On television you often see film directors do the pilot to start a series. McG, Brett Ratner, Jake Kasdan and many others do it regularly.
Now Jon Favreau has come to television, directing the pilot to “Revolution,” NBC’s new show about a future with no electricity. During the Television Critics Association Press Tour, we got to talk to Favreau about his role in bringing the new show to life.
CraveOnline: What are the restrictions on storytelling in movies that you don’t have on TV?
Jon Favreau: I think you have an hour and a half, two hours, maybe two and a half hours in a movie and it has to be a self-contained three act structure. That’s like a rock n’ roll song. Certain things have to happen for it to be a toe tapper and get people excited leaving the theater.
Once you buy into a television show, there doesn’t have to be resolution from week to week. You could be developing characters and storylines and react to the audience. So you get more of a Nicholas Nickleby serialized version of storytelling where you can go much deeper into each character. It’s more like a novel. People say a novel is like designing a car and a screenplay is like designing an airplane. It has to lift off and have a certain aerodynamics to it for it to work as a self-contained piece.
For me as a consumer of stories, once I hook into a TV show and I decide I enjoy it, I can’t wait to watch the next episode. Right now there’s a dozen shows I’m engaged on that level with. I think what you're seeing now, and as a viewer and consumer of stories myself, I think what's happened, it started off as a trend with cable television, has spread out and now is hitting network, is the audience has a tremendous capacity for sophisticated storylines. And as the movie industry becomes more and more restrictive for a number of reasons, you're seeing this opening up on the TV front, and that's part of why I came on board this project.
Look, there's always going to be dumb stuff out there, but there is room for really smart storylines. The audiences have become increasingly sophisticated. And, of course, it's about developing a balance so that somebody can tune into the show and jump right in even if they miss the first couple of episodes and understand who the characters are and how the stories work.
But there is a serialized version of as you could unfold some more sophisticated storylines both emotionally and, as far as the context, especially with a buy of plausibility like this show has, which is essentially the laws of physics seem to have changed. So while there's an underlying mystery with an internal logic to it, we still want to make it about the people and the emotion.
I sat down with J.J. [Abrams] and Eric [Kripke], completely compelled by their vision, and we put together an amazing cast, and Giancarlo, fortunately we have him. He's been a big part of "Breaking Bad" that's really cutting‑edge storytelling. And so it's nice to be able to absorb what we're learning from the audiences by what they're rewarding the networks for putting on and hopefully we're going to be breaking new ground here.
CraveOnline: Has there been even more of a change in the time you’ve been making movies?
Jon Favreau: Oh sure, sure. I think online theft has changed the business model of filmmaking now because the DVD market is very soft. So more ambitious, compelling, character driven narrative of a certain budget level isn’t really a viable business model in the eyes of the studios right now. So you have very low budget films and very high budget films, but that middle ground, as you’ll see, there aren’t as many films getting greenlit, but a lot of that material is now gravitating towards television.
CraveOnline: We’ve seen Giancarlo Esposito be an amazing villain on “Breaking Bad.” How did you want him to be a different kind of villain on “Revolution?”
Jon Favreau: If I’m not mistaken, he’s the first guy we set. It was not written for him. It was a physically completely different dude, but as soon as we brought up his name we jumped in and said, “It’s got to be him.”
Not only is he an amazing actor, not only has he done great unexpected choices in the work he’s done and have a tremendous range, especially in the Spike Lee stuff he’s done, all the way to this point in his career. He’s just a hell of a dude. I don’t know if you get a sense of it from interviewing him, he’s the most game, excited, collaborative guy you’ll ever meet.
He’s, to me, in many ways the heart and soul of the show as far as he brings a certain amount of dignity and experience to it but a definite enthusiasm. As you say locker room leadership, he’s definitely a player/coach/team captain. Between him and Billy Burke, who is also a veteran, all these young actors have these great guys with great habits to look up to. As a filmmaker, that’s what you want. That’s as important as talent.
CraveOnline: Whose idea was Wrigley field as overgrown and decaying?
Jon Favreau: We had been looking at different landmarks together from Chicago and that really jumped out as the one that felt the most human, but also seemed to represent society and history. As we were developing a look for the pilot, we kept looking at photos of Angkor Wat and looking at what it looked like when a society used to exist but then nature slowly took it back over, because we didn't want this to be a dystopic view of the future, especially because it's told through the lens of two different generations.
You have the people who were there before the lights went out 15 years ago, and then you have the new generation that never knew the old ways. So while people are struggling to hold onto shreds of the old society and struggling to get the lights back on and figure out the solutions to the mystery, there's Charlie's generation, who see this almost as a pastoral, simple place that they grew up. This is the only world they know.
And we wanted to show a lot of the show through their eyes so it didn't feel like The Road or Mad Max, but instead felt like this wonderland. When I first heard that Eric was saying one of his inspiration was Lord of the Rings, I didn't really understand, reading it. Then as I saw the sword fights and the simpler times and the more brutal times in certain ways, but it presents itself as a moment where you had to stick together. The good people stuck with the good people.
The people who were trying to create society and keep chaos from asserting itself had to struggle and sacrifice a great deal. And that's the heroic, aspirational quality to this that I think the visuals reinforce by making it something where you're entering into another world. And I know when I watch TV, I want to be transformed and transported when I sit down and watch, not just by the characters that I grow to love over the hours of watching and seasons of watching, but also the world that it plants me into. So the look and the aesthetic of this is just as much of a character as the people that are saying the words.
CraveOnline: Were either Logan’s Run or Planet of the Apes an influence?
Jon Favreau: When they got outside into the Sanctuary, we definitely did discuss that as a point of reference because if you remember, I'm remembering through the lens of my childhood of having seen it, I haven't seen Logan's Run recently, but it definitely hit me at a time when I was impressionable, especially Farrah Fawcett as the lovely plastic surgeon's assistant.
But I remember that once they got outside of the tech zone, everything was overgrown, and there was that sense of, like, a rainforest had reclaimed an ancient society. And the place that everybody was so scared of turned out to be a bit of a paradise. That analogy certainly rang true for what we were looking to present here, which is to turn things on their ear a little bit and go against expectation and make the show very simple.
And actually, the name "Revolution,” it's not really meant to stand in for what's going on today, but it's meant to replay aspects of our history from when we were going from colonial times, living under oppressive monarchies and then becoming a republic. And that was what was exciting for me, is it was a way to tell aspects of our history to a new generation who is a little bit more plugged into, if you look at all the young‑adult novels and what's in the zeitgeist, there's definitely a sense of the young generation coming and persevering against people who serve as allegories for how they might feel powerless as young people in the world.
You see, in a lot of the young‑adult novels, you're dealing with other worlds where the young generation is very important and being a front line of a deep struggle, much like when we grew up with Star Wars. And so it's an empowering story. Planet of the Apes was also a bit of a reference, but Planet of the Apes, there's this sense of darkness and doom to it that we definitely didn't feel was part of our DNA, although you can't get away from the visuals of it. It's seared into all of our subconscious from having grown up with the original film.
I think all of it enters into it, and we're hoping to present a new metaphor that hopefully is exciting for people who have grown up with that, but also a younger generation that sees this fantasy world where you can make a deference. And that's really what it's about.
CraveOnline: Did you call it on Josh Hutcherson? You cast him when he was so young.
Jon Favreau: How do you like that? Zathura had Josh Hutcherson and Kristen [Stewart]. I’m very proud of them. You look back at Zathura now and you see we had some good talent there. It’s good to see them break out in their teen years, or young adult years in the case of Kristen.
CraveOnline: Now that you see the Marvel world as it’s sprouted from really the first two Iron Man films, do you feel like a proud parent, and might you one day revisit it as a filmmaker in a different film?
Jon Favreau: You know, I enjoy working with those guys. You’ve got to remember when we started doing Iron Man, they had gotten some money from an investment group and it was going to be their own studio and no studio was going to influence them creatively. It was going to be about the underlying IP, about the fans, about the filmmakers.
Then we cast Robert and the personality of the film really started to coalesce. That personality in that film that we did on the fly with relatively limited resources compared to what they have now, slowly evolved into a tone and narrative style and a world and a cast of characters that, when coupled with what was done on Hulk, Thor and Captain America, turned into a whole movie world that now has become a sandbox for other filmmakers to play in.
It’s very fulfilling to see that, not unlike what I’m experiencing on “Revolution.” You do the pilot, you help find the cast, you help establish the tone and then other great creative people come in and build upon that. It’s exciting to watch what Joss is able to do with Avengers and what Shane [Black] is able to do with Iron Man 3.
Being an executive producer on those films and being one on the pilot and working on the series, you feel like you’re part of it but you don’t have the same responsibilities but you get all the satisfaction out of it too. It allows you to do other things and pursue other goals as well. It was a nice act of progression and, knock wood, I’m proud of what the other filmmakers have done and how they built upon it. I think if they weren’t doing a good job I might feel differently. I’m very proud