24 Interview

 Posted by on 1 February 2006 at 7:21 am  Uncategorized
Feb 012006

Paul recently forwarded me this interesting interview with 24 writer and producer Michael Loceff. I’d recommend reading the whole interview to interested fans of 24. (Happily, it doesn’t contain any spoilers for Season Five.) A few bits were particularly refreshing, such as this discussion of “reality” (i.e. naturalism) versus “drama” (i.e. romanticism) in television:

Slate: How much work do you put into making the show realistic? There seem to be times when realism and drama inevitably come into conflict.

Loceff: We do have an investment in plausibility. We’ve hired writers who have done heavy research in espionage and anti-terrorism and worked with the government. And we’ve met with consultants from the intelligence community and other parts of the government, just to help stir up ideas and help us come up with something that seems compelling. But I think ultimately what makes the show is not the reality but the drama. Joel and Bob approach 24 the way they have always approached dramatic television: They’ve approached it with the idea that the drama is, in the end, more important than the factual aspect of the story. Joel in particular is really good at ignoring reality when it’s convenient.

I actually started in the opposite place. I come from a technical background–I’m a mathematician and a programmer by trade–and I was one of those people who would watch a show and say, “Oh, that could never happen.” And I know that those people sometimes watch 24 and get frustrated. But ultimately people don’t watch shows because of how realistic they are. They watch them because of the same dramatic elements that have always made stories interesting. And fundamentally if those elements don’t work, no amount of reality is going to be enough to keep people watching a show. The rule, I think, is: Do your homework, learn what there is to learn about the real world, and then when you get in the room, forget it all.

Slate: Back to the realism question: 24 is shot in real time, which creates a very powerful illusion of reality. In that context, things that seem especially unrealistic run the risk of snapping us out of that.

Loceff: It is a challenge. I’d say that for every idea you see on the screen, there were five ideas we threw away that were more interesting and less real, and there were five ideas that we threw away that were more real and less interesting. What you have to get used to as a writer is realizing that most of what you come up with is wrong for the show.

Also of interest:

Slate: Is it better or worse writing for a real-time show?

Loceff: In Season 1, it actually made some things easier, because it just limited the possibilities. There weren’t as many things you had to think about, and no matter how small you make a box, there are still infinitely many stories inside the box. But I think that everyone on the show has thought at one time or another about how nice it would be to work on an ordinary television show. It sometimes feels as if you’re writing with both hands tied behind your back, blindfolded. Some of the problems are simple: You can’t do a time cut. You want the character of Curtis to be at CTU, but he’s at the airport, so we can’t have him at CTU right then. And then the way we write the show adds to that, because although we do have a broad sense of the entire season’s arc, we write the episodes sequentially. So, you end up in situations where you need a character to be acting as if they’re at full capacity, but we just killed his mother or father. It seemed like a good idea at the time to kill their father or mother, but later it’s just damned inconvenient to have somebody mourning.

And I’ve certainly noticed that phenomena in the show on occasion, particularly with Jack’s heroine addiction in Season Three. He made an awfully speedy recovery from the physical withdrawal! (Errr.. I meant “heroin addiction.” That was just too delightful a spelling error to correct outright!)

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