Malcolm MacRury Interview, Part Four - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

CRAFTY: One of the big problems with a show about peacekeepers, I would think, is how little they can actually do. Did that worry you? How did you handle it?
MACRURY: We talked a lot about that. Here's a fresh idea: these people don't have guns. They can't solve their problems by shooting. They can't blow the bad guys away. But then you have a problem: the heroes can't take dramatic action. And of course you end up with kind of cheating it. To make them compelling, they gotta break the rules. One's a spy, one will commit murder, one's sleeping with everyone, and the other one is having psychotic visions. And the one who's the moral center is breaking rules to do the right thing. So that's how you get around "what do you mean they can't use guns?"
CRAFTY: It's sort of the difference between the US and Canada, encapsulated in their TV shows. On 24, it's all, "hey, let's torture this guy!" And on THE BORDER, it's, "Okay, we can't torture the guy, so what are we gonna do?"
MACRURY: America doesn't have peacekeepers, doesn't have UN observers. This is something we [Canadians] do, Indians do, Austrlians do. In fact, the school you go to learn to be an observer is in Kingston, Ontario. Americans don't do it. No peacekeepers ... unless it's a military action.
CRAFTY: The show goes pretty dark. I mean, there's a rule you can't kill an animal on screen and you can't hurt a kid. You kill a kid on screen. And that's not the worst thing that happens in that episode.
MACRURY: Yeah, I ... you're writing something and you have to trust how it's going to be conveyed and you write the images. How it's shot, how it's portrayed, that's the director's job. Mario comes out of the theatre of the absurd. And there, you do show the horror. I'm a little more squeamish than that -- I might have pulled back. But I think you have to show enough to honor the situation, so it doesn't feel like a fairy tale. And that's the great thing on pay cable, they encourage you. Is it exploitative? I hope not. I hope that in fact it draws you into the reality , as close a you're going to dare to go. It's something you wrestle with. When you read about the real stories, that's what you're drawn to. To try to write about it in a way that wouldn't disturb people would be phony. It would be, "I copped out." I didn't take the audience into the world I said I was going to convey.

That's again why we didn't want to do something happening right now. The stories we're drawing from are ten years old. You can't underestimate the passage of time. These aren't raw wounds. The fact that it isn't ripped from the headlines allows you to take a bit more care that it isn't more exploitative.

And yet you're walking a line. Yes, we killed a kid onscreen - and we also saved a kid on screen. Could we have just done the second? But that wouldn't have taken you the places you need to go. It would have been THE A TEAM, with no cost to our character.
CRAFTY: The show is almost entirely serial, whereas your typical broadcast show would be strongly episodic with overlying season arcs. How did you make the decision to go serialized?
MACRURY: Again that's funny because the first drafts were for the CBC. But a serialized show is what The Movie Network and Movie Central wanted. Something that is a page turner. You put one down, you want to see the next. And in the writing of it, that's immediately where we went to. I can't even remember any discussion. The show always went from day to day. The second episode could be the second day.

That's how we did the first season of DEADWOOD. First day, second day, third day. Those first 4 eps are 4 days in a row. I don't know if that was unconscious or not. It can work to give you some dramatic energy. It's always in real time. End of the day. I think every episode is one day. To have, you know, act two is a different day -- there was never any sense of that.
CRAFTY: When I write hour drama, I'm always pulled to make each episode about 24 hours. Sometimes I have to force myself not to compress things so much. An hour of TV feels like it wants to be a day of narrative.
MACRURY: On the show I've been working on, REPUBLIC OF DOYLE, each episode is like 3 days. But it's an investigation show.

I think I would argue that if you look at the episodes, they are completely serialized yet there is a thematic closure to each one. Each writer got to tell a complete story within the episode. And often we ended up using montages at the end to highlight that. In the first episode there's the parade, the burial, the murders, ending with two of our characters on the steps, "You want to have a drink?"
CRAFTY: Pay cable doesn't have act outs, but did you write in terms of acts, or was it all just fluid storytelling, movie-style?
MACRURY: I think that varied from writer to writer. Some people found it easier to think in acts. Leaving the act structure aside, there is a natural progression of things are going to happen.
CRAFTY: But do you think in terms of, there are five acts, and in each of them I have to serve each of these story lines?
MACRURY: Yes. We'd find the main story that we're following. And then things would be following from that. The story structure gets more complicated as we get into the series, we start pulling in those three grunts [Canadian peacekeeping soldiers], and once they're in, we've got to keep servicing their story, even though they're not our main guys. We always tried to tie the stories together, for example when Kulkin comes to the mass grave.
CRAFTY: You tied things up pretty well at the end. Do you think there's a ZOS 2? Would that depend on the numbers, or do you feel you've said what you wanted to say?
MACRURY: I think we're done in Jadac. If there were a ZOS Season 2, it would be more along the lines of a PRIME SUSPECT model where you take the lead character and put them in another world. Maybe because we only had eight, we really put everything into it. I don't know where else we'd go in Jadac.
CRAFTY: So what's next?
MACRURY: I recently did a pilot for Showcase called LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY.
CRAFTY: Great title.
MACRURY: I wrote it originally for HBO -- in fact that's what got me the job on DEADWOOD. And I just got back from Newfoundland, where I did a half hour pilot, directed by Jim Allodi. with Allan Hawco. He was the Brit Captain in ZOS. It was a half-hour called THE REPUBLIC OF DOYLE. They asked us to turn it into an hour, so we were trying to figure out how to do that.
CRAFTY: Of course they did. Because comedy, drama, really, what's the diff?
MACRURY: There was always a lot of comedy in it, but we're adding more mystery. It's a private detective show set in St. John's. Yeah, it's ROCKFORD FILES.
CRAFTY: That's funny, because Kay Reindl was just blogging about how everybody wants to write a light detective show, but you just can't sell them.
MACRURY: Yeah, everybody wants to write ROCKFORD FILES. Fortunately, everybody's funny in St. John's.
CRAFTY: Thanks so much for talking to us!

ZOS premieres Monday, January 19th at 9 pm PST on Movie Central, and at 10 pm EST on The Movie Network.

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1 Comments:

great interview...thanks Malcolm and Alex!

By Blogger wcdixon, at 1:24 PM  

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