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'As content creators, we have to be more entrepreneurial in our approach' : Castle creator and executive producer Andrew Marlowe

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With the television landscape having to work under a struggling global economy, it is becoming more of a challenge for content creators to stay creative under financial constraints.

Fiscal responsibility has become a part of the creative process, says Castle creator and executive producer Andrew Marlowe.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Ashwin Pinto, Marlowe talks about the creation of Castle, its USP of focussing on characters, the relationship with ABC Studios, what is needed for a show to work, the importance of being in the digital space and the need for a collaborative relationship between broadcasters and content creators.

Excerpts:

How did the idea of Castle come about?

I was watching a lot of procedurals on American television like CSI, Law and Order. I was missing the fun characters that I saw on TV growing up - like Moonlighting. On those shows, you really got a sense of who the people were and that is what you were following more than the case. I wanted to bring something like that back to television. It felt like there was room for it since the other shows were doing things that were different. They were not focusing on characters.

When I was imagining the character of Richard Castle as a writer myself, I thought that it would be great if I could get up and do some of the things that I was writing about. That is where the idea came from. To create a character who is a mystery novelist who thinks of ways to kill people and get away with it. Then to have him go out with a detective in real life solving crime felt to me to be rich, fertile material for storytelling.

We are at a time when there is a lot of competition among channels and shows for viewers attention. What sets Castle apart from other shows?

The relationship between the two major characters sets it apart. You have to find what attracts your audience. Something like Law and Order was attractive at the time. CSI looks at forensics which was new. For us, it is about the character dynamic and the relationship. When we market the show, this is what we sell. We know that there has to be a procedural element as audiences expect it. However this is the strand on which we put the relationship pearls to make the necklace.

Creating interesting characters for Castle was important. How did you approach this job?

I looked at the dynamics between the two lead characters. I knew that I had to have characters that were in conflict but who also had a romantic interest in each other. For Castle, he thinks highly of himself. He is a bit of a narcissist but is also charming. Things have come easily for him. I wanted him to be in a relationship with a woman who is a bit of a mystery and who did not fall for him. She did not fall for his surface charm and surface wit but be a match for him. The characters approach storytelling from two different points of view.

For detective Beckett, it is about what the evidence suggests. But Castle looks at it in terms of the story of the dead person like a frozen woman found at a construction site. He wonders how she got there. Though they approach things from different points of view, they help each other reach the solution. We capitalise on the spark and the great relationship that they have working together.

You have to juggle different genres. Was this tricky?

It is tricky while writing. We can go from comedy to drama quickly. It is important to treat the victim and the victim‘s family with respect. But we know that we allow viewers to have more fun with the murder mystery than they would with other procedurals. We walk the fine line of walking from a crime scene and have fun. The detective is on point carrying the torch for the victim.

But Castle sometimes says inappropriate things and has more fun with it. Cops have come up and say how much they like our show. They have to find humour in their daily real life situations. Otherwise, it gets overbearing. On other shows where police officers are humourless, it feels less authentic to them. Even though our show exists in a fantasy setting, a lot of law enforcement officers seem to be relating to it.

New technology has to be in the service of the storytelling rather than the other way around. We have seen big budget action affects movies that do not have a quality story at the heart of it. It is like watching fireworks. You watch something interesting but are not emotionally engaged

Generally as a show gets more popular it gets more expensive to do. What is happening with Castle?

Finances are a continuous challenge. We figure out which episodes we want to have which are bigger in scale and make a lot of noise. Then you have episodes that are smaller and more personal in scale. The production costs are smaller here and it becomes a more intensely focused drama in terms of the sets that we have. We shoot in Los Angeles but we want to give an authentic feel of New York. There is money that we have to spend on recreating New York.

Fiscal responsibility has become a part of the creative process for us. I don‘t mind it that much as it seems to me that a lot of great creativity can come when you push against constraints. If you have all the time and money in the world, often TV shows are not as good as they should be. Facing constraints can challenge you as an artist to create something better and more interesting rather than opting for what is easy.

How is the show perceived by viewers?

They enjoy it as it is different from the other stuff on air. The other procedurals are sensationalistic and go to a darker place. Advertisers are excited due to our TG. Women watch us the most. We win the night every time in this demographic. In the US, we have Dancing With The Stars as the lead in. So it helps us build a strong female audience.

We are also getting stronger with men. We have tried to craft an experience where they too can have fun when they come to the show. We are fortunate that our viewers are passionate and bring others into the experience. Advertisers are seeing the value of our show. But so much of the coveted 18-35 TG are seeking out content in non traditional forms on the net, portals. Everybody in the broadcast space is trying to figure out how to best monetise this.

How is Castle faring in countries like India?

From the conversations I have been having, people have been responding favourably. They like the relationships and the fact that Castle is a family man. They like the creativity of the storytelling. So far the feedback has been very good.

How important is it for a show to be in the digital space?

It is essential to create a community for viewers. Viewing habits are changing. Some people view content on the net, phone and not just on the TV. Creating a digital watercooler where people can have a conversation about your show is important to extend their experience. We launched a couple of initiatives to have better relationships with fans and deepen their entertainment value. Between the first two seasons in the US, our fiction character Richard Castle was tweeting.

He went on vacation and got involved in a murder mystery. So in the break between seasons, he was keeping loyal viewers engaged and deepening their loyalty but having a story telling vehicle on twitter. Our audience was engaged between the seasons. These people became emissaries. It helped with viewership when we returned for the second season. Having a facebbok page helps get feedback. It helps extend the brand. This is what viewers expect from entertainment these days.

We know what viewers respond to and like or do not like. In the past when you built an online community, it was the fanatics that visited. But now that twitter has gone mainstream, there are more viewers there. You can get more balanced information on what people feel about your show which helps in storytelling.

Are you creating Castle content for the net and mobile?

It is an on-going discussion. Is this being done to market the show or to try and create another revenue stream? People have not figured out the economic model. You have to have actors. They already work a lot on the television show. You need to figure out why you are doing it. Is it to attract a new audience, go to a new platform to bring people to the main show or is it to generate more revenue? It has a price tag.

There is stuff we want to do, but we do not have the capability yet. The proven business model is not there and so it is always a risk. We might have a great idea but are we generating revenue or bringing more viewers to the table? These questions must be answered or you could have unnecessary capital expenditure.

What are the key ingredients needed for a show to work and draw audiences regularly in an increasingly fragmented environment?

You need something at the heart of a show for people to talk about. There has to be reason for them to leave the storytelling and go out to the community and talk about their experience. You can do it with a compelling premise like Lost. Or you can have a key relationship at the heart of it and characters that viewers fall in love with.

If this happens, viewers will invite the characters into their homes week after week and live the adventures with them. It is either the premise that is very bold or characters that we fall in love with. Ideally, you should have both. The minute a premise loses its interest, then the characters keep you coming back for more.

What trends are we seeing now in terms of the kinds of shows that work and do not?

Comedy is making a bit of a comeback. There was a time when comedies were not working. But when things get bad economically, people want an escapist experience. People are attracted to really good content, characters. This is hard to do.

Are dramas and realities tapering off a bit in terms of popularity?

I think that they are both evolving. Some new reality shows are successful while others are not. What is specific premise? Is it resonating? Dramas had a tough year where few shows got traction or caught on. However, broadcasters are being more patient and seeing they can grow a show.

Marketing is a challenge for everybody. There is a lot of product including online with YouTube. I think patience can help develop a show so that people can understand that this cultural experience will be something they would want to be a part of. Broadcasters will be more patient out of necessity to see if they can grow an audience. There is no hard and fast rule. If something goes strong out of the gate, people will be more generous and foster it over the next couple of years.

What are the fresh challenges that you and the creative community in general face?

We always think that our stories are worth telling and there is audience. We have to be entrepreneurial, be better partners for studios and networks. It means that we have to take chances. We have to take risks as the audience wants new and interesting material.

They also want an experience that they are comfortable with. Sometime people spend a lot of money and at other times there is belt tightening. As a content creator, you have to roll with those punches and do the best that you can.

Has the production process of making a show changed?

Not really. The fundamental stuff is there. A lot of shows have switched to HD. People are doing more special effects work for less money. We can go to states where there are tax breaks. We still shoot on film. We don‘t feel that HD cameras are there yet in terms of how they capture light. They will catch up. There will be cost savings but also time issues.

The new technology has to be in the service of the storytelling rather than the other way around. We have seen big budget action affects movies that do not have a quality story at the heart of it. It is like watching fireworks. You watch something interesting but you are not emotionally engaged. It is important for us that the cart does not lead the horse.

Are you happy at the deal the WGA did with the AMPTP?

That remains to be seen as to whether or not we are happy with what the settlement was. The issues that we had were in terms of new media. This landscape is changing rapidly. When we went on strike in terms of digital rights and payments, nobody understood the landscape. This brought the town‘s attention to the fact that this is an issue. It is an issue worldwide. What does it mean to have IP in a digital age when it is so easy to make a copy? How do you define and protect IP in the digital age?

It goes to the heart of piracy. These issues have not been resolved by the marketplace. I know a lot of writers and studios who are still recovering from the strike. Nobody wants to see this labour strike again. But the issues that were raised across the board by the strike are the ones that we are going to be dealing with for a while.

Will YouTube be the new TV five years down the road?

No! There is too much content for people to sort through. People want to know that they will commit their time to something worthwhile. So the notion of a brand or a channel or community will not go away. I do think that the screen will change. This will create chaos but out of chaos comes opportunity.

If there is too much product, people are not going to know where to look. They will ask their peers or stick to trusted brands. While there are hundreds of channels in the US, most people I know only watch five or six channels. They only talk about five or six shows. That is because it is hard to make great content that resonates. It will come down to making good shows and it will find an audience it is worthwhile. I don‘t have time to go to YouTube and sift through the noise and nonsense to find something worthwhile. I need a filtration system. This is why brand and channels will still be important in the new formulation.

As a writer do you constantly learn from the work going on in other shows, especially those that have been going on for a while?

We look at other shows to make sure that we are not doing the same thing. We also study older shows like Moonlighting to see how the relationship between the two lead characters was handled. On that show it was handled well for a while, and then it wasn‘t.

I also look at shows like Bones. You never want to get too complacent and only look inside your own show. You would also want outside perspective to shape up your storytelling.

What is the difference between writing for television and writing for film?

In films, you have more leeway in terms of location and money that you can spend. You can paint on a much bigger canvas. In case of television, you need to be clever in terms of the storytelling - and overcome financial constraints.
 
Are you looking at other concepts or is Castle your only focus?

Right now it is my primary focus. I want to make sure that the series does well. But I have an appetite for creating shows.




In films, I have a couple of projects that are actively moving forward. I have an alien invasion movie with Warner Bros. It will be directed by Pierre Morel who made Taken. He has just signed on.

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