Summer 2003 Cable TCA Press Tour

 

July 10, 2003

HBO

"Carnivale"

Nick Stahl
Star

Clea DuVall
Star

Clancy Brown
Star

Amy Madigan
Star

Ronald D. Moore
Executive Producer

Howard Klein
Executive Producer

Daniel Knauf
Executive Producer

The Renaissance Hotel
Hollywood, California

All TCA Press Tour transcripts are prepared immediately following press conferences. They are provided for your convenience and are not intended as a substitute for attendance at press conferences. Due to the speed with which these transcripts are prepared, complete accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

CAROLYN STRAUSS: So, I think it was about almost close to three years ago now that Dan Knauf came in with Howard Klein and captivated us with a world that was at once foreign and familiar. His 1934 story of a young fugitive taken in by a carnival traveling around the Dust Bowl, and a minister in California seemed part Steinbeck, part Fellini. It was a series laced with magic and myth, set in a time 70 years ago whose events and themes eerily echoed today.

At its heart, "Carnivale" is a classic tale of good versus evil. That tale and that world has been brought to life by talented writers and an extraordinary cast that adds mystery to the real and credibility to the magic and to the period. A superb lineup of directors and an amazing production team has created a universe of harsh wind-burnt beauty that has never been before seen on television.

After the ultra-gritty and contemporary world of "The Wire," for our newest drama series, it is incredible thrilling for us to take a big swing with an epic, magical period piece. Here are some clips of "Carnivale."

[CLIP SHOWN: "CARNIVALE:]

STRAUSS: Please welcome our panel: executive producer Dan Knauf, executive producer Ron Moore, executive producer Howard Klein, and some members of our cast: Amy Madigan, Clancy Brown, Nick Stahl, and Clea DuVall.

QUESTION: Daniel, can you talk about--over here-how this idea came to you or came into fruition, please?

DANIEL KNAUF: Eight years of really twisted parochial education, I think. Actually, I've always been fascinated with carnivals, and it's a universal experiences. I don't think anybody in this room has not been to a carnival, but it's rarely ever treated dramatically.

But, as far as the moment the story occurred to me was I was talking a walk in a local park-this was years and years ago-and they were setting up a carnival in there--and it was early in the morning and they weren't open yet-and there were people sleeping under the trucks. And, at that moment, I realized that those people that we see at night,

they don't clock in when the sun goes down. This is their life. This is where they live, and it's like an invisible world, and the whole thing sort of fascinated me and grew from there.

QUESTION: And can you talk about the visual? The producers: did you guys have a very strong idea of what you wanted to see visually? Because I think it's the most stunning part of the whole thing.

KNAUF: Ron?

RONALD D. MOORE: Well, I think the primary visual language is that it's very naturalistic. It's very true to the time period. It's very presentational in the sense that it's not sort of quick cutting, MTV-style, and it's not sort of swooping camera moves and unnecessary motion. Rodrigo Garcia, who directed the pilots for an established look and a language-a cinematic language-for the show that we've adhered to ever since, and it's really important to us-not just in terms of cinematography but also in production design, art direction, costume, makeup, hair-that we present the period as close as possible as we can on television.

And within that, we try to make it, even though it's a relatively ugly time and a depressed time-it is a depression, after all-we try to make it a thing of beauty, because there's a beauty in the show. So, that kind of comes through on the screen.

QUESTION: A question down here in the front for the producers. Maybe I'm getting the wrong impression from just having seen the first three episodes-and I'm sure you'll tell me if I am-but it seems that this show is genuinely interested in religion as more than just a plot device. Am I wrong in that, and if I'm not, what's your take on it?

KNAUF: Well, one of the characters is a minister, but-yeah, I mean think religion is a theme that comes through in it because it was important in the time. And, we're really what we're talking about is hearts and minds and people trying to really gather souls, and you can't do that without some sort of religious subtext.

MOORE: And I think also it's integral to sort of the basic mythos of the show--beyond organized religion, in sort of the minister character, and sort of the more surface aspects of "The Word"--I think the roots of the show are eternal. They are the struggle of light and dark, and good versus evil, and it does examine questions of faith, and it does examine, sort of, the nature of man. It's not afraid of sort of exploring that terrain, which I think is sort of an interesting thing to tackle on television.

KNAUF: And the nature of religion-in that it's inexorably, sort of, it's like a theatrical presentation-whenever you go to a religious service, it has so much in common with theater. And, you know, those connections are going to happen.

QUESTION: Down here in the middle. I'm still curious about the genesis of the show because the thing that struck me, almost immediately, was the whole idea of the Depression Era as being a time of magic when my folks, people like that, tend to think of it as the period of dreariness and so forth. Where did, if you can say where an idea came from, where did the idea of making it a time of magic come from?

KNAUF: Well, you know in US history, you know, we've got a lot of time in the rearview mirror, and up through the middle of the last century, about the only time that had been mythologized had been the Old West, and we've got about 100 more years. And, you know, we've got a rich history. I felt, "You know what? This is a time that hasn't been mythologized," and it's 70 years ago now. And so, it seemed like really fertile territory, and really, as a writer, what you look for is that sort of untilled piece of ground. And, if you can find those, then you're in pretty good shape. So, really, I think the '30s was ripe for this kind of a treatment, this mythological treatment.

Also, I think our conceit in this is that, you know, arguably what we say in this is this is the last great "Age of Magic," and once we, as a species, created and managed to harness "The Bomb," that was the beginning of the Age of Reason. And you could argue at that point, God sort of gave us the car keys and said, "You're on your own," but up until that moment, there was such a thing as magic. That's the conceit of the show.

QUESTION: Question for Clancy Brown and Nick Stahl. Do you understand what you're playing? Or do you just wait until you get the scripts? I mean, we're watching a puzzle, and we obviously want to know who you are. Do you know what you're playing? I mean, have they told you what you're playing. That's, I guess, my question.

NICK STAHL: Uh, well,

KNAUF: Watch it, Nick.

MOORE: One of you is a woman.

[laughter]

STAHL: See, that I didn't understand.

CLANCY BROWN: I learn more about it every day.

STAHL: That was kind of interesting, you know, about doing a series and something with a character that evolves throughout a season. That's something I hadn't done before. And when I read the pilot, you know, it was a character that was very clear-to me- someone who has an ability or a power that has been somewhat repressed. That's my phone. [laughter] Jesus, that's annoying. I'm sorry. [laughter]

BROWN: Don't say anything more.

STAHL: Can I toss this? So, as the season sort of went on, you kind of learn more about his past and his family, and things that were sort of mystery at the beginning of the season. So, to me, he's really just, you know, someone who has some sort of talent or some kind of-this-ability, and I didn't look at it as anything more than that. So, you know. And the rest of it is-I mean, it deals with those elements. I mean, that's under the surface, but really, it's a drama with real relationships. And it's an ensemble drama. So, I don't know if that answers your question.

QUESTION: But you didn't what you symbolized? I guess that's my question. I presume at some point we're going to find out what these two men represent. As you're going along in the show, do you know ahead of time what you're playing, or do you just play as you get the scripts. I mean, did the producers tell you, "This is where we're going to head in the end"?

BROWN: Well, we got a sort of an overview, but nothing specific. And, you know, we all know where it ends, because here we are, right? I mean, it takes place in the Depression, and that was 70 years ago, so the end game of our mythology is still happening today. As far as the dramatic characters go, there's a general sense of it, but the specifics are what's interesting, and those are revealed to us every week-

QUESTION: Ah?

BROWN: Sometimes every day.

QUESTION: Sorry.

BROWN: No, please.

QUESTION: Back here on your left. I wanted to find out from each of the actors, and I know Nick and Clancy have already touched on this quite a bit: research for your characters and research in the setting, the time and the place, which is so important in this?

STAHL: Draw straws, or?

BROWN: Let Clea...

AMY MADIGAN: Yeah, let Clea talk.

CLEA DuVALL: In terms of the setting and the place, I read several books about The Depression and about carnivals and circus life and freaks and the whole politics between the different groups of-for lack of a better word, "freaks,"-and, you know, reading the scripts every week is research. And finding out about your character, more about your past and, you know, like Nick said, it's always evolving, and it's always changing. So, it's kind of hard to do concrete research on something that you don't know for sure. Nick?

STAHL: Thank you, Clea.

DuVALL: You're welcome.

STAH[L: I actually just found really great value in just looking at photos from the time because I didn't know very much about the period at all. So, I looked through photo books, and just to see the people's faces, and to see the--you know, I mean, it was such a difficult period, and you can see this kind of anguish on their faces, and I found that a really powerful tool for me. Just visually, so. Amy?

MADIGAN: I guess I had, actor-wise, I had a bit of an advantage because I was a character that was brought in later on, after all these guys had worked together. So, I was able to see some of the footage that was assembled and why I was being brought into the story. I'm kind of the twisted sister in this drama, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. And, I kind of just really used my grandma and that whole period of time. Being an immigrant.

I'm glad you talked about the visuals, because all the costumes and hair and sets and everything, we've been quite meticulous about that, and there's an exquisite barrenness and beauty in that. And I was raised in an Irish-Catholic family, went through much religious training, and it helped me really a lot, and so, I kind of used that. I'm a religious person in this piece, and I found that more was really a good idea. Clancy?

BROWN: Wow, you guys did a lot of work. [laughter] Oh, boy. Well, there were a few historical references, a few things that were important. There was a fellow who was very significant at the time named Father Coughlin who was quite a force during the Depression, and was a clergyman. Eventually burnt out, I think, 'cause he ran for office and got burned by the politics of it, but very popular guy, a precursor to a lot of movements, a lot of things that we see today.

It was an also an age of oratory. That was how the stars communicated. Television was in its infancy, movies were just about to have sound. Carnivals were the big events in these little towns. The little town where I grew up, I can remember going to a carnival every now and then, but they disappeared by the time I was in high school. You know, it's a fascinating time, and the memory of it is not a TV memory. It's a recalled memory, and a personal memory, and facts and faces and probably the last moment of American history where you could use your imagination a little bit in history. So, it's just rich, rich and limitless, period.

So, what did I do. I don't know. What did I do? What have I been doing all this time?

MADIGAN: You put on you cloak.

BROWN: Yeah, you put on the cloak-

MADIGAN: You put on your shoes and costume.

BROWN: You try to make sense of it, I guess.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the title, the silent "e?" Carnival; carnivale. Is there a definite difference, or is it just connotations? Did you choose "carnivale" because of historical significance?

KNAUF: Where are you-ah!

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I'm right here down the middle, and I'm just dying to know about that silent "e."

KNAUF: I could be hearing voices again, and I just wanted to make sure it was a real person.

QIJESTION: Tell me about that? Is there an historical association with using that "e"? Is something like "theatre," spelling it "r-e" rather than "e-r"? Or is there a definition and a history to that word that's different from carnival?

KNAUF: I could be really coy about it and say there's some big meaning to it, but what I always thought about was: this is this crummy little carnival moving through these crummy little towns. And, there was just something kind of delicious about the idea of sort of adding this accented "a" and this "e" at the end, sort of give it this, you know, "we're straight from the Continent." So I think that was-it was basically the built-in irony of it, more than anything else.

QUESTION: Over here on your right. Is there a discreet ending at the end of these 12 episodes? It kind of sounds like there is, and frankly, if you're building up to Armageddon, somewhere along the line there's going to have to be a battle.

KNAUF: We prefer to be indiscreet. No, actually, no. It's really an amazing opportunity here because we're doing epic storytelling, and this story is going to take a long time to tell. And-

QUESTION: But will it be told at the end of 12 episodes, or are we going to go on?

KNAUF: No, it will not be told at the end of 12.

MOORE: This is more like the end of a chapter.

KNAUF: Right, yeah, and, so-but, you know we do know what the end of the story is, but it's certainly not going to be something that's 12 episodes in.

QUESTION: On your right. Following up on that: How far out have you plotted this? Is this something where you do one year at a time. Do you have mileposts for three or four seasons? Do you have a five-year arc? What?

KNAI]F: 57 years. You know, I really can't say in terms of years. I can't imagine it being less than three years, and I can't imagine it being more than six. I think that's the best I can do.

QUESTION: And-

KNAUF: I mean, things happen along the way. Certain characters do things you don't expect them do, they move off in directions you don't expect to move off in, so it's really hard to nail down, too. I don't think-in a way, it's sort of like writing a novel. I don't think anyone says when they sit down to write page one of a novel, "Well, this novel's going to run 367 pages."

MOORE: Certainly there were ideas we had in the writing staff at "Carnivale" as we were plotting out the season, deciding the end point of the season will be "this," and there were some things that we thought we were going to get to at the end of the first season. But it turned out, we couldn't get that far, that we couldn't move the story along fast enough to get there. So, we pushed those into the second season.

But yeah, like Dan is saying, there's just a sense of us-we have a lot of things in motion, and we know sort of where most of these threads are going, and it's just we're sort of willing now. I think the learning curve that we took was to discover the style of

storytelling and let the story unfold at its own natural pace and not to really get locked into an idea that "by the end of the second season, you must have done this, and by the end of the first season, you must have done that," because sometimes the story just didn't flow that way. And, we're just sort of willing to see where it leads.

QUESTION: Someone else mentioned puzzles, and obviously mystery-that's a big part of this. How much of that will you reveal. How do you decide what to reveal? For instance, the baggage cart in the second episode: are we ever going to find out the story behind that?

KNAI]F: Probably. The thing that's amazing about doing this show is that, you know-and this is HBO, too-I've been a big believer in the "bottom of the iceberg school," where you can just see 10% of what's there, and you get this sense of this huge, magnificent thing underneath-and we know what that is, as writers, and we're drawing on it on a regular basis. We have a highly detailed mythos and back-stories, and we know where we're going with it, and I think that it shows in the writing. There's an assuredness. There are rules to this particular little game.

And HBO, to their credit, has been completely behind that, and, as a matter of fact, in one of the first meetings-I remember Carolyn was looking at a scene. She said, "Couldn't we be a little more elliptical here?"-and I thought, I was just astonished that I heard that come from a network executive. It's like, "That's what I do!" You know, that's what's held me back for a long time, that I'm too elliptical, and here it is. They want us to sort of give the audience credit for a little intelligence and work some of these things out and give them a taste here and make it tantalizing.

But, there's a "there" there, which is the difference between some shows you know, and I won't name shows, but we all know there's some shows where it feels like there's some sort of myth, and then after seven or eight episodes the wheels fall off this episode we have clear, through line and a clear myth. We know what we're going for.

MOORE: I think one of the tricks of it too, is as you're writing the stories and as you're designing the structure of the show, and as you're designing the structure of the overall season, that you do occasionally pick up a card that you dropped in episode one or two. So, that eventually, you do for the audiences paying attention and the audience that is investing themselves in what is a complicated, dense piece of material.

We are asking a lot of you to sort of follow along on this very complicated story with many different characters, and you want a sense of, every once in a while, we're going to sort of explain something that you remember from episode four or five, and so that's one of the challenges in the writers' room.

Sometimes we do say, okay, you know it's about, why don't we pay that one off and let's put that one aside for now and let the audience enjoy the revelation of that particular mystery, even though there's still a dozen more that we haven't answered. And so, I think it's a question of just you know telling the audience like Dan is saying, that there really is a rationale to what we're doing and if it's not completely random, then every once in a while, we'll let you see what's really going on.

QUESTION: Where is the show shot?

MOORE: The show is based in Santa Clarita at Santa Clarita Studios. We do the interiors there. We also have -- then we shoot all over the place. We have locations at Paramount Ranch out in Malibu, which is where we do most of the exteriors for the town of Mintern, California, which Brother Justin and Iris are based.

The carnival itself, we have a full blown carnival which has actually moved around the greater southern California area, as we found places to replicate Oklahoma and Texas and New Mexico. And then we shoot at many points in between, at various movie ranches and out in Lancaster. It's all shot within southern California.

QUESTION: In the middle towards the back. Since Daniel said that this series came out of many twisted years in parochial school, what about the decision of making Justin a charismatic, Protestant preacher. He does flagellate and things, that are more like monastic practice. So, what was the decision into building that particular character.

KNAUF: You know, that's a difficult question to answer without telling you a little bit more about where we're going than I want to. Suffice it to say, it was necessary from the standpoint of where the story is going. It wouldn't have quite. I think two, I think one of the decisions I can tell you about it is that it's an American story and Catholicism is sort of an import and we wanted to make him more of an American minister and so I think that fell into it, too.

MOORE: I think there was also the concern early on, as Clancy alluded to, there was an actual historical figure named Father Coughlin, who was an Irish Catholic priest and we didn't want it to be this is the Father Coughlin story. It felt like every time we went into that terrain, that that sort of took us there and we weren't trying to tell his particular tale. - He was certainly somebody that has an historical reference for us, but he wasn't the guy.

QUESTION: Over here in front, Ron. How is it since you're going to be working on two series, how are you going to be dividing your time? And also, w hen you, this is like a three part, when you move the carnival around, do any of the public say "oh a carnival" and come and-

KNAUF: We're going to be playing the Kern County next week. [laughter] ;

MOORE: We need some more money for the budget.

QUESTION: And the last question is, where is Patrick today?

MOORE: Patrick Bauchau?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MOORE: I couldn't tell you. He's probably out on a bender. [laughter] The first question, I'm not splitting my time. I was here, as some of you know, for "Battlestar Galactica" on Tuesday, but that was a miniseries that I wrote over a year ago, which I completed before I was asked to join "Carnivale" so, this is what I do. And what's this about moving the carnival around?

QUESTION: When you're moving it, you're going to Lancaster here and there. Do you find the public all of a sudden go, "Oh, a carnival's coming to town!"

MOORE: Oh no. We're pretty discrete. We actually go out of our way to try to find places that are as desolate as possible because the carnival in 1934 is going to very desolate barren landscapes, so it's really kind of difficult to find places where we don't have mountains in the background. Sometimes we accept it and sometimes we paint them out. We're really pretty far removed from populated areas when we have the carnival going.

KNAUF: We travel by night.

CAROLYN STRAUSS: Unfortunately, that's all we have time for. Thank you very much. I'd like to bring out the head of documentary programming, the lovely Sheila Nevins.

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