'Colony' Showrunner Talks The Darkest Season Yet, Writing The 'Highlander' Reboot And New 'Conan' Series [Interview]

Hey, are you watching Colony? The USA Network sci-fi series is heading into its third season. It's an alien invasion show but not about creatures attacking humans. Actually, the aliens, the Raps, get humans to do all their dirty work. It's about the people living under Rap occupation, walled into the city of L.A.

Will (Josh Holloway) and Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) were leaders of the resistance, often undercover working security for Raps. At the end of season two, they escaped the L.A. block with their family, and former collaborator Snyder (Peter Jacobson) tagging along. Resistance hero Broussard (Tory Kittles) stayed behind to fight.

Ryan Condal, who created Colony with Carlton Cuse and runs the show with Wes Tooke, spoke with /Film by phone ahead of the third season premiere (premiering May 2 and airing Wednesdays on USA). Condal talked about what's ahead on Colony, but he also addressed some other projects he has in the works, like a Highlander reboot on the horizon, as well as a Conan streaming series for Amazon.

Ryan Condal Talks Colony Season 3

How did you get Sunset Blvd. by the Chateau Marmont empty?

You ready? That's a digital effect. It's an incredible digital effect. It's a plate that we shot early on a Saturday or Sunday morning right at sunrise, got the permit to stand out in the middle of the street with a camera. Tory walking on a lighting matched day in Vancouver with green screens on either side of him. Incredibly put together. Originally I was insisting on doing it the Kubrick way which is we're going to do it practical and we're going to shut down the city. It would've been hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it that way. This was the next best thing. They assured me it would work and it would be seamless and you wouldn't know. All that swirling garbage and the billboards and detritus is all digitally augmented, not created but augmented onto the plate shot.

Did you know about the Raps' enemy and their plan for the humans back in season one?

Yes, we knew that before we wrote the pilot. That was always in the plan. The show draws on a lot of metaphors and analogues to human history. We were very interested particularly in World War II allegory. Everybody thinks of World War II as the Germans vs. everybody else or Germans and the Japanese vs. everybody else. It was actually much more complicated than that. The U.S. and also the United Kingdom had to enter into a very uncomfortable alliance with Russia to accomplish much of what they did against the Nazis. The 50-year Cold War that followed that was a result of a lot of policies and choices made there. We were really interested in this idea of where humanity in this story is basically Poland. It's stuck on the ground in the middle. It's a contested territory between two much larger, much more powerful superpowers. If you imagine a farmer in Poland at the time wouldn't have had access to international news, not really understanding his role in the greater order of world politics, just feeling caught between two sides. A lot of Poles and people in the territories between Hitler's expanding empire and Stalin's territories were forced to try to pick the lesser of two evils. Who would you want to side with? Who do you think is going to win the war? Who do you think is going to oppress and make you less miserable? We liked that as a layer of complication for our story where humans are really just pawns stuck in a much larger game that they do not understand, they don't have the capacity to understand.

If there is another species, I know you don't want to do the space battle show, so how do you avoid turning into that?

We definitely do not. First of all, just practically, we're making a show on basic cable. With that comes certain limitations, but I think those limitations are a good thing because it forces you to tell character story. Colony is a show that has always been very set in a specific POV. The POVs in the show are our core cast of characters who are all human. So the interesting thing to do when faced with a war between these two great superpowers is to see what's going on with the humans who are stuck on the ground in the middle of everything. We won't necessarily see a space war a la Return of the Jedi, but you will see humans reacting to the effects of this conflict and how it's affecting them.

I pointed to Poland and we can talk about the Solomon Islands during World War II, an occupied territory being relatively primitive people being trapped between the conflict between these super powers and had never even seen a powerboat before probably and they're suddenly seeing battleships and destroyers on their coast. It must've seemed like an alien invasion to them. That, to me, is the parallel that we're drawing here and we're really interested in telling a story about the people who are stuck in the middle of all of it. I've always been interested in just how really futile, this is not a spoiler for the series, but there's no version of the series ending with Josh Holloway walking up to the Supreme High Commander of the alien military and killing him and claiming a triumph for humanity. That's just not what the show is. The show is not going to end with humanity triumphantly throwing off the shackles of an alien occupation. That's just not realistic. What we're interested in is the choices humanity makes faced with these really insurmountable odds. Is there any point to resistance at all when this is what you're facing. How do you react? Do you lay down and take your lumps? Do you fight right to the very end just to say that you did? Do you side with the other side? Do you run? Those are the choices we've always been interested in seeing our characters make and that'll continue even as things get much worse.

Could that battle come to pass this season?

Possibly.

Sarah jokes about being killed off in season three of every show she's been on. Are you going to take her up on that tradition?

I'm quite familiar with Sarah's qualms with her other show runners. Look, no one is safe in Colony. I will tell you that not everybody that begins this season makes it to the end, as is usually the case in the show. Sarah's a critical key part of the show but we've also been very unflinching in people coming to a very abrupt end in our show. So I think everybody should tune in every week and know that no one is ever really safe.

I think we hope this one breaks her tradition.

[Laughs] Well, I would be honored to be able to do that, so we'll see. We made her a director though, which was definitely a first.

Which episode is her's?

She directs episode nine, a ways off, but she did a really great job. I think it's really one of the best episodes of the series. I think fans of the series will quite enjoy it. It's based around a lot of things that I think our show does very well.

Is that one that she's in less, to accommodate directing?

Yes, without saying anything else.

Colony Season 3

Has Colony become a different show being outside the city in the woods?

Yeah, as you know the show physically moved this year. We were shooting in Los Angeles for the first two seasons up in the San Fernando Valley. This year we moved up to Vancouver to take advantage of the rebate. Ever expanding costs of the show were just becoming very untenable. We just had very little discretionary money to use from episode to episode so we went to Vancouver. You get kind of a double edged relief by moving up to Canada. One, you get to take advantage of the production rebate for shooting there. The second is you get to take advantage of the very favorable exchange rate between the U.S. and Canadian dollar because you're spending U.S. dollars obviously up in Canada. It just meant that we were able to do a lot more but it also meant that the show changed a lot.

You've seen the show looks different and it's not just because we're outside the walls. It's because the light up in Vancouver is just much different. The atmosphere is different. It's wet, it's foggy, it's very noir. After 23 episodes of Los Angeles, changing the look of the show and putting us in an environment that, I think, leans into the dystopian milieu of the series. The light, the mist, [and] the cold up in Vancouver, really change the look and feel of the show. We don't have the warm tones and the color. A little bit of the way the show is shot has shifted a little bit and you feel the scope of it much more because we're able to get out into the wild, into these crazy beautiful Pacific Northwest landscapes. It also feels much more hopeless than it probably has before. This is the darkest season we've made to date so it all fit in very nicely, but I was very cold.

As you see in the show, we're going to own the move. We're not going to be one of these shows that goes to Vancouver and pretends that we're shooting in Los Angeles. Vancouver can stand in for a lot of places, which is why people shoot there but it cannot stand in for Southern California. There's just not enough sun. The light is different. There are no palm trees. You have to go basically three hours outside of the city to this place called Kamloops which is very beautiful, very wild, very remote to get a look with any kind of sand or desert plants. We did that for Tory's story because there was a little carryover there, but the show moved. The story moved with the production and we took advantage of it. We've always said this is a worldwide occupation and we thought it was really interesting to be given the chance by circumstance to tell a story beyond Los Angeles. Particularly in episodes five, six and seven as the show expands its scope, we cast the net much wider in season three than we ever had before in terms of location.

So they don't stay in McGregor's camp either?

No, that story does have a lot of legs to it, but the show does make a big move about halfway through the series.

When Snyder left L.A. Bloc with the Bowmans, did you already know what he'd be up to in season three?

Yes, that was all fully planned out.

On the next page, Ryan Condal talks about working on the reboot of Highlander with director Chad Stahelski, as well as the new Conan streaming series he's been writing.

Highlander - Ryan Condal Interivew

On the feature side, you're writing or have written the Highlander remake. Do you get to revamp that mythology that got rather convoluted in four sequels and a TV series?

I can't say much about Highlander but I definitely grew up a fan of the original movie. I admittedly missed the TV series when it was around. It was definitely fun getting to play in that sandbox. I will say that Chad Stahelski, the director on the film, I came into that world as a hired hand, so Chad had already been working on the film for months and months. He had designs and even had maquettes built for sets because he likes to visualize things in the 3D environment. So he had a lot of things already worked out in his head, and he's also a huge fan of the original. Chad is a world class martial artist, and I think his love of Highlander was probably instilled at a very early age because of his athletic interest. He is coming to it with a great passion for the material and what it is. That's where we really hit. Both of us really like the original film but we saw the flaws in it and saw real opportunities to re-present the story to a modern audience in a way that I think gives you everything you like about the original thing but also presents a lot of new spins on the material.

I always asked questions like what if an immortal was sliced right down the middle? Would each half of him stay immortal until the necks were severed?

That's a very good question.

If Chad had all these plans, is he making the John Wick of swordfights?

He has not said those exact words, but that is my hope as a huge fan of Chad's and John Wick. Look, Chad has an incredible vision for this movie. Right now he is actually shooting John Wick 3, so I do not hear from him very regularly. The work on Highlander is done until he's actually able to start prepping the movie, which hopefully will happen immediately after Wick 3 wraps. He has an incredibly specific vision for the movie. His company, 87eleven does, not just for Chad and David Leitch's movies, they go out and do action design. They provide stunt coordination but they also go in and help filmmakers and help movies and studios design the action for specific kinds of movies. So he has a very specific visions for how the action in Highlander will work. How does an immortal fight and how is that different from a human? It's fascinating. It's intoxicating. He's such an incredible creative mind and thinks so visually. You sit with him and it inspires me. I love to write action, visual action on the page that is fun to write in your warm comfortable studio and then pass off to a director who has to go out and execute it. When he talked to me, he very much inspired the way I wrote the action in Highlander. I think if Lionsgate decides to make the movie, I think fans are in for a real treat.

Is your Conan series completely separate from the King Conan movie Arnold Schwarzenegger is still trying to do?

I've written a couple of Conan scripts. I wrote a pilot and secured the rights to the series from the rights holder, Pathfinder Entertainment, who's held the rights to the Robert E. Howard library for many, many years. Lovely guys. I got to know them well. I professionally stalked them for a few years because of my obsession with the character and the works of Robert E. Howard.

I love the original Milius film and I love Arnold Schwarzenegger. My original love for Conan was rooted in that 1982 movie. That led me to discovering the Howard stories and the Marvel comics and the Frank Frazetta paintings, the whole process every Conan fan goes through, I think, at least Conan fan from my generation.

I just saw that there was a way to present the Howard stories on television because the Howard stories were short form and published in pulp magazines over long series of time which is to me a great serial, which really lends itself to one hour long drama on television. I think the problem with the movie adaptations following the Milius story was that a lot of people were going back to the Howard stories and trying to make these big two hour sweeping features out of it, when really the Conan character exists better as the wandering swordsman. There's always something on the horizon that he's moving to and they're episodes in his life. He slowly evolves over time as a character and one day takes the throne.

That just presented a really great opportunity for a TV series, especially in this environment that we're in. We're making cinematic television and we can tell these kinds of stories with huge budgets and scope and all that, as Game of Thrones has proven time and time again. So I brought that vision to the rights holders. They liked me. They gave me the rights to the material and then we set it up with Endeavor Content, which is WME's production wing. I wrote a pilot for them. We sold that pilot and vision for the show to Amazon, and Amazon ordered a couple more scripts to try to get a more complete vision for the series. They will be getting those very soon and then will be able to begin making their decision as to what to do with it.

Did you work on Logan's Run after the Bryan Singer iteration?

Yes, much long after. I'm no longer working on Logan's Run but that particular project has been through many, many iterations, many renewals we shall say over the years. It's tough. To do it right, it's an incredibly expensive movie. It's, I think, a very challenging thing to make. People come in all the time with new visions and new ways of attacking it. I think eventually Warner will make Logan's Run. I just don't know what version they are going to make.

When you worked on Rampage, was there ever a version that was more like the video game where it was humans mutated into monsters and turned back at the end?

The version that we came onto, I co-wrote it with Carlton who I created Colony with, the conceit was much like what you saw. The idea was always that animals get mutated into monsters. When we came on, Brad Peyton, the director, was already attached. He had a very specific vision for what he wanted to do with the script and where it needed to be. The capacity that Carlton and I came in was much more like a medical professional was hired to attack a specific problem. There was a lot of stuff in place. Sets had been designed, locations had been scouted so Carlton and I were executing a very specific vision that Brad had for the movie and just trying to give him what he needed to get Dwayne to commit to the movie and get New Line to commit to financing which ultimately worked out. We were not in a place where we were coming in to talk about what is this all going to be? We were brought in as professional writers to execute a director's vision. I credit Brad because in the final analysis, and I played a lot of Rampage when I was a kid, I think he saw a way to bring that movie to life but also realize that ultimately it's a side scrolling EGA game without a core narrative. That needed to be applied to it. You needed to keep the stuff that we all love from the game which is giant monsters wrecking a city, and then don't be too precious about the source material. I'm proud of the result.

Can you point to something that was yours that ended up in the film?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character, Carlton and I created, Harvey Russell. Our original joke was he was black ops for Fish and Wildlife which we thought was funny. The character, and I credit Adam Sztykiel who was the writer that worked on the project after us, a lot of his fun dialogue came from Adam. We felt like Dwayne really needed a rival. We knew it's very hard to find a physical rival for Dwayne so we looked for an intellectual rival, a verbal rival. I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Huge fan of all of his work. It was really exciting when he got cast.