VisitEureka.net's very own Robin Nason recently had the pleasure of talking to Charlie Craig, Eureka Executive Producer and Showrunner since Season Two. In this exclusive interview, Craig discusses the upcoming third season, the second season DVD (released July 15, 2008), his previous work, and much more!
A little note from the interviewer - Robin Nason!
I had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie Craig. He graciously agreed to talk with me during his drive into work, and I know you will enjoy this interview.
Thank you, Charlie, for speaking with us!
VE: First, please tell us about yourself. What hobbies and sports do you like?
Charlie: Well, being involved in the show and having very little time for hobbies and sports, sadly, what I try to participate in is my family as much as possible. I have been working six months this season and will be working until April of 2009 on these 21 episodes. So my life is about trying to get to work and then get home and be with my family. The only other thing that I really religiously do is yoga at least twice a week. I have been doing this for more than ten years, which is something I can't function very well without. Other than that, I like to rock climb (I don't get to do that as often as I wish); I just hang out with my kids and take walks with the dog.
VE: That's marvelous (that you spend your time with your family). I was wondering if you had gotten rooked into those road hockey games that Colin is fond of.
Charlie: No. (Laughs) I don't know what all of that is about, but honestly, Colin is the busiest guy in our show. But for every four months that an actor takes to shoot thirteen episodes of our show, we've spent close to a year between the time that we've spent thinking about what we're going to write, and then cracking all of those stories, then writing them, shooting them (and after they are shot, the actors go home), and then we spend another three months in editing and putting the whole show together (scoring and mixing). It's all-encompassing. If you're single, you probably have a better chance of saying, "You know, I went out and did a 15-mile bike ride this weekend," but by the time the weekend rolls around for us, we're all kind of hung over on Saturday from the week before, and then you want to go out to eat with your family and hang out, and all of a sudden it's, "Crap! I have to go back to work!" Not that I'm complaining about going to work! We're all lucky to have jobs.
VE: This is true. I figured that after the strike, you were ready to go back to work.
Charlie: I wouldn't say I was ready to go back to work, but on the other hand, we were in the most fortunate position in the strike you can imagine in that we're on the most popular show on the Sci Fi network. We knew that the day that the strike ended, we were going to get a phone call saying come back to work. In fact, not only did we get that phone call, we then had our order upped to 21 episodes (8 episodes and then 13 episodes) over Season 3. They (the Studio) are not sure when they will be airing the second 13, but they don't want the 13 episodes to be referred to as Season 4. They might be earlier than the summer, and thus be considered Season 3.5, which is what they do on Galactica. Eight were the most episodes we could possibly make from the start date after the strike was over and actually have them air in our traditional summer slot. So we are making those eight and then we'll take a production hiatus while we catch up on our writing; then we will make the other thirteen.
VE: Thank you for explaining this. Can you explain the writing process? You wrote two episodes last season; did you come up with the concept and ideas and everyone bat the ideas around, or did all of the writers come up with the ideas and then divvy the storylines out to be written?
Charlie: The latter more than the former. There's nothing worse than feeling isolated when you're trying to write and feeling like you have to come up with something fast and feeling all alone. So at the beginning of every season, we take two or three weeks where we can just come in and talk about what the season is going to be like. We talk about it both from the characters and what we want to see; like last season where we ended with Stark proposing to Allison-what do we want to do about that? Do we want to have her say yes? What do we want to do with our characters? That is an extension of what I did the second season; when I came in, I saw that we had all of these characters but they hadn't been given the dimension that I would like to see. I didn't feel like I knew what these characters were doing when they weren't on the screen. So we spend our time saying, "Ah, you know what? Zoe is turning 16 this year. What does a 16-year-old do?" Well, she's learning to drive; she should get a boyfriend this year. Let's think about that. Let's think about things she can get involved in and that Carter can get involved in at the same time that will give them opportunities to have more time together. So this season we did that; we spent a couple of weeks and sort of decided, "What do we want to do with Allison? What do we want to do with Stark? Where are they going to go?" And then we say, "Now that we have an idea of what we want our characters to do, let's start coming up with nice big interesting science ideas that will be the A-stories for episodes that we can then start to fit our personal stories into." So then you start writing ideas on boards like miniaturization or memory loss or whatever. You just come up with a lot of ideas; some are ideas you got from last year, but usually if you had ideas last year and you didn't use them, you decided there was a reason. You read Wired Magazine and you listen to the radio and you look at the Internet and you have all of these ideas. So then you start putting them together. You're still doing this as a group and eventually you have a rough order of maybe the first five. At this point, we say, "All right. Let's all sit down and start trying to work our way through this first episode." So really, we're just now cracking the fourth episode and we're doing it mostly as a group. So we all know what the story is; the person who is going to eventually write it has had the help of the group in discussing what different characters should be doing and has a general structure. At that point finally, we figure out who is going to write that episode and that writer will go off and spend a few days getting more invested personally in that story. They will do an outline and give it back to the group; we'll all get notes on that outline and when we are satisfied with that outline, then it's finally launched into the real world. We get notes from the Studio and we get notes from the Network and we move into the script process. We try to keep as many of the writers in the group involved in the process as long as possible, just so we all feel like each of us knows what the other person is doing. In any show that has any level of serialization as our show does, you can't really go off by yourself and write a fourth episode without knowing where those characters ended up in the third episode and where we want them to go in the fifth episode.
VE: Were you familiar with Eureka before you came on board, or did you have to jump in and learn all at once?
Charlie: Actually, this is the first job I've come into where I was familiar with the show because I have a (then) 13-year-old son who liked it. So we TIVO'd it and watched it. Usually, you get a call from your agent saying, "You watch Grey's Anatomy" and you say no, and they'll say, "Well, we'll send you three episodes and you should go in and talk to them about it." Here, I could actually go in and say, "I'm a fan of the show," and that, I think, was beneficial for both me getting the job and also for the show.
VE: I know that you absolutely cannot take any ideas from fans who are simply dying to give you more than you could ever use, but can a general concept or the perception of a character be obtained from reading forums or fan fiction, or just in talking to fans?
Charlie: It's funny. Universal just sent out this gigantic memo yesterday to show writers that has something to do with, "Don't ever take any ideas from anybody or you'll get in big trouble." As part of our push this year to publicize our own shows in ways other than just in sites like yours, (the Network has never gone out of their way to publicize us), we've started some web sites and we're all cross-linking to each other. I have my own blog and various sites are circling around. I think you can certainly expect from those that you are going to hopefully see a discourse where people say, "You know what really irritates me? When Stark does this-" or "I don't understand why Allison and Carter never get together" or "What is it with Zoe's hair?" Reading those blogs, we are certainly going to say, "Boy, the fans really did not like the fact that we killed that character," so they are really instructive and sort of a flash temperature of what is going on. We certainly pay attention to any forum we have where we get feedback from people versus just ratings.
VE: As your "Abby advocate," I was really concerned that she would be portrayed as a bad or two-dimensional character. I was very pleased with the way that Thania St. John and Johanna Stokes, and all of you wrote the character. She was portrayed perfectly.
Charlie: We're sorta doing the same thing this year. We are talking about bringing in either Carter's mother or I think more likely his sister for a while. Not as a regular character but someone to add a little left-field; someone to change things in his family. You're right; we have to be very sensitive. It obviously doesn't serve us to bring somebody in and they're just a pain in the ass; someone no one wants around. When you bring in a new character like that, you're bringing them in hopefully to lend a new dimension to your regular character.
VE: You have been a writer and producer for several high-powered series. If you could give advice to someone wanting to pursue a career behind the camera, what would you recommend they start by doing?
Charlie: Writing. Well, if they want to be a cameraman, I don't know what to recommend, but as a producer/writer, write. The power in this business (whatever power one can have when one is working for a network) is to become a person who has both the talents to write and to produce a TV show. That is something you have to learn; neither of those I don't think come naturally. Some people are never going to know how to write and some are going to have intrinsic writing abilities. But just as in writing a novel or a technical manual; different disciplines of writing have particular traits and formats you need to have. I went to film school just because I couldn't think of what else to do. While in film school, I thought I should direct movies; that is what everybody wanted to do back in 1983 when I was in film school. I wrote a feature film in my spare time. I came home every day from working or going to school and wrote this movie. I happened to come into contact with one agent, the one and only agent during my time in film school and I gave him this script. He really liked it. Of course, I never ended up having anything to do with movies; I've only been involved in TV. I then went to work for Stephen Cannell back in the day. Cannell really had an investment in wanting to teach his young writers how to be producers and therefore hopefully they would end up creating shows that he could then produce. So what I did, which I think everybody needs to do, is to write and listen to criticism. The fact is, most of the people who decide they want to write are honestly going to turn out not to be that good at it. You need to come to that point in your life where if six people tell you that it's bad, maybe you should think about doing something else. But if you really believe in it and you start to get feedback from people who say they really believe in it; then you just have to knock yourself out doing it and doing it. . . In this business today, you need to write both a sample of a pilot or a feature that is your own material and you have to pick some popular show that people watch and write a spec script of that show so people can look at it and say, "Okay, I watch Grey's Anatomy and this person wrote a script at home that really looks like it could be on Grey's Anatomy, so that shows you can take other people's ideas and make them your own. And then you have to be relentless; you have to use every contact that you can think of that might have anything to do; like there is an AD who has worked with me in the past right now up in Vancouver who is just finishing a script. He called and said, "Look, you know, can I send it to you, and if you like it, will you give it to some agents?" I said, "Sure, but if I don't like it, I will tell you that I don't like it and I'll give you some criticism but if I do like it, absolutely I will give it to agents." That's how you do it. Try and try to apply yourself. Once you are lucky and you finally get that first job as a staff writer on a TV show, you need to offer to do any and all work that needs to be done on that show so you are in the room when those phone calls are made. So you can go, "Hey, can I go hang out in the editing room if I have some spare time?" or "Can I go to casting with you if it's okay with you?" You just need to get as much exposure and as much familiarity with any different discipline as possible. That's how I got to be an executive producer. By the time I worked my way up through the ranks and started getting higher productorial titles I had gone to Vancouver to drop episodes, I had gone to casting, I'd been in the editing room; slowly but surely I had developed the ability to do the things you need to do to be an executive producer. Then somebody finally gave me a shot to make a pilot and somebody finally gave me a shot to write a show. Once you've hit that level, if you do it well (it's a huge juggling act, a huge managerial job and multi-tasking issue); but if you can pull that off and not piss too many people off and not make yourself crazy, then you get on that list of people who people think about when they need somebody to write a TV show. Oddly enough, my career basically has been built on running TV shows that other people created. I only created one TV show in my career and that was a show I chose not to work on. I worked on shows other people created. They were people who (like Jaime) didn't have much experience in the business and the studio said, "We need to bring somebody in here who really has the experience to help out." That is what I have ended up doing.
VE: Well, now you are going to have to tell me what show you created. Everyone is going to be asking me this.
Charlie: I created a show called Two. In the early '90s or something like that. It was a pilot for CBS; a really good pilot. Then, unfortunately, CBS chose not to make it and Cannell decided to make it to shoot up in Vancouver as a syndicated show; a Canadian content syndicated show, and I just decided at that point in my career I didn't want to make a Canadian content syndicated TV show. I had an opportunity to go on X-Files at that point and it was a better career move for me to go on X-Files. Of course, I wound up hating X-Files and the rest is history. I hated X-Files and quit and I got a deal at Warner Brothers and that is where I got to run my first show.
VE: Glad that it did work out, though. At the beginning of Season Two, we found that it picked up right where Season One left off. Will we see the hanging issues resolved this season?
Charlie: Yes, and while we plan to avoid this in the future, we felt like we were doing part 2 of a two-parter (with the opening episode of Season Two). We kinda backed ourselves into doing that again this season in that we had to deal with the proposal; we had Henry being taken away to jail; there was so much left as a cliffhanger. Again we found ourselves feeling like we don't get to just make a big, fat kickoff episode; we're having to make the second half of the last episode from the second season. And that's hard. It's nice when you pull it off but it does tend to hamstring you in that there are issues you feel that you don't need to address, but you have to bring it up in order to finally put it to bed. We're talking about this 8-episode first half that we're doing now; of maybe just ending it at a place where it ends; like it's a big, satisfying movie we've made and that's the end of the movie and then when we come back for the thirteen, maybe starting from a place where we start the new movie and don't have to clean up. But for the beginning of Season Three, absolutely. We've got Henry in jail, we've got a marriage proposal; we've got a lot of stuff we have to clean up.
VE: One of the questions on the site is whether Beverly is coming back, or did Henry manage to throw Kim's DNA into that machine so are we going to get Kim back?
Charlie: I can tell you contractually neither Beverly nor Taggart are part of the deal that was made for this season; neither is Kim. However, Jaime (more than anybody I have ever worked with) is always loathe to say, "Never," about anything, so you can never say for sure that you are not going to see somebody again on this show. And really, that's part of the framework of this town; the concept of this show is people can die and they can come back again.
VE: Yes, this was a perfect opportunity for Kim to put in an appearance again.
Charlie: Not with Kim, but you will see that happen again this season.
VE: I have to admit that I am disappointed that Debrah and Matt are not contractually assigned yet, but. . .
Charlie: That doesn't mean that we can't come to the point of saying, "You know, this episode really needs Taggart, let's call Matt and see if he'd like to come do an episode for us."
VE: He is so colorful.
Charlie: He's polarizing, too, though. There are people that say they can't stand him, too.
VE: His accent has definitely been polarizing.
Charlie: Bruce and I were here yesterday doing a DVD commentary of the episode Maneater. There were some places where Bruce had written some very funny lines and I felt the need to translate them on the commentary just so that people got what the line was. There are certain times that Matt says things in that accent and you just don't have any idea what he has said.
VE: Yes, he could leave you clueless, but some people really loved it. The podcasts were a concern this past season as Sci Fi didn't put them on for us.
Charlie: That was because we didn't do any. No, they weren't done, and we don't have time to do them all, but what we are doing now, we are doing them as DVD commentaries. So we are sitting crouched in my office, headsets on with two short cables, watching these episodes and recording them. Thania and I just did one for Episode Two, Try, Try Again, and Colin, Jaime and I are going to go to the studio and do one for the first episode, Phoenix Rising. Bruce and I have done the one for Maneater: we want to give the fans something. A film crew came in and filmed some interviews with us and shot a little bit of stuff in the writers' room and we're also trying to put stuff on the website. We've all bought these little flip cameras, these $139 video cameras so we can shoot things, and we are going to start putting them up on our blogs.
VE: I am so glad to hear this since everyone wants as much information as they can get when the DVD comes out. What would you say the hardest part of working with Eureka is?
Charlie: Well, I know what the hardest part of it is, but it would be impolitic for me to say which level of bureaucracy it is. . . (laughs). I would say that the stories are extremely hard on this show. Nailing down a story on this episode can almost seem impossible sometimes and yet writing a script. . .you can spend six weeks working on a story and then you can write the script literally in four days. There are so many targets you have to aim for when you do these stories; you need to have a show in which Carter drives the story. He's the sheriff, so there has to be some level of investigation; there has to be a mystery that he has to solve. When you're all done, the story has to be one in which you can say, "Boy, without Carter being in this story, without him helping these people out (whatever the problem was), the town would have been much worse off." A reasonable number of our other characters have something to do with that story. You need to have a B story with Zoe or you need to have a B story with Jo and Zane; you need to keep alive all of the other characters. Then you need to make sure that whatever mythological element that you're carrying through your whole season is kept alive a little bit within that story. Then you have to come up with a big visual science concept that can lend you a nice, exciting teaser; and that science concept has to have some tenuous relationship to reality. We're working on an episode where we're talking about the fact that they have made light go backwards, slowing down the space/light. . .that's actually science we can tie a story to. When we did the invisibility issue, we were skating on a bit thinner ice because in fact, there is no real invisibility, but you have to be able to make that connection work. You've gotta do all of those things; you've gotta make it work in a satisfying six-act structure which is extremely complex and then you have to look at that story from a production standpoint. Both, can we fit all of these scenes into our seven-day shooting schedule (which is a day less than your normal network show) and can we afford to tell the story? Now that we've come up with our big visual science teaser and visual element, on our budget, can we afford to do that and to make it look good? If we can't, where do we reel it in? So you juggle these things and it can literally take weeks and weeks and weeks to get that all done. The maddening thing is when you've finally done it and you get your story written down; you look at it and it just seems like the simplest thing in the world; just a simple show with some nice people, and there's an engaging sheriff helping them out with their problems and it's all done. It just seems like, "How hard can it be?" and I know that at times people look at our shows and say, "How come it's taking them so long? It's such a simple story because there's a problem and Carter solves the problem. But it looks simple because we have taken the time and beat our heads against the wall and juggled three different story lines and four different endings and eight overly expensive visual effects and put it all together. It's insane how the good ones seem so simple and yet when you look back on it, you think, "OMG, we broke that story three times, it took us weeks. So that is what is hard. Writing is easy; I like post and editing-it is all great. It is a finite amount of information you have to deal with; it is just putting it together in the best sense. Casting is looking at people, you find them; that's fine. But the story on this show is the real backbreaker.
VE: And the main thing for us is that we have to believe that it can happen; it has to work to keep us coming back. So will you be writing for Season Three also?
Charlie: Yes, I am writing the second script again this season and hopefully the seventh. I'm trying to front-load my writing work so that once I get overwhelmed with post I have at least made some contribution.
VE: When do you think filming will begin?
Charlie: We're going to begin in the middle of May. We're going to shoot eight episodes, take a seven-week break and come back and shoot thirteen.
VE: Wonderful! I appreciate you taking this time with me, and is there anything you would like to add for the site?
Charlie: I would just like to encourage people to check out our Eureka Unscripted site and there will be links on that to go to my blog; which is a pretty entertaining blog in which I talk about things, and I am starting to twitter. . .and we're all sort of farming ourselves out and it's a way if you're interested in insights into what it's like to make a TV show, we're trying to present that in our blog. Like a better version of the two minutes of the making of the episode on the DVD. We're trying to show what our daily life is like.
VE: And I really like that. This is the first show where I feel like I can actually know someone in the production of it.
Charlie: And that is pretty unusual, truthfully.
VE: Because I learn more of what goes into it, I have invested more of myself in it. Thank you again for your time with me.