Like all good Spielberg stories, "Falling Skies" will be both dark 'n' gritty and warm 'n' fuzzy.
Alien invasion, Spielberg-style – on TV?
Okay, we know that’s probably enough to make the sale. Go ahead. Set your DVR and then come back to get the full briefing on “Falling Skies.”
As executive producer, Spielberg – the man who conjured up “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.” and “War of the Worlds” – lends his extraterrestrial expertise to TNT’s new sci-fi opus, which debuts on June 19.
The series follows the efforts of a group of Boston-based, mismatched survivors of a large-scale takeover of the Earth who must band together to fend off the invaders, led by military history professor-turned-unlikely leader Tom Mason (Noah Wylie), even as he searches for a son lost in the invasion.
“Our show walks a really interesting line between being a character based drama and being a sci-fi show,” Wylie tells PopcornBiz, “in that it's not really one or the other, but has a little bit of both.”
“It's a very intense tone,” reveals showrunner/writer Mark Verheiden (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Heroes,” “Smallville”).
“The aliens have taken over the Earth, it's six months after they've come. Things are in a fairly desperate situation, but we want to give a sense that when you strip away the junk of humanity and you get down to people trying to save and protect themselves, protect their children.
"The best of them comes out. I think there's a real sense of hope to this show and a sense that we can do it, that we can get together.”
Verheiden says the show will straddle the line between somewhat self-contained episodes and the overarching story. “We try to have every episode give you either a significant piece of information, or end on a 'I wonder what's coming next?' note,” he says.
“We basically try to have each episode be an episode, but definitely leading into the next one: twists, turns, answers in some episodes that then lead into more questions.”
Speilberg, says Verheiden, is as hands-on an executive producer on “Falling Skies” as he’s ever been, putting his storytelling signature on his show, not just lending it his audience-luring name.
“He worked with Robert Rodat who wrote 'Saving Private Ryan’ and wrote the pilot. They cast it, designed the creatures, all the stuff you do in doing a pilot.
"For the series itself, which is where I came on, he was involved in redesigning the creatures a little bit because we had to do some tinkering to get it to work for a series, figuring out the spaceship, all kinds of stuff.
"Vetting stories – some of the stories are his story ideas. Giving notes on cuts. It's all very inside, basically VERY involved.”
As a veteran of “ER,” another Spielberg-produced project, Wylie knows well the value of the producer/director’s input. “Any time Steven Spielberg gives an anointment to a project it steps up the pedigree, depending on his level of hands-on involvement,” says Wylie.
“There've been times where I worked with executive producers with big names who have a peripheral influence, but Mr. Spielberg's fingerprints are all over this. He shaped the script, cast the pilot, watched all the dailies, made the editing suggestions, worked in postproduction, designed the aliens and spaceships himself. He's quite proud of it – and I'm proud that that's proud of it.”
“Noah is the humanist wheel, the center of this thing,” says Verheiden. “He's a father who has three kids. One's been kidnapped by the aliens and it's his struggle. He’s the star and he brings such a great humanity and gravitas to the show, but it's definitely an ensemble – all the other characters are fantastic.”
The rest of the cast gave PopcornBiz the inside line on just how they fit into the big picture:
Moon Bloodgood (Anne Glass): “I play a former pediatrician. I lost my family in the invasion. I start a friendship with Noah Wylie's character and I'm sort of the head of all the medical part of it. I'm not necessarily on the field. I'm always kind of at home base, and you're going to see my journey with all these other people, and especially with Tom Mason.
"I think when you're dealing with people coming together and you've got a part of it that's military and a part of it that's just civilians, and you know that the civilians are holding the military back, that there are people who can't fight, that are old or disabled or hurt, well, then that's when the real humanity has to come because you're hungry and tired, but you still have to have empathy for these people and you can't leave them behind – even though you know it's going to cost you lives.”
Colin Cunningham (John Pope): “Pope's an ex-con, very much the opportunist. He's a guy who's on the other side of the law, but when you're in an extreme situation, an Armageddon kind of situation, then the common enemy becomes the common enemy.
"You end up creating strange bedfellows, because we're both threatened by these things, so I think there's a mutual respect John Pope and Tom Mason. So the bad guy is kind of working with the good guy, and they're working in tandem.”
Drew Roy (Hal Mason): “Hal starts out as a 17-year-old kid and throughout the series you're going to see him grow into a man, just the way that he deals with his parents and relationships, but most importantly, his brother has been taken by the aliens and he takes that very personally. Hopefully he can get him back.”
Dale Dye (Porter): “Porter’s a retired military guy in the Boston area. He has been recruited to organize what's called the Tenth Massachusetts Militia, which is a group that's formed to fight against the aliens, try to rescue the children and that sort of thing.
"So Porter stirs the stick and teaches people how to attack and how to retreat, how to do things tactically against an enemy that no one's ever fought before. I think it gives me free range to sort of take my real military background and sort of say, 'Okay, nobody's ever done this before. How would you attack it? What would you do?' And that's a great challenge.”
Jessy Schram (Karen): “She's a scout for the group. She goes off and looks at the alien structures and sees what goes on. She's pretty much a normal person, and so you're put into a circumstance where you need to go forward, and that character definitely tries to step up to the plate.
"There's really nothing else on her mind other than, 'Oh, this is what needs to be done. Let’s do it.' There's really no dwelling in the past because we have a situation right now and that's where we need to go.”
Peter Shinkoda (Dai): “My character is kind of a loner, but at the same time he's kind of a part of the family, in a surrogate way. There's a group of fighters, 300 of us, but the story focuses on maybe seven or eight of the main characters, including myself. We form a surrogate family where we've come together and rely on one another like a real family.”
Sarah Carter (Margaret): “I am the quintessential female warrior and I come in the second half of this double episode [pilot] feature. I'm in a separate tribe – I'm the only woman in this gang and I'm brutally treated. So, I'm looking to fight my way out, and when I see the hero tribe I see it as my opportunity to escape. The hero tribe doesn’t quite know what to make of me, how to trust me. I have to earn their trust and respect. But I'm pretty unapologetic and I'm willing to let my guard down.”
Seychelle Gabriel (Lourdes): “She is an orphan. She's lost her whole family, a lot like the other characters. She was a student in Boston beforehand, studying medication, studying to be a doctor. She helps out Moon Bloodgood's character, Anne, in the hospital. So she's got a lot of those really selfless qualities about her that include in her faith and little things like that.
Maxim Knight (Matt Mason): “He’s the son of Tom Mason, and he kind represents hope in the show. He tries to encourage his dad to go and fight, and he wants to try to find small ways to help the resistance, because he’s only eight and he can’t do much.”