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‘Banshee’ Head Greg Yaitanes: Secrets Galore, But Hold the Olives

How the showrunner skimped on the olives to make an expensive-looking drama

Like many TV creators, Greg Yaitanes isn’t crazy about the alternate identities people adopt online – and the Emmy-winning former “House” executive producer gets to explore anonymity and becoming someone else in the new Cinemax series “Banshee.”

“I’ve been harassed by ‘House’ Twitter fans for years now. I’m always kind of surprised at people’s level of saying something that they would never say to my face — that they would never say to another human being’s face,” he said.

Not that Yaitanes has a problem with social media – he was an early investor in Twitter, and used a litany of apps and new technology to make his pulpy drama, executive produced by Alan Ball, as scrappy as a tech startup.

With “Banshee,” Yaitanes gets to explore “the best of the wish fulfillment that people have of reinventing themselves or being able to disappear. In a way, all the characters are reinventing themselves.”

Those characters include a thief who steals the identity of the sheriff in Banshee, Pa., his cat burglar ex-girlfriend, who has eked out a new life as a homemaker, and the villain, a man who becomes a criminal mastermind after he is ousted from his Amish community. Then there’s the identity thief — Job — who keeps changing which gender he appears to be.

We talked with Yaitanes about how he made his show look expensive, how to describe Job, and the importance of counting olives.

The Wrap: The show looks expensive – starting with a sequence in New York in which a bus falls over and skids through an intersection. Can you talk about how you kept costs down?
It’s a way of thinking from working with startups. They’re often one, two, three man operations when they first operate. Twitter was an example of that. You have to look at what is the simplest, most effective way to do this, to deliver to the consumer. We had a very specific box that “Banshee” could be made in, in terms of our budget.

The first thing that came to mind was what I call the “one olive.” The one olive is a story that originates with American Airlines back in the ’80s, when American Airlines took one olive out of their inflight meal — and saved $40,000. It’s all about challenging and making everybody their own producer and their own CEO and asking, ‘What is that one thing I can take out that either saves money or makes us that more efficient over the course of 100 days?’

Maybe $1,000 isn’t particularly exciting, but when you do it across a season, that’s an official day of shooting. That’s seven more minutes of content that we can get done that day.

We just looked for all these small ways that I feel put nearly an episode’s worth of saving back into the show, so we could make our show more robust and make the action scenes that much bigger and get the actor that we really want. These are things that the audience gets to enjoy.

What are some of the cost-saving measures?
We also tried to find our olives by using the apps and technology that’s right in front of us, like Skype and Facetime and iChat so we don’t have to fly everybody around? I think probably 75 percent of the crew including directors were hired through some form of video conferencing. You saw the pilot, with the bus crash. We scouted all of that via Google Streetview. We could find blocks and circle around and look up and down and did all the legwork until we absolutely had to go to New York. So we saved on those flights, those hotels, those per diems.

You’ve invested in so many social media sites. Is there something that want to say on the show about the changing nature of identity when we can all take on different personalities online? Your main character, Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) actually takes on another person’s life.
Lucas does the most obvious adoption. A lot of people’s secrets and new identities and new lives are happening before the series starts, which is why we’ve shot an entire online series with our cast.

One of those characters, Job, is constantly in flux – even in terms of whether he appears male or female. Is he transgendered?
He’s straddling this line of androgyny. We specifically don’t want to answer questions about Job’s sexuality… he is a chameleon. He has something that he can tap into depending on his situation. By the time you get to the finale you won’t believe where Job goes.

“Banshee” premieres tonight on Cinemax at 10 p.m.