Sunday, June 04, 2006

Q&A with Prison Break Creator Paul Scheuring

I spoke with Prison Break creator and executive producer Paul Scheuring for the Blogcritics article After the Break. But for more of our discussion, here's a minimally edited transcript of our talk.

DK: So where are you at with the second season of Prison Break?

PS: We're about 13 days away from shooting, and we're breaking our fifth and sixth episodes right now.

It seems like unless all the prisoners get rounded up and sent back to prison, you're facing a fairly substantial change of focus – can you give me any hints of what will be new in season two?

PS: The show's going to be a very different thing from season one. We felt the audience felt cooped up enough and were ready for release by the end of season one, so the last thing we want to do is get right back in there, in the prison. It's basically a reinvention of the playing field. Our guys are going to be scattering to the four corners of the country, in all different modes of conveyance - you're going to have planes, trains, automobiles, everything.

Overall, the season's going to be a mix between The Great Escape and American Idol. People are going to slowly fall by the wayside. We're going to pare away one escapee after another after another until only one's left standing. It's going to be fun and we're playing for keeps. The audience is going to understand that from the very first episode, that no characters are sacred, and it's definitely going to be a rocky ride for everybody.

Have you always had a multi-year plan in mind, or was the network ever concerned about how this concept could survive over several seasons?

PS: I always had a two-year plan. Before I even wrote the first page of the pilot, I had to know the end game for all the characters and all the story arcs, because I'm really only comfortable writing closed-ended stories. So I worked out in my head the first two seasons and the larger character arcs and everything. Season two was going to be a resolution to a lot of those things. Of course with our success now, there's the question of season three, and we're beginning to explore some things with that that are pretty exciting, too. But again, season three will be a complete reinvention, just as season two was of season one.

It looks like the mid-season scheduling break will happen again this coming season – does that affect your creative decisions now that you know about it?

PS: This year we'll be a little more ready for it. Last year we were apprised of it after starting to shoot the 13th episode, which made this, in my opinion, false cliffhanger. The 13th episode was never meant to be anything other than just an additional episode. Certainly not a cliffhanger, semi season act-out. This year we're anticipating it.

The ratings have been strong especially with younger viewers, and maybe surprisingly with women. How much do you think about audience when pitching and crafting the series? Did you consciously try to appeal more to women than your average prison-based show might?

PS: No, we've changed absolutely nothing from our original plan in terms of what stories we'll tell or tonally how those stories are going to be told. I think they've just taken a liking to how we're doing things and we're going to continue with how we are doing it. I mean, ultimately the audience is all you're thinking about when you're creating a show, but we're not changing any of our approaches based upon the whims of the audience.

How much are you involved with the Internet-based and cell-phone based content that's produced for the show?

PS: Our assistants are pretty active on the websites. In terms of the cell phone stuff, that's created in-house by our writing assistants. To be totally candid, I'm not very involved.

Do you think those kinds of strategies are important for building and keeping viewers?

PS: Umm ... no. It's kind of like the Internet boom of the late '90s where everyone's trying everything because they thought this was the wave of the future, and the only way you find out if this stuff works or not is to give it a go. I don't know if you're going to have that mass of an audience on telephones, but I have no idea.

You're attending the Banff World Television Festival to present a Master Class. What will you be sharing with delegates?

PS:What's interesting is that it's called a Master Class, and I'm involved in it, but I'm essentially a neophyte. I'm gladly going to share what I can in terms of my personal experiences in doing this show, which is a very unorthodox show for television. But I'm certainly not going to operate from a position of "here's how you should ..." and must-dos and how-to-dos, because I think that would be absurd for me to pretend I have that kind of expertise.

You're also working on movie scripts – can you tell me about the origins of the Yucatan script and how you got involved?

PS: That's very, very cool, and I'm glad to be involved in that. Steve McQueen, in the last few years of his life, went down to the Yucatan peninsula quite extensively with the director Sam Peckinpah, and they were doing a lot of research for what McQueen wanted to be his last great film, about a treasure hunter down in Mayan Mexico. He compiled all his notes into 16 custom-made leather-bound journals that were then placed in two custom-made treasure chests that he kept in his vault. His son, Chad, discovered them about two years ago and brought them over to Warner Brothers, and Warner Brothers obviously was very excited about it. There were storyboards in there - it was just amazing, there was a whole film in there. So they went out looking for writers and I got a meeting and I basically asked if I could stay overnight in the office. You know, it's a piece of Hollywood history. I just turned that script in I guess two weeks ago, and everyone's really excited about it. I am. I'm just honoured to be involved. It's a piece of history.

Do you have an idea of a release date yet or is too early to tell?

PS: You know how Hollywood is, I mean, everyone's talking a big game right now, but let's get a start date and start filming. So I couldn't possibly say. At the earliest, next summer, maybe the following summer.

How is it different working in television versus film, in terms of the writer's role and creative control?

PS: It's the exact opposite. In television, as creator and executive producer of the show, I've got final cut on the episodes, making the final edits, music choices, that sort of stuff. It's very, very empowering as a writer because the writer really becomes a filmmaker in a way. Whereas in features, you're not involved in post production, you're not involved in casting decisions. They sure pay you a lot to complain, but by and large, you're just one of a stable of people they can just keep cranking through that project, and get new people to rewrite you. Like I said, it's a very great paycheque in features, so I'm never going to knock it too much, but it's certainly the antithesis of the experience a writer has in television.

You're going to continue to do both, though?

PS: I think so. I'm also moving over into directing so I think there's a lot of different directions I'm going to go in.

Didn't you already direct a film?

PS: That's a bit of a misnomer, though. It was a small film we made for a thousand dollars, and somehow it showed up on IMDb. I don't even have a copy of it. I don't think it exists anymore. So I don't think that really counts.

Will you be directing on Prison Break, then?

PS: Yeah, maybe later this year.