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Harsh Realm - DVD Commentary
Libby posted a topic in Harsh Realm (1999)Harsh Realm DVD Commentary Origins Chris Carter: Harsh Realm was presented to me as a comic book by Dan Sackheim who's a friend of mine who produced the X-Files pilot. He brought me a comic book and he said, "Are you interested in this?" Daniel Sackheim: And this comic book entitled Harsh Realm was really about a virtual reality world, but in essence it was about a detective, almost like sort of a futuristic gumshoe who went and rescued people out of this game, this illicit, this underground game called Harsh Realm. Chris Carter: Dan and Tony To, who also worked on the series, brought this idea to me originally as a kind of Dick Tracy idea. Big, sort of overblown, almost caricaturish idea. Daniel Sackheim: Actually it had really nothing to do with the kind of world that we created in the TV series which is based on a military warfare game. Chris Carter: I remember reading the comic book and recognizing that there was a good idea. But it's not something that I wanted to do, per se. I did not want to literally bring the comic book to life. There were certain aspects of the comic book that were interesting to me. Frank Spotnitz: Chris loved the title and loved the idea of an alternate world. But not much else survived from the comic book in adapting it to be a TV series. Daniel Sackheim: What he thought was really important, that he had stressed I think quite well, in the X-Files series, was that it had to feel real to the audience. Something was only scary as it was real. And there was a notion that you had to ground it for the audience. You had to make it accessible to them. And so he came up with this notion of a military, of a warfare game, because he felt that the audience would believe the government would really be behind something like this, that they would develop for the military. And so it could really exist. Chris Carter: We pitched it to the network. They liked it as much as they understood it. They wanted to do another project with me, so I came in with this project which I thought was a good idea, they seemed to think it was a good idea. It was science fiction which was playing at that time. I don't think science fiction is playing as much today, as I speak in the year 2004. Frank Spotnitz: One thing we discovered very quickly is that unlike some of the other Ten Thirteen shows, Harsh Realm did not have a franchise, which is a TV word for a clear-cut format for each episode. In an X-Files episode something impossible happens, then Mulder and Scully are given the case. In a Millennium episode, some terrible crime is committed and then Frank Black is called in to solve it. Harsh Realm was a wide-open canvas. Anything could happen from week to week, and it did. Daniel Sackheim: Well, you know, I think the idea behind the show was to, sort of, take a parable every week and set it in a world where the rules were different. Where you could never depend on the same kind of rules that you would have here. Chris Carter: For me, it was a chance to tell stories in parallel universes which is always interesting. You've got characters existing in two places so anything could happen. There were no rules, and so it made for great storytelling opportunities. Frank Spotnitz: And that freedom was a little bit bewildering at first, but I think it gave us an opportunity to tell some really interesting stories that probably owed more to The Twilight Zone than anything else Ten Thirteen did. Anything could happen as it was a virtual world, it was a computer program they were living in. And so it had that sort of Twilight Zone element of, 'why is this happening?'. Chris Carter: What I wanted to do was Tales of Charlemagne which I had read as a kid. I wanted to do the Odyssey and the Iliad together. I wanted to make this big and mythic and you had an opportunity to do it. You could do sirens and monsters, and you could bring a completely fantastic world to life and make it make sense. It wasn't just there for the telling. It actually made sense to the concept which was the idea of virtual reality in which a war was taking place. The Players Chris Carter: We cast about for the right Tom Hobbes and couldn't find him. And Scott Bairstow, who had been in the X-Files in the first year, became semi-available to us. And I think what happened is when I went to the network, they actually had to go to another network, make a deal to spring him from an existing deal, and we got him. And he was, I think, just the right kind of quality of an actor. Fresh-faced, young, innocent-looking, yet strong, to portray this person who is sent in to basically save the world. Daniel Sackheim: You know, in pilots you're always looking for the movie star, 32 to 35 year old male and the comparable female. And it's always the toughest thing to find because you're not just looking for a good actor, you're looking for star quality. And I just remember Scott coming in to meet us and just knowing at that moment - he never actually even read the part for us - just knowing at that moment that he was this guy. Scott Bairstow: It's really interesting to get a new script and actually sit down and have it be entertainment to me. It tickles me to think that I'm actually the guy that I read every week. Daniel Sackheim: Thomas Hobbes. The character is based on a 19th century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who felt that the world is effectively a corrupt and vile place. And so of course, Chris creates this character that goes into the most corrupt possible place, this war game taken over by this rogue general. (Scene: A bar. Pinnochio: Run along, GI. Maybe you'll get lucky and find Santiago. Hobbes: How did you know I was looking? Pinnochio: GI asks how I knew he was looking for Santiago! Everyone laughs.) Daniel Sackheim: Then there was the part, the antagonist of the piece, which is Mike Pinocchio. It was the same thing, where we read everybody that there was, and D.B. Sweeney came in to meet on the project. And he just sort of fit the bill. He was the bad guy, but with a heart of gold. D.B. Sweeney: I first got involved in Harsh Realm when I heard Chris Carter was doing a new TV show. When I did Strange Luck for Fox, I was in Vancouver and got to know Chris a little. And I enjoyed seeing X-Files so much, and I know how all the best talent up here in B.C. is always working on that show. I figured he'd be using a lot of that technical talent. A lot of the best directors would come up to do any show he was doing up here. So, I made it known to my agents that I'd like to be considered. And they put us together and one thing led to another and it worked out. Chris Carter: D.B. Sweeney is somebody that I had played basketball with in Vancouver. I liked his style, personally. I liked his work. I liked his approach. He came in and read for the character. He was gruff, he was dangerous, he was unpredictable. He had the kind of Han Solo role in that he was loyal and true, but he was a character whose means and ends were always his own. (Santiago: Mr Hobbes, welcome to the Realm. I hear that you intend to kill me. Hobbes: I had orders to win the game. Santiago: Well, you've lost the game, sir. ) Frank Spotnitz: Terry O'Quinn, Mr Ten Thirteen, it's sort of a title he never asked for, but was bestowed. Terry O'Quinn was in everything that Ten Thirteen produced up to that point. Just enormously appealing and natural. You know, one of those guys who can't make a false move. Just seems to be completely convincing in whatever he does. And the part of Santiago who was the, sort of, Colonel Kurtz of the Harsh Realm world, was written specifically for him. Terry O'Quinn: As far as I can understand, Harsh Realm is basically a video game, the point of which is to kill me. Chris Carter: He's such an interesting guy and interesting actor. For me, the best thing about Santiago was a power, and it was a quiet power. And Terry knew how to bring that to life. Daniel Sackheim: You know, the notion was, sort of, this mysterious figure, but a romantic figure. And kind of, even though a ruthless, kind of psychotic general who had kind of lost all control. And he, in essence, if Harsh Realm was - the conceit was that Harsh Realm is the world mapped out - this was his opportunity to sort of control a world much like ours. Terry O'Quinn: Apparently, I promptly made it my own place. Took over and set it all up and imposed martial law and ran things my way. Frank Spotnitz: He is such a smart actor and so convincingly comes across as a smart leader of men. And, you know, we just wanted an excuse to work with him again. (Sophie: Maybe you shouldn't see this, either. ) Chris Carter: Samantha Mathis was somebody we didn't cast until - we were actually already in production before Samantha got the part. We just could not find the right person who could play smart, vulnerable. Daniel Sackheim: There was something about her that was so pure and innocent and lovely. It was important that we had someone that Hobbes would fight, have a reason to fight to get back to the real world, to be with his one true love. (Sophie: I am owed an explanation -- Army officer: Miss Green, you are out of line. Sophie: -- because I am being lied to. Army officer: What on God's Earth is this all about?) Samantha Mathis ("Sophie"): Chris Carter is fascinated with conspiracy theories and how technology is amazing but can also be a dangerous tool in the hands of the wrong person. I think he examines those things in the X-Files and I think that's what he's attempting to examine in depth in Harsh Realm. (Sophie: How far will these people go? Inga Fossa: One step farther than you.) Frank Spotnitz: We had some fabulous actors. We were able to bring in a lot of actors we'd loved working with on other shows that we'd shot in Vancouver, including Sarah-Jane Redmond, who was very memorable in Millennium as Lucy Butler. Sarah-Jane Redmond: The great thing about playing a role that's written by Chris Carter, especially from a female point of view, he writes such strong roles for women and such interesting and intriguing and mysterious characters. Max Martini: This is Max Martini and D.B. Sweeney reporting live from the set of Harsh Realm. Back to you, John. (They both laugh.) Max Martini ("Lt.Major Mel Waters"): Dale Dye was overseeing Harsh Realm training. So we went out to Coquitlam for three days and toughed it out in the rain out there. And did a lot of strategic maneuvers through towns. And it was more diverse than the training for Private Ryan, but same idea. Rachel Hayward (Florence): You know, those guns, they're very heavy. And just holding the gun and having the stance and stuff. Being strong has definitely helped me very much in that way, with all the stuff we have to do and the jumping and the running around and stuff - you certainly wouldn't be wanting to do it in spikes. Chris Carter: You know, when you're doing a television pilot and you've got another show running, or two, you have the ability to reach into your bag of tricks, as it were, and ask people to do you favors. In this case, we have Lance Henriksen come in and play the role of a military man who sends Thomas Hobbes on his journey. (Lance's character: Lieutenant Hobbes. You look tense, son. At ease. Your C.O. tells me we're losing you from the army next month. Hobbes: Yes, sir. Lance's character: Too bad. I hear you were once a true believer.) Chris Carter: And Gillian Anderson come in and did the voice for the instructional guide that became the, sort of, prelude to the portal for Tom Hobbes' entry into the game. Design Daniel Sackheim: The challenge in doing a high-concept piece is that in television you don't really have a lot of time, you don't really have a lot of money. And we shot this up in Vancouver to sort of get the most bang from our buck. But it was a lot of hard work, endeavoring to do something where you felt that you were breaking new ground, that you were really delivering something to the audience. And, you know, it's a virtual world, so what's a virtual world without creating big set pieces? And it's very difficult thing to do on television where you don't have a lot of money. You don't necessarily get a lot more money to do something like this than you would do a lawyer show or a doctor show. And it's a lot more complicated. (Waters: Troops are mobilizing as I speak. Operation begins at 2200 hours.) Mark Freeborn, Production Designer: Harsh Realm was a big show. It was complicated. It was a feature film. A weekly feature film is what we were doing. A massive amount of planning. A massive amount of production problems. And a number of growing pains, which are natural to any series. Every episode was a challenge for us. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to, I missed the pilot. I had a previous commitment. Graeme Murray did the pilot. And they shut down a major artery in Vancouver for several days to turn the old Woodward's building into a bomb-blasted area of Sarajevo. They built the hulk of a church and closed the street and buried it in rubble. It was a fantastic set. I'm sorry I missed the opportunity. (Scene from pilot.) Mark Freeborn: Chris Carter and I did not have much of a meeting on Harsh Realm because I had done Millennium for him. And we knew that we both spoke the same language. His on the printed page, mine visually. He had established a very strong visual impact on the pilot that he expected me to follow up on, which I was happy to do. (Hobbes: What the hell is this place?) Mark Freeborn: Harsh Realm was interesting from a design point of view because it basically encompassed three elements: It encompassed the Harsh Realm, the reality of the survivors. Put in simple terms, they were rebels. They were survivors. There was a second reality, who were the controllers, who were the dictators, if you will, who basically took whatever was left over and then some, and created a universe that was comfortable to them and had to be comfortable, or at least opulent, to the viewer's eye. There was the third element which was the reality-to-virtual reality transition. It was done mechanically by creating a very harsh, cold, clinical laboratory atmosphere. It was a lot like walking into a freezer. It was cold. It was nasty. And there was no quarter given. It was all about light focus and transition. (Major Waters: That's a total of five states now under our dominion. Well on our way to a United States of Santiago.) Mark Freeborn: The political landscape that we know and love today did not exist in the Harsh Realm. There were basically two elements. There were the winners and the losers. So we drew from European military style, we drew from American. We tried to keep with the absolute, state-of-the-art hardware. There weren't any jeeps in our world, only Hummers. We looked at contemporary containment, if you will, because there was a literal physical boundary between the winners and the losers. We had to make a strong presentation so that there was no confusion there. (Hobbes: The streets of Santiago City are clean and orderly. But this is a utopia for which a terrible price has been paid. The lives of all those who live outside the fence.) Mark Freeborn: The practical locations generally turned out to be exterior sets. We had a lot of urban landscapes that we had to provide which was challenging in Vancouver because there's not a lot of old urban landscape left. So we had to use our ingenuity. We had a lot of wilderness that we had to provide both of which are impractical to build on a stage, of course. And then there were the repeat sets, like the large, U.N.-style rotunda and prison sets and that kind of thing were generally built on stage. We did an awful lot of modifying of locations on location. Basically so the director of photography could create as much atmosphere as possible. We enhance textures and pushed color and that kind of thing to make it work. Music Mark Snow: I actually went out to dinner with Dan Sackheim, one of the creators and producers of Harsh Realm. He said, "You know, Mark, there's a new series that Chris and I are going to do and it's called Harsh Realm and I'm going to try to explain to you what it's about, but I don't want to give too much away. And even if I do, I'm not sure you'd understand it until you see it." And he was right. I had - it sounded really, really interesting and exciting and I really couldn't wait for them to start. And when I first saw it - Chris was really enamored with Moby at the time. Especially some of the cuts where he had samples of singing. Whether it was a chorus or a solo singer or a combination that he would juxtapose to some oddball music, instrumental combination. ("Run On" by Moby.) Mark Snow: So I found some samples of Mussolini giving speeches and was able to use them in a rhythmic type of way. Almost like a hip-hop thing. You know, it just keeps repeating with this - the repetitive piano - and just a real, kind of, heavy, heavy, dark sound. There was a sense of these Mussolini samples that gave you the sense of 1984, Brave New World, something futuristic and apocalyptic at the same time. Fridays At Nine Frank Spotnitz: It was really, I thought, a very clever idea with tremendous potential. But it was a tough sell with the network from the get-go. I don't think they ever really got it. They certainly didn't promote it the way the other Ten Thirteen shows had been promoted. And it never reached a very large audience. And it was virtually dead on arrival. Chris Carter: I think if I were ever to write my autobiography it would be called Fridays at 9, because I succeeded greatly there and I failed, in the case of Harsh Realm, greatly there. Daniel Sackheim: Well, you know, it's either our luck and our timing was great or it was the most awful timing in the world. The interesting thing is that I had had this project in hand and I had been working, trying to get it made for a long time. This was probably two years before The Matrix hit the screen. And I guess there's just something in the zeitgeist, where, you know, you see it a lot in this business, where similar ideas just happen at the same time. It's sort of in the air. We shot the Harsh Realm pilot before The Matrix was released. And I believe The Matrix was released before Harsh Realm got on the air. Frank Spotnitz: And then this movie comes out, which is a monster hit, which has incredible visual effects and special effects that we didn't have, quite frankly. And nobody could make up their minds whether that was going to be a good or a bad thing for Harsh Realm. And the end of the day, I would say it was neither. It had absolutely no bearing. It could've been a good thing I suppose, if somebody had thought, cynically to try and capitalize on the success of The Matrix to promote Harsh Realm, but that didn't happen. Daniel Sackheim: So, you know, unfortunately we had the distinction of, at the time, being called, sort of, the poor man's Matrix. (Pinocchio: Welcome to Harsh Realm.) Chris Carter: I thought I was doing good work and all of a sudden I get a call from Doug Herzog, who came in to run that network for a very brief period of time, that they were canceling the show. I'd never worked with Doug Herzog, really, before that time. So it was strange to be getting a call from somebody I didn't know telling me that the show was canceled for no good reason. It had never found an audience. It debuted with very low numbers. They had never promoted the show. So there were, I think, reasons why no one came to the party. But they saw it as that the audience had rejected the show. There wasn't much of an audience there to reject it. It was, I think, under-watched from the beginning. Daniel Sackheim: You know, I'm certainly not going to speak ill of the studio or the network. They put their money into it. It was an investment for them and they didn't feel that they were going to get a return on their investment. And it's a business. But it was disappointing that they weren't able to give it some more time to, sort of, nurture it and, you know, find an audience for it. But it's a difficult environment to do that nowadays. I think we see that with any show. A number of shows. If you don't hit in the first three or four episodes, you tend to get off the air because it's just too competitive an environment. Frank Spotnitz: I believe we had just started shooting the final episode. And it was the Monday after the third episode aired that we got the call that the show was no more. But we still had several days of shooting on that final episode. Mark Freeborn: I remember standing in the middle of the alley, smoke drifting around me, as the producer announced that this, in fact, would be our last show. We were surprised. We were hurt. We were frustrated. Frank Spotnitz: And so to motivate the actors, to motivate the crew to get up and go do your best work, even though you've just been canceled and there is no airdate for any of the things you're doing right now, it's a hard thing to do. But as it turned out everybody finished the show and it finally was broadcast on the FX network. So it did get an airing. (Hobbes: Whose destiny is this? It can't be mine. What is this trial I'm being put through?) Daniel Sackheim: You know, when an audience sees something on the air, they're exposed to maybe three hours, I don't think anybody realizes all the time that goes into thinking about it, developing it, writing the scripts, casting it, executing it, rewriting it, recasting it, you know, what have you. And sure, what ultimately ended up being as three or four hours that aired, was a year's worth of work for us. And it was, you know, it's clearly a disappointment. I think there are a lot of places we could've taken the show that were interesting. But, you know, the audience speaks and you have to respect that. Those are the people that are going to watch the show. And if they don't - if somehow they're not connecting to it, what can you do? I guess you have to respect that. Frank Spotnitz: While I would like to say it was purely the network's failure to promote it, I think it was more than that. I mean, I do think the network failed to promote it and didn't value what they had. But I also think, with the benefit of hindsight, it was part of the changing landscape of network television. I think it's exceedingly difficult, and as we speak now at the time of this interview, for shows with a high concept like that to make it on network television. It's a different thing if you're talking about cable television where your audience literally is a tenth or twentieth of the size of a network audience and could be considered successful. But right now, the shows that are surviving in the network landscape which gets smaller and smaller very year, need to be big, tent-type shows. Need to appeal to a very wide audience. And shows like Harsh Realm, which I think are very smart but kind of out there, aren't likely to reach an audience that large. Not in this day and age. Chris Carter: Maybe we were on the tail end of something, but it was - I think everyone had high hopes for Harsh Realm. And I think that the pilot and many of the episodes we did after that - it's work I'm very proud of.