Interview with Executive Producer Stephen Nathan from Bones

bonescall1211asmallIt’s well-known on TV Is My Pacifier that Bones is one of my favorite shows, and honestly, Stephen Nathan & Hart Hanson are two of my favorite people in the biz. Last week, Stephen took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk to the press about this week’s landmark 200th episode of the series, which is a one-off episode that was filmed and written similar to classic Alfred Hitchcock movies. It’s all about our favorite characters and how they might have met if they lived back in that era and their lives were different (for example, Temperance is a cop, Booth is a thief, Max is Tempe’s boss…). I’ve seen the episode, and it’s a fun look into a completely alternate reality while still keeping so much of what makes Bones a great show. Check out what Stephen had to say about the episode, Emily’s pregnancy, and the future of the show.

On how they came up with the Hitchcock idea and what character would play what role

Stephen Nathan: Well, I think coming up [conceptually] with this, we wanted to go back to something that was classic because after ten years, we’re moving into the classic category; not many shows last for 200 episodes. I think there have only been 24 dramas in the history of television from what I’ve been told. We wanted to do a classic examination of the show and of the romantic nature of the show. This style, this time, really sets it apart and allows us to highlight that aspect of our series in a way no other time really could.

We also got a chance to reintroduce Booth and Brennan, see the initial attraction and the blossoming of their romance, again, in new circumstances. In terms of which character played which parts, Booth and Brennan, essentially, are the same people in different specific roles, but Booth is still this honorable man who had been through the war and who was trying to right wrongs. Brennan is somebody who is stubbornly holding onto a set of beliefs that no one can shake from her, and she will be proven right in the end in this circumstance.

The other characters, we just had a great time with them. We just tried to put them in similar roles, power structure wise, if there is such a thing, and also to see which roles would allow them to have simply the most fun. What’s going to be the most fun for all of these characters, some of whom we can only see for a line or two, others we see for a scene, but what was just going to be the most enjoyable situation to put them in and that’s what we did. This was really a labor of love, and we wanted the audience to share the fun that we were all having doing it.
Jump with us to read more from Stephen.

On what films are referenced visually in the episode

Stephen: It was To Catch a Thief; North by Northwest; bits of Notorious were in here; The Man Who Knew Too Much. We just really called the library of all these great Hitchcock films, and also of the time to just drop those little things in. What we didn’t want to do, and hopefully we avoided was, not to do an episode that was just a wink and a nod to those things and also where the episode had to rely on costumes and props and cars. What we tried to do was do another great Bones mystery, a mystery and a story that existed and was sustained on its own merits, and it was cloaked in this style and I think we did that.

David did a remarkable job directing this, and really carried forth this vision that the story was the most important thing. We wanted the audience to go, who did it; what are they doing now; oh my, God, that’s an interesting twist rather than, oh, there’s another car and oh, look at their clothes now. I think David really directed this walking that fine line perfectly. That’s the reason, I think, that this worked so well.

On crafting the look and feel of the time period, genre, & films

Stephen: I can honestly say this was, by far, the most difficult episode Bones has ever done; it was a massive, massive undertaking. We’ve had earthquakes in the subway system of Washington and tornadoes and shot up the house and nothing, nothing compared with this episode. In the middle of the season, to do an episode this enormous, this complex, this exacting, requiring this much care and detail, it’s really just incomprehensible that it got done at all.

Every department on Bones—this episode shows how brilliant this entire crew is, and cast, the cast and crew. The art department, Valdar Wilt, who’s the production designer; Megan, his art director; everybody; it was spot on; wardrobe, Robin, every single person; props going all the way down to Greg Collier, who’s our DP, who got the color just right, who lit this in a different way and then going into color timing; the people behind the scenes who do the sound mix; Sean Callery, our brilliant, brilliant, brilliant composer, who found a way to be true to the music of the time and yet still have the style that is our show.

It’s just a remarkable achievement from every single department because I think if you look at this, if you didn’t start in the beginning you could be looking at this thinking, oh, I’ve never seen this movie before. What is this movie? It is so precise and exacting, all the detail work that went into this episode. I have nothing but the highest praise, admiration and respect and really, awe for the crew and how they pulled this off.

On the network’s & studio’s support

Stephen: Well, the truth is, the network and studio were just fantastic; they were supportive. They were onboard for the whole thing; they loved the concept and were as happy to be a part of this as we were. The opening—I had always seen this as really just trying to do a film from 1954, and part of that was developing a new font, which was styled off of the font that was used in the credit sequence in To Catch a Thief, and also to do the actors’, producers’ and all of the crew’s credits in the way that those credit sequences were done in old films. We actually had to get the studio and network to sign off on, and all of the actors and producers, writers, crew who were in the opening credits. Everybody had to sign off on these new credits because people didn’t have individual cards. People were sharing cards; there were only two that we were not allowed to share and that was because of WGA and DGA rules that those had to be separate. I think they might have had to be separate forever.

We really wanted the look and feel of this to be the same look and feel that—we wanted it to be accurate, and we were given that latitude and support from the studio and network. There was never a moment where we got any pushback from them about style or the substance of what we were doing. They were wonderful.

On how the writing and directing were similar and different to a regular episode

Stephen: Well, we wrote it like those films. I know those films quite well, and the style. You know what? It’s like music; it’s hearing a song, writing a song today and writing a song that was written in the 40s or 50s.

There’s a different music to it, there’s a different music to the dialogue, to the rhythms, to the types of words, the cadence, everything, and we just did our best to capture that. David and I talked for quite a while, although David got it right away that this couldn’t be a Saturday Night Live sketch of a Hitchcock movie, or any film from 1954, because that would become tedious in about two minutes. David understood that this had to be done with the same sense of truth that’s required to do any Bones episode. Really, just tried to write it so the rhythms were there, the dialogue was there, the slang was appropriate and then the actors just got it; Emily’s rhythms, the every so slight turn of her accent; Tamara’s switch in the middle of the episode. Everybody just found the same reality, and it just worked great.

On whether or not doing these types of “odd” episodes keeps the show fresh for the cast

bonescall1211bsmallStephen: You know what? I don’t know if we have any ulterior motive or anything like that. I think one of the things that is Bones, which is the essence of the show, is that it’s difficult to pin it down; our style changes. This year we did the human trafficking episode next to episodes that were very funny and very lighthearted. We can send Booth to jail and destroy the house and then we can do an episode about vegetables singing in a children’s show.

I think switching it up and, in a way, keeping the audience a little bit off balance has always been a signature of the show. When I say off balance I just mean that you never quite know what world you’re stepping into. You know for a fact somebody’s going to be dead, you know that we’re going to find out who did it in some, hopefully, new and unique way, but the worlds we go into; where we’re coming from; where our characters are coming from in terms of their personal lives is always going to be, if we’re doing our job correctly, a bit of a surprise.

I think those other episodes, whether we do the one where we see the entire show from the viewpoint of the skull, of a dead person or whether it’s the 200th episode where it’s 1954, or we do dreams or Stewie is in an episode; I think these are all part of this odd little Bones world that just keeps going on and on and on and on. We don’t really sit down and say, oh, let’s do a really weird one now because we need to; we just go, hey, we got an idea for a weird one, let’s do it. We just do it.

On writing Emily D’s pregnancy into the show

Stephen: We’re still talking about that, but it’s very difficult to hide a pregnancy. We could have her behind desks and drawers and things like that, but I think people know, and the show is as much about their relationship as it is about solving crimes. This is what happens to people in relationships, married people who have children; they sometimes have more children. It’s served us very well before, and I think it will be an interesting new wrinkle in the show going forward.

I know there will be people who will violently disagree; oh no, I didn’t like when the baby before and everything [sic], but there are people who always disagree and then others who agree. It’s a lot like life; there are many, many different twists and turns in people’s lives and some people watching those from the outside like some and dislike others, and the ones that are disliked by them are loved by others and vice versa. We just have to keep going forward in a way that seems truthful to us and hopefully enticing and enjoyable for the audience; that’s our job. As much as we listen to the fans, we can’t be ruled by the fans; we can only love the fans.

[UPDATE: After this interview, it was announced that they WILL be writing the pregnancy into the show, so congratulation Emily, and congratulations Booth & Bones!]

On keeping the writing fresh after ten years

Stephen: We just keep finding worlds that we haven’t explored before. We just have a remarkable group of writers led by John Collier, who continually come up with new and unique stories and worlds and science. The one thing we have going for us is that, in the past ten years, science has really done a lot of good, new stuff and we get to take advantage of all of that.

The forensic world is changing and allowing us to look at our crimes in a different way, and if we’re open to the relationships as living, breathing things, the relationships take us in new places that we haven’t seen before and just keep having a life of their own. It’s staying open and not trying to keep this show in a box, and I think that’s why often times you don’t really know what the heck you’re going to see on the show; you don’t know whether you’re going to be laughing or whether you’re going to need a box of Kleenex. As long as we can keep that going, I think the show has a tremendous amount of life still left in it.
Thanks again to Stephen for taking the time to chat with everyone. You can catch him on Twitter @squarechicken, and don’t miss the 200th episode—and fall finale—of Bones tonight on FOX at 8/7c!

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