“The only way to get more eyeballs back to the screen is to do a big quality show — and deliver.”
One of the most anticipated series of the fall season is the ABC drama “FastForward,” based on the novel by Robert Sawyer and written by David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga.
Joseph Fiennes stars in the series, about the aftermath of a mysterious global event where everyone on earth suffers a brief blackout and foresees their future. Goyer also directed the pilot and executive produces with Braga, Marc Guggenheim and his spouse Jessika Borsiczky Goyer.
Goyer co-wrote Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins” with the film’s director Christopher Nolan, and co-wrote the story of the blockbuster sequel “The Dark Knight.” His previous TV credits include executive producing “Blade,” Spike TV’s first original scripted series and "Threshold," the CBS hour-long sci-fi drama which ran in fall 2005. He chatted with The Wrap about “FastForward,” his future film projects and more.
The “FlashForward” pilot is high concept and looks very expensive. Was that a tough sell, given the current economy?
It would be very easy in the TV industry now to take a defensive position and say “the economy is down and we have to cut corners.”
But, especially in network television, the only way to get more eyeballs back to the screen is to do a big quality show. And if the show involves a lot of spectacle and scope, like “FlashForward” does, you have to deliver on the promise. ABC has been very good about opening up the piggy bank.
What challenges do you face on the small screen as opposed to your work in film? What aspects are easier?
Obviously the immediate challenge, which you mentioned, is budget. We don’t have “Dark Knight” money to spend every week. But we’ve filmed five episodes since the pilot and there’s no drop in spectacle or budget.
The pace is a certain challenge, but it’s also a nice change. With features it’s often a lot of endless hand-wringing. I was quite happy with what we accomplished with the pilot and the prep time was a fraction of what you get on a film.
Another thing that’s different is that I’m working with a whole staff of writers. Serialized TV allows us take a much more novelistic approach to the story than features do.
"FlashForward" sold very well at the L.A. Screenings, with several deals in place with foreign broadcasters. What about it do you think appeals to foreign audiences?
There’s a universal appeal in that everyone thinks about their future. The pilot is about an event that happens in the entire world and the show takes place throughout the world. Within the first 13 episodes, we’re in London, Munich, Afghanistan, Somalia, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
And we are making an effort to cast indigenous talent. We asked foreign buyers to identify the really big actors in their territories. If those territories help us with budget as far as flying actors over or providing translators, then we’ll cast those actors.
Was that a network initiative or your idea or something the studio came up with?
That was my suggestion. The network was into it. There was a lot of complicated red tape involved but we did it.
With “Lost” entering its final season, it seems that ABC has positioned “FastForward” as a companion to “Lost.” Do you feel pressure to fill that cult-show void, once “Lost” wraps?
I first got involved with (this) before “Lost” was even on the air. So I think it’s a little unfair to say that this is a “Lost” replacement.
And, in fact, when Brannon and I wrote the pilot, we wrote it for HBO and didn’t even pitch it to the networks. It was only after we wrote it that we realized that it might be better suited as network fare.
We ended up getting it in turnaround from HBO and taking it out as a spec, which isn’t that normal in the television market. ABC obviously viewed it as a companion to or replacement for “Lost,” but it wasn’t written as such.
The April 29, 2010, date set up in the pilot takes you to the end of season 1 and you obviously have some other mysteries mapped out for seasons 2, 3 and beyond but have you considered setting an end date, ala “Lost”?
Because of the WGA strike, a year passed before Brannon and I were were able to finish the script. We had a lot of time to shoot ideas back and forth for a five-year plan for the show.
I think in order for us to properly do the show we’d need at least three seasons. But if it goes six or more, we can accordian everything out from there. The one thing we’re not lacking is stories, because this event in the pilot happened to everyone in the world and a lot of stories have been put into motion.
What’s more stressful, waiting for that first weekend box office report or waiting for the first episode ratings?
I think maybe features because it’s sort of all over by Saturday morning. But in TV you’re on tenterhooks for a lot longer. You have to get through three or four episodes to see what your audience retention is.
The bulk of your work has been in the comic book and sci-fi genres. Those fans are notoriously picky and outspoken. Does that present special challenges?
I think these types of fans, and I count myself among them, tend to be very vocal and fairly intelligent. They can be your biggest allies but they can also be your biggest nightmare.
I think “FlashForward” is going to have reach a much broader audience than a lot of movies I’ve been involved in. If you take a movie like “Blade” where we grossed about $70 million and you divide that by the $10 cost of a movie ticket, then roughly about 7 million people saw that film. We’re going to have to have a lot more than 7 million viewers for “FastForward” to be a hit. We can’t ride on the backs of these diehard science-fiction, comic book, fantasy fans.
IMDB shows that you’re involved in at least eight upcoming projects. Which of those is in the works, where do they stand and how will you fit any of this in with your showrunning duties?
Obviously “FlashForward” is on the front burner right now. In terms of features, the hottest is my re-imagining of “The Invisible Man” for Universal, which I’m writing to direct. I’ve been doing the rewrite on that in my off hours. Obviously there’s been some Bat musings for another Batman film.
As far as "Magneto," I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. We have a pretty cool script.
There are rumors of a fourth “Blade” movie at New Line. Is that in the works?
Nobody’s approached me, not that they’d necessarily have to. I’ve heard the same rumors. Having done three “Blade” movies and a short-lived television series. I don’t know that I want to return to that world, really.
“The Dark Knight” had the second highest domestic gross of all time. What is it like to see a film you’re involved with take off like that?
I told my mother when I was a kid that I wanted to go off to Hollywood and write a Batman movie. So it’s been very gratifying.
I can view it as an outsider and say “Wow, this is crazy.” On the other hand, it’s just become my life. I’m amazed it took off the way it did because it is such a dark movie and it’s uncompromising. But it hit a nerve with people.
Is 3-D something you’d like to explore at some point?
I’ve tinkered with it. It’s definitely something I’d be interested in. But at the end of the day you just have to make sure you’re telling a story that’s good. 3-D is great but it doesn’t matter if the story isn’t compelling.
Do you have any plans to branch out from the sci-fi, comic book genre?
I would like to. The first film I directed was an indie drama called “ZigZag,” which had nothing to do with sci-fi, and I loved it. Certainly a lot of the stuff I watch and read is not sci-fi. But those genres tend to be the most reliable money-makers and I do enjoy doing them.
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