Eagleheart: Paradise Rising
[adult swim]’s oddball crime “drama”, Eagleheart, starring Chris Elliott, Maria Thayer and Brett Gelman, returns for its third season November 14, with a new twist, as a season-long plot will wind its way through the show’s traditionally stand-alone 15-minute episodes. At New York ComicCon, Elliott and Thayer, along with the core creative crew of Michael Koman, Andrew Weinberg and Jason Woliner, sat down with DVDTalk’s Francis Rizzo III to talk about the new set-up and how many people then can kill in about two hours, as well as what it’s like working with their Georgian overlords and where you can get your Breaking Bad fix now.
Q: So the show’s going to be a bit different this year, huh?
Chris Elliott: It’s very different. It’s one long continuous story, from one episode to another. Even though each episode has its own beginning, middle and end, there is one storyline that starts at the beginning and finished at the end. It’s a story where Brett Gelman’s character, who’s also named Brett, dies at the beginning and it looks like I possible murdered him. I have to go out and prove my innocence and I bring Maria along because she has to be in every episode.
Maria Thayer: (Laughs.)
CE: It’s pretty much about me though.
MT: The way you tell it, it really sounds like it.
CE: Well look...on paper, that’s the way that it is. Then on-screen, you take over.
Jason Woliner: We’ve been off the air for a long time. The show kind of changes every season. It got a lot more dense in season two, then we got together for a few months and talked about how we could make it really step up its game, or just do something that felt really fresh and something we haven’t done instead of just doing the same kinds of crazy stories. So we added this one kind of giant story that lasts throughout the season.
MT: It was really fun.
CE: Yeah, I think for me, it felt way more comfortable than the other way.
JW: There are little mini stories too; you can watch an episode and enjoy it, but if you watch all of them in a row...it’s not exactly like a movie, because movies don’t have crazy climaxes every 10 minutes.
Michael Koman: And introduce and dispatch characters every 10 minutes.
JW: Yeah, people are constantly coming in and then dying immediately.
MT: I think the episodes build on each other, so I thought it was fun to do that...that everything just doesn’t go to zero at the end of every episode.
CE: Even season one and season two, we shot it like it was a longer-form thing, and we would shoot different episodes out of order. We still did that this season but there was more of a story arc each character and a character arc and development and then this longer story. So it felt like we were making a movie. We shot for a month and a half or even less. And I think they could edit this together…
MT:...and make a movie.
CE: There would have to be some re-casting. And some re-shooting.
MT: Do you mean me? Are you talking about me?
CE: (Shakes his head sarcastically.)
JW: If you watch it as a movie, it might be like a DMZ trip or something. It would just be really aggressive.
Andrew Weinberg: We’re going to try to do that when we get back to L.A. and just watch the whole thing. It’ll be about two hours and 10 minutes, but it might be really just brutal, unbearable. But we’ll see. .
Q: Will there be a “last week on Eagleheart” opening?
JW: Yeah, because in so many episodes, stuff comes into play, that was mentioned a few episodes back for one second, and it goes so quick that I wouldn’t expect anyone to remember it.
Q: Will you have fun with it, or is it straightforward story?
MK: For the most part, it’s the practical information, the stuff you need to remember. That’s something that’s been a learning experience for us, like in real narrative shows, that bring things back from previous episodes or even past seasons. How do you keep people interested in that plotline and keep them aware…
Q: Plus, it’s [adult swim] and you have to catch the stoners up.
JW: Yeah...we put enough weird s**t in there where if you’re just high and watching it, you should be able to enjoy it. And if you’re a little bit less high, you can enjoy it even more.
AW: And we’re going to explain why Marie was shoplifting on Breaking Bad.
JW: We’re going to wrap up all these threads from other shows.
Q: Was there any particular inspiration for this season?
MK: We just wanted to do something more interesting that Breaking Bad. (Laughs.) More secrets than Mad Men...more something than something else.
JW: I think if you watch it, there’s definitely references to things in there that we watched when we were writing it.
AW: Probably better not to spoil it.
JW: Yeah, we ripped off some good movies, we watch good movies when we write and we steal them.
MK: Change the names of the characters and cut and paste.
JW: Yeah, we download scripts of classic movies and we can just re-insert them.
AW: And we have a really good copyright attorney.
Q: What was the collaborative process like?
CE: I don’t talk to [Wolliner]. (Laughs.) Jason, Andrew and Michael are the creators and writers. I don’t write on the show at all. I consult and [Maria and I] play around with dialogue and ideas and stuff like that, but they are the writers, and I sat in on a writers’ room for a couple of weeks, when they were just getting up to speed on this season, and put in my two cents here and there, but these guys do stuff that I can’t keep up with. Honestly, I was in the writers’ room with them and after a while I said, “Fellas, I’m lost.” Even now, when I look at all these episodes tied together, there’s stuff I realize that when we were shooting I didn’t get and now I understand. It’s really their brainchild, not mine or Maria’s. We don’t have the brains for that kind of thing.
Q: Though you don’t write, do you feel you influence your characters as actors?
CE: Sure. All the creators are very open to changing things for us, and letting us paraphrase and make things more comfortable for us. And they’re open to me changing all of Maria’s stuff too. She usually need the most work.
MT: Last season, I had an episode called “Little Dude,” and that was because I wanted to do something weird on the show, and they came up with this great, really amazing thing for me to do.
CE: And that turned out to be one of the signature shows of Eagleheart. That is one everybody points to.
Q: As a series goes on, is there a concern that maybe you know the characters too well and it’s too comfortable, so you have to blow it up a bit?
MK: I think what happened when we sat down to write season three, we’d come up with story ideas that would be the basis of an episode and things sort of feel familiar or predictable to us, and the one thing we really didn’t want is to have people be like “Oh, I know where this is going,” because of things they’ve seen before. So having a season with an on-going story was a way to make it new and exciting.
JW: Knowing more about Susie is a big goal. We didn’t write a ton for her in the first season. In the second season, her character got to do a lot more and her character this year...Chris and her have a shorthand and funny dynamic. We’re aware we don’t want to do the same kinds of jokes between them and they go through a lot. Their relationship is really up and down this year.
MK: Probably the biggest hamstringing with the 15-minute format is you can’t really do the B-stories where on a regular show secondary characters can have their own scenes, with lives of their own where you’ll follow. That’s pretty much impossible. That was something we tried to do this year and develop the characters more.
JW: There’s a B-plot this year where it takes a weird diversion and becomes an entirely different kind of show, and that was fun to do.
Q: How closely will the series follow what’s gone on in the past, since you’ll have a continuing storyline?
JW: Well last season in the first episode, the old chief died and didn’t come back. He was replaced by the captain character. Has anyone died and come back? No, not really, I think. Well, Brett loses his leg in the first episode and that’s never mentioned again. That was one we wanted to move on from. It would be more interesting if there are consequences in this world now and this season, anything that happens, it happens. It makes it funnier, because if you have to do these kind of cartoony things, but they have these real-world consequences, it’s an opportunity to make the show better and more fun to watch.
Q: Are you ever told the show is too dark?
JW: No, our instinct is to go really dark. We want to make sure it’s funny though. It as a real struggle to find the look of the show, because we wanted it to look like a drama or a movie. But if things look too dramatic, it starts to look like a parody, or a goof, that you’re not taking it seriously. That you’re just parodying the conventions of serious things. We try to do something different where we’re just using the tone to do these dumb jokes.
MT: And a lot of stuff happens to our characters...our characters get beaten down…
CE: Yeah, it gets very dark this season. I think it got dark in the other seasons, but this season it gets even darker. It’s just as crazy, it’s just as violent, the same amount of special effects. It’s really looks beautiful, just shot really nicely, and feels like you’re looking at a feature when you watch it. You look at the trailer and it looks like a movie.
JW: This season, we were shooting on a better camera, with better lenses. This is techie, but it’s all prime lenses, we used to use zoom lenses, so there’s a shallower depth of field so it looks like a movie. So we started editing, and Andrew and I were like “Oh my God, this looks too good. It’s too serious.”
AW: Yeah, when we first sat down to start editing, and we saw the footage, it was kind of shocking. It looked so different than what we were used to.
JW: We’re shooting in a wider format too. It will air with letterbox bars. It’s not like true superwide, it’s like this two-to-one format that they do House of Cards in, so its looks a little more cinematic. It makes a big difference, because there were some shots we couldn’t use because they were too serious. But we edited for a while and it started to become funny again. But editing has been a nightmare because we shot it so fast--we shot it in 24 days, 13 episodes worth of stuff. Two or maybe three will be a half-hour long, and so we shot 13 quarter-hours worth of stuff in 24 days, which is less than two days an episode. Season one we had three days an episode, season two we had two and a half days an episode, so we’re just frantic the whole time.
Q: Knowing it’s a comedy series, is it hard to play it straight sometimes?
MT: I don’t think it’s hard to play it straight.
CE: Well, I remember there was a scene where one of our characters dies, not Brett...there’s a number of characters that die this season.
MT: You’re right about that.
CE: It was a very dramatic scene, this character dying and we wanted it to be dramatic...odd that it was dramatic, and so I had a line to Maria, and I had to say “He’s dead,” after he breathes his last in front of us.
And every time I looked at her and said that, she broke out laughing. I guess at the death of the man, not the way I was delivering the line.
CE: So I guess, yeah, in some scenes, it is a little hard.
CE: We do have a bit of fun. I had more fun shooting this season than any season. I think it was just that it was looser, than [Maria and I] had more scenes together, and we work really well together. Maria...I know her timing, and we have that right out of the gate, but we didn’t do a lot of stuff together in the first couple of seasons. And she knows my timing, so there isn’t that thing where you have to explore. Where you have to be like, “OK, by the third take we’ll get this down.” It’s always sort of like running lines in the dressing room. We sort of know what we’re going to do.
Q: How has working with [adult swim] given you flexibility?
MK: Nothing’s ever too weird for them. If anything, things aren’t weird enough. but I think they were a little unsure about doing the season-long story, but as we turned them in, they liked them and were like “OK, we’ll try it.”
JW: Yeah, weirdness has never been a problem there. I think they were a little bit nervous about doing [a season-long story] but now they’re totally fine with it.
AW: I think, it doesn’t slow anything down. I think maybe the original worry be that if you told one story, each episode is slower, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
MK: No, a lot of episodes are more dense and faster-paced than they ever have been. I guess they were also concerned that each individual episode wouldn’t be enjoyable unless you watched each previous one, but I think they stand on their own as individual stories, If you like the kind of episodes we’ve done in the past, I think each one is still the same kind of thing.
JW: Yeah, it’s not like Mad Men, where you need to know that Joan broke up with someone the week before. They’re connected, but…
AW: We wanted to see if we could do something you could kind of invest in and want to see what happens week to week, but keep it as stupid as it’s been. So we’ll see.
Q: Is there any kind of sibling rivalry between the live-action and animated sides of [adult swim]?
JW: Well we don’t work in a building together.
AW: We only see each other when we come to something like this, or if there’s an [adult swim] party, you might run into each other.
JW: People are pretty excited about all the other [adult swim] projects.
MK: It also seems like they are very different worlds. Even the fans of animation on the channel, a lot of them are just against live-action, because it’s called Cartoon Network, and then, all these live-action shows have brought in people who wouldn’t necessarily watch the animated stuff.
AW: I think part of the reason why the network does so well is that Mike Lazzo runs it. His say is what determines all the shows, animated or live-action, so it attracts people who have the same sensibilities, the same sense of humor. I think everyone there are fans of each other.
JW: They are very hands-off. There’s like three people working on Eagleheart right now, it’s like us and an editor, and we have a little office, We had friends who came by and they couldn’t believe it was a TV show.
AW: Like we wrote it in our rented apartment that we found on airb’n’b.
Q: Have you ever been out to Georgia [[adult swim]’s home base]?
JW: They haven’t brought us there yet. I keep saying oh, we’re gonna fly out here and get the tour, but we’ll see if they like this season first.
Q: Has there ever been anything at the script stage that they’ve said no to?
JW: Early on, yeah, The first season, when we were still trying to figure out what the show was going to be. There were some different ideas there. In the beginning, it was really important that they didn’t want Chris to be too silly or too light or too annoying I guess. And in one episode that we really loved, basically they were investigating a kidnapping in this rich guy’s house; his daughter was kidnapped, and Chris is looking around and he becomes obsessed with how rich this guy is, and he sees this painting of the guy and he imagines his own face on it, and then he goes into this fantasy world where he’s imagining he’s in this upper-crust British society, and there’s a mystery there, like the missing tea saucer.
He gets caught up in this mystery in his head, this Agatha Christie, Poirot, Miss Marples kind of mystery. Meanwhile, in the real world, there’s this very grisly kidnapping happening, and it’s awful and Chris is being very fancy in his head and doesn’t care at all about the real crime. Michael wrote the episode and it was super funny, and they said “Nope. You can’t do it.” If we wanted to do it now, I bet it’s been long enough. I think if [adult swim] likes you or you’re interesting, you can do whatever you want, pretty much. It took a long time to get to that point. But there’s no other place we could make a show like this, so we don’t want to screw it up.
Q: There’s an impression that [adult swim] is a relaxed environment, but that Eagleheart is a bit more intense than the other shows.
CE: Yeah, for sure. There’s always been this getting a little bit of something, and making something really big and unexpected out of it. And that philosophy is Jason, Michael and Andrew’s philosophy. It always was mine, which is weird too, when I was starting out, and I think I have that in common with them. To try to surprise people, including the network themselves. To give them something they did not expect. And to push yourself to a limit people would not expect you to push to. I think they’ve done that for sure.
MT: And more so this year than other years, I think.
CE: Yeah, you never clock in and clock out. It’s like, “Did you get that? Can we get it better?”
Q: Considering that the show was very episodic, would you consider going back to that format next season?
JW: We love shows like Breaking Bad that give you a reason to come back next week, and I thought maybe that was one thing that was missing, because we’re so conceptual. We’re really proud of the first two seasons and think they’re funny and the cast is great, but we felt like it could be a step up if we could add an element that could be a little more like an actual show that would make you want to watch week to week. So we’ll see if that works.
MK: There’s still the same crazy ideas and cases that they follow. There are cases like the ones in the previous season, where they wrap up in the same episode, but there are other story threads that will continue on, with cliffhangers.
AW: It’s a lot of work. We still have to do everything a normal episode would do, with a beginning and an ending that feels tidy, with its own unique concept for that episode, but then you get a little bit more. Like we have a little more time for characters to do something that doesn't necessarily play into the story. You just get a few more levels, which I think makes it more interesting.
Q: With an ongoing storyline, will you play a bit more with the fantasy elements mentioned before?
CE: Possibly. It’s Eagleheart, and the reality of Eagleheart is skewed to begin with. It can do anything. To me, that’s what I love about the show. And it’s kind of similar to some of the work I’ve done in my 30 years in show business, Maria. As compared to your...25.
CE: This show can actually go anywhere and do anything. So, yeah...when somebody is killed, they’re killed for the story, but who knows, maybe they’ll reappear in another form or be brought back at some point.
Q: Any chance, since it’s [adult swim] that there could be an animated episode?
JW: We’ve talked about it but we haven't come up with the idea for it yet.
Q: I’ll get back to you.
The Cast and Crew of China, IL
Eagleheart: Paradise Rising
Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland
A Talk with Pete Holmes