’s a lot like testing spaghetti. You kind of throw a bunch of stuff on the wall and see what sticks. 
And certain relationships have greater resonance than others and certain themes become more pronounced than others and oftentimes they’re not the ones that you expect to pop.  Certainly when we started I - it was pretty black and white that I was coming from the humanist angle and Will Patton was coming from the militarist angle and that we were going to butt heads continually.
And then as we got into the playing of it, Will brings such an interesting complexity to his character and a lot of humanity to what could easily be perceived as a two-dimensional character that it became a lot more interesting  to kind of explore the areas of commonality between these two characters as opposed to the areas of conflict and to see how under different circumstances these men actually might like each other but are forced into opposite camps because of their dueling ideologies. 
And the same holds true with characters like Pope where you know it’s this notion of who your allegiance is to. Obviously when you have an external threat from another planet suddenly the divisions between black, white, rich, poor, old and young get erased immediately against common enemy. But if you take that enemy off the table for a moment and are allowed to take a little bit of breathing room, what are the lessons we’ve learned? Or do we revert back to our own kind of pettiness and clannishness?  And so these are all themes that are worthy of exploring as we go on.
Hunt also asks if they were consciously aware of developing characters before doing action sequences?
Noah Wyle: Well, you have to be careful about it even just from a production standpoint because obviously action sequences require the most money of an episode budget. And if you’re going to give a little action sequence in every show you’ll get a little action sequence in every show.  But if you can buy yourself a couple of episodes by saving on your post-production budget and focusing the drama on interpersonal and character conflict then suddenly on the fourth episode you’ve got quite a large (work chest) to work with and you can stage something pretty epic. 
So there’s a financial necessity that goes into it. But also it’s much more compelling to have the threat come, not as a constant, but in waves. And to have it start off as a huge wave and then be able to get a (low) and reflect a little bit and synthesize some information and then to have another wave come and also the anticipation of that wave coming is great dramatic tension.
What are the lessons learned after an encounter before the next wave comes? I  think that for this particular show it works much better than having it be a constant threat.
Jeanne Jackle from San Antonio Express News ask about the target audience and how violent the show will be.  
Noah Wyle: It’s a really fine line to walk because you don’t - you know, I’ll use as an example the sort of budding love story between my character and Moon Bloodgood’s character. You know, we tee it up that there’s an initial interest between these two and it starts the clock ticking in the audiences mind about when this is going to get consummated. 
And as we were shooting the episodes we were always conscious of the fact that we hadn’t really advanced this relationship at all. So we’d write scene’s where I would be on guard duty and she’d bring me a sandwich and we’d start talking about whatever and suddenly it would get a little romantic.
And as we rehearsed them or talked them through it seems like it immediately dissipated the tension and level of credibility for the world that we were trying to establish and that we hadn’t earned that moment yet.
And then it kind of stuck out like a sore thumb as an obvious (beat) in the television show so we cut it. And instead we would play it out probably more closer to the way it would realistically play out which is, yes, there’s an interest from opposite sides of the room but these are two very busy people who have to get back to work.
And, as the season progressed and we finally got into the final episode there was a moment that seemed truly earned, very kind of romantic and I think it became incredibly satisfying to have it (pace) out that way.
Does that answer your question at all? 
Oh yes, that was the parallel I was trying to draw which is...It’s a fine line to walk because you want to create a world where threat is very present but you don’t want it to be so bleak that it turns off viewers who are tuning in to watch more of a drama than a genre show.
But by the same token there’s a science fiction audience out there that I think the network would very much like to attract that is coming with the expectation that this is going to have a lot of epic battle sequences and be a fairly dark and violent show. 
So it’s going back and forth between the two. It’s having moments of humanity  and hope and humor punctuated by moments of terror and action and then how we move on from there and get back to the moments of humanity, hope and humor before the next attack comes. 
I don’t think it’s going to get much more gratuitously violent than episodes we’ve already shot. I don’t think that that’s in the words but I don’t think we really want to paint the rosier picture of the world prematurely either.
That was the end of the conversation with Noah Wyle.  I cut out a couple of the questions for this post, but they are included in the audio from the interview on episode 6 of the Falling Skies Cast.

Jimmy in GA

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