Sunday, May 30, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Alan Ball dishes about True Blood and his hopes for Sookie

With the True Blood premiere quickly approaching it's time for some more Alan Ball. Below are exclusive interview extas from my recent interview with the show's creator about True Blood's upcoming third season, the challenges he faces, and what his long term hopes for Sookie are.

If you're looking for some serious spoilers, check out my article in Sci Fi Wire, "9 sizzling True Blood spoilers from creator Alan Ball." However, until you read that, perhaps this less spoilery and more behind the scenes interview will whet your True Blood thirst.

KATHIE: What's been your biggest challenge this season?

ALAN: I think the biggest challenge is keeping each episode exciting and still remaining true and organic to the characters' emotions, 'cause that’s where everything’s got to come from. We’re not a movie. We don’t have a week to shoot one special effect or one stunt, and I think that’s what keeps people coming back is even with all the craziness on the show I think you actually end up caring about these characters and being invested in them. I think it’s walking that line between keeping things exciting and keeping things grounded. Because these episodes are like little movies and so getting everything that we have to get in terms of footage, special effects, prosthetic effects, visuals effects... getting it all done in the amount of time we have allotted for each episode, that is definitely the biggest challenge.

I’m used to Six Feet Under, to shooting seven pages a day. But on Six Feet Under, yeah, we had some stunts and some effects every now and then.In this show we have like, oh, okay, now we’re flying, now some heads are exploding, now people are transforming into this animal and that animal, now these animals are running out in front of a train. It is insane. But I have to say it is just a testament to the amazing professionals who work on the show.

I mean I just went to a production meeting this morning, and I consider job number one for me is just to keep the scripts coming and to keep the scripts polished and in the best shape they can be in before they go in front of the cameras. But the other stuff everybody else figures out. The cinematographer, director, department heads sit down and figure out how they are going to shoot something and then I walk in to these production meetings. I walked into a production meeting today for an episode that starts shooting tomorrow and there's a 40-page story board treatment of this big sequence at the end and I was just sort of like, 'Wow!' These people are really, really good at what they do. The way it is mapped out and shot, it’s very efficient in terms of time and number of setups. But at the same time it’s very visually exciting and very clear what’s going on in terms of this big battle between humans and vampires and other creatures. We’ll have to shoot it probably all in two nights, because half of it takes place outside and that’s just what we do.

KATHIE: How many days do you take to shoot an episode?

ALAN: Our starting point is 11 days, maybe 10 days with a split day with another episode. But there are episodes that certainly have taken longer. I got to say HBO has been very supportive. They know we are trying as hard as we can to get everything into the shortest amount of time. But they’re very happy with the show and they’re very happy to give us the extra resources when we need them... well, maybe not very happy, but at least they do it [laughs]. And they are happy in retrospect when they see the episodes.

KATHIE: Is this the show you envisioned when you first started seeing it in your head?

ALAN: Well, no. I don’t think anything is ever what you envision, because certainly when I was reading the books and it was around book four, I thought this is too much for a movie. This should be a TV series because there are so many great characters, so many places you can go. I love this world Charlaine’s created. I sat down and wrote the pilot once the rights were hammered out... But I would say the show definitely has a life of its own and it definitely has evolved over the seasons, and part of my job is to recognize what the show wants to be.

KATHIE: Does it seem impossible to put together such a big show sometimes?

ALAN: No, it’s not impossible. I mean sometimes it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. You don’t have to spend 200 million dollars for everything. You really don’t.

KATHIE: Are you doing a lot of writing on this show?

ALAN: Well, I write two scripts a year. Each writer gets two scripts a year. We have six writers, five writers and one team of writers, and everybody does two episodes. But we all work together outlining and breaking stories. Like I say, for me that his job number one is to make sure that those stories make sense, they surprise us, are true to the characters, and they keep the momentum going.

KATHIE: What's been your biggest surprise as you’ve developed this series?

ALAN: I never expected to walk on a stage in a room full of 7,000 people [at Comic-Con] and for them to be screaming. That was kind of crazy. That has been, I think, the biggest surprise to me. I mean certainly I feel like the show has been really, really marketed aggressively and well by HBO, and that’s no surprise to me. I don’t think anybody knows how to launch and market a show like HBO. I guess one thing also that surprised me is the fact that so many different demographic groups seem to really enjoy the show. When HBO tested the pilot they came back to me and they said the women love the relationships and the men love the sex and violence, so everybody loved it, which was kind of great. There’s a little something for everybody [laughs].

KATHIE: What do you love most about the series?

ALAN: I love the cast. I think they are really, really amazingly talented, and really the fact they really approach the show straight. Nobody is winking at the camera. Nobody is going, "Hey, look at us. We’re campy. We know it’s funny." I think everybody plays it straight and is really invested in what’s going on for their characters and that’s always a joy to watch. I spend a lot of time in editing and it’s really fun because you just see these really great actors just giving you all this stuff to work with. I love casting. I love actors. So anytime we have a role to cast, that’s a lot of fun for me.

KATHIE: You have a huge cast.

ALAN: I know, it’s huge. We sat down for a table read and this huge conference room is filled. It is a huge show.

KATHIE: In the hands of someone else it would have been quite a different show.

ALAN: Yeah, but I am not the only person who works on the show. I work with five really, really smart, gifted writers, some really smart producers, some smart executives over at HBO. So while I certainly appreciate that, and it is very flattering, I’ve done stuff that wasn’t any good. I did a movie that everybody hated, so it is certainly not all me.

KATHIE: What is your best hope for Sookie and her story?

ALAN: You mean where is she going to end up?

KATHIE: Yes, what is your best hope for her?

ALAN: My hope, and this is probably a little crazy cause I’m speaking about a fictional character as if she’s real... she finds happiness and is able to settle down with a person or non-human person who can really, really value her and that she can have a good life with.

KATHIE: At the very end.

ALAN: Yes at the very end. I mean, in a way, it’s kind of a fairytale... kind of a sadistic, twisted fairytale... but it is a little bit of a romance novel. I would want her and those people that she loves to be in a good place and still alive [laughs].

KATHIE: I like it when writers spend time letting the characters be happy on a series. You've done some of that on True Blood.

ALAN: Yes. I think we have that. We definitely had that in season two and we definitely have that in season three. Maybe not for every single character, but I think [most have] moments of happiness.

KATHIE: Anything else about season 3?

ALAN: I just think I am really excited. I’ve seen the first five episodes. I feel like it’s the strongest season yet. I’m really excited and I’m in the process of breaking the last two episodes in terms of breaking story. I feel like the season really, really works as a whole. I’m really excited. I’m counting the days till the premiere just like everybody else.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this with us desperately waiting TB fans. :)

  2. great article. please if you can ask alan if he can make tb 20-24 eps a year. if it goes too long the actors will age when they aren't supposed to and 40 weeks between episodes is way too long to wait for us older folk!

  3. Terrific interview. I just love this man! He is so down-to-earth, humble, and friendly. It would be hard to realize, if you didn't know his history, how damn talented he is.
    He sounds so proud of his crew, cast, and creative staff. It must be kind of like being a father, or teacher, or (dare I say) maker to all those gifted people. Kudos to AB!

  4. Every fan would love more episodes!..(40 weeks is very long to wait.) HBO , I repeat my mantra: you have a 'runaway train' this True Blood should be a 'True Winner' this year. Cast & crew are the best and most creative. Material (novels/C. Harris) is expansive..can be drama, comedy..etc.AND ...Mr. Ball; You've got what it takes, to make the magic! MAY THE FORCE BE WITH ALL OF YOU !!!