Now that we have had the premiere episode of TRUE DETECTIVE under our belts and have seen the strong numbers supporting interest in the show HBOWatch thought it apropos that we see what the sole creator/writer of the series and the sole director of all eight episodes had to say about the show that caught our latest attention. So, grab your ledger book, “Taxman” and take notes.
First up is HBO’s interview with Nic Pizzolatto (pictured at right.)
Q: How did you develop the idea for TRUE DETECTIVE?
NIC PIZZOLATTO: The original idea comes from a novel I started writing in two first-person voices – the voice of Cohle and the voice of Hart, with the two alternating brief chapters. While I was working on it, it occurred to me that because of the time shifts and the sort of narration the story structure allowed, it could work as something like a play or a television show. Then, when I turned what I had into a script, I found I liked the way it worked much better than it had been going as prose.
Q: What about the two lead actors made them right for the main character roles?
NP: What really appealed to me about them beyond their excellent acting skills was that they’re both mature men with families, men with responsibilities, and that’s what these roles called for. There’s a kind of classic masculinity that the actors have to bring to these roles and they both had it.
Q: While the show follows the two detectives as they unravel a murder, the real heart of the show seems to be about the two characters, not the identity of the killer. Did your idea of Cohle or Hart change during the production of the show?
NP: We use the procedural case as a sort of clothesline on which to hang the real meat of the show, the character relationships and interactions. With Hart, Woody’s character, my perspective shifted a bit more through interacting with Woody. I began to see Hart as a warmer, more rounded figure. And the two of them together certainly made me conscious of opportunities for humor, the kind of natural humor that didn’t seem inappropriate to the world we’ve created. The nature of Cohle didn’t change other than Matthew’s performance elevating him. Matthew’s realization of the character was even more than I could have hoped for.
Q: The show spans 17 years. Why did you decide to splice past and present throughout the show?
NP: A longer timeline allows you to look in greater detail and with more nuance at how characters change or don’t change, or become refined into what they always were. One of the dominating themes in my personal work is the past. I think the William Faulkner line rings true: “The past isn’t over, it isn’t even past.” Every one of us lives in a present while being dominated by the past mentally and spiritually. The past is something we all take around with us. People tend to arrange things into linear narratives but it’s not right, it’s just an affect of how we perceive time, which is illusory. This was a new way to arrange the story that was exciting to me. It allowed for all this exploration of character.
Q: The series is set in Louisiana, where you grew up. Were you inspired to film there because it was personal to you?
NP: I’m from there and I left when I graduated Louisiana State University at age 22, and never really went back for any period of time. You can see in the show that the landscape is sort of like the third lead. I grew up on the coastal plains in refinery country and these are all places I recognize, so to me, it was very personal. I grew up near the intercoastal waterway and I remember being out in open fields as a child, seeing what looked like a gigantic barge crossing a field because the horizon line was beyond the grass. It looked like a giant boat moving through the wilderness. Or I’d go down to the end of my street, which is by an outlet of a lake, and you could see the refineries across the water. They were real close, but at night they were all lit up and they looked like a city, like Chicago or New York, but it’s not a city at all. These surreal contradictions of the place all lend to the portrait of our characters.
HBOWatch: Well, that certainly explains the images of the oil refineries in the title sequence, doesn’t it?
Next up is a interview, again from HBO itself, with the show’s only director Cary Fukunaga (pictured at right).
Q: What initially appealed to you about TRUE DETECTIVE?
CARY JOJI FUKUNAGA: The plan was to tell a long-form story with feature-film talent, and that was attractive to me. I was coming off “Jane Eyre” at that point and had to reduce a vast literary novel into only 110 minutes. I would have liked to have another hour just to live in that world, with those characters and their idiosyncrasies. So part of me was longing for an extended format, allowing for more time to play with story and not feel as constrained by the demands of a feature-length film. I first read the scripts in spring 2011 and came on board that fall.
Q: Are there special challenges in directing the entire season of a series?
CJF: Stamina. Once we started it became abundantly clear why it usually takes multiple directors to make a season of television. On any given day, from pre-production through post-production, I was managing 500-plus pages of script in various states of completion. Shooting days weren’t just about shooting, but prepping the next episodes, and post-production was its own behemoth.
Q: Did your conception of the two lead characters change during filming?
CJF: TRUE DETECTIVE is not a traditional cop show, but there are precedents in film noir going all the way back to Bogart. In that way, the show has a slightly heightened tone. Not straight genre, not straight drama. It’s not about trying to reinvent the wheel, but subverting expectations. Woody embodied Hart the way I sort of imagined he could, but further elevated the heart of the character and the humor of the entire series. The way Matthew interpreted Cohle is not necessarily the way I originally read him, but he was so prepared and had thought about it so thoroughly I trusted his take. Cohle is a kind of cipher. He has the most to say philosophically, but Hart has the most to do, in terms of his choices and his family, so they balanced each other.
Q: Given the obvious skills of the two leads, what was your role as a director?
CJF: Woody and Matthew bring a lot to the table, so much of the time my job was just to keep the tone consistent throughout. Once everyone is cast and everything else in the production is assembled, I’m just a conductor. Everyone else is doing the heavy lifting.
Q: Did you do multiple takes of scenes?
CJF: Sometimes we would just do one take; other scenes might require eight takes. You never really know what’s going to be challenging. Sometimes the most difficult-seeming sequences on paper were the easiest to shoot. We could tell if something wasn’t quite working. If it felt off, I might ask for a more conventional reading of a scene. We would adjust as we went along, and collaboration with Matthew and Woody was essential in keeping the process organic. There wasn’t any ego about that. Everyone was committed to the work.
Q: You have extensive experience in cinematography. Did you draw on that in your role as director?
CJF: You’re always drawing on your past experiences. In this case, because of the amount of pages we were shooting per day, coverage became the puzzle. I wanted to shoot the film with a kind of natural formalism, so I made a conscious choice not to inflect emotion or perspective with the camera. I felt the omniscient point of view matched the story’s theme of “truth” best, so most angles were meant to feel like an observation of these two men and this world rather than injecting perspective. By keeping the camera stable, smooth and stately, the actors and the storytelling are providing the narrative weight. That kind of shooting is more difficult than hand-held documentary cinematography and takes more time, but you’re also trying to make it seem as effortless as possible.
Q: How important was the setting to the story?
CJF: Louisiana was integral to the story. I had shot there twice before and was familiar with the kind of industrial rot and tropical decay that you find there. I thought that post-apocalyptic background would make the perfect backdrop to this story. I think that people grow out of the landscape they are from and are fundamentally affected by it. If you go to Scotland, for example, you get a real sense of where the rugged, rough- and-tumble nature of the Scots comes from. In Louisiana it’s the same, when you see people eking out an existence in the mud and the humidity and the heat, you know it definitely takes its toll. Add on top of that the petrochemical industry and the pollution. You can see that you wouldn’t have a story like TRUE DETECTIVE without a landscape like that as its foundation.
HBOWatch: Again, that certainly explains the images of the oil refineries in the title sequence, doesn’t it?
Q: What did you learn from this that you might apply to future projects?
CJF: Discipline and patience. The shoot took about 100 days, and it was intensely trying on everyone involved.
HBOWatch: We will have to offer some patience as well as we wait weekly for this season to play out. We just thought we would give the creative team their due while we wait for Episode Two on Sunday, 01.19.14.