Monday, December 22, 2008

Interview with Alan Ball on True Blood and it's relationship to the source material

Great interview with Ball from September 8, 2008

The AV Club: with True Blood, what's taken from the Charlaine Harris series, and where does the show depart?

Alan Ball: The main storyline is taken from it. I would say like 80 percent, we're loyal to it, the story of Sookie and Bill and their relationship, and there being a serial killing, and Sookie fearing for her life. That's all taken from Charlaine's book. The characters of Jason [Sookie's brother] and Sam [Sookie's boss] really only exist in the book whenever they're in the same place Sookie is, and Tara [Sookie's best friend] doesn't even show up until the second book, and she's Caucasian. But if we stuck to the book exactly, Anna Paquin would be working 12 hours a day, and you can't do that to an actor. It would be a huge strain on the production. I'm not sure it would be as interesting as having a lot of other compelling characters in the show, and having their stories as well. So that's where we departed from the book, but we've tried really hard to remain true to the spirit of the books, in terms of creating Jason's story and Tara's story and Sam's story.

AVC: What is the spirit of the books? What attracted you to them?

AB: You know, it's kind of a dumb answer, but they were just so much fun. It was such an escape, and yet there were nuggets of really profound things that [Harris] said about existence and parts of the culture, but it's also wrapped up in a fun amusement-park, gothic, romantic, science-fiction slasher movie. [Laughs.] And for me, after five seasons of attempting to wrestle with the existential dilemma of being mortal [with Six Feet Under], I just felt like I'd like to have little more fun. It's the kind of book when you're reading, you can't stop. I was determined to only read one chapter, because I had to get up at 6 a.m., and the minute the book was done, I got the next one and the next one. Right around book four, I remember thinking, "This would make a good TV series. If this show was done right, this would be a show I would watch."

AVC: How far ahead have you plotted the show? Do you have a full arc in mind yet?

AB: Fortunately, she's written about eight books, and she's about to publish a ninth, though I'm sure we won't stick to them 100 percent. And I think the show will encourage a lot of people to read her books, and then everybody will know everything, and I think at that point, it will become less possible or even not advisable for us to stick too strongly to the books. But for now, I'd say books one through four are really strong, and there are storylines we would go toward. But I also see as we finish season one and we're talking about season two, there will be other areas we're going to delve into.

AVC: As a show-runner, do you feel you have to look pretty far ahead in a series?

AB: No, I'm not like J.K. Rowling, where I know there's going to be this number of seasons, and I know exactly what's going to happen. I would be so bored if that was the case. There would be no journey. There would be nothing to discover. I'm lucky in that I get to work with some really, really gifted writers that feel passionately about this world and this material. It is a bit of a melting pot, the writers' room, in terms of the synthesis that happens between all these different minds and perspectives, and I trust that I will know how to keep things from veering off course. But I don't know how it's going to end. I haven't really thought about it. I did always sort of know that Nate Fisher would die in Six Feet Under, because it was like, "Of course," but I don't know about this one.

AVC: In your capacity as show-runner, how would you describe your sphere of influence?

AB: Well, let's say I have veto power. I'm certainly the last word in casting. I do a pass on the script before it goes to the table, before it goes to the director. That being said, I'm not on the set when shows are being shot. The writer-producers I work with, whoever wrote the first draft of that script serves as the producer. I don't think each show has to be exactly like the other one. I like it when this one feels a little more like a documentary, and this one feels a little more like an old-fashioned romantic movie. I personally like that as a viewer. But I think probably the role of show-runner on a television series sort of equates to the role of either director of a film, or a producer who is really highly involved. I mean, I'm involved in editing, I re-cut episodes, and I'm definitely involved in scoring and sound mixing, but I do feel like the focus of my job is to keep the best possible scripts coming down the pipeline, so department heads and visiting actors and directors have them 10 days before we start shooting. That's the only way I know how to work.

AVC: How do you envision the use of vampires as a metaphor? There are times on the show when it seems a very clear metaphor for something, and then it shifts around.

AB: Obviously, it's very easy to see the vampires as a metaphor for—at this point in history—for gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, just in the sense that equal rights and vampire marriage—that is to say, marriage between vampires and humans—is an issue in the show. But I think it's so easy to see them as that. It's just too easy. As a deeper metaphor, beyond the talking-head political sphere, I think they are, in some ways, a metaphor for a kind of shadowy group that is silently but very efficiently amassing and consolidating power. That's their goal, and anybody who gets in their way will be destroyed. There are certainly forces like that at work in the world. So for me, they were kind of a fluid metaphor, and I like that. Some of the vampires are like humans, some of them are very sympathetic, and some of them are just bad, and actively want to spread chaos throughout the world.

AVC: Given the show's backwoods Louisiana setting, how does the broader concerns of the vampires—their official fight for equal rights, their integration into society—figure into a locale where few have ever met a vampire? How do those two things integrate?

AB: I'm not sure they really do. It seems to integrate more in the marketing campaign than in the actual show. It integrates in the way that a presidential campaign is integrating in a small town, and it kind of filters down. But it does serve a purpose in the show as texture, as background. The story is not about how the vampires are going to get their rights. But those issues are coming back, and certainly as the season progresses, the anti-vampire church comes more into play, and you've got to keep the political dialogue going between the pro-vampire and anti-vampire forces. When that happens, it feels organic, so that it's not like all of the sudden, we're telling stories about the church. Because to me, that's really clumsy storytelling.

AVC: So what are you looking to evoke about the South in this show? Do you see it as straight Southern Gothic?

AB: I certainly don't want to belittle the South and do the typical Hollywood "Look at those clowns and idiots," or give the women silly hats and big flowery dresses. I'm from the South, so while I personally find it impossible to live there, I still have a fondness for it as a geographical region. I'm just trying to create a place that has a real taste of something non-generic. Certainly one of the aspects of setting the show in Louisiana that we love is the presence of nature, the humidity, the heat, the bugs, all of that stuff. And I try to keep that alive in every episode, because we decided to approach the supernatural as not something that occurs outside of nature, but something that's a deeper manifestation of nature than we are equipped to perceive. One of the other things I responded to in the book was how much I love that Southern dialect, the way people express themselves. It's like music, and so it's nice to go there.

read whole interview here:


Anonymous said...

"But for now, I'd say books one through four are really strong"

I like that. Maybe we'll get the shower scene. :o)