Television

'With Revenge the studio, network and production company were all on the same page' : Revenge executive producer Marty Bowen

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Next year Star World will air the show ‘Revenge‘. It is about a woman who returns to The Hamptons to seek revenge on those who were responsible for her father‘s imprisonment and death.

Marty Bowen is one of the executive producers of the show. He spent many years as an agent representing talent like Charlie Kaufman and James Gandolfini before surprising the industry and leaving UTA to pursue a career in producing in 2006. Bowen partnered with veteran producer Wyck Godfrey, to create their own production company, Temple Hill Entertainment.

Their first film was ‘The Nativity Story‘ but the big break came in 2008 when they embarked with Summit Entertainment on production of the ‘Twilight‘ movie franchise. The films have made well over $1 billion at the box office.

Temple Hill Entertainment has gone on to make a television show ‘Revenge‘, created by Mike Kelley and starring Emily VanCamp, Madeleine Stowe and Henry Czerny. It is currently airing in the US on ABC.

Known in Hollywood for his solid work ethic Bowen is very much hands on during the production process. This includes the casting decisions. Indiantelevision.com‘s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Bowen to find out more about ‘Revenge‘ as well as the challenges of being a producer in Hollywood

Excerpts:

How did the idea for ‘Revenge‘ come about?

Temple Hill Entertainment the company that I work for had made a deal with ABC. They asked us to come up with some ideas that we thought could speak to audience that we generally like to produce programming and entertainment for. We had always been interested in doing a drama set against the backdrop of The Hamptons for which I am sure there is an Indian equivalent.

It is an area where very wealthy people go to for their vacations. It was a world that we wanted to explore. We loved the idea of having rich people coming for the summer interacting with the people who live there the year round. We thought that there was really interesting drama to explore. ABC continued to challenge us to find an interesting story engine that might make it really compelling to have audiences go watch. Through a process of elimination we thought that it might be interesting to loosely use the structure of The Count of Monte Cristo to do that.

You have had a huge amount of success with ‘Twilight‘. What were the learnings from that which you incorporated into this show?

There are certain fundamental themes that one gets to explore in the ‘Twilight‘ series that we have learned from and have tried to incorporate a version of them within the story structure.

I don‘t know if I want to be more specific than that but certainly there is a reason why audiences that see ‘Twilight‘ like to see it with groups of people. There is a reason why they enjoy that collective consciousness. We try to learn from that and try to instill the show with some of our elements.

The television landscape is crowded with shows vying for attention. What separates ‘Revenge‘ from the rest of the pack?

The show has a healthy old fashioned storytelling that we have not seen in a long time.

The shows that I grew up with included ‘Dynasty‘, ‘Dallas‘ and all those fun soap opera from the 1980s. I think people nostalgically want to tune in to ‘Revenge‘ as they miss those kinds of programmes. At the same time our storytelling remains modern enough to have audiences seem to want to come back again and gain.

As a producer how hands on were you in the casting and creative process for the show?

I was very hands on. Certainly when it came to the pilot as it was an idea that we had generated in terms of finding a writer, picking a director and all levels of casting we were in all the meetings and were very active.

But at a certain point once your baby learns to walk, you have to let them bump into furniture on their own. So we tried to keep a healthy distance to allow our writers to generate stories and write their teleplays in the best environment they can while at the same time steering the ship in the right direction.

‘We have a handful of very smart people at our company who constantly throw ideas against the wall to see if something sticks‘

Was it a challenge to stick to the budget and production schedule?

It was at the very beginning absolutely. You are all learning to work with one another for the first time. You have to have a tremendous amount of energy to launch a show. This only becomes more efficient as you get into the flow of things. So it was a challenge at first but we have managed to figure it out in a way that it runs very smoothly.

Could you talk about the talent involved with the show?

Let me start with Mike Kelley who is our writer, our showrunner. We were fans of his and were aware of the things he had written over the years. I loved his show ‘Swing Town‘ which was autobiographical and was something he really slaved over.

I saw how good his writing was and how good that show was. When this idea came about he was literally at the top of our list of people who we thought could do the show. Actor Emily VanCamp is someone who is sympathetic. She is likeable but is also someone that you believe is capable of vengeance. Phillip Noyce made the pilot and he is one of the finest directors in Hollywood. He has made movies like ‘Salt‘.

As a producer how many scripts and ideas come your way in a month and what qualities do you look for?

We look at hundreds of ideas a month. We come up with dozens of ideas on our own from reading books, and watching other shows, documentaries, reading articles. We find themes that we are interested in.

That is the nature of our business. We have a handful of very smart people at our company who constantly throw ideas against the wall to see if something sticks.

This year some high profile shows like ‘Charlie‘s Angels‘ bit the dust after a few episodes. What separates a successful show from a failure?

I think that there has to be something that an audience can connect with. I think that it is great to have a big title and it is great to have an intellectual property that people are familiar with.

But you ultimately have to be engaged in what the characters are doing. I cannot speak about ‘Charlies Angels‘ as I did not watch the show but this factor is what separates great storytelling from average storytelling.

Why are channels impatient in terms of letting a show find its feet?

Many times they are impatient. But you can also point to many other times when they have been the opposite.

Some of my favourite television series are shows where the networks believed in the show but which the audience did not get at first. Later on the audiences went on to love those shows. I think that it goes both ways.

In terms of how the production process works what is the difference between film and television? 

In film there is beginning, middle and an end. Television never ends. You could be finishing one episode, editing another, starting production on another. A smaller budget project could more challenging than one that costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2006 you left your job to establish a producing partnership. What prompted you to shift track?

I wanted a creative outlet. While I loved what I was doing earlier I felt like working as a producer. I was fortunate to be able to get into a production partnership with my good friend Wyck Godfrey.

How did you get your break with ‘Twilight‘?

We had worked with ‘Twilight‘ director Catherine Hardwicke earlier on ‘The Nativity Story‘. We had also worked with the head of production at Summit Entertainment Erik Feig. They wanted to make the movie and so we came on-board.

As a producer what is the main challenge you face?

You have to make sure that you complete the thought. You have to ensure that the idea becomes a script which then translates into a movie.

Assembling a project is a challenge. The different pieces have to come together in the way that you want it to. ‘Revenge‘ was one of those times where the studio, the network and the production company were all on the same page. It was a true collaboration.

How challenging is it to juggle different projects at once?

It is tough. However I am fortunate in terms of the people that I have working with me. I have people who are capable of picking up the slack.

Do you keep the family audience in mind before giving the nod to a project?

For us it is story first and the audience second. We focus on trying to tell a strong story and then look to see which audience the project will appeal to.

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