Exclusive Interview – Falling Skies Executive Producer/Writer Remi Aubuchon

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We had a chance to ask the Executive Producer and head writer of Falling Skies Season 2, Remi Aubuchon, about what its like to write a show like this and get some insight on what we might expect for the upcoming season of Falling Skies. Remi is a respected theatre director who trained under an American Film Institute Directors Fellowship, but found himself more in demand as a screenwriter.

As a producer Remi has such titles under his belt as 24, Summerland, Persons Unknown and The Lyon’s Den. As a writer Remi shows his talent even more so in the area of science fiction with titles like Caprica and SGU Stargate Universe. His storytelling has been entertaining the fans of science fiction for many years now and we get to again see his touch with the second season of Falling Skies.

Season 1 of Falling Skies left us with more questions then answers as Tom walked on to the alien ship with the hope that he may learn more about them while protecting Ben from what the harness was still doing to him. We are also left to wonder what exactly will happen with Ben, will the aliens double cross Tom and how will the 2nd mass fight back?

In our interview with Remi, we touched on a variety of topics relating to writing and producing a show like this and some little bites of information on what is to come in season 2.

What got you started in writing and producing?

First, I’ve always loved television; my father was a character actor and worked in TV all the time.  I would often visit him on the set, and hang out with various crews to get an idea of what they did.  I always thought I wanted to be a director and, in fact, went to film school (AFI) to learn to be one.  But when I got out and I was showing around my thesis film, everyone kept asking me what I’ve written because in the 90s writer/directors where all the rage.  Out of panic I wrote my first screenplay, and two things happened; I realized I loved writing and I sold it!  It was made into a TV movie and I honestly haven’t been without a job writing since then.  I really don’t miss directing, and when I get to have a collaboration like I do with a great director like Greg Beeman, I’m more than satisfied to see how we can mutually get our vision on screen.

Producing isn’t as much fun as writing, if I can be honest, but it’s what you need to do to rise up in the hierarchy of television production, so I never really thought that much about it as a goal.

When Turner/TNT approached you to Executive produce and run the second season of Falling Skies, had you previously seen any of the series?

In fact, Graham Yost and Dreamworks had asked me to work on the first season, but unfortunately I had already committed to Stargate: Universe.  So then I got to read Bob Rodat’s pilot script and watch the pilot (under serious security) and was excited about the project, but sadly, all I could do was wish them good luck.  Mark Verheiden, who I’ve known for some time, and who’s work I’ve always respected (he wrote the best episode of Caprica, as far as I’m concerned) ended up doing it, and I thought he did a great job.  I was incredibly but pleasantly surprised when Dreamworks and TNT approached me to run second season (Mark was committed at the time to “Dark Tower” and Graham to ”Justified”) and I jumped at it.  I watched all the episodes before they aired in one Saturday, which was a trip and I urge fans to try that at least once – it’s ten hours of fun!  I then had about three days to pull together my ideas of what I’d do in the second season and present them to Steven Spielberg  and Michael Wright (TNT).  Amazingly we’ve done almost everything I pitched to them.

You have recently done shows like Caprica and Stargate SGU, do you find that you enjoy the science fiction genre more than other genres?

I am a total SF geek.  I collect comic books (Green Lantern/Flash), build models, and have watched Star Wars a million times and almost know every episode of Star Trek and Twilight Zone by heart.  But, I also love character drama and worked most of my career in it.  But I have, in recent years, made a conscious effort to combine my obsession for Science Fiction with strong character drama.  Certainly that was my intention with Caprica and Falling Skies gives me the chance to that as well.  I’m not really interested in writing procedural dramas, though I have a lot of respect for those who do.  I am forever trying to get a western pilot sold, and I am determined to bring a Steampunk idea I have to TV at some point.   

Coming into season 2, we have built up our base character histories but left so much to build on, what was your mind set coming into season 2 for the story, the characters and the mystery?

Our main objective this season was to amp everything up, putting more pressure on the members of the 2nd Mass, and upping the stakes.  If the first season was about dealing with the trauma of the alien invasion, this season is about coming to terms with the realities of the fact that they’re not leaving any time soon and figuring out how to survive in the world as it is now.   Noah Wyle’s character, Tom, will have more challenges as he becomes more determined to bring the fight to the Aliens.

As a writer and producer for season 2, do you sit with each actor or actress and talk about their characters, where they are going and where they are coming from?

Absolutely – I think it’s essential to have a partnership with the actors in creating a character.  We met with all the actors one on one before we started writing a single word, and have tried to keep up a dialogue with them during production.  All the writers watch dallies, trying to see what the actor is doing with his/her character, so we can try to riff off it in subsequent scripts.  It’s kind of like playing jazz with each other: we give them a note, they improv on it, we take it back, mix it up, and so forth.  Also, they know their characters better than we do sometimes, so I always try to listen to their concerns.  My real job is to make sure the story for the season stays consistent – I’m in charge of the big picture, so to speak.  The writer of the individual episode is concerned with overall story and many other elements both technical and emotional.  Only the individual actor is tracking his/her arc for the episode and knows first hand what feels right and wrong.  We take that feedback seriously and try always to accommodate.

Which character’s story (without spoilers) did you have the most fun expanding on? Whose story line do you think is most interesting in season 2?

We changed up all the characters, so every one of them gets deepened and expanded upon.   Certainly Tom Mason goes through a bunch changes and challenges this season, and Noah Wyle has just done such an amazing job of making us feel Tom’s journey – it’s incredible to watch.  Capt. Weaver, as played by Will Patton, becomes more comfortable with being a leader.  Ben is going off into a direction that will be both surprising and exciting.  I don’t want to spoil anything there though.  Hal’s matured and has become a respected warrior.  Matt’s grown up as well.  We’ve also had fun deepening Pope, making him feel more complicated – he’s just as irritating and scary but there’s more to him than met the eye in Season One.  And I think all the women characters are more well-rounded: Anne Glass has become tougher; Lourdes is no longer the shy and retiring girl she was before.  Certainly Maggie has grown to become an integral part of the 2nd Mass.

What do you enjoy most about writing on a show like this?

Steven’s idea, which I responded to immediately, was to create a family show that lived in a post-apocalyptic world – reflecting all the problems that we have raising a family in the real world, heightened by the trauma of an alien invasion, where no one is safe.  It’s a challenge to keep that balance but it’s also what makes the show unique.  We could go all dystopia and bleak – I’ve seen it before, but instead our characters see light at the end of a long and dark tunnel – they never stop believing in the human will to carry on under the greatest of hardships, and I think that’s a message for us to hear in the here and now.  I also enjoy the challenge of weaving the mythology of our alien invaders.  Steven gave us an interesting challenge; as an audience we should never know any more about the invaders than our characters do – we discover what’s going on when they do.  But… we, as writers, have to know what’s going on, and we’ve spent a lot of time figuring it out, and then deciding when the best time to reveal it would be.

When writing a series that is limited to so few episodes, 10 in the case, what must you do as a writer to make sure that you tell a good enough story during the season, while still leaving the mystery in place for the next season? How do you strike that balance?

Personally, I think 10 episodes is a blessing because it forces you to make every episode count.  We spent a lot of time on the complete story we wanted to tell this season right at the beginning – you will see at the end, I hope, that there is a complete story in place, with each episode being a chapter.  But each episode also needs to have a beginning middle and end, and not be so serialized that audiences, who are just tuning in, won’t understand what’s going on.  And then, of course, you want to make sure it leads up to something that ends with a cliff-hanger for the next season.  Without sounding too academic, I consider Charles Dickens to be the father of episodic television because he perfected the art of the serialized novel.  You may know that he wrote all his great novels as chapters for magazines, that were later compiled into book form.  Every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger that compels the reader to want to read the next and the next.  That’s kind of what we have to do in television, and honestly that’s the fun of it.  We often start with the act outs, when breaking a story (creating it in the writer’s room) and I pitched the ending of this season right at the start, so we knew where we’d be going.  And by the way, I think the end of season two will have some pretty shocking cliff-hangers that will make you want to watch season three!

How much beyond a given episode being shot do you reveal what’s going to happen next to the actors? Do you leave them as much in the dark as the viewer?

It depends on what it is.  I think actors like to be surprised too, but I try to give them a general idea where their character is headed.  Big twists, though, I usually keep hidden from sight – even from the network!

As an executive producer and writer, do you make changes or adjustments to aspects of a character as you see things table read and acted out so that they flow better amongst the actors or do you leave the actors some room to flex the words a bit to fit their character?

All the time, and on the set too.  Sometimes even in post production!

During our set visit in January we learned about First and Second unit and how some fill in shots are done after the main shooting of the episode is finished. How do you prepare an actor for re-entering the middle of a scene they shot possibly days or weeks ago? How do you ensure their mood, expressions and tone match the previously shoot episode?

Well, that’s the actor’s job actually, and it comes from experience and training.  The director will help them along if they’re having trouble remembering and sometimes playback of a scene aids them.  It’s actually remarkable to watch an actor work – their ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances is, in my opinion, magic.

The special effects used on the show are as impressive as the amount of puppets used versus the CGI. Which do you prefer, CGI or puppet?

We actually use a combination of the two, sometimes separately, sometimes combined.  I think the actors like having something to interact with – cg usually means there’s a tennis ball on a stick they have to talk to, which must be maddeningly tough.  Our puppeteers do a great job of bringing the skitters to life, but sometimes the human body just can’t do what a skitter needs to do, and so CG is employed.

Season 2 is coming this June on TNT and the Blu-Ray/DVD release of Season 1 is June 5th with extras that include an extended version of the pilot episode, Season 2 sneak peeks, Harness Makeup featurette, and so much more. Order Falling Skies on Bluray or DVD Now.

Checkout 2 trailers from Caprica and SGU, as well as a Season 2 look ahead at Falling Skies and comment below to tell us which of Remi’s Sci Fi shows you enjoyed or enjoy the most and why?

Robert Prentice