Michael Green, creator of the acclaimed series Kings (which you can watch in its entirety on Hulu, is going to be a busy man at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Not only is he part of the much-anticipated DC Comics relaunch in September as co-writer of Supergirl [Click here to read a full interview about their run], but he’s also premiering his all-new ABC series The River.
Set to premiere at midseason, The River already boasts a heady pedigree with Steven Spielberg and the team behind Paranormal Activity behind the scenes. Like those films, it’s a “found footage” series taking the form of a documentary about the search for Dr. Emmet Cole, a famous TV explorer who’s gone missing in an uncharted region of the Amazon. As his family hunts Dr. Cole down, they’ll discover that he’s tapped into undiscovered forces of magic and darkness…and that their search will be a dangerous one.
For the first time, Green, who also co-wrote the recent Green Lantern film, spoke about The River, what viewers can expect from the show, and the special treat in store for those who attend the Comic-Con premiere on Friday. He even dropped a few hints about what to expect in his run on Supergirl. Read on to find out more…
Newsarama: Michael, congratulations on the show being picked up. You came in on this project after it originated, corrected?
Michael Green: I got the script from ABC Studios, who had some issues with it, and asked me if I'd like to take the basic concept and rewrite it, and I had a fun time working on it, and with the Dreamworks team who’d been developing it, and they in turn liked it enough to shoot it. And it got picked up, and asked me if I wanted to stay on the produce it, and I said yes!
Nrama: What’s your role with the show?
Green: I’m executive-producing it and showrunning it. I’ve got a bunch of great people I’m working with on the show – there’s a brilliant writer named Zack Estrin who came along to run the show with me, who worked on Prison Break and No Ordinary Family and a whole lot of other great shows. But yeah, I’m running the show!
Nrama: Where all are you filming this adventure? Not on the actual Amazon, one assumes…
Green: We filmed the pilot in Puerto Rico, which was really fun, and the series will be filmed in Hawaii, and we are going to be running the show out of Los Angeles.
Nrama: Well, see, you loused up a perfectly good opportunity to go hang out in Hawaii, then.
Green: Unfortunately, the work of running a TV show in Hawaii precludes you from doing any of the fun things working on the show should have. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to go visit the set and work there, but there’s a tremendous amount of work on the show to be done. The writers will go down to cover some of the episodes, but I have a lot to do – running a show is a three-ring circus sometimes.
Nrama: When I read the script, I got the sense maybe you were drawing from a love of National Geographic-type shows when you were younger…
Green: I didn’t watch them when I was younger, but I certainly discovered them much later. In the pitch they had, they had the idea of this famous Jacques Cousteau type that had been lost, and
I tried to create a nostalgia for him, the sense that this was someone we had all grown up watching.
I grew up watching Mr. Wizard – I really loved his unbridled enthusiasm for science and love and teaching. And you know, add a little Indiana Jones, that sort of teacher everyone loves, who’s incredibly passionate about everything…we added from a lot of places. Steve Irwin came up as someone everyone watched and was charmed by, and that sense of loss everyone felt when he was gone, and the relationship he had with his family, even when he was dangling his son over a crocodile! (laughs)
Nrama: While there’s been a lot of positive feedback for the script and the pilot, the question that’s been asked is, “How do you get more than one season out of this?”Green: The funny thing is, Marc Guggenheim told me, “No show has ever been canceled because they ran out of ideas.” Just the idea of being on the Amazon and discovering new magical secrets is so rich with stories.
We think of ourselves as more the spiritual son of the X-Files than Lost or anything – though we’re also shooting in Hawaii, we are all too much fans of Lost and all the wonderful things they accomplished to even try to approximate anything they did.
It’s not just a show about finding a missing guy, which is a finite story. It’s about finding a truth, unraveling different types of magic down there, discovering things – everything from local legends that are part of the culture along the Amazon to stories of ghosts and demons and ghouls.
I actually want to ask – what about the show makes you think it would run out of stories?
Nrama: Well, based on the script, you have a relatively contained group of characters in an isolated environment, which would seem to limit the opportunities to bring in additional characters for conflict and storylines.
Green: Well, Friends was, at the end of the day, about a bunch of people hanging out at a coffee shop, and they never ran out of stuff to do! (laughs) I think there’s a lot of dynamics between characters – you’re not in a part of the world where you can’t meet new people, there’s always new people out there. I think we’ll be coming across a lot of good, strong people as we go.
Nrama: What’s the biggest challenge in writing a show toward that mockumentary/Paranormal Activity format?
Green: It’s actually a lot of fun! It was really freeing. Television writing is so much in that bread-and-butter style of scenes where someone enters a room, talks to a person, has a conflict, slight resolution, end of scene, very formalized. They’re fun to write, and for a long time I’ve done those kinds of scenes.
With this, though, you’ve got to jump into things. There’s a lot of haiku-type beats. In the pilot, there’s fewer traditional full scenes and more clips of things to get to the meat of what’s going on. You also get to polish it a different way – instead of trying to make it all pretty, you polish it to make it ugly, to create jagged edges and make it a much more jazzy style.
That’s fun, because it’s about these things happening in real moments, the kinds of moments where someone’s acknowledging the camera of flubbing a line. Those are fun, because you’re going for real performances.
In fact, one of the best bits in the pilot involves one of our actors, Paul Blackthorne, who had to give a speech to the camera, and something went wrong with his shirt, like a button popped open, and he went, “I have a wardrobe problem here!”
And he went back and did the speech from there, and it became this very organic moment because this character would be the type to complain about his wardrobe. It became a very naturalistic performance.
Nrama: Blackthorne’s an actor who’ll have a lot of love from our readers for shows like The Dresden Files…
Green: Not for nothing. He’s a terrific actor and a great guy, incredibly charming and handsome, which is just irritating, but otherwise a joy to work with.
Nrama: It seems like with this, you’re going 180 from Kings.
Green: Well, with Kings – and thank you for remembering that – that was a show that was very mannered, where everyone was very crafted and the actors were very careful to be letter-perfect to our original intentions. And here, it’s a lot more sloppy-choppy natural.
In a way, we’re looking for a different sort of perfectionism on this show, where we can’t do anything that feels too poised, or overly-written or too “acted,” in a way. That’s the experiment. A lot of times we’ll write in lines, and the line comes off as too polished, too written, and we have to ugly it up so it feels like something someone would say in the moment as they’re having a conversation caught on video.
Nrama: What’s it like working with the Paranormal Activity team?Green: Oh, it’s great! Oren Peli is a really sweet guy, which is great, because with his money he doesn’t have to be. (laughs) He’s got this laser-beam eye for what’s natural and what fits in the verite style and what doesn’t. It was really fun learning from him on that.
It’s been very exciting to see his enthusiasm at moving into television. He’d never done television before, and had a really good time doing it – he was really surprised by the immediacy of everything, how fast everything happened. It was really fun to just sort of borrow his energy and excitement and ride that.
Nrama: How much of an arc do you have planned out for the show?
Green: Quite a bit. I can’t tell you that much about it, but this is going to be a show that had individual episodes and stories, much like The X-Files, and there’s a mystery, something to discover in each episode. But there’s also ongoing stories, in terms of character arcs and relationships and the general mystery of what they’re out there searching for.
Nrama: Now, you’re working on Supergirl – what’s the challenge in terms of running a TV show and writing a monthly comic?
Green: I’m doing it the same way I did it last time, when I was doing Kings and writing Superman/Batman. And the way I did that there was that I worked with another writer – Mike Johnson, who’s hugely talented. TV’s a collaborative medium, so I’ve made writing comics a collaborative medium. (laughs)
It’s us and our artist Mahmud Asrar, who is just phenomenally talented, and we’re having a great time. The advice I’d give for anyone trying to do TV and comic at the same time is this: Take help. Take it wherever you can. (laughs) Don’t try to be a hero and do everything yourself, take help from the talented people around you.
Nrama: I know there’s a tight lid on this, but what can you tell us about your Supergirl book, i.e. what made you want to work on the character and what themes will you deal with on the book?
Green: I’ve always loved the character, so it was really just Eddie Berganza calling me up and saying, “Hey, we have an opening on this character, you want to do something?” My immediate reaction was “Oh my God! I always wanted to work on her!”
We have a ton of ideas. The main thing for us is to really play into the idea of her being an alien in this world in two senses. One is the idea of her being suddenly transported to our world, the culture shock like a kid from the big city being taken out to the suburbs in a way. And the second way is that she’s a teenager, and teenagers kind of feel like aliens in the world anyway.
Nrama: What all will you present at Comic-Con?
Green: They came to me and said, “Hey, you want to do something at Comic-Con?” And I said, “Well, I feel the best advertising for the show The River is the show The River.” I just want to get as many people as possible to see the pilot we did, because we worked hard and it turned out great, which isn’t easy when you know what it’s like putting a show together in pilot season! (laughs).
We have an amazing cast and a brilliant director with Jaume Collet-Serra, who made the pilot look great, and I just want a chance to show this off to people like, “See what we made? Isn’t it cool?” And hopefully they’ll agree and come watch it on TV. We’re a midseason show, so we’re not going to be on for some time, so our hope is people will see this now so they don’t have to wait for it. (laughs)
Nrama: They’re calling this the year for TV at Comic-Con.
Green: You know, I was at the panel for the launch of Heroes back in 2006, which really felt like the first time Comic-Con and TV found each other, and it was a lot of fun. I keep trying to mitigate everyone’s expectations and say, “You know what? That’s not going to happen again, but we can show this new pilot and hopefully get everyone excited about it.”
Oh, you know what? We have a special piece of material from the pilot that we created just for the panel. It’s a little video that will play at the end of our panel, material we shot specifically for Comic-Con that helps kick off our mystery – a combination of footage we didn’t use in the pilot and some all-new material we shot for the con. I just saw the finished cut, and it’s fantastic. I think the fans will find it a lot of fun.
Take a trip up The River with Michael Green and the cast at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday at 2:15 p.m. And check out Supergirl in September!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!