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Interview with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto
Orci of "Sleepy Hollow" on FOX 9/10/13
I enjoyed the first episode of this show a lot (see ,u
review ), so I was happy to chat with these two creative
guys. I loved their show "Fringe", too.
FBC PUBLICITY: The Sleepy Hollow Conference Call
September 10, 2013/9:15 a.m. PDT
Kristen: Good morning, everybody, this is Kristen from Fox
Publicity. I hope everybody is doing well. Weíre about to
get started on our conference call for Sleepy Hollow. We are
very grateful to everyone for their time. Weíve got Alex
Kurtzman and Roberto (Bob) Orci on the line here and Iím
going to introduce Kevin from AT&T, who is going to quickly
go over how you can get in the queue to ask your specific
question. Hereís to a great conference call. Thanks again,
Thank you. (Operatorís instructions) Jamie Ruby,
Scifivision.com. Please go ahead.
Jamie: Hi guys. Thanks so much for taking the call today. Can
you just talk about how you came up with the concept and how
the whole thing came together?
Bob: Sure. Well, a young and very talented man named Phil
Iscove, who at the time was an assistant at UTA, came in and
said, ďYou know, I had this idea of doing a modern day
Sleepy Hollow and maybe the way to get into modern day is to
fuse it with a lot of the ideas in Rip Van Winkle, and you
know the idea would be that Ichabod Crane was put to sleep
in some way and woke up 250 years after the Revolutionary
War,Ē and we said, ďWhere do we sign up?Ē
So from that point, we started developing it together over
the course of about eight months. When we pitched it to FOX,
they jumped on it right away, which was great because that
was really our hope; it just felt like the exact right
network for the show. They have been wildly supportive since
we started and itís been this kind of wonderful, crazy
evolution to where we are now.
Jamie: OK. Great, thanks.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Joshua
Maloni, please state your media affiliation.
Joshua: Yes, Niagara Fonteer Publications. Thanks, guys, for
your time today. I appreciate it.
Alex Hi, Joshua.
Joshua: So, let me preface my question, by saying that I am a
really big fan of you guys work. I think that you guys are
really the cream of the crop when it comes to producing. Iím
wondering, though, what sort of has appealed to you of late
about of these sort of nostalgic projects? When you look at
a Hawaii Five-O, a Star Trek, a Spider Man, now a Sleepy
Hollow, what sort of excites you guys about retelling or
reimagining these already sort of popular stories?
Alex: Well, I think one thing is that so many of the stories
that interest us tend to be timeless stories. They have
existed and continued in different iterations over many
generations because they say something enduring about the
world that we live in and about who we are. Sleepy Hollow,
particularly, was exciting to us because, speaking
personally, Halloween is my favorite holiday. My house is
basically like a Halloween 365 days a year with my son. And
so the idea of getting to live in that kind of world and
getting to live in that kind of universe is just sort of
delicious conceptually. Bob and I are really excited by the
idea of getting to fuse the horror genre with a cop
procedural, which is such a staple of television, and bring
kind of a new spin to it because we also get to tell much of
our story in the past. So, on top of the cases of the week,
the solutions to the modern day story is to look to the
past, and he idea being that if you donít learn from the
past, youíre doomed to repeat it. So, we get to do
flashbacks, we get to tell stories over different centuries
and I think anybody who loves genre would feel that
Joshua: Yea. You know, one of the things that I really liked
about Fringe was that you guys sort of didn't just go out
and try to find the most famous people you could, as far as
casting, but that you took a chance of some new and really
talented actors, and it looks like you are doing the same
thing here. Iím wondering if you could tell us a little bit
about this cast and what appealed to you about them?
Alex: Sure. Bob.
Bob: Because it is kind of a famous short story, but it is a
short story with seventeen pages, to answer what you were
saying earlier about adapting something, it had never been
done modern day, so we came to the conclusion that we wanted
you to meet these characters as though you had never met
them before and let them take you into this world without
any previous association. So it was nice to discover a
couple of fresh faces, who have obviously built a fandom of
their own, but who are not really as widely recognized in
television. When you do that, you really get into their
characters in a way that maybe you donít if youíve seen them
play something else that you were super familiar with
In the case of Tom Mison, the idea of, originally we were
not necessarily going to go for an English actor, but when
we met him and saw him read, we realized that actually in
the day of the Revolutionary War many of the folks fighting
for revolution and for the independence of this country may
have been recently arrived from the U.K. So the idea that
this man with an eloquent accent is actually one of the
first Americans who fought and almost died for this country
was fascinating. The idea of someone with Tomís
intelligence, seeing what the country has become, both in
all of its glory and also in some things that maybe are
shocking to him from what he was expecting back in the day,
just seemed like a very interesting thing. Tom is just; itís
a tricky part. Itís got to have a sense of humor, but itís
got to be smart; he canít just be going around marveling at
every new thing that he sees. Heís got to play his cards
close to his vest, so he doesnít seem like he is totally out
of time. Heís trying to fit in and he has the intelligence
to do so and so, Tom is great for that.
And, Nicole, you have a really strong woman, who when you
are playing a detective, particularly as a woman, you either
are going to embrace the fact that itís kind of a manís
world you are jumping into or youíre going to ignore it.
With Nicole, we are able to actually play the complexity of
a little bit of an underdog, who is able to keep her own,
sheís able to hold her own around her peers, and who, in
meeting Ichabod Crane, in Tom Mison, has a sympathy and a
connection to a guy who everyone else thinks is crazy
because she, herself, has sometimes been an outsider. And
yet, she is still able to keep a skepticism and a
groundedness that is so key to the show, because the show is
attempting to portray some pretty nutty stuff.
And so, Nicole brings an earthy point of view to it that
allows you to see the thing through her eyes and enjoy it
without letting yourself go nuts and without forgetting
that, ok, I want to make sure these things are playing to me
correctly or Iím not going to believe them. Nicole plays
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Kathie
Huddleston, Blaster.com. Please go ahead.
Kathie: Hi guys, congratulations on the show.
Both: Hi Kathie, thanks.
Kathie: Hey, so what do we have to look forward to with this
first season as we go forth?
Alex: Well, my goodness, an enormous amount of fun, a lot of
scares, a lot of humor. There is really nothing like it on
television. You know, we tell our stories in the present and
in the past, so the story telling spans over 250 years. Over
2.5 centuries. The other thing is that I think that
television is in this remarkable moment right now, like some
of the best writing, some of the best acting, some of the
best directing is on television. It is really in this
renaissance period and I think that one of the shows
actually that I loved this year, in the last two years,
actually, was Homeland. The thing that I loved about
Homeland so much, one of the many things is that every
episode couldíve been the finale; every single episode. You
get to the end, youíre like, ďOh my God, how, thatís got to
be the end of the season,Ē but itís only episode two. It
kind of set a new standard in the way stories were being
told and I think we embraced that fully. So, we have jumped
into the deep end of the pool knowing that our premise is
sort of one molecule away from insanity at all times, but we
are keeping it tethered to a grounded, emotional reality
that I think hopefully allows you to buy into it and to
really live in the world.
We have a tremendous cast. They certainly make it as
credible as you could have ever imagined. The directing has
been phenomenal. The show is massive. The line between
movies and television is gone these days. Itís just gone.
And so when people watch TV, I think they are, particularly
in genre shows like this, I think they are hoping for a real
cinematic experience and that is what we are intending to
deliver to them every week.
Kathie: Wow. Thank you.
Alex: Sure. Thank you.
Moderator: The next question is from Suzanne Lanoue, The TV
Suzanne: Hi. Good Morning.
Both: Hi. Good Morning.
Suzanne: I was watching the pilot episode last night and I
really enjoyed it, it really keeps you going.
Suzanne: I was wondering, it has a lot of layers and it is
very complex, but I donít think it is quite as complicated
as Fringe was. Was that a conscience effort on your part to
make it more accessible to the average person who may not
want to delve through all of that?
Bob: We want to have an equally rich mythology, but always as
we learn more we are always looking for that great line
between a show that you can step into at any time and catch
up and yet, a full show that you can be rewarded for, for
keeping track of it and that builds upon itself. So finding
that fine line is one of our ambitions in television, and
this is certainly an attempt for us to walk a finer line
than perhaps we have. But again, we like rich mythologies
and we like things to build, and we like the characters to
have an emotional memory, but we are also dealing with a
treasured short story. And so some of the elements are
familiar to audiences and that allows us to anchor the show
in something that audiences may already know about, and so
itís potentially easier to follow without necessarily being
less rich or less dense.
Alex: So what that really means is that hopefully viewers
will be able to come to an episode, if they have missed one
before, and of course they wonít have, because they are
going to watch every single episode, but if they have
happened to miss the one before it, they are going to be
able to catch up very, very quickly. Thatís the key is that
each episode needs to have a closed-ended story, but as Bob
said, the emotional story telling is very serialized; the
characters are carrying their experiences and building on
their experiences episode to episode. So, look, I think we
invite people into our living rooms every week through the
television because we have emotional connections to them or
they make us laugh or they reflect some part of ourselves
that we want to live in, and so the key is to give the
audience that experience but also to make sure that they are
just not lost in story telling that is so heavily serialized
that if you miss an episode, you just canít catch up to it.
So, we are very consciously making sure that each episode is
somewhat of a standalone and if there is some serialized
element to it, making sure that we reset the things that the
audience needs to know at the top of the show, so that they
can move forward from there.
Suzanne: Alright, well good luck with it. I look forward to
Bob: Thank you.
Alex: Thank you.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Laura
Laura: Hi, this is Laura from hypable.com. You touched on
this a little bit earlier when you called the show a horror
meets cop procedural, but obviously, since we are talking
private time TV, we canít go too far down the horror road.
In looking at the trailer, it seemed like it had kind of a
National Treasure meets Time Travel vibe. What would you say
the vibe is for the show?
Alex: I think that is fair. We said that there is, first, on
the horror scale, thereís kind of a sensationalist,
grotesque horror, and there is sort of suspense horror, so
we fall more into the suspense horror element of it. But it
does have a sense of humor, like some of the best horror
has. Definitely has a secret mystery Da Vinci Code/National
Treasure aspect to it, in that we are sort of rewriting
history, or at the very least seeing what the parallel
history of certain events were. One of the trumps that we
like to use on the show is to revisit events that we all
know; like Paul Revereís famous riding warning the British
are coming or The Boston Tea Party, or you know, the
massacre that ignited revolutionary fervor. Revisiting those
events and finding out what was happening on the periphery
of those things leads to modern day discoveries.
There is an element of the treasure hunter element to it,
but then obviously you are also in a race against evil when
youíre doing that, and thatís where the horror element comes
in. So itís a complicated soup of many tones and hopefully
when it is working, all those tones are harmonizing.
Laura: Great. Thank you very much.
Alex: Thank you.
Moderator: The next question is from Preston Barta, Texas
Preston: Hello, guys. So, when coming up with the concept for
this show and writing for it, I imagine your minds had to go
down some crazy and dark places. So, what are some of the
darkest places that you guys allowed your imaginations to go
Alex: That is an interesting question. Well, itís
interesting, because I think even following up a little bit
on the last question that in our minds there is a very big
distinction between cable and network in terms of what you
can get away with, with violence and horror. Obviously, you
can get away with a lot network, but in a weird way itís
almost a distinction between like a straight slasher movie
and a psychological horror movie. Weíre not aiming to do a
slasher movie. And so I think that we always held in balance
the line that we did not want to fully cross in terms of
horror and violence and going to dark places.
I think that for us the thing that is more interesting than
necessarily just dealing with demons or this sort of
apocalypse mythology that has become such a part of the
show, and that is enormously fun, but is really looking more
into more of the dark spaces of the characters and how these
demons reflect their own personal demons. The bad guy in any
good story telling is always, in some weird way, a mirror
for your heroís journey and a mirror for the challenges that
they are facing, and some weird sort of physical
externalization of that fear that the character is holding
on to that they have to overcome. So, all of our monsters
are emerging from that, in terms of what Abbie and Crane
have to face in themselves.
I think what you are going to find, over the course of the
season, is that they are going to be battling their own
personal demons and we are going to be finding out a lot of
things about them that you may not know up front and that
they may not be telling each other up front. Some of those
places are darker, some of those places are lighter, and the
fun for the audience is a guessing game of knowing which
side is going to emerge.
Preston: Awesome. Iím calling on the behalf of my university,
so if you could teach a college course, what course do you
think you would teach? It could be something out of your
creation or something already existing.
Bob: Of anything at all?
Alex: Oh, wow. Bob.
Bob: Well, if I had the credentials, I would teach American
History. And to sort of answer your question, itís easy to
overreact to the things we learn in the history books as
kids, in that a lot of it is not exactly fully accurate and
that a lot of it is somewhat sugarcoated. And so it is easy
when you find that out to react and maybe think more darkly
about some of the historical things that weíve been taught.
However, the show attempts to revisit some of those events
and still have a wonderment to this first American waking up
in the modern day and seeing a lot of the great things that
have sprung up in 250 years, and a lot of wonderful things
about the country that he helped found. So, you have to be
fair and balanced, I suppose, but yea, I would teach true
American history, I guess.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Carla Day,
Carla: Hello, I was wondering, in the pilot Sleepy Hollow has
a kind of small town feel, but the set up shots often show a
larger city. What is the setting for Sleepy Hollow and how
does that play into the type of cases that Abbie will be
investigating or working on?
Alex: Well, I think we wanted to make the town slightly
bigger than the actual Sleepy Hollow, in terms of really
kind of looking at it from a place of treasure hunting, that
there are many, many secrets hidden beneath the surface of
this perfect, quiet New England town. We didnít want to go
too small because we wouldíve been limited in our options
and we didnít want to go too big because it wouldíve felt
ultimately really false. So, I think, Bob, what would you
say our population is?
Bob: Actually, a biblical number of 144,000, which has some
relevance biblically, but the idea is the pilot and the
series, you are watching a small town with small town
problems become a small town with big city problems.
Bob: So it had to be just the right size to have a
familiarity with the habitants with each other, but not
everyone knows each other by name. So, itís between a city
and a town.
Carla: Excellent. Thank you.
Alex: Thank you.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Simon
Simon: Radio show that covers television on Blog Talk Radio.
I got a pair of questions for you, Alex. First of all, when
you were looking at Ichabod Crane, one of the two main
characters, when weíve seen Ichabod Crane portrayed on
television, films, heís usually been tall, thin, foppish,
and a little cowardly. What were you going through in terms
of trying to picture your Ichabod and how did Mison get the
Alex: I think, first and foremost, we love, literally, every
iteration of Sleepy Hollow, but we didnít want to do what
had come before. The whole reason to do the show for us came
in the fact that we were doing a modern day version, even
though we have a lot of our storytelling rooted in the past,
so that gave us a reason for being. And because those
iterations of Ichabod had been done, again, through the
filter of how do we do it differently and yet, pay homage to
all the things that are so wonderful about the short story,
we said, ok, whatís a different version? He is a school
teacher, so we did keep that, he was a professor of history,
and yet, he fought in the Revolutionary War. So in a weird
way, it allowed us to have our cake and eat it too because
he is definitely a more robust sort of man of action than he
was certainly in the short story.
But, I think you will find that weíve tried to put a spin on
every character that is familiar from the short story Ė sort
of tip of the hat to the thing that you could recognize
about them and yet, find ways to make them different as
well. It felt like just a more accessible way to play
Simon: This is not the only program you are working on.
Youíve also got the program for Robert RodriguezÖ. Anything
new about that? Can you say anything about where that is at?
Alex: We are in the middle of writing a pilot.
Simon: Alright. Great. Alex, Roberto, thanks very much.
Alex: Thank you.
Bob: Thank you.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Steve Eramo,
SciFi TV Talk.
Steve: Hi, Alex. Hi, Roberto. A pleasure to speak with you
Alex: Thank you.
Bob: Hi Steve, how are you?
Steve: Good. Thank You. I wanted to find out if maybe you
could talk a little bit about shooting the pilot. What
sticks out most in your minds about that experience and also
what maybe where some of the initial challenges you found
bringing your story to life for the small screen?
Alex: The first challenge is that we tend to not think of the
small screen as a small screen.
Bob: Yep. Good point.
Alex: We have just tremendous ambition, and thatís why we
were lucky to team of up with, once again, Len Wiseman, who
has had now experience on both the small screen and the big
screen. Just our ambition was the biggest problem because we
wanted to make sure that we really set the tone of a
cinematic, theatrical experience every week. You see this
thing and it looks like a movie and you want to set a
template when you produce a pilot that is ambitious, but
repeatable visually that it really sets a tone and you are
not just pointing the camera anywhere.
Len did a great job of marking some of the signatures of the
show like the fact that the way Ichabod Crane looks at the
world and itís unfamiliar, you choose different angles than
you would choose if you were shooting a modern person
because we all take those things that we have seen for
granted. So, almost like the objects are watching him,
putting a camera on the car door as it closes on him and
having the camera turn upside down whenever we are about to
encounter the supernatural, kind of a crossing of
thresholds. All these little queues that you might not be
able to articulate unless you have such an experienced
director to sort of articulate them to you. We were really
taking the time to find those moments and to give the show a
signature look and style.
Then second to that, we are going for a lot; we have period,
we have super natural, we have action, then we have modern
day. Itís a big thing to bite off and you donít want to
skimp on any part of it, so you have to do a lot of planning
in a short time, which that is one of the things. The small
screen may not be the small screen anymore, but it is
certainly is a small schedule and that is the thing that you
always have to overcome in terms of how many days to get to
prep and how many days you get to shoot. Youíve got to
really plan it ahead.
Steve: You spoke about the pilot story being set in the past,
which I think is a really neat idea to mix in with the show,
and just a general question, what did you guys enjoy most
about writing those scenes, those period pieces and again,
bringing them to life, would you say?
Bob: Very fun about writing for period. Itís not something
you get to do very often in television. I think that there
is such a robust and exciting and complicated back-story in
the show. And seeing Ichabod Crane and his wife Katrina and
the headless horseman, who may not have always been
headless, and all the different characters and what their
lives were before modern day Ė the premise of the show
obviously was that there was the Revolutionary War you read
about in the history books and then there was another secret
war going on the whole time that nobody knew about. Truly,
the show could just be that if we wanted it to be, but I
think we felt like it was really fun to use it as a touch
point to what was happening now and tether the past to the
present, so that every time you have to solve a case or
murder or kidnapping or a weird anything, the key to it is
looking to the past and then the past provides you with
these flashbacks. So, itís difficult, honestly, to decide
which is a more fun ritual to write, the past or the
present, I think that is what makes it great.
Alex: So letís talk about the past, you get to be a little
bit more literary and just use different words than youíre
used to using in modern verbiage. You Whatís fun about the
past, is that you get to be more a little bit more literary
and just use different words than you are used to using in
modern verbiage. You kind of put on a different hat and you
are able to articulate different things, and you canít rely
on some of the gimmicks of modern storytelling, like a cell
phone. People have to look each other in the eye and thereís
just a different flavor to the whole thing that is a nice
exercise and a nice difference.
Moderator: The next question is from the line of Matt Allen,
Matt: Hi, guys, thanks for taking the time to talk with us
today. You kind of touched on this is a couple of previous
questions, but I wanted to get a little bit more specific.
We are so used to reboots and modernizations in movies and
theatre, but with shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time,
Elementary and Sleepy Hollow, why do you think there is such
an interest in adapting classic stories and characters,
specifically on television recently?
Bob: You get to do so much character stuff on television
that, thatís the one advantage television has, hands down,
over a movie, is that if you have a good basis of
characters, then you get to explore them potentially for
years. Something you are not afforded in a feature film. So,
thereís just a different pace and level of revelation and
interactions of characters and development and mythology
that you can only get by living with something for awhile.
When you live with it for awhile, and we have a great,
talented group of writers that we are working with, you have
a bunch of minds kind of sleeping on Sleepy Hollow for all
day, sleeping on where the stories are going to go and
getting to know it better and better, and we all sort of
become more proficient at what the best version of this
would be, hopefully in an ideal situation when you have a
show that works. So you really get to get into it more like
a novel than, say, a comic book, you know, if a movie is a
comic book; a television show is a novel.
Matt: Really cool. One of the things that really interested
me about what Iíve heard of leading up to the show is that
Washington Irvingís original story doesnít exist in your
universe. Why did you guys decide to take that step and what
has that allowed you to do differently with your
storytelling, as opposed to if everyone in your universe had
known about Ichbod Crane and the Headless Horseman before?
Alex: Well, I think the easiest answer is that I think we
felt it could be a little cute; that oh wow, the Headless
Horseman was real and Ichabod Crane, you are this guy. It
felt like it weirdly broke a wall for us that we didnít want
to break. Itís almost like it becomes this meta, very
self-conscience commentary on the storytelling. And I think
our objective is to just make sure the audience loses
themselves completely in the reality of this world that we
are representing, and itís definitely a crazy world. So I
think our worry was that somehow having it be real was going
to make you question the premise. You know? We didnít ever
want the audience to feel that; we wanted them to just
forget about it and obviously know that this was this
beloved short story that has become such a staple of
American literature, but, ultimately, just a jumping off
point for our series.
Bob: We are trying to create kind of a very unique hero here.
You know, no one tells Spider Man or Batman, ďOh, youíre
that Spider Man or Batman from the Stan Lee comic.Ē You want
to experience it as the world and the audience experiences
something like that within the movie, and that is to
experience this character as he or she comes, for the first
time, with no preconceived notions.
Moderator: Our next question comes from the line of Sheldon
Sheldon: Thanks for doing this, guys. I loved the pilot. It
felt very seamless, the shifts back and forth in the
timelines and everything. But on reflection, the leap to
connect Hawthorne and Revelations seems like quite a big
one, so how do you jump from Ichabod Crane and Rip Van
Winkle to the Four Horseman? What was that process?
Alex: I think the word is ďhorseman.Ē The minute you have a
headless horseman, that seems like a rather ominous,
powerful, and in our minds, became a biblical thing, so when
we were imagining what the next chapter of Sleepy Hollow
could be, be it a seventeen page short story, like what if
were to extrapolate this, and not only in what happened in
the past, but into this idea that came to us of him waking
up in the future, we thought of, what if the Headless
Horseman got a little more connected than you ever imagined.
Actually, he is only one of four horseman, one of the four
horsemen of the Apocalypse, and it was through the
connection of the antagonist of the original short story
that we thought maybe thatís the larger mythology that the
original short story could have been embedded in and we kind
of ran with it from there.
Bob: I think in an effort to say weíre going to pay homage to
these beloved characters, but also add our own spin on them
so that they feel fresh, so the audience is getting a
different experience, led us to really asking questions
about how we were going to present these people. So whereas
Ichabod Crane obviously is described as a very bookish
schoolteacher in the short story, the truth is that weíve
seen that version already many, many times. Obviously,
Johnny Depp played his own version of that in the movie. So
we said, okay, how do we obviously tip our hats to the short
story? Well, we made him a professor at Oxford.
In the past Ė and we sort of put it through the same filter
with the horseman. The truth is, he is really only described
as a spectrum who haunts the woods in the short story, and
what was interesting is also that he is described as having
lost his head from a cannonball. That led us to thinking
about the war, and that led us to thinking about the premise
of a secret war going on underneath it, and one day we were
just sitting in a room and someone said, ďWell, what if he
was one of the four horsemen from the Apocalypse?Ē And it
really felt, like oh my God, thatís absolutely what you
donít expect, but somehow it was that Lego click you always
look for that feels exactly right and it fits.
Alex: And that allows the show not to be every week, the
horseman is chasing Ichabod Crane. It enters you into the
worldís myths and the worldís religions, and the cast of
characters that populate these myths as being on one side of
good and evil, and sort of saying that all worldís religions
are potentially a loving shadow of the truth of a one world
religion, that kind of thing. It just led us to just a lot
of rich, we are going to be able to explore lots of
different cultural myths through this and not have it just
be the horseman of the apocalypse every week.
Moderator: Thank you. Ladies and gentleman, that does
conclude the Sleepy Hollow Conference Call. We do thank you
for joining. You may now disconnect.
Alex: Thanks, everybody.
Bob: Thanks, guys.
Kristen: Thank you, thank you. Take care.
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Page updated 11/20/13