As long as I can remember I have always been a fan of the TV shows that were a bit on the supernatural/sci-fi side of things. In the 70’s I loved Fantasy Island, the mysterious Island that made all your dreams come true, in the 80’s it was Quantum Leap, in the 90’s it was, of course, The X-files, then there was LOST and most recently, The Leftovers.
While I was in L.A. last December I had the opportunity to screen a brand new show coming to ABC called The Crossing. Upon viewing the pilot I felt like it was a combination of LOST and The Leftovers and for this reason, I was intrigued! It was so well done and just that peek unfurled so many questions that I can’t wait to see more!
“After 47 refugees mysteriously wash up in a small fishing town, local sheriff Jude Ellis teams with DHS agent Emma Ren to assess their unusual claim … that they’re fleeing a war 180 years in the future. The mystery deepens when Jude realizes that one of the new arrivals possesses heightened abilities and is a threat to his town, setting the two of them on a collision course. As the rest of the refugees acclimate to their unfamiliar surroundings, Emma learns that one has information that calls into question everything she thought she knew about our present time.“
After watching the pilot screener, we had the pleasure of interviewing Executive Producers and series creators of the show Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie.
Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie started their careers about 15 years ago on the show Dragnet. As a child, Dan wanted to make movies so he grew up and went to UCLA and then to film school. He toiled away as an assistant for several years to a director and then eventually hooked up with Jay and they started writing.
Jay Beattie is from Northern California and went to Pepperdine for school, first majoring in business then realized he wanted to make movies. His first gig was an internship on Pulp Fiction. He then started working for a director in television and that’s when he met Dan.
How did you come up with the concept for the show?
DAN: It started with a photograph and it was one of the many photos that we are kind of besieged by every day in the press. It was very specifically a photo of a dad who had come from Syria to Greece and had crossed the Mediterranean in a raft and barely made it by the looks of him. It’s a father holding his little boy and just the look on the guys face, as a father, killed me. That was kind of the spark initially. That’s when I emailed Jay and said, refugees. We don’t normally write straight ahead, ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, we usually like to put a little spin on it. So, we figured out a way to put a spin on the refugee story and that was this.
(It feels like LOST) Are you guys fans of LOST or did you get any inspiration from it?
DAN: Yeah, we’re definitely fans of LOST. I think in a greater sense, we’re both, especially myself, we’re genre fans, fans of sci-fi. Another big inspiration for this idea was Ray Bradbury There are a couple of stories he wrote about time travel, that kind of factored into the idea little bit. So, our influences kind of run the gamut.
JAY: But being that this was the network of LOST, comparisons are going to be made and, we don’t shy away from that. We’re both huge fans of Leftovers, too. Big cameras, big scope, a lot of characters to explore and just that central mystery.
As far as the story arc goes, are we going to be getting answers in every episode?
DAN: I think the way we structured it, it’s the perfect balance of getting something answered and getting another question asked, pretty much every episode. Obviously, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of questions. So, we resisted the impulse to kind of answer too much too early. But at the same time, we’ve watched shows where you don’t get anything answered and then at the end of the season you’re like oh, I was entertained but I feel like I’ve been cheated. So, we don’t want that. We’ll be giving people enough I think, more than enough.
How many episodes do you have already? How big is your story arc?
DAN: The first season (there) will be 11 episodes.
JAY: We definitely know we have tons more story to explore with all these characters and I think the show could go on for years and years.
Will every episode be as climactic as the first?
DAN: We actually have a term for it that we came up. It’s called the level of whoa, W-H-O-A, not the other one. So, when we set out the beginning of the season, we said we need to figure out a way to replicate the level of whoa from the pilot in every episode. Now, the pilot is special. The pilot has a scope and an epic feel to it that like you can’t quite achieve every episode necessarily. But idea wise I think we do.
You said the concept came from a photo. How did the rest of the story come about?
DAN: Well, like I said, another influence was Ray Bradbury who’s written a couple of really interesting time travel stories, which impressed themselves on me at a very young age and always stuck with me. Initially, when you say time travel when you’re trying to brainstorm ideas for TV shows, there can be a little bit of a gag reflex because, you know, it’s an incredibly challenging subgenre of storytelling because it can get very confusing and you can go down enormous rabbit holes when you’re trying to discuss the mechanics of time travel and paradoxes.
But then we talked about a way to do it very simply and I think it’s kind of the way that what you see in the pilot is an initial jumping off point for the time travel. And we kind of made a pact early on in the writer’s room, let’s not go down any time travel rabbit holes. Let’s not get into paradoxes. Let’s not get into parallel existences. Let’s not get into things that are going to distract from the stories we’re trying to tell. So, we warmed to the time travel idea early.
And also, the notion of what will our world be like in 180 years? Will it potentially be a place that people will go to these lengths to escape from? This we found was compelling.
JAY: In terms of the refugees, the discussion began with, how do we tap into what’s happening in the world but not make it ripped from the headlines? How do we get some distance from it? Which is why we dipped into kind of this sci-fi genre because it gives you that distance from something that’s happening, you know, now, to talk about and explore socially relevant issues.
We decided to make these refugees from America to avoid comparisons to refugees coming from different countries and different religions and really focus on the people and the experience that they’re going to have here as refugees versus any sort of sociopolitical baggage that might come along with it.
Have you pulled anything from your personal lives and put it into the story?
JAY: We’re both dads, so you’ve got father-son stories and a couple of different mom and daughter stories that are afloat. So, a lot of that is informed by being a parent and the notion of being separated from your child, the notion of having your child taken from you, the notion of not knowing what happened to your child.
DAN: Certainly, having a family fractured by separation, divorce, there is a desire to repair that. What we explore in the show is Jude’s sort of inability to repair his relationship with his son is transferred onto his ability to help this woman find her daughter, it’s sort of a surrogate for him.
Tell us about the actors.
JAY: Steve Zahn (Jude Ellis) is terrific.
DAN: It was super heartening because it’s not the typical choice, which was nice. We didn’t want this to be the typical show. So, to lead with that kind of choice for your cop character, we thought was great. It wasn’t a down the middle, lantern-jawed traditional leading man sort of guy. He definitely has different nuances to him which were great, (he) definitely brings that to the role.
As far as the other actors, Natalie Martinez is someone we worked with before on another show we did called Matador, whose great. I had also seen her on a show called Kingdom where she plays an MMA fighter and she’s terrifying. So, we knew she could handle the physical rigors.
We weren’t honestly at first sure like if she was going to be able to handle the maternal rigors, but then she came on set and the connection she has with the girl who plays Leah is amazing. She wasn’t someone I thought had that in her. But it’s there. I think it comes out in the show, which is nice.
JAY: I’ve been a fan of Sandrine Holt since she was a kid acting in Black Robe and we watched her work recently on Mr. Robot and House of Cards and she just reads this really smart, and lends a certain gravity to the role of Emma Ren, who’s playing the Homeland security officer.
What type of research did you do for the show?
DAN: All kinds, especially on the scientific end of things. Going forward, you’ll see a lot of that crystallizes. We had a synthetic biologist as a consultant who read all our scripts and who we talked to. His name is Andrew Hessel who’s at this very moment probably curing cancer and I’m not kidding. That’s one of his pet projects. We talked to futurists about what the world might look like in 180 years which was fascinating. We also talked to a climatologist from NASA about what the weather might be like in 180 years.
It was great because normally we’ve written on police procedurals, and on medical shows and that’s fine but talking to a futurist, to me, is much more interesting at this point in my life than talking to a cop about another homicide. So, it was a lot of fun for us and the other writers to be able to get into that.
Was there anything else as far as when you spoke to the futurists that you weren’t expecting?
JAY: There are two I can point to. One – there were several ideas that they were able to quickly kind of validate as these things are coming quickly, which was, that was one of the unexpected things. Two – how optimistic they are about the future. They are all very optimistic about how technology can solve the problems of the future and the here and now. How it’s not politics that creates change. It’s technology and the adoption of technology. So, that was heartening to hear.
The Crossing airs Monday’s at 10|9c on ABC.