Back in January, “Falling Skies” had a relatively short presentation to the Television Critics Association. It was early, but the summer session would happen after the show premieres in June. Not feeling my appetite for alien invasion survival coverage whet, I found series creator Robert Rodat afterwards and started chatting.
Our interview evolved into a mutual geek fest. This is the Academy Award nominated screenwriter of Saving Private Ryan. Turns out he’s as big a fan of post-apocalyptic action at I am. So here’s the scoop on “Falling Skies,” premiering Sunday on TNT, and an Oscar caliber look at my favorite subgenre.
Q: The aliens are cool but how much human opposition is there? They run into one gang in the beginning, but are there more?
Robert Rodat: It’s chaotic. Now that we’ve established that not everybody is in the resistance, which would be unrealistic in a chaotic situation, hey, we can do all sorts of stuff. We can have little groups here. We can have bad guys, we can have mixed guys. We might have somebody who’s into religion. There’s all sorts of paths we could go. Where we go, I don’t know but I think the idea that there’s more than one oppositional group, it’s not just the aliens but it’s the aliens and the complexities of the humans, some of whom are going to be adversarial, I think that’s exciting. I think that’s cool.
Q: In the first season, how many other human elements are there?
RR: Well, we do something I think is really cool. I shouldn’t reveal too much but the guys you see in episode 2 are not the only humans they’re going to run into. We do what we consider really exciting stuff about halfway or 2/3 of the way through the season.
Q: I liked that the aliens we see are more one on one, or one on two encounters. If you did an army of CGI aliens, it would look cheap.
RR: Well, there was a conceptual thing there too and not just a budgetary thing because if you think about it, these aliens are so overwhelming in power that if they were all still there, there wouldn’t be a show because they’d just wipe us out. So the only way we could make it make sense would be that there was a huge number of aliens and then the bulk of them left and left only a small garrison. So in a way, the aliens are kind of outnumbered too. Otherwise, logistically it would make no sense.
Q: Have we seen every type of alien in the first episodes?
RR: That I’m not authorized to say. We do have some surprises planned.
Q: What about the idea of harnessing. We’ve seen pod people and puppet masters. What was your take on this alien control of humans?
RR: That was one of the very first things that Steven [Spielberg] said. When we were working out the initial stuff, the thing that excited him was the idea that adults are killed if they’re a threat, and kids are captured for whatever reason and changed or altered. The harness was a logical outgrowth of that. Then what we’ll explore is what the harnessing does to the kid over the course of the show but that also is something that’s going to have to unveil itself gradually.
Q: That was Spielberg’s idea?
RR: No, I think the harness came from me but the idea that they were enslaving kids. I don’t remember the exact genesis.
Q: He’s explored that before, even in Temple of Doom with the kidnapped kids.
RR: Yeah, and the idea that the kids would be altered by their enslavement came. Then I started trying to figure out what’s the mechanism for that so that’s where the harness came from.
Q: It’s pretty hardcore starting out with the kids telling the story of how all their parents were killed by aliens.
RR: You know, people have accused me of making that, have said is that a budgetary issue?
Q: Oh, it comes across as a dramatic issue.
RR: I hope so because I sat down at the beginning, in the initial outlines I actually had a five page montage of the actual invasion. I wrote a few drafts of it and I looked at and say, “Ay-yay-yay, I’ve seen this before. There’s no emotion to this. It feels like one of those montages.” The children’s thing was a happy accident that was cost effective, but I think it’s much more emotional than one of those montages and cost $1.5 less.
“Falling Skies” premieres on TNT this Sunday at 9/8c.