Underground

I think a number of artists are finding that out about Twitter. It can be a good communication tool but do not mistake, it is a full time job. If your full time job is something else, you might not have time for that.

Yeah, and I’ve luckily never been drawn into it. I think I’ve sent out maybe two actual original tweets and then I think I have retweeted probably 50 things. That’s my whole Twitter life.

One of them was when you arrived in New York for the Winter’s Tale junket and then you didn’t tweet for months.

[Laughs.]

Obviously Underground is about the harrowing times of slavery but is there a chance to show the good times there must have been in any period?

Look, I think there are moments of relief. I think there are moments of joy. I think there are moments of catharsis. Not a lot of good times in our show.

It sounds like you had an eye on television for a while. Has it lived up to your expectations?

And more, because TV keeps improving. I’m a TV person as a viewer, so I was the kid who actually bought and read the fall preview TV Guide like it was cool. I watch a lot of TV and I’ve watched TV become extraordinary. In some ways often more than movies. What you can do now is tell these longform stories which you could never do anywhere before. Yes, all episodes have beginnings, middles and ends, but to be able to tell fully serialized character stories over the expanse of the season, for any storyteller that’s a delight.

Are movies copying television with the episodic nature of shared universes? You’re involved with some. Is this ultimately a good thing for film?

Yeah, I think all available options are good things for everybody. First, even when looking at the objectives of the two, they have inverted. So when I was a kid, movies were for a small group of people, those who were attracted to that movie. Ultimately sometimes they would grow, but pre-Jaws, they never really grew that much. TV was for everybody. The way you build M*A*S*H or All in the Family or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Dick Van Dyke Show was to get everybody. That was the goal. The outcome goal was the most people. Now they’ve switched places, so you can make a show on Netflix for the people who will watch that show. You have an algorithm. You figure out how many rentals a Kevin Spacey show will drive and then you build a Kevin Spacey show for that many people. It’s particular and exactly right for a small group, and then it grows if you’re fortunate. Movies are for everybody. So their objectives have inverted in my lifetime. I say this primarily. Obviously there are examples that are exceptions in both categories. As such, TV and movies are cross-collateralizing, cross-pollinating and stealing from each other. We steal the good. People can say this show is cinematic. It is. When we were working on Fringe, it wasn’t. It was nice stories but it wasn’t like oh, look at the scope. In the same way that television is borrowing style and a more revolutionary kind of sets of narrative expectations, movies are borrowing communal storytelling. They’re borrowing the idea of collaborative writing, writers rooms, thinking through more than one off when it comes to a story. I think that’s great. It doesn’t mean that all movies should be built that way and it also doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a wonderful auteur TV show. The widest range of possible entertainment options and methodologies are good for everybody.

In film, do you have to be sensitive that some franchise movies now tend not to end, they feel like just a part? Do you have to be sensitive that even film series come out once or twice a year, no weekly like TV?

By the way, I think that fundamentally all, whether they be a television episode or a movie in a series of movies, they all have to end. In the same way that, by the way, chapters end. Fundamentally, some of the trick of storytelling I think is to satisfy and leave unsatisfied simultaneously. I think when people face “to be continued” too many times, whether it be TV or a movie, they get frustrated.

Are you going to be careful about not having too many “to be continued”s in the shared universes you’re working on?

Look, I think that fundamentally we’re looking today, in everything we do, to try to be both satisfying and to elicit curiosity and hope for more.

***

Underground premieres Wednesday, March 9 at 10/9c on WGN America.

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