IR Print Interview: Aaron Harberts & Gretchen J. Berg (Co-Showrunners) For “Star Trek – Discovery” [CBS All Access – CBS TCA Winter Press Tour]
Star Trek is an interesting quandary as it balances modern themes with a sci-fi perception set in utopian society. With such anticipation coming out the gate as well as some changes in showrunner structure for the new CBS All Access “Star Trek: Discovery”, it can be a battle to keep focus and tone exactly where it needs be. After sitting on a panel at the CBS TCA Day with showrunners from other CBS shows discussing politics and social issues, Exec Producers/Showrunners Aaron Harberts & Gretchen J. Berg spoke with The Inside Reel about the continuing process and inherent themes of the burgeoning series.
Can you talk about the initial misdirect in the series in regards to the focal point of the storyline?
Aaron Harberts: The joy is in the journey. If that’s something you’re invested in, keep watching because I think that hopefully you will enjoy what we’re going to do.
Gretchen J. Berg: I think once you watch [the 10th episode], you’ll see the context that we’re playing in. Another theme from the back half is second chances.
But people do think they know where you are going to go…
GJB: I love hearing the theories. I mean, I really enjoy it. So keep the theories coming.
Are you going to be disappointed if they guessed it right?
GJB: I will be disappointed if somebody comes up with a story that’s much better than we ever could have come up with. (laughing)
AH: What we’ve always said is audience theories range from hot to cold, but all are pretty phenomenal. I would say that people may know where this is going.
If season one is getting closer to the traditional Federation, could a second season be closer to a traditional Star Trek feel than perhaps this one has been thus far?
AH: We’re excited to explore that in season two. I mean, here’s the good news. Last year, obviously, [there was] very well documented challenges that this show had. We were sort of shot out of a cannon. Gretchen and I inherited the show. And we ran like Indiana Jones with that boulder crashing down behind us. This year, we have a fantastic creative team in place. Everybody knows each other. Our crew in Toronto is, and always has been, phenomenal. But we have time this year. We have time to do things like more away missions..newer planets…stories that might fall a little bit more into a framework of allegory that people love to get from Trek. But we will always continue to have that overarching serialized threat. But the second season is not a war season.
GJB: We have three episodes percolating [currently]. The outline for the first one is out to our producing partners.
AH: We are very interested in tackling themes of faith next year. Science versus faith. We’re interested in different points of view on that. And we’re still hashing out what we want to attack. We’re in this interesting pocket of time. We’re 10 years, now 9 years before TOS. And there are lots of things in terms of TOS canon that we want to do some nods to. And we’re still figuring it out.
Any second thought about the use of Klingon spoken on the series so far?
AH: There are a lot of different opinions on it. And I think because the story that we were telling about the Klingons, and how they wanted to make sure that they kept their race pure– from a storytelling point of view — made sense to us that when we cut to them, if what they wanted to do was remain Klingon and stay Klingon and keep away from everybody else, we couldn’t have them speaking English. We had to hear their language. So, I still stand behind that decision. I know some people didn’t like it, but I think it makes the best sense for the story.
GJB: I’d say in the back half, the audience will see fewer subtitles. There will be a little less reading involved, but yes, we had to stick to that decision for this first chapter.
So is there a tonal difference in the 2nd half of season one?
AH: Listen, I know this sounds corny, but the back half to me is this amazing roller coaster. Jonathan Frakes [Editor’s Note: Frakes played Riker in TNG and directed the “First Contact” & “Insurrection” TNG films] directed episode 10, and it is a bang out of a circus cannon, in a good way. It’s so fun. It’s emotional. There are highs and there are lows, and just buckle up.
GJB: We’ve known him and worked with him since we were really young writers on “Roswell” and he was an executive producer. We have a friendship that goes back almost 20 years. The joie de vivre and the talent that he brought to the set — this is a hard show to do. It is grueling. And he did episode 10, and when he stepped on the set, and again, this is not to say that our crew isn’t giving 100% and our cast isn’t giving 100% every day, but there’s a point in the middle of the season where everybody’s dragging. We’re dragging. They’re dragging. He came in at just the right moment and electrified the room. And when he left…it was just a triumph for him. And for the cast, there’s really no one else, aside from Roxann Dawson, who’s also a phenomenal director [Editor’s Note: Dawson played Lt. Torres on ST: Voyager], who can give our cast insights into what the future holds for them as members of an iconic franchise.
By Tim Wassberg
Having spent many years exploring the nooks, crevices and beauty of The Hamptons on “Royal Pains”, showrunner Michael Rauch heads towards the city and network with his follow up series “Instinct” on CBS starring Alan Cumming. After completely a panel for his new series with his actors at the CBS TCA Winter Press Day, Rauch spoke with The Inside Reel about tone, the building process and the allure of New York City.
Can you talk about the perspective of “Instinct” as a series?
Michael Rauch: [It is all things] combined, both nature and nurture, [and for the lead character] it formed a very specific type of way of looking at the world. What we talk about in the pilot is abnormal behaviors and, for him, he felt abnormal as a child and gradually as he got older realized that who gets to define what’s normal and what’s abnormal? That maybe being abnormal is actually normal and that’s not a stigma. That’s a big part of his way of looking at the world and, hopefully, for people who watch the show, the same thing which is that just because society defines you in a certain way doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s much less than, say, Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock where you really feel like that guy could be on meds — we don’t go into it that much although, I’d love to have the success of that show.
You described “Instinct” as a little show, but you’re a procedural on CBS.
MR: I’ll tell you, from my own personal viewpoint, the shows I’ve done have always been underdogs. They’ve always been smaller shows. So, we are on CBS. I know the beauty, the power, and the pressure of that. At the same time, we’re a mid-season show, we’re not called S.W.A.T. or S.E.A.L. team. As much as people love Alan, I don’t think he has the recognition that say a David Borealis –- who is amazing –- does, or Shemar Moore. These are guys who bring a giant audience. We’re also a little show because we have a gay male lead which I think is very non-mainstream. So I think that there are a lot of things, not against the show, but [some that] don’t necessarily make it easy to promote. It’s a light, hopefully, funny procedural. But that’s the type of thing that on CBS there isn’t a lot of. I think that in terms of the shows that are easy to kind of put forward [are done] just by a title — again, like a S.W.A.T. We don’t have that. We don’t have people driving hummers and mowing down people. So all the things that feel traditionally like CBS procedural meat and potatoes, this has a lot of more peculiar things going for it. That’s part of why we’re mid-season, and more of a character show. I think always the odds are against a show like that.
What was CBS’ reaction to having a show with a male gay lead?
MR: Incredibly supportive. I think it’s a big reason why they bought the pitch. My whole thing from the beginning, and I talked about it with Alan before we both signed on was, even though this is a gay male lead, the show is not about that. That’s number five or six about what makes this guy who he is. And this isn’t a show about gay marriage. It’s not a show about being a gay detective. We really don’t deal with the obstacles much in season one. If we’re lucky enough to have longevity, we’ll get into it and we want to be authentic to it, but it’s more just a piece, an element of the show as opposed to this is what the show is about.
Can you discuss themes of ambition too because with “Royal Pains”, the doctor there wanted to balance the lives that he had as well. Could you talk about that and the aspect of ambition within Alan’s character, but how that’s sort of reflective of “Royal Pains”?
MR: Absolutely. I think ambition is such an interesting thing because we all have our own independent ambition, we have a societal ambition and sometimes they get out of whack. So one of the conflicts for Alan’s character, for Dillon, is that he went into the CIA to please his father. Little did he know that he had his father’s genius for being an operative. It was a surprise to him and a surprise to his father, and it is the thing that drives him. At the same time, Dillon met his husband, fell in love, and his partner basically said, “If you want to live that life, I can’t be with you. Because I don’t want to be with someone who I’m going to wonder, “Are they coming home or not every day.” And so, Dillon said, “Great. I’ll quit.” And then little did he know that he misses that ambition. He needs that. He needs to fight evil. He needs to make the world a better place. So he’s in the situation where the thing he needs most is in direct conflict with the person he needs most. So it’s an ambition to be a successful partner in a relationship versus an ambition to what drives him and satisfying that. Yeah.
Could you talk about the tonal aspect? With “Royal Pains”, you guys were able to do a little bit of slapstick and then it got real dark.
MR: I love “Royal Pains” and when we first started that show, we started as a much darker show. It was very important to me and to us for it to be a show that made you feel better. I think that was a big part of its success. And I think that there’s so much great television out there that is dark, and anti-hero, and apocalyptic. I feel like there’s not a lot of TV out there that you can go along for a ride – either watch with your kids or just feel good about the world when you dine. “Royal Pains” was something that we really tried to do that with. Even though we had dark stories sometimes, we tried to balance it with humor and with character, with a humanity, and characters that you cared about. And it’s very similar in this which is we have darkness, hopefully not too much darkness. We have snakes. We obviously have murders. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never killed anyone before on a show…it’s really weird.
Even on “Royal Pains”?
MR: People died, but no one was murdered on “Royal Pains”, but people died. It’s a lot of pressure and responsibility to do that kind of show. There’s a scene in the pilot which I think they showed in one of the promos where Alan and Boyan is standing over a dead body. A guy had been stabbed 52 times and you see all the stab wounds, but they haven’t bagged her yet. To me that scene works and yet it was a challenge. I felt a lot of pressure, we felt a lot of pressure making it because these two people are in front of each other – over a corpse. So, if it doesn’t work then the show doesn’t work, but I think the scene worked. I think that scene, in a way, is a microcosm of what we’re trying to in the show which is balance, crime, and stakes with being able to have fun at the same time.
Did you have to workshop Dillon as a character in order to get it right?
MR: Marc Webb directed the pilot and he’s a terrific director. And Marc and I, and Alan and Bojana had a six-hour rehearsal one day in Marc’s apartment. And that just got everything to click.
What about your table read?
MR: For the network, for the network president, everyone there – everyone is nervous and terrified. No one is moving back and forth. No one is creating any dialogue together. And all of a sudden everyone is saying the words out loud.
Was there a turnkey moment in the pilot? Or during the reading?
MR: I wanted to basically jump out a window after that table read because it was horrible. Because I hadn’t worked with any of the actors. They’re nervous, everyone is doing it in their accents. Alan is playing an American. Bojana is playing an American. They all have accents. The only one with an accent too hard to use is Naveen. So, it was just like Frankenstein’s monster and horrendous. Then we had a cast dinner afterward and I was thinking about how quickly my career would end after we shot the pilot. Then we started rehearsals. Once we were able to really talk about the characters together, Alan ran upon their rhythm.
The locations you guys had in The Hamptons when you shot “Royal Pains” were just amazing. But in New York City, you have to have those individual, very identifiable things. Can you talk about New York City as a character, and how that integrates into the elements of story?
MR: That’s a really good question, because we actually hired the same location person – his name’s Mike Fucci – who did Royal Pains. He has done the pilot and the series so far, the first season, for “Instinct”. He understands, as he did in “Royal Pains”, that, even though things look very similar, from episode to episode, they also have to be different. I was born in Manhattan. I’ve grown up in New York my whole life. We’ve shot on every borough, and we will continue to, so that we don’t just see the Sex and the City New York. We see the Bronx. We’ve shot in the Bronx a couple of times. We see Brooklyn, or stages of Brooklyn. We’ve shot in Queens, Staten Island.
Is there any locations that you can talk about that you really enjoyed on this one?
MR: My favorite location, we just did the finale there. We were in Long Island City on the East River, facing the Manhattan skyline, on the other side of Roosevelt Island. And just being able to have the background — I mean, my favorite building in Manhattan is the Chrysler Building. So, having the Chrysler Building, and the UN, and the Empire State Building as a backdrop…you can’t replicate that anywhere in the world. It’s the most iconic thing. But, honestly, being anywhere in New York, you feel the texture and the energy of the city. And, although our tone is slightly elevated –- we’re not going to show graffiti, we’re not going to show some of the filth that’s there –- but, at the same time, we really want to let New York be a character in the show.
By Tim Wassberg
IR Exclusive Print Interview: Pedro Almodovar (Director) For “I’m So Excited” [Sony Pictures Classics]
Pedro Almodovar has traversed the entire world but creating unique singular motley landscapes with the sense of the absurd and distinct characters grounds his forte. With a long list of films that bear his signature from “Tie Me Up Tie Me Down” to “Volver” to “All About My Mother” to his latest “I’m So Excited”, there is always a sense of chicanery to his methods. Inside Reel sat down with the legendary director to his discuss his influences, genres and the aspect of notoriety.
Emmanuel Itier: So many people admire you. What directors do you admire?
Pedro Almodovar: Many directors and many writers. When I think of directors, I have hundreds of them. Since this business was invented, there were people that were full of talent. Because there were so many, I tried to think about this movie and this era—screwball comedy. I’m a big admirer of all the writers and directors of the 1930s and 1940s like Ernest Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Mitchell Leisen, George Cukor…
EI: Any Spanish directors?
Almodovar: Yes, of course. I don’t know if you are familiar with Luis Garcia Berlanga. His “El Verdugo” (“The Executioner”) is an absolutely masterpiece.
EI: For this movie (“I’m So Excited”), did you write the role of Norma especially for veteran Argentine actress Cecilia Roth?
Almodovar: I didn’t think about her when I was writing the script. In fact, this was one very special character for which I didn’t get the right actress. Originally, it was written for someone older than Cecilia.
She was supposed to be around 63, good-looking and had undergone a lot a surgery. She was like the madams I had in mind in Spain. But I remember the type of actresses who used to work (in the late 1970s) when there when there was the sexual revolution. Censorship was lifted. I realized there were actresses in Spain that could play that role but they were not good. They had the physical requirements of the role but they were not right for the part. So I decided to adapt the role for Cecilia. Also, there was a phenomenon, after the dictatorship (was over) of an invasion of Argentine artists in Spain.
Cecilia was just the opposite of the type of actress I’d originally thought of. She was just the typical model girl. She’d done important, very interesting movies in the early 1980s. This is an actress I’d admired very much. She grew up after living in Madrid in the 1980s. As we started (our careers) at the same time, I was very proud of her.
EI: You won an Oscar with her?
Almodovar: Yes. For “All About My Mother.”
EI: What was it like to win the Oscar then?
Almodovar: To win an Oscar is always wonderful. (chuckling) But there are so many things to do before that. I had to go to five different parties every day. By the time you go to the show, you’re exhausted! But it’s wonderful. I didn’t work just to get an Oscar. It was like this one: I just wanted to make a movie. For me, my ambition is for the audience to identify with the movie. For the good things and the bad things. Of course, (“All About My Mother”) is kind of unique. In Spain, before me there was only one other Oscar (winner).
[However] there is a moment when your mind just blows. You have a moment of extreme happiness, and then you just return to reality, as usual.
EI: Do you like the translation of the movie to “I’m So Excited!”?
Almodovar: We needed that translation, because here “Los Amantes Pasajeros” doesn’t have the same meaning as it does in Spain. It means someone is traveling and something is fleeting. In France and Italy, it had the same title but here [in the US], we needed a new title. I think “I’m So Excited!” is good for this type of movie. In Spain, to be “excited” also means to be “horny”.
EI: This film is much more of a farce than your previous movies. How was it having these straight actors playing over the top gay flight attendants?
Almodovar: The actors are not gay, I have to tell you. They trained very hard over a long period of time to get as flamboyant and “queenie” as they became in the film. The thing is, in this movie, is the first time I’ve had three very effeminate, queenie characters. In the past, I didn’t need to put in any specifically gay characters because for me being gay is something completely regular. That’s why I didn’t have obviously gay characters in my past films. For this specific movie, a light comedy, I think the queeniness, the flamboyant quality, was funnier. Also, these characters serve as kind of “masters of ceremonies” of everything that’s happening. And I needed something very precise about these effeminate characters. So that was a result of their wonderful work.
EI: How would you describe this film in general terms? I’ve seen it described as political, sexual, bisexual…
Almodovar: It depends on the audience. In Spain, everyone recognizes that this is a specific reality. The film is a clear metaphor of Spanish society [and] about the uncertainty we feel…the necessity that Spanish society needs. The emergency landing is very risky. We don’t know how it will come out. I’ve said in both Spain and France that they are close together and we need each other. I don’t say that here because I cannot expect people to know what is happening in Spain (economically and socially). I’m just trying to just make a fun movie. It’s like I’m doing burlesque.
The movie is a comedy but it’s also about fear and loneliness. The fact that these people are not connected to anything yet there is this contemporary loneliness. They are condemned—for better or worse—to be with each other. The best thing for them to do is talk. Talking is the best thing to entertain themselves so they can forget about fear. It’s a movie where death and sex is very present.
EI: What was the inspiration of the bold bright colors in this film?
Almodovar: I do it based on my own intuition. I actually designed everything in the interior of the plane, except the floor and the glass. Everything else I designed myself. On the one hand, I wanted to make the interior look different from anything that existed in reality so no one could accuse me of making something that resembles a real airline, which would never permit sex, drugs and all the stuff that goes on in this aircraft. I don’t want anyone suing me. But I think the actual interior of planes are hideous. They use the worst hues of browns and grays. I didn’t want those colors for my movie.
For example, there is a development of gray and it’s way onto blue, and then there is a brown on its way down to orange. Then there’s a red hue that sort of serves as a highlight on the seats and on the signage—the arrows and the things that form the interior of the plane. To make all this I do it like a painter. I have many fabrics and then I put the different combinations together. I’m like a painter working in three-dimensions. That takes into account the actors in the foreground and background.
EI: Can you talk about the inception of the screenplay? Did any of this come from your own personal experience flying?
Almodovar: I didn’t have sex on a plane. I dream of that sometimes, but not lately. I didn’t do drugs on a plane. I think it’s the only place that I didn’t. (chuckling) It was very popular in Madrid in the 1980s. I also don’t drink. This is something I never did, even in the 1980s. But the main thing is all these things are prohibited. The comedy here is meant to betray the rules. Basically, in this case, these people are frightened, nervous and becoming crazy, and so they drink alcohol to relax. All of this is linked to the ways in which they can let go of their inhibitions to some level because of the drinking and the state of excitement. But it also is because they’ve forgotten what’s at the base [of their tension] which is fear. For these bunch of passengers who are facing death, this is the one way to celebrate life—to turn to the senses, specifically, sexuality and sex to say goodbye to life.
EI: Did you hesitate to have anything about the King of Spain in the movie? Do you have any comments about the scandal that currently is rocking the royal family? (Spanish Princess Cristina has been indicted on charges of complicity in fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and embezzlement in connection with charges filed against her husband.)
Almodovar: I don’t want to give more problems to the King than he already has. My opinion of them has changed in the past two years. It started to change when a book about the King (“The Solitude of the Queen” by Pilar Eyre) came out a few years ago. The queen was so discreet (about her husband’s alleged infidelity over the years), which we used to think was because she was intelligent. I was disgusted to discover his homophobia and opposition to gay marriage.
I’m very unsatisfied with that as well as the case of corruption that the royal family now has. The Spanish people are mature enough to talk about it now. Everyone talks about it every day. What we need is more collaboration in what happens in our lives. I think we should have a right as Spaniards to ask for a referendum regarding what the opinion is about whether we should have a parliamentary monarchy or not. I have an empathy for the King, though. They were very nice to me, always. I don’t want to give them a problem with this but everybody thinks that the king has had many love affairs, so I felt it was OK that I could imply it in the movie—though no one actually says it.
EI: What do you think Mexican audiences will think of this film?
Almodovar: I hope the Mexican audience isn’t offended by this movie that the killer-for-hire is Mexican. (chuckling) I don’t think Mexico is full of killers-for-hire. No one should take the film literally, not even the Spanish King. I hope, because we share the same language—obviously this film’s not going to be subtitled in English in Mexico— I hope that audiences there have a lot of fun with it. I hope they don’t come into the film prejudiced against it in some way. I also hope for the homosexual men, who have never left the closet or the bisexual men who will never admit it, that they’re also not offended by the way I deal with these situations in this film.
EI: How did you come with the idea of Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz for the opening sequence of this film?
Almodovar: I wanted good actors for all of the characters. It was also because I wanted to be with them. We enjoyed working together even though it was only for one day. Also, this is my return to a genre that is familiar to me. My earlier movies were comedies so I came back to that genre. My idea was to have two actors that belong to my family. They’re part of my artistic and emotional family and they’re basically welcoming the audience to our new movie of Pedro. He’s going back to comedy. It’s kind of like a feeling of something familiar.
EI: Were you angry with Antonio when he came to Hollywood several years ago?
Almodovar: No! Absolutely not! Always, Antonio and Melanie (Griffith, his wife) were for me like my American family. I only was angry once with a Mexican actor. That was the only case. I’m not going to say who. That’s in the past. Antonio always has invited me and I stay with him when I come here.
EI: “I’m So Excited” opened the Los Angeles Film Festival. How exciting is that for you?
Almodovar: I love it because it’s a good venue for the movie. We’ve only previously had two screenings with an American audience in New York so for me it’s very important to listen to how people breathe during the screening. Thatwill give me a lot of information how this movie is going to be seen by the American audience, because I don’t know (yet). This is an American audience, which is something very new. I’m excited because I’m here with three of the actors. It’s always fun to have a party and celebrate a movie with people
By Emmanuel Itier