Exclusive Interview with Falling Skies’ Mark Verheiden!

I can’t tell you how excited I am. Seriously, I’m pumped. If tomorrow isn’t the end of the world, well, some aliens might just make sure it comes soon anyway.

After all, with a series like Falling Skies on the horizon, you can’t help but think about the possibilities. Six months after an alien invasion, we follow survivors who are just trying to make a dent in the alien defenses–but most of all, they’re just trying to stay alive.

While all appearances say this might be a cross between V and The Walking Dead, after watching the first three episodes in the press kit is (luckily) scored, this is one show that I can’t help but be anxious for week to week, and it certainly stands on its own as a spectacular series. Brought to you by Dreamworks and Stephen Spielberg–and starring Noah Wyle among others–Falling Skies premieres on June 19th at 9 pm with a two-hour premiere event, then continues at its normal 10 pm timeslot.

I was fortunate enough to get an exclusive interview with Mark Verheiden, executive producer and writer for the show. Check out the interview below, where he discusses what this show has to offer over all others, why science fiction is such a great genre, and even a love of comic books.

*****

First and foremost, I have to, well, congratulate you on the series. I’ve seen the first three episodes and they’re fantastic, and I can’t wait to watch more.

Thank you.

How did you get involved with Falling Skies?

Well, just to give you the basic backstory, I was not involved in the pilot. That was created by Stephen Spielberg with Robert Rodat, who wrote Saving Private Ryan. And they went to Michael Wright at TNT about three years ago now, and wanted to do something about an alien invasion, and so Robert wrote the pilot and they made that two years ago. Last March, I got just a call, and they were looking for someone to come in. Graham Yost was on staff of the show, and he does Justified. He was going to be there for a little while, and then he was going to go back to Justified, so they asked me to come in and take over the show when Graham left. So that’s the sort-of genesis of how I got involved.

In terms of sort-of why I got involved, it was actually kind-of funny. Dreamworks had a screening session for people to take a look at the pilot, and you had to go into this locked room with security and all this stuff and sit in front of a DVD player, you know, and watch it and then get out. And so it was very secretive, but when I saw the pilot, I went, “Wow, if there’s a way I can be involved in this, I would love that.” I’m still knocked out and impressed by it. That’s how I wound up here.

Great. So, in your own opinion, since you were knocked out and impressed by it, what sets this show apart from other shows that are on TV, kind-of thinking of the alien genre or the apocalyptic, almost Walking Dead kind of genres out there? What sets this show apart?

Well, I think there’s a couple of things. I think, first of all, the basic setup is a little different in that was start the show six months after the invasion has happened. So there’s been a chance, I think, for the shock and awe of the situation to dwindle. People have lost a lot of loved ones. Communications are out. All electronics have been wiped out. The military has been decimated. But that’s happened now, and now it’s about entering the lives of these people where it’s not so much about how do we just hang on by our fingernails and not die. It’s about that evolution where it’s to how do we gather and form a group that can protect us in numbers but also find a way to fight back. So I thought that was just a fun way in that we’re not focusing on the initial kind-of pyrotechnics and dealing with people that have a bit of history with what’s happened now.

I also like the fact that they’re so alone, that with all communications down, basically everything that they learn about the aliens is first-person. And you don’t want to get too close to them. That’s bad. You know, there’s no sharing of information except what people bring in as they run in from other units that they meet. I think when we start, our guys don’t know if there are other units anywhere! For all we know, they’re the only survivors on the whole planet. There’s this whole evolution of figuring out that, in fact, there are other survivors, and then there’s a slow evolution of figuring out what it is about–what are these aliens? What do they want from us? And that is a slow accrual of bits and pieces of information because frankly, they are freaky and scary, and they don’t seem to have any human emotion that we can recognize when we first meet them. And as you go through the show, our guys, especially Tom Mason, who’s played by Noah [Wyle], starts to go, “Well, there are things I’m picking up here that, uh, it’s a very human thing it just did.” So we’re learning about them that way.

It’s a long answer, but those are a lot of the sort-of fun things that, when I watched the pilot, you know, my brain was basically saying, “Wow, there’s a  million places you can go with this.” There’s so much stuff. Such a playground here. And–but we also wanted to tell a hopeful story. This is not a–as intense as the setup is, we wanted to tell a story of hope, of people gathering and letting old resentments go, and pulling together and protecting their kids, and making a world that’s not only to live in but worth living in. So that’s part of the story, too.

[Read more after the break!]

So how much writing are you doing for the show versus executive producing. I know, you’re kind-of juggling both of these.

Well, on the show itself, my role is to, you know, help path the stories. I physically wrote two episodes–two you haven’t seen. I wrote the third-to-last and last episodes. But I did rewriting on a lot of the episodes, or you know, kibbitzing, or whatever you want to call it. So you know, my job after Graham left was really to supervise all of the writing, whether it was from me or whether it was from another writer. We had some great writers on staff. We had Melinda Hsu Taylor from Lost, and a writer named Joe Weisberg, who is a new writer and does a great job. And actually Fred Golan wrote the, I think, the third episode, and Fred’s executive producer on Justified with Graham, so we had a great staff, but my job was sort-of to supervise and make sure that when you’re on location, make sure we got what we could on film. Protect the material.

Looking at your history, we’ve got Falling Skies, Battlestar, Smallville, Heroes–clearly, something about the sci-fi genre is grabbing you. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Well, I’m one of those very fortunate characters, who from age five, kinda wanted to write science fiction and comic books, and much to my horror, I made that happen. [Laughs] So, I’ve always been in love with science fiction and horror and the fantastic. It’s just fun. 

And I mean, I think at it’s core, what intrigues me about science fiction is that in an odd way–and I say odd because with the setup of Falling Skies, this probably won’t sound right–science fiction is hopeful. Even on Falling Skies, we’re telling a story about an alien race that comes in and pretty much wipes out most of humanity, which is, you could say, not that hopeful. At the same time, it says there is other life out there, that we’re not alone. Now, maybe we wish we were [laughs], but you know, we’re not alone. And science fiction that deals with the future says there is a future, that no matter what’s happening, the optimistic takeout of that is, we lived long enough to get there. We didn’t nuke each other; we didn’t blow each other up. So there’s a real, sort-of hopeful quality to science fiction that I’ve always gravitated toward, and then frankly, it’s just fun to be able to make stuff up about totally alien, strange situations. You know, if  you’re on a cop show. A cop pulls a gun, shoots somebody, they fall over. Pretty much the laws of physics to how guns work. But on science fiction, you know, if an alien shows up, you can deal with other things. That’s how we solve that problem.

Did you ever expect that you’d be working on a project with Stephen Spielberg involved?

You know, I, uh–no. To be honest, I mean, it was such an incredibly flattering thing to be offered. Somewhere in the annals of the Portland Oregonian–this is my nerd past coming back–there’s a picture of me first in line to see Close Encounters in 1977. So I’m a huge fan, and it’s really quite spectacular to work with a filmmaker of his quality. And I’m not only just a science fiction fan. I’ve always been a film fan, film buff, so then this has just been fantastic.

So I see that you are a new person on Twitter; I see that you recently joined. How’s that going?

Well, you know, I’m still trying to understand the old Twitter-verse. Obviously, I know it, and I understand how it works. And we enjoy it. You know, I’m on Facebook and I’m on…what else…I have a blog, you know, so I’ve kind-of messed around with this stuff for a while. Twitter–you know what’s funny is, I’ve really just started, which means it’s probably a doomed technology since I’ve just adapted it, but it’s the 140 characters. I have trouble keeping myself down. I’m sure I’ll find all those great abbreviations everybody uses, be able to get it all down. But, no, so far, it’s fun. I look forward to talking more about the show on Twitter, actually, once it starts airing. And I can talk about some behind-the-scenes stuff or whatever.

And possibly even sharing pictures. A lot of people use Twitpics on there.

I was just hearing about that today! I would hope to think that maybe TNT and Falling Skies people would make the pictures work, too, so that’d be great.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been on there for a while, and the 140 characters still gets me from time to time.

It goes real fast, doesn’t it? You just start typing, and you’re like, done!

It really does. Tell me a little bit about the comics that you’ve worked on. Is that something you’re still doing?

Well, just for Falling Skies, we did a graphic novel that basically starts a month after the invasion, so it’s a way to catch up, to see how our characters got to the point where you see them at the beginning of the pilot. And that’s been coming out every couple weeks on TNT.com and I think on DarkHorse.com, and it will come out as a full-fledged graphic novel right around the time the series comes out, so there’s that.

But, no, I did a lot of comics in my past, and I loved it. I did Superman and Superman/Batman, and I’m not doing any right now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do some in the future. It’s fun. I always loved comics, too.

With one final question, I have to ask the biggie: If aliens really invaded, how would you react? Would you be defending the line, helping people, or hiding?

You know, I wish I could offer the “I’d be brave like Noah or Moon [Bloodgood] or Will Patton, but chances are, I’d raid the first liquor store and sit in the back room and just hope they don’t find me for a while. You know, I think that’s one of the wish-fulfillment things about a show like Falling Skies is that you want to imagine that you would have been as brave and as stalwart as Noah or his kids or as Will Patton, but I think I’d probably just fall apart. [Laughs] I don’t think I’m built for alien battle. I wish I was, but… Maybe I could help load guns or something. I could just sit in the back and load up their guns for them. They can go out and fight.

Well, thanks so much for talking with me today.

Absolutely! Thank you so much.

And good luck with the show!

*****

Don’t forget to check out the Falling Skies premiere event on Sunday, June 19, at 9 pm on TNT! Trust me, you won’t want to miss it.


*images courtesy of TNT

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6 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with Falling Skies’ Mark Verheiden!

  1. Pingback: Hey, Boston! Want to see Falling Skies? Special Event with Moon Bloodgood! « Raked

  2. Pingback: Noah Wyle on ‘Falling Skies’ « Raked

  3. Pingback: Falling Skies Boston Screening: June 6, 2011 « Raked

  4. Pingback: A Chat with Falling Skies’ Moon Bloodgood! « Raked

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