Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Swamp Thing TV series creators

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As you were sort of figuring out the look of the show early on, what was the original vision for the visual tone of the show and what was the process of getting there? What were the challenges?

Gary Dauberman: I think the first hurdle for us was really Swamp Thing himself and how we were going to pull that off, and the suit, the costume, that took up most of our conversations, I think very, very early on, because it was going to take a while to, once we did settle on a design, to get that made. Fortunately, we’ve all been fans of Derek’s [Mears, who played Swamp Thing] for many years. So, when he came in and talked to us about Swamp, and clearly, he was just, this was the guy, so we got him on board and then James [Wan, executive producer] early on. Wan is very hands-on with design as well. So it’s great to get his eye.

Mark Verheiden: I was going to say also, I think when Len Wiseman came on to direct the pilot and the second episode, look, we wanted dark Southern Gothic. We wanted very much what the Alan Moore run had. We wanted that “You never know what’s behind the next tree,” that drippy creepy feeling. And so the show is intentionally quite dark. Just literally in a light sense, a lot of it’s shot at night. And we wanted those houses covered in creepers sort of feel. The town of Marais turned out to be smaller than I think, it was a small town. And so we wanted to have that small town Southern feel as well. But also just the creepy stuff in the swamp, the look of the show is partly dictated by this enormous set we built to be an indoor swamp, a 40,000 square foot indoor pool with trees, and you can put boats on it and drive around. And so I would say, I don’t know what percentage, but a lot of the swamp material is shot on that stage. So that needed to be especially great. And our set designers and art directors, a guy named [William G. Davis], did an awesome job on making that thing really come together.

Mark, you’ve worked on things like The Mask and Hemlock Grove, which like Swamp Thing have themes of transformation throughout them. And I’m kind of curious about what attracts you to those kinds of stories, because it seems like you come to them again and again.

Mark Verheiden: Well, I can say with Swamp Thing, I’ll start there. Swamp Thing was one of my favorite comics, I bought them all when they came out, including the Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein stories. So it was just one of my favorite stories. The Alan Moore run with Steve Bissette, and John Totleben was just… I had left comics, stopped reading them basically and then when that came out, it pulled me right back in. And so when I got a call about Atomic and Warner Bros. wanting to do Swamp Thing, I mean, that’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s one of the greatest comics ever and the chance to try to adapt it and work with Gary and James Wan and ultimately with Len Wiseman and our incredible cast, that’s great stuff.

With The Mask, that’s going way back. That’s way, way back. I wish I could say I had a career path back then, but it was sort of, “Well, they hired me, great.” But I did a lot of comics before I got into film and television and The Mask was one again, it was a comic done by Dark Horse. I’m good friends with all the Dark Horse guys. And so it was fun to work on that with them and with New Line. Hemlock was, I read the book and… I’m not sure if it was out yet and I thought “This is different. This is unusual and strange.” I jumped on that one for that reason. So I don’t know if it’s about transformation or just about “That’s cool. I love that. That’s amazing. Great. Let’s do it.”

So Swamp Thing, it’s this blending of horror and romance. How do you strike the balance when you set out to put those scripts together, to put these stories together and make them make sense and make them appeal to people who are coming to Swamp Thing fresh and people who know it, how do you balance those two things that are really equally important in any Swamp Thing story?

Mark Verheiden: I think, well, Gary and I talked a lot about this when we started out and I think we, I don’t want to speak for you, Gary, but I think we kind of landed on this idea that the stories had to work as an emotional story, even without Swamp Thing involved. And so, if Swamp Thing had just been a misshapen person in the swamp, we wanted to make sure that the stories of the other characters, of the Deputy and of Will Patton’s character and Virginia Madsen, all those characters all worked as honest drama, as well as the supernatural. So I think we approached it or we worked on it, the idea of making sure those stories work emotionally and then on top of that, around that, involved in that we have the incredible supernatural story of a man who is turned into this swamp creature who is bonding with plants and bonding with nature in a way that is sort of impossible.

Gary Dauberman: I think grounding it with [a certain] point of view of coming into the story. I think helped quite a bit with that as well. And Crystal certainly added to that once we cast her.

The show’s going to air on the CW. Is it just going to go out and the new people get to see the one season and that’s it, or is there a genuine possibility that people are going to watch this, there’s going to be a huge thing and CW is going to come in and say, let’s figure out how to keep it going. Is that a possibility, would you even want to keep doing that or you feel like we did it?

Mark Verheiden: Look, it’s not up to us. So I mean —

Gary Dauberman: The desire’s there, I think, right? I mean the desire’s, whether it’s a possibility or not certainly not within our, what would you say, power? The desire [is there] certainly from everybody involved, the cast all still talks to each other. Everybody had a great experience creatively working on this show. So yeah, I think the desire is there to certainly want to do more, but whether that’s a possibility, we have no idea, but we’re just excited people are going to be able to see it.

Mark Verheiden: We do. And there’s no end of stories.

Is there another DC Comics character that you’d give anything to pitch a show for?

Gary Dauberman: Oh man. I mean, you can’t [see] all my Batman s*** from here. I mean, anything within that universe. I mean, Matt Reeves is crushing it, so that’s not happening, but I’ve been reading comics since I was… Someone asked me this the other day, just a friend, when did I start reading? I started reading Archie comics in ’85, ’86 and then I went to DC, Batman specifically, a year or two later. And then I’ve been reading it all the way up since. So there’s not too many where I would say “No, I wouldn’t want to tackle that.” You know what I mean? But I love… Adam Strange is one that I think you can have a lot of fun with. Deadman has always been a favorite. There’s a lot of Vertigo titles that’d be really, really cool. Mark got to work on Constantine, who was one of my favorite characters. There’s no one I’d probably say no to just because I have such a love for DC and the universe.

Mark Verheiden: I’ve kind of scratched my itch a bit because I have worked on Smallville, Constantine… So I’ve done several of the characters and I’ve written the comics, Superman vs. Batman, Superman. But I will say, of all the characters within the universe, this is going to be a little offbeat. My all time favorite is Bizarro. And if there will be a way to do a Bizarro something, in the crazy Bizarro world, not in the dark Bizarro world, that’s the one that comes to mind. In fact, one of my greatest memories was I got to do a Bizarro issue of Superman, which was the funny Bizarro and not the dark one. And that again was kind of the real reason I wanted to do Superman. So there you go. That’s it, very niche.

Derek Mears told us there was a real improvisational feel on set. How do you balance that need to let the actors play with wanting to keep telling the story you designed?

Mark Verheiden: Well, I think the great thing about Swamp Thing was that everybody came into it loving the project and got along incredibly well, as we’ve mentioned. The actors still get together on Zoom and I join sometimes, it’s really fun to see everybody again. But they also really cared about their stories. I mean, no one was talking down to this series. This was serious and they loved their characters and very much enjoyed playing them. And so if somebody moves a little bit afield with dialogue, my attitude is always hear it, and most of the time it’s better, but if occasionally it’s going way off or something, you can go “Maybe we could try it another way.” But I gotta say on this show that the cast was just uniformly excellent and any discussions we had, most of the discussions were before we got to stage, but it was just a few words here or there but [it added] so much to what we’d written. You write something, you see it one way, then see it come to life with these actors. And it’s just like I had no idea it could be that powerful or that intense. I can’t say enough about our cast, and Derek and Crystal were awesome.

Gary Dauberman: And that’s what you want, right? You want people to come in and actually clearly have given thought to the character, as opposed to someone who’s just showing up, “Give me the sides I’ll add in my little line,” you know what I mean? I think you had that on this show, which is exactly what you want.

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