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"Character References"
Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin

Writing veterans Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin help bring humanity to Carnivàle's far-out denizens.

Ultimately, it all comes down to character, which is something we're really comfortable with. And when we felt we needed some weird shit, and it wasn't popping into our heads, we would just turn to Dan Knauf.

HBO: Can you tell us a little bit about your role on the production?

NICOLE YORKIN: Well, we are technically co-executive producers, and in the field of television, that means that we are writers who also produce our own material.

HBO: Do you remember what you thought when you first were presented with this wild series?

DAWN PRESTWICH: We initially read a script, and that was what got us really interested in the show. We were looking for something interesting to do, and the pilots and shows on network television were just not really interesting to us. Then this script came across our desk, and it was unlike anything we had ever done before.

NICOLE YORKIN: It just seemed wildly inventive, you know. I remember specifically reading the moment where the parishioner starts vomiting the coins.

HBO: In the pilot.

NICOLE YORKIN: And that was the moment that really hooked me, and I thought, well, this is something completely different.

And this is unlike anything we've ever seen on television before.

DAWN PRESTWICH: And it was compelling to us, because it wasn't just dark fantasy, it was about characters-- it was about really interesting characters. The potential of where these characters could go really pulled us in.

Even though we had never written anything like this before--we tend to be very natural drama writers--we felt like this could be something exciting, and we could bring something to it. So we started beating down the door.

HBO: I know you worked on The Education of Max Bickford, and Chicago Hope, and several David E. Kelly shows. It seems like it's a pretty interesting gear shift to get to Carnivàle. Did you have a hard time, making that shift?

NICOLE YORKIN: Well, you know, it's interesting. We actually created Max Bickford, that was our show, and Max Bickford was a show about a history professor. It involved a lot of research, because neither of us were history majors, and neither of us had gone to a women's college.

For this show, once we were hired, we started by doing our research. Dan, who is a student of this kind of material, started indoctrinating all of us in science fiction and science fantasy and horror-- and all types of genres that really weren't the type of material that Dawn and I had been working with.

And as staff we started watching movies--everything from Fellini to-what was that movie with Johnny Depp?

DAWN PRESTWICH: From Hell.

NICOLE YORKIN: From Hell. And so we were able to eventually see that writing is writing. And imagination is imagination, and it all comes down ultimately to character, which is something we're really comfortable with. And when we felt we needed some weird shit, and it wasn't popping into our heads, we would just turn to Dan Knauf.

HBO: [LAUGHS]

NICOLE YORKIN: He's the king of weird shit, so it was great. I mean there was good synergy that way. There were a lot of strengths in the room, and we all bring it to the page, I think.

HBO: Dan had a pretty strong idea about where the plot was going from the beginning; did he lay it all out for you?

DAWN PRESTWICH: It was interesting, we just sat there for weeks and weeks in a room, all of us, kind of talking about what direction would be interesting. We would dismiss ideas because they would feel like we'd seen them before. It was a real process. And I think that Dan definitely feels that we have gone in the direction he had originally envisioned.

NICOLE YORKIN: But then it's a process.

DAWN PRESTWICH: It's organic, yeah, it became a very organic process.

HBO: Did you have to sit down and sort of discuss the rules for the supernatural characters?

DAWN PRESTWICH: Yes. Yes, we did. We really had a lot of conversation, especially about Brother Justin. And what it was that Brother Justin could do.

HBO: Hmm.

DAWN PRESTWICH: And what he couldn't do.

NICOLE YORKIN: And, the same with Ben.

NICOLE YORKIN: What were Ben's talents, and if he were going to do something, what would the cost be.

NICOLE YORKIN: Then, as the series developed-- you know, over about fourteen months--as the show began filming things would change. Things would mutate, and we would have to either develop new rules or we'd have to shift them a little bit.

We'd realize that by writing it one way, we'd pretty much ruined this other arc that we were planning, because we rendered something moot, or we've made one character too powerful. That was the hardest aspect of the show. And it still is. It's determining what everyone can do, how far they can go. We spent a lot of time talking about other supernaturally oriented shows, and why they succeeded, and why they failed.

We also love the wonderful metaphor of Sophie, the young girl living with her mother. Because every woman in the world has their mother in their head.

HBO: Hmm.

NICOLE YORKIN: And in terms of failure, we realized that one of the big problems was that you can just shoot your wad really early. You know, you start every episode trying to top yourself in terms of the next big supernatural thing that you do. Eventually we realized that with the kind of show we had, with this good versus evil, we would have people with light sabers by the end of the first season.

HBO: [LAUGHS]

NICOLE YORKIN: That was a real challenge too, trying to figure out what our pacing was.

DAWN PRESTWICH: And HBO had very strong ideas about that as well. You know, they didn't want it to be too big too fast.

NICOLE YORKIN: We spent a lot of time talking about what we actually think the ultimate showdown is. And it'll be interesting to see if we end up doing what we all have discussed or if something new comes to us.

That's what also happens in the process--you go along and everyone's fairly certain this is where we're going to go, and then all of a sudden someone just says, So what about this? And it's a great, you know, it's a great idea. We've just learned to sort of trust the room and trust that eventually we'll get there. [CHUCKLES]

HBO: Do you remember any of the movies or series that you thought had really handled the that balance of the supernatural well?

DAWN PRESTWICH: I think things like the X-Files handled it well. They were a very different kind of franchise, so we couldn't really compare ourselves to that. Nick Roeg's Don't Look Now. There were more films than TV series.

NICOLE YORKIN: Yeah. It's harder to sustain it.

DAWN PRESTWICH: Yeah. In fact, one of our biggest challenges is just to sustain, to get close solving things, and then bring a new mystery as we go. And trying to handle all the balls we have in the air. [CHUCKLES]

HBO: Dan had said that he initially expected to get further along the story arc in the first season than you eventually did.

DAWN PRESTWICH: I think what ended up happening is that it became clear that what we all really wanted was character development. We wanted to really invest in the characters, because that was the only way we were going to care about what happened to anyone.

HBO: Right.

DAWN PRESTWICH: It sort of slows everything down, a little bit, but it doesn't make it boring, it just makes it richer, I think.

NICOLE YORKIN: And that is pretty much the HBO way. If you look at shows like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos.

HBO: Right.

NICOLE YORKIN: And as a result, you have to keep watching in episode after episode, but you really know the characters. And you can be surprised at each episode; there's no pat ending.

HBO: What do you think it's going to take to get people hooked on the show-- what do you think will be the thing that really draws people into Carnivàle?

DAWN PRESTWICH: I think it really goes to the characters and the magic. I think that's the combination. You need characters that you haven't really seen before, but that are totally relatable. And the fact that there is this incredible magic to the show.

NICOLE YORKIN: I'll just add that there is nothing like it on television. You know, it's not a cop show, it's not a lawyer show, and it's not a medical show. And there's not a dead body that's being examined. Maybe people will be hungry for that.

DAWN PRESTWICH: As far as the writing goes for us, it is by far the most unique, most exciting show that we've ever written on. It's also the hardest, but I think it's really worthwhile.

HBO: Why is it the hardest?

NICOLE YORKIN: It really stretches all of your writerly muscles, because there is not your typical franchise. There is not that lawyer franchise, you know, we don't go to court every week, or go into the operating room. So there's an open playing field. Dan has created this template for the most creative type of writing you can imagine; we're able to pretty much do whatever we can think of doing.

And yet, since it is serialized, there are threads that we have to pick up each week, and we can't drop a stitch.

The cootch show actors especially are incredibly brave. Because it's not like they're real strippers. And they just got hired and came in and found themselves stripping in front of forty extras.

HBO: Do you have a favorite moment from the first season?

NICOLE YORKIN: Well, maybe because we're the women writers on the show-- we and Toni Graffia are the women writers-- we feel a certain affinity to some of the women characters. We really have a certain affection for the little troupe of hootchie-cootch dancers.

HBO: [LAUGHS]

DAWN PRESTWICH: Yeah, we love them.

NICOLE YORKIN: Yes.

HBO: The Dreifusses are an interesting family.

DAWN PRESTWICH: We have loved writing some of their storylines this season. We also love the wonderful metaphor of the young girl living with her mother that Sophie is. We love that. Because every woman in the world has their mother in their head. [CHUCKLES]

HBO: [LAUGHS]

DAWN PRESTWICH: But she literally has her in her head. And it makes her insane. And we love that. But we have so many favorite moments, I can't even pull out just one.

NICOLE YORKIN: I would also say that the cast of this show is an amazing cast to work with.

I mean, they're lovely people, and they're so generous, and they're just a joy to write for.

DAWN PRESTWICH: And they're very brave. The cootch show women especially are incredibly brave. Because it's not like they're real strippers. [CHUCKLES]

And they just got hired and came in and found themselves stripping in front of forty extras. And they did it beautifully, and very bravely, and they really make those characters work.

Interviews
Daniel Knauf
- Carnivàle Creator

Rodrigo Garcia
- Carnivàle Director

Mary Corey
- Historical Consulant

Casting Directors

Co-Executive Producers

Music Supervisors

Sara Ingrassia
- Set Decorator

Howard Klein
- Executive Producer

William Schmidt
- Supervising Producer

Jeff Beal
- Composer

Michael J. Anderson

Clancy Brown

Amy Madigan

Carnivale Features

Carnival Fact

Because of Boston's strict moral code known as the Blue Laws, any sanitized or cleaned-up burlesque or Vaudeville act was referred to as "the Boston Version".
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