Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Episode Nineteen.... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

"Ragged Isle" episode 19, which is called "40," is up at The Entertainment Experiment web site. If you haven't already, go watch it now. After you've seen it, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary, which will (obviously, perhaps) include spoilers for this episode and previous episodes.

Way back when, when there were just the five of us (Barry and Karen Dodd, Rick Dalton, Jake Lear, and I) sitting around Barry and Karen's living room, plotting out story ideas, the way it worked was like so: Someone would think of a plot point or a character. If we all agreed, we'd jot it down on a notecard and tape it to a giant piece of cardboard that had once been the side of a refrigerator box. Gradually, we'd group collections of these notecards together to form a loose cluster of ideas for an episode. Then someone (often me, but not always) would then go home and write up an episode based on these notes, then send it out to the others for comments and revisions.

We knew very early on, from one of our first meetings, what the "original sin" of "Ragged Isle" was going to be -- lovers exiled to the sea many years ago, only to have one return and wreak havoc today. But we didn't really know when or how this would be revealed. Then, Jake said he'd like to write a "flashback" episode, and that's just what he did, turning in a 20 (or so)-page episode set entirely in the early '70s, telling the tragic story of George and Emma. It was quite beautiful, it really was.

I asked if I could take a pass over his draft because I had been thinking about who these characters were 40 years ago for the purposes of Vicki's conspiracy wall, which I was in the process of creating. So, I did a revision, fleshing out the characters I'd been thinking about and adding the business about the sardine factory, tying it into the factory fire story Rachel Moody tells the Sheriff in season one.

(George's early line to Emma, "Do you like sardines?", was one that Karen routinely deleted without comment when she made revisions and one I routinely re-inserted without comment when I got my hands back on a draft. It was a silent war I'm happy to have won.)

The episode was really shaping up to be something amazing, but there were some concerns: 1) As scripted, it would be long. Like, really long. Like, 25 minutes long. Too long for YouTube (or the attention span of the average internet user). And 2) Being set entirely in the past, it didn't feature an appearance by a single regular cast member. We worried that that might be confusing and off-putting to fans of the show.

So, the decision was made to incorporate contemporary scenes that would help anchor the flashbacks. This just made the episode longer, of course, so lots and lots of good material had to be cut. George and Emma's relationship, which evolved gradually on the page, now speeds right along, but I think we've retained the essence of their story, and we've tied it more explicitly to present-day events. I think it's a pretty special episode, one that resolves a giant piece of our mystery.

Some other thoughts:

1) Naming the episodes was one of the last things to happen in the scripting process, and (in case you haven't noticed) all our episode titles are also the names of U2 songs. I was so happy when I realized there was a U2 song called "40," since we'd already decided these events took place 40 years ago.

2) We've sent someone into the water every season. In season one, it was Dominic Lavoie as Mac, falling over the side of Paul's lobster boat. In season two, it was Meghan Benton as Vicki, knocked into the water by vengeful librarian Colleen Drake (Christine Louise Marshall). And this season, it was me. This scene was shot in September of 2011. Fortunately for me, it was a relatively warm day (MUCH warmer than the night Meghan went into the water). We only had one shot at it, since I didn't have a duplicate set of clothes. But that's fine. I was just as happy not to be tossed into the water repeatedly.

3) Michael Dix Thomas is so awesome in this episode, isn't he? He's a COMPLETELY different character.

4) Up until a few days before we started shooting season two, my character's name in the script was Greg Fishman. Too on the nose? Yes, we decided. The name we landed on, Dr. Hoffman, is a reference to Dr. Julia Hoffman in "Dark Shadows."

5) Please welcome new cast members! We've been sitting on these secret weapons for two years now, and we're so excited to finally unleash them. You've gotten glimpses of George (Kip Weeks) and (especially) Emma (Krystal Kenville) before now, but in this episode you get to meet them good and proper. In addition, this episode introduces Bob Greeley as Edwin Cutler ("Take my hand, George"), Shawn Reardon as young Harrison Shaw ("I could really go for a stone fence"), Michael Best as Phil Gerard ("I know what I saw. And so will the sheriff!"), Daniel Noel as Wilbur Henson ("Do what you feel you must, Phil"), Lynne Otto as Agnes Maguire ("What do you mean 'not yet'?"), Vince Shatto as Elmer Stringfellow ("We can write it up any way we want in the 'Star'"), Jill Koufman as Ruby Dusante ("How could you? With one of THEM?"), Sophia Reed as young Clelia (so THAT'S how she got the locket), and Allison Gray as young Rose Fuller ("Hello, Mr. Henson"). It's nice to have them all officially aboard the cast.

6) Even if you're a fan of the horror movie, "The Strangers," you might not recognize Kip Weeks (George), who played the creepy Man in the Mask in that movie. Check out his ax-wielding skills below:

7) This is crucial episode in the "Ragged Isle" mythology -- perhaps the most crucial episode in the entire series. Still, my favorite episode (from the standpoint of a writer and an actor) is the next one. I can't wait to share it with you (sometime in the new year).

8) Thank you sticking with us for this long. Happy new year!