Interview date: 10/29/2009
Run date: 11/13/2009
As the man responsible for the screenplay for “Dark City,” David S. Goyer has long since earned his sci-fi stripes, and when you throw in his contributions to the “comic book movie” genre (he wrote all three of the “Blade” films, co-wrote “Batman Begins,” and contributed the story for “The Dark Knight”), his street cred is well above board. Now, however, he’s picking up considerable respect for his work as the executive producer of ABC’s “FlashForward.” Bullz-Eye chatted with Goyer in conjunction with the show’s appearance in the TV Power Rankings, and he discussed the origins of the series, what we can expect in upcoming episodes, and whether or not we’re even going to find out what the deal is with that damned kangaroo.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, David, how are you?
David S. Goyer: I’m good. How are you?
BE: I’m good. Pleasure to talk to you.
BE: So I understand we had our delay because you are busy directing.
DG: Well, I was. Yeah, I finished the thing I was doing about 2:00 last night…or this morning.
BE: What episode are you guys working on right now?
DG: Well, we are filming episodes 11 and 12. We cross together because we shoot two at a time. But I am sort of the in-house director, too, so we were doing some reshoots for episode eight. So that’s what I was doing yesterday.
BE: Well, I don’t know if you had heard, but the reason we’re talking is because “FlashForward” is pretty high up on our TV Power Rankings for Bullz-Eye.com…
BE: …so we’re big fans of the show. So how did Robert Sawyer’s novel first appear on your radar?
DG: Jessika Borsiczky, one of the producers, we were friends and she had read it. She might have even picked it up in the bookstore, I’m not sure, about eight years ago. She contacted me at the time about possibly doing it as a feature, because I was doing more features back then. I was really interested in the book and I don’t know, one thing led to another and it just kind of fell by the wayside. We never pursued it. About two years ago, I was unpacking some books, I had moved, and the paperback she had given me fell out of a box. It was filled with passages that I had highlighted. And I reread the book and called her up and said, “You know, this is a really good…we should do this. Except I think it should be a TV series, because I just think the concept is way too big to deal with in a single movie.” And that’s what happened.
BE: So when the time came to adapt it to a series format, what did you find were some of your greatest challenges?
DG: Well, in the book, the flash forward takes place about 21 years in the future. So first and foremost, there was the question of, did we want to be dealing with a future that involves “Blade Runner”-like flying cars or what not. And the other issue was, even though I loved the book, I felt that if you are going to deal with this on a serious basis, it felt like seeing a future that was more pressing, six months out, was potentially more dramatic. It’s one thing if you’re worried your wife might cheat on you 21 years from now, or even if you’re worried you might be killed 21 years from now. But if it’s six months from now, I feel like the weight of the future pressing down upon our characters has that much more gravitational force. I also was intrigued with the idea of catching up to that future by the end of the first season. I think that’s an interesting promise to make the audience. So those are the primary reasons. The other thing in the book is that all the main characters in the book are particle physicists. And I just felt, frankly, from a purely market analysis, that having mainstream audiences not be able to relate to any of the characters might not make the most compelling television. That being said, one of the characters still remains a particle physicist, and we will be getting into that world.
BE: So how much input did Robert Sawyer have in the adjustment to the TV version? Or did you consult him at all when you were doing it?
DG: Yeah, we did. He came to Los Angeles. Brannon Braga and I, who’s a friend of mine, once I decided I wanted to do it as a TV show, I asked Brannon if he would like to do it with me because I enjoy working with him and he also loves science fiction. Robert Sawyer came to Los Angeles, Brannon and I pitched, along with Jessica, the changes that we had in mind in order to make it a TV show. The other thing is that Sawyer wrote it as a closed ended novel, whereas we had to come up with something that could potentially live for five, six, seven years and tell over 100 hours of stories. So he grasped why we wanted to make the changes. He approved them; he signed off on it. We made an arrangement with him to have him continue to be a signed advisor on the show, and also write an episode. He’s actually coming to Los Angeles in another week or so, he’s going to be writing episode 17. So he’s going to work with the writers in the room as we write the story, write the episode.
BE: Excellent. Well, from a writing/producing standpoint, what are the challenges of wrangling an ensemble cast in all of their individual fast forwards? I mean, like, how far ahead do you have to plan when you’re working with that?
DG: The challenges are immense. Now that we’re in the midst of writing episode 15, only now do I realize just how…if I had known how daunting the task was going to be when I set out doing the pilot, I might have taken pause before I decided to dive in. It’s very complicated. We have 11 series regulars. We have another six or so recurring characters. Some of them are recurring so much that they are effectively series regulars, like Zoey, who is Gabrielle Union. It’s complicated. You have to weave…I have a lot of respect for Damon and Carlton on “Lost,” because they have a lot of different story lines that you have to weave and service. And sometimes while you are refocusing the spotlight on one character, you have to take the spotlight off another. You can’t take the spotlight off of him that long, or then the audience gets anxious. So it’s a constant juggling act.
BE: Speaking of “Lost”, were you at all reluctant to cast two people who were known for “Lost” on a show that messes with time, kind of like “Lost” does?
DG: You know, when we started casting Sonya Walger, who obviously is on “Lost” but isn’t a series regular, and then the Dominic Monaghan thing happened, we gave it a lot of thought. You know, do we really want to have two actors that were on “Lost” on our show? At the end of the day, we decided to go for it. Particularly, we were very enchanted with Dominic and we had a character in mind. We pitched the character to him and we asked him what he wanted to do. And essentially what he said was, “Whatever the opposite of Charlie is, that’s what I want to play.” So if Charlie is a boy and somebody that to a certain extent relegated to Claire’s babysitter, I want to be the opposite. And that worked for us with the character. So, you know, his character stepped on stage in a big way in tonight’s episode. He’s only in three scenes tonight, but I think when audiences see it, or if they haven’t already seen it, they will realize that the character he is playing of Simon is pretty far removed from Charlie.
BE: In fact, I was going to say that, due to the timing, I have not had a chance to watch tonight’s episode yet. I’m on the east coast, so it has already aired, I just haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.
DG: It’s pretty interesting.
BE: Yeah, I was going to say that, based on the clips, I think it’s fair to say that Simon is a bit evil?
DG: I won’t say whether or not he’s evil, but he’s definitely a controversial character. There’s one scene that we did not release a clip of, when you see it you will know what scene I am talking about, it’s pretty damn shocking. I won’t say whether he’s evil or not, but he’s definitely controversial.
BE: Music plays a tremendous part in this series.
BE: Who is responsible for selecting the songs? I presume you have a hand in that yourself, at least to a certain extent.
DG: For good or bad, I’m the person responsible. I pick the songs.
BE: Well, I’ll say that the choice of song in episode four, the opening with Bjork was fantastic. So how many takes did it require to set up that very first opening scene with the…
DG: The bus?
BE: Yeah, the bus, the bike crash…all of the above.
DG: Well, the bus going into the water we did twice. And the bike crash and people falling we did three or four times. But we were very happy with that sequence and we had the Bjork song in mind, even when we were writing the script. So we were glad that that worked out.
BE: And I very much liked the use of “Boogie Shoes.”
DG: Yeah, “Boogie Shoes.” It’s funny, I’ve read everything from people saying they love the song choice to they don’t like the song choice. It just depends. I mean, we used Jeff Buckley in episode three and most people seem to love that choice, but some people are saying they didn’t like it. Different strokes, I guess.
BE: Well, as a longtime Night Ranger fan, I of course appreciated the use of “Sister Christian.”
DG: Thank you. We continue to use…the other thing that we did in tonight’s episode is that I had a band that I’m a fan of – Fuel – cover a David Bowie song. So that was a whole new song that we recorded just for the purposes of the show. And we’re actually starting to do that with a couple of other songs. Later on in the season, we’re having indie bands cover sort of some old time favorites or things like that. That’s kind of fun, too, that we’re generating new material as well.
BE: Well it’s funny, actually. I was going to ask if the reason that you used The Rolling Stones’ cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” was kind of like an end run to get the song without having to pay Dylan prices.
DG: The Stones are more expensive, actually.
BE: Really? I’m surprised.
DG: Yeah. We’re using a Dylan song in episode nine, and The Stones are more expensive. The Stones…I just like that cover. I think their version of that song is an amazing version.
BE: As far as Janis and Maya, how far into the series did you know Janis’s sexuality, or how that was going to play out? Or was it something that you had had in mind from the very beginning?
DG: We knew in the pilot.
BE: Okay. Should we have known in the pilot?
DG: Um, no, not necessarily. Although the ring that Geyer mentions is in the pilot. If you go back and look closely, you’ll see that she’s wearing that ring in the pilot. You know, I think our issue with Janis and her sexuality is we drop some hints here and there. As an audience member, I kind of cry foul sometimes when you had a character on the stage for a long time and suddenly just say they are gay. We thought it was more interesting to maybe drop some hints and then just do it. But we feel like we laid some groundwork. She also says in the pilot, “I don’t even have a boyfriend now.” You can construe it that she is heterosexual from that, but there were definitely hints along the way. In episode three, Geyer even questions her sexuality.
BE: In the writing process, which came first: the idea that she would be pregnant, or the idea that she would be gay? Or do you even remember?
DG: No, no, no. They happened at the same time. That being said, there are plenty of gay women that get pregnant.
BE: Of course. Now, the warehouse of dolls in the second episode was extremely creepy imagery. What were the origins of that? It actually struck me as something that I would see in a comic book.
DG: Well, you know, of course, we have the burnt doll photo in the pilot, so, again, that was something that we had planned from the pilot onward. We will get back to some doll imagery later on in the series. But the other reason they were there was for the “ring around the rosie, all fall down” thing that was meant to thematically reflect back on the children in a playground…and, of course, all of the people in the blackout falling down.
BE: I guess the big question the readers have been asking is, what’s going the happen after the six months are up? How long can you extend the story? I understand that you kind of laid out your game plan to the network right at the very beginning.
DG: We did. The first question they asked was, “Do you have a plan? Do you know what caused the blackout?” When I said, “Yeah, and the first season is going to take us to a day past the flash forward date,” they said, “Okay, what happens then?” And I told them. I think it would be doing our audience a disservice just to tell them right now what is going to happen. But I think it’s pretty cool. In some ways I think it’s cooler than what we’re doing in the first season. We certainly aren’t going to run out of stories, that’s for sure.
BE: Do you read the theories online from the fans?
DG: We read some of them. I don’t have time to read them all. But every once in awhile, I go online myself, and we have…every Monday, one of the people that works for us sort of culls through all of the online postings and kind of runs down the top ten theories, top ten things people like, top ten things people didn’t like. Just so we have a broad spectrum sense of what people are saying.
BE: What’s the most ridiculous theory you have seen?
DG: Most ridiculous theory I have seen? Well, I appreciate people trying to tie it to “Lost,” that the anomaly effect, the magnetic effect from “Lost” that brought the plane down is what caused the blackout. Or the nuclear bomb going off at the end of the last season caused the blackout. But the shows aren’t connected.
BE: One of the other editors wanted to know if anyone has questioned the paradox of the main character’s plot. The theory being that, if his investigation is based on the fact that he’s in charge of the Mosaic in his flash forward, wouldn’t that future be completely dependent on the fact that he even had a flash forward?
DG: Depending on what model of the universe and the flow of time you work on, yes. But we are aware of the potential paradox, we were aware of it when we wrote the pilot. You know, it’s interesting, I’m surprised that some of the posters haven’t…there are a lot of different models of how time works. There are certainly many more models out there than the predominant postings have indicated. I’m actually surprised, given how steeped in science and whatnot a lot of the people online are, that they haven’t gone to some of the other theoretical models. But, yes, we are well aware of the paradox. You know, one of the other things people have said is, “Well, how come no one in their flash forward seems to be aware of the flash forward having happened?” But we actually start to answer that question in tonight’s episode.
BE: How did you decide who would keep their British accents and who would have to go American?
DG: You know, we didn’t intend to have so many British people. Basically, it was who came through the door first. You know, we cast Joe Fiennes first. We decided we wanted him to be American. I had seen him play American before a number of times, I knew he could do a pretty good American accent. So we decided, alright, he’s American. I’m ashamed to say that Sonya Walger…I didn’t actually realize that the actress in “Tell Me You Love Me” was the same actress as in “Lost.” I thought they were two different actresses. And her accent was quite good in “Tell Me You Love Me,” so that happened. When Jack Davenport and Dominic Monaghan came along, we cast Sonya and Joe first, they said, “What about playing American?” And I said, “You’re too late, our quota has already been filled.”
BE: Our music editor wanted me to ask you if you could get Shohreh Aghdashloo to say more things on the show…anything, really…just because her voice is so fantastic.
DG: Your music editor will get their wish. She reappears at least twice in the first season. We’ve already filmed her next appearance. And she says a lot.
BE: Now, she was in Hong Kong, is that correct?
DG: Well, we didn’t state that. It depends how well you know Hong Kong.
BE: I don’t know it that well, but my understanding is that there is some familiar architecture in that shot.
DG: Yeah, it would seem to be…it certainly seems like she is in Hong Kong, at least if you know the architecture of Hong Kong.
BE: Did you always decide from the get-go that you were going to have an episode that kind of focused on the government’s reaction to the flash forward?
DG: Absolutely. That was planned from day one. And I thought it was interesting because there are a lot of people posting online, saying how is it that only this one small bureau is investigating the blackout, which of course we never intended. But there is only so much you can do in a couple of 42 minute episodes. So obviously, by the time you get to episode five, you see that that’s not the case at all. That many, many, many agencies are investigating. And we will meet some of the people from those other agencies in future episodes.
BE: And way to bring the Nazis into it. You can never go wrong by having a Nazi as a bad guy.
DG: They are the all purpose villain, I guess. Look, we wanted to do…I’m half Jewish, and we wanted to put Mark in a really difficult moral conundrum, which is, what if this guy has information that could prevent another blackout? Do we make a deal? And he was going on faith, you know, to a certain extent that…of course, the other thing having been said is it’s not to say that the government couldn’t try to revoke being repatriated, if the information didn’t pan out.
BE: Like I was saying, I haven’t seen tonight’s episode yet. Has there been any further movement on the identity of Suspect Zero?
DG: You know, I get some of the episodes blurred. I know there is significant movement in eight and nine on Suspect Zero. I’m trying to remember if there is…you will find out who Suspect Zero is by the end of the first season. But…yeah, I just can’t remember. I don’t know if there is Suspect Zero tonight. We have a lot of different avenues of the investigation going on. So we don’t always have core movements happening on every single avenue in every episode. But there is definite significant movement within the next few episodes.
BE: Can you speak a little bit about Marc’s departure? Was that something that was a surprise to you or was it his decision?
DG: You know, we had always talked about him being on short term. I had worked on shows before, but the truth is that the job of a show running is definitely too big for one person. So I always needed a number two. Originally, I had hoped it would be Brannon, but Brannon couldn’t get out of “24” because he was contractually obligated. So I started looking around for somebody to help me run the room. But now that we’ve got things up and running…the other issue is that one of our most senior writers, Lisa Zwerling, found out she was…well, she was significantly pregnant by the time we started, and she had to go on maternity leave after six weeks. She was the co-show runner on “E.R.” for the last few years. So she was out of the room for ten weeks, and she came back and was capable of picking up more of the reigns. And Marc wanted to do other things. It was kind of a combination of things, her coming back from maternity leave.
BE: Can you speak to if there are any seemingly minor characters who are going to become major in the next few episodes?
DG: Minor characters that are going to become major. You mean that we haven’t seen yet?
BE: Or characters that have been kind of in the background who are going to become more important than we realize.
DG: Definitely. You’re going to meet…well, there is a character in a little bit named Al Gough, who is one of the other FBI agents, who is in a lot of this episode and pretty much takes center stage the next episode. We’re going to meet another character the next episode who becomes pretty significant by the end of the season. I’m trying to think. A lot of our “recurring” characters, like Barry Shabaka Henley, who plays an FBI agent. He is sort of African-American, kind of jowly faced. He is in and out of the first five episodes. He has a much bigger role later on in the season. They did that on “The Wire” a lot, too. I always kind of liked that when they did that. You would have people in the background that would kind of come to the forefront later on. I will say that we meet a major, major player at the end of episode eight, that hasn’t shown up on stage yet. He is a very, very significant player in the series.
BE: And can you tell me what’s up with the kangaroo?
DG: The kangaroo is in tonight’s episode. I can’t tell you what’s up, but the kangaroo came back and will continue to come back.
BE: Will we get resolution on that by the end of the season?
DG: We’re hoping to. We have a plan to. I think it’s going to be kangaroo dependent. I mean, literally, there are not that many trained kangaroos, and we’re hoping to schedule it right. So hopefully, pending the kangaroo’s schedule, yeah.
BE: And I just have a couple more, mostly just about your solo stuff, if you don’t mind.
DG: I’ll tell you what I can. A couple I can’t say anything.
BE: Oh, I understand. First, I just want to say I’m a big JSA fan, so I loved your work on that series.
DG: Thanks. One day I hope to get back to comics.
BE: Were there any characters from the Golden Age that you personally wanted to bring back that you didn’t have a chance to?
DG: I’m sure there are, but it’s been so long since I’ve been thinking JSA I would have to give it some thought. I mean, I brought the character back, but I would have liked to have done more with Spectre.
BE: What was the experience of working on "Threshold" like? Did you have visions for what season two would have been?
DG: We did. I mean, the problem with "Threshold" was just, unfortunately, I think CBS was never that comfortable with it being a serialized show. And it was always intended to be a serialized show. And once we got going into the series, they wanted episodes to be more closed ended. And they have had a lot of success with that, and we hadn’t really designed it for that, so it felt like we were stalling. And I think the audience unfortunately sensed that as well. But in terms of the overall arc of the show, we had always intended or planned to have…it was three stages. It was “Threshold,” “Foothold,” “Stranglehold.” Meaning “Threshold” is contact, “Foothold” is the aliens get a foothold, and “Stranglehold” is the aliens actually overthrow the indigenous population and become the overlords. And we were actually planning on changing the title of the show, based on that plan. So it goes from contact, to they’re here, to now we are fighting a resistance battle. But obviously we never got that far.
BE: Which do you think is more likely to come out on DVD, "FreakyLinks" or "Sleepwalkers"?
DG: At this point, probably “FreakyLinks,” because I know they have sort of been re-airing it online or on fear.net or something like that. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t have much… “Sleepwalkers” I was actually involved in with all of the episodes. “FreakyLinks” I left before the pilot even filmed. I was not happy where that show went.
BE: Oh, really?
DG: Definitely not.
BE: Why? What didn’t go right?
DG: It’s not what we intended. If you were to read the original pilot that I co-wrote with Gregg Hale, it is a much different show than what is out there.
BE: What is the status of “Super Max”? I am sure you get asked that every other day, if not every day.
DG: Yeah, the status is Warner Brothers is rethinking their whole approach to the DC universe. They still haven’t definitively decided on exactly what they are doing. There was some talk about spinning Green Arrow off into a solo movie and to make “Super Max” something else. They just haven’t come to a decision on how they are going to handle all of this.
BE: Now, you did a “Flash” script once upon a time, too, didn’t you?
DG: I did, and sadly it is dormant and orphaned right now.
BE: So now what do you actually have in the works that looks like it’s going to finally get made? Because I know you’ve got a lot of stuff on IMDb that they like to throw your name onto.
DG: Well, I think the two most pressing things are I’ve been working on a new “The Invisible Man” with Universal. Kind of a reimagining of the Invisible Man, like Stephen Sommers reimagined “The Mummy.” And it looks like Sony is going to resurrect…I did a “Ghost Rider” script about a decade ago. They are going to resurrect that, retool it, and possibly use that as kind of a reboot for the next age. Those are kind of the next two immediate things that are happening.
BE: Are you still working with “Y: The Last Man” at all?
DG: Yeah, in the background. We’re trying to get that made. We’re trying to possibly see if we can do it as a TV show. We’ll see. Although right now, I admit I’m pretty damned busy with what’s been going on with “FlashForward.”
BE: I would love to see that as a TV show.
DG: Me, too! Unfortunately, I have arrived at my destination, so I am going to have to…
BE: Perfect timing. That was actually my last question, anyway. It’s been great talking to you, David, and thanks again. I really appreciate you taking the time.DG: You’re welcome. Bye!