Posted on Friday, September 18th, 2015 by Fred Topel
The movie Minority Report left me with a lot of questions. Or actually, it left me with frustrating answers to their questions. The movie asks: If you can catch someone before they commit a crime, should you still imprison them? It’s supposed to be a moral conundrum, but the way the movie frames it, it’s simple. No, you never have to imprison anyone, because Precrime is 100% effective. The movie states that most criminals don’t even bother anymore because they know they’ll get caught. The only crimes predicted are crimes of passion, and once you stop those, they’re not going to try again. So with John Anderton (Tom Cruise) on the case, it’s the prison system that was unnecessary. He’ll always prevent every crime, even if the same person comes up 100 times.
Fox’s Minority Report TV series shows that there were complications the film didn’t explore. Now that the precogs are free, Dash (Stark Sands) is trying to save people from his psychic visions of their death, but he never gets there in time. So Precrime was only 100% effective under Anderton. Other people aren’t as reliable. It also suggests that telling someone you’re going to catch them won’t necessarily stop them from perpetrating a crime. I got deep into this with series writer Max Borenstein, with producer Kevin Falls sitting in, after the Minority Report panel for the Television Critics Association.
In the movie, PreCrime was only abolished because they were doing it wrong. They were going to such an extreme that any precriminal essentially got a life sentence in suspended animation. If they had a more moderate prison system, like maybe just a holding cell until they cooled off, or they gave someone three strikes, that might’ve been a better way to deal with precriminals. On a show with 13 or more episodes, can you explore those ideas or more permutations of your own?
Max Borenstein: In a sense, in the show Precrime as an institution no longer exists because of the events of the film. However, people have a short memory in society, so it’s easy to imagine that in our world and in our show, there are people who, if they had an opportunity, if they could find a precog, would absolutely vote in favor of re-instituting a Precrime program that would have some of the reforms that you’re talking about.
Precrime reform, I’m glad I’m onto something.
Max: That said, our characters deal with those kinds of ethical dilemmas in every episode because unlike in the movie, they don’t have an institutional ability, an infrastructure to intervene. Instead, they have to do kind of living room precrime and they have to be judge, jury and arbiter of these people’s lives. Now, sometimes that may mean giving a person another chance. Sometimes it may mean someone is so bad and they absolutely believe this person needs to be put away ecause they’re evil, maybe they make a decision and they don’t have actual evidence. Maybe they would consider planting it. These kind of moral dilemmas are right at the heart of what our show is about and putting our characters to the test.
Or as Dash finds, you need a John Anderton to be 100% effective. Not everyone can prevent every crime.
Max: Sure, absolutely. You need a good detective. Lara Vega (Meagan Good) comes in to fill that role.
It’s interesting how you spoke on the panel about once you start doing anything, it changes the outcome. So could even telling someone they’re involved in a future incident influence how they behave?
Max: It could. The rule we play with is that every situation is going to be different, depending on the level of premeditation. Like in the film, you either get more time to deal with it or less. Depending on the amount that you’ve intervened in the course of events directly that leads to it, you may have less time to see that future because something you did is what’s causing it. Our rule is that our precogs can’t see their own futures. Each of them can’t see their own future and the reasoning behind that is because they are, at every moment, interacting with that future. However, we don’t take a kind of strict butterfly effect perspective where we say that I’m on my path here. I’m not impacting someone in the Ukraine. Those are too small a butterfly effect. However, if I shove that guy out of the way, maybe a small impact, but not a huge impact. We’re not leaning into the extreme butterfly effect of time travel. However, if I say to that person, “You’re going to kill someone, don’t do it.” Well, that’s a big effort. Now I may effect the future. They may, however, double down, or they may back away. That’s really where the show gets to be fun. And our debate over what do we do, if we do tell him, what’s going to happen?
That would be such an unbearable paradox if they saw their own future and every second they saw a different future because of having seen it a second ago.
Max: Exactly. So we gratefully avoided that.
Given that, do they live out a lot of other people’s lives more than their own?
Max: Up until now, they have. Up until now, all Dash did for 10 years of his life was witness murders and witness other people’s lives, usually the ugliest bits from within the milk bath. Then he was sent basically into witness protection, into isolation. He forged kind of a life with Agatha on the island, but it’s lonely and he simultaneously knows that the opportunity cost of living there is that all these people are dying that he could maybe try to help. So for he first time in our series, he’s in the world and he’s trying to have a life. One of the big parts of the show from the character perspective is: How does this guy get to have a life? How does he start to have his own life? And what happens when his desires as a human, as a regular person, like the people he cares about end up conflicting with his mission as a precog?
Is the Washington Red Clouds team name a political statement?
Max: We’re not grandstanding, but absolutely. It’s a political statement, but it’s also really looking at the future and saying we want to predict the future. Not just about technology, but about other things that are changing.
Kevin Falls: It’ll go away. It’s like the rebel flag. Eventually time will catch up and it’ll be gone.
Was Red Cloud actually one of the suggestions they had for alternatives to Redskins?
Max: When I was thinking about it and I’d been doing some reading, Red Cloud is a popular suggestion because it sounds similar, but Red Cloud is one of the great Native American chiefs in history. So it would be an honorific rather than a slur.
I’m not asking if Tom Cruise is going to cameo — I’m actually interested in Agatha’s perspective. Does she remember her time with John Anderton?
Max: Yeah, she does. All that backstory, we don’t want it to overwhelm our series off the bat. But it’s something we’ve already been talking about a lot beginning to seed in other fun Easter eggs from the film, other characters from the movie. Some of them, we’re hoping to negotiate with now. So all that kind of stuff is stuff we’re playing with.
Does Agatha see him as a savior or someone who got her in more trouble?
Max: Well, that’s a good question. Kevin [Falls] just wrote a really cool scene recently between Wally, who is a character from the film, who was a caretaker and who Dash has a fondness for. He has a fondness for the precogs but at the same time, he was the person who kept them in that bath. He wasn’t the reason they were there, bu he was their caretaker in a slave system. When he meets Arthur, there’s some real friction because Arthur sees him as a jailer. We’re going to lean into all that kind of rich stuff.
Are you going for the same actor who played Wally?
Max: We have the same actor, Daniel London.
Does that muddy things where some characters are played by new actors but others return from the movie?
Kevin: That’s a good question and we thought about it. It was Steven Spielberg’s idea to cast Daniel London and we thought that’s great. He was wonderful in the movie. I imagine that almost anybody who was in the movie would be welcome to do the show if it’s done right, but we’re not going to let that get in the way of a really good actor and a memorable character.
Sure, if Steven’s okay with it, he’s right.
Kevin: That’s right.
Max: Exactly, that’s our philosophy about everything.
So maybe some of the other cops on the force could still be working 10 years later.
Kevin: We’ve talked about that. We’re totally cool with mining some of those stories and characters. Colin Farrell not so much, he probably won’t be coming back.
I guess Max Von Sydow won’t be coming out of the halo, because he’s busy.
Max: Well, unfortunately he’s in Game of Thrones now. By the way, fortunately. Him and Ian McShane? I’m so stoked.
Are you going after Neal McDonough? He had a significant role in the movie.
Kevin: He’s up there in Vancouver where we’re shooting. I think he has a commitment to another show, but we’ve heard through other parties that he’d be interested in doing the show.
Was pitching a Minority Report series like pitching a new Godzilla movie?
Max: There are similar challenges in terms of saying we’re building off of something great but we want to do something fresh at the same time. So that aspect, yeah. With Godzilla it was all talking about 60 years of history, some great, some good, some terrible, all beloved by fans. Then you say, “How do we honor that and at the same time clean the palette of a less successful version made in America? Then how do you make something that’s going to be a success today?” That was something we talked a lot about, I thought a lot about. I think we did some cool things on [it] and now with this, it was a similar question. The movie’s so good, it’s that question of what do you do that’s going to really advance that and be different? Really it was that focus, instead of on the institution, on the people. If I told you a story about three people who could see murders before they happen, each of them used to be exploited and now they have to live in secret, but one of them really wants to help and another one is afraid to help and another one wants to use that stuff for his own good, you’d say, “That’s kind of a cool idea.” The fact that it’s Minority Report is a bonus.
In both franchises, are there artists involved who have their own ownership that you have to convince?
Max: In Spielberg, he’s been unbelievable as a godfather or wise sage throughout the process.
Kevin: From story ideas to sketches on cocktail napkins, it’s pretty cool. We write down everything he says.
What was the cocktail napkin sketch?
Kevin: It was a cafeteria.
Max: It was a scene set in a cafeteria that one of our writers had written in an outline. He reads our outlines. His response was, “For the cafeteria scene, do this.” It was literally a cocktail napkin with a drawing of a table. He wrote about it and then he sent the drawing. He said, “There’s a way that food can be delivered in this cafeteria, and it would look like this.”
Which episode will that be in?
Max: I think it’ll be in the fifth.
Have you thought about what causes the minority report? Who gets the minority report and why?
Max: In my opinion, what causes the minority report is the ability of people to make a choice, to make a different decision. The movie’s all about choice. The reason Anderton breaks down Precrime is because Anderton finds out he’s supposed to do it. He’s the only one given that tip. If you’d given that tip to anybody else, they might also have not committed the murder. Yes, he kills the person but he doesn’t commit murder so he doesn’t fulfill their actual precognition. The reason is because he’s given information. He’s able to make a choice. It’s all about free will and a choice in a world that only seems deterministic. It’s not in fact deterministic.
Do you look back on anything in the Philip K. Dick story that maybe didn’t make it into the film?
Max: The thing that I take from the Philip K. Dick story is tonal above all, and the story. For me, the film took a lot from the story anyway, but Philip K. Dick is the master of doing science fiction that’s really about ideas and characters living in a [world]. It’s about world building more than it is about gadgets. It’s always about the question of some piece of technology or some advancement that has positives but there’s a dark underbelly to that’s very psychologically driven. That tonal quality is what we’ve taken form it, in terms of trying to make a show that’s a crime drama but that really has a separate psychology to it and an intelligence about the way that we envision our future and world.
Schedule-wise, have you written the Godzilla sequel already?
Max: I’m in the process right now.
How are you doing both?
Max: With little sleep. I can’t give anything away but I can tell you that it’s going to be really cool and it’s going to be really big. Everyone involved is really excited.
Sure, we heard about some of the other monsters. Maybe one thing you can speak to is your first movie had such a neat trick of showing a lot of the monster fights in the background, on TVs. Do you have to come up with new tricks or do you just embrace the full on monster battles this time?
Max: I think it’s very safe to say that now that Godzilla is in the world, the trick is getting a grounded version of an origin story for Godzilla. How does the world find out about him? That was the trick of the first movie. In a way that felt hopefully lived in and like a disaster film. Now that the world knows, you’re living in a post-Godzilla world, and as you know, there will be at least another creature from the canon, now you’re talking about a different kind of movie, a different archetype and one where you really get to have a different kind of fun with Godzilla because you now have established that character. Now you get to enrich that character. You get to see more and different scenarios. So we’re really stoked about it.
Minority Report premieres Monday, September 21 at 9 on Fox.
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