Assignement X had the pleasure to have an interesting chat with Mr Horowitz|
ABC’s new series ONCE UPON A TIME, airing Sundays at 8 PM, is definitely a fantasy, but beyond that, it’s hard to compare to anything on the air, now or in the past. The short version of the premise is that the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) exiles many characters from Fairytale Land, including Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), to the picturesque small town of Storybrooke, Maine. The erstwhile fairytale folk have no notion of their true identities but young Henry (Jared Gilmore), the adopted son of the mayor, has a glimmer of what has really happened. He finds his real mother Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and convinces her to accompany him back to the town, where she can’t help but notice something odd is happening.
The creators/show runners of ONCE UPON A TIME are Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, who previously worked as writers/producers on LOST and wrote the screenplay for TRON: LEGACY. Horowitz explains how he and Kitsis came to work together and what ONCE UPON A TIME viewers can look forward to as more mysteries are revealed.
ASSIGNMENT X: When did you and Edward. Kitsis become partners?
ADAM HOROWITZ: We met our sophomore year of college at the University of Wisconsin in a film class, and we became friends and we started writing together and then we did a little public access show in Madison, Wisconsin. After conquering the public access airwaves, we figured how hard could Hollywood be? It turned out to be quite hard and challenging, but we moved out here together and just started writing and working together, and got a couple of breaks and found ourselves working on some television shows, and it eventually led to working on LOST and then creating this show.
AX: Was working on LOST and dealing with all of that complicated mythology good practice for the intricate storytelling of ONCE UPON A TIME?
HOROWITZ: Yeah. The six seasons of LOST were an incredible learning experience for us as writers. Working under Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] there, we learned an immense amount. We had the idea for ONCE UPON A TIME prior to LOST, but I think it was those years there, really working and honing our craft, that helped us figure out the best way to tell this [ONCE UPON A TIME] story. When the show [LOST] ended and we went to ABC with this idea, we finally figured out a way to take this massive, sprawling concept and really find a way to tell it as something that is human and character-based.
AX: Had you and Edward Kitsis been show runners before ONCE UPON A TIME?
HOROWITZ: No. We had started out on LOST in Season One as producers and in Season Five became executive producers, but Carlton [Cuse] and Damon [Lindelof] were the show runners on that show. When the show ended, we felt like we wanted to take our shot and ABC was really great in putting the faith in us and given us our chance to run our first network show.
AX: Has the show-running process had any big surprises for you?
HOROWITZ: Yes and no. Working very closely with show runners on various shows, you get an idea for what the job is, but it’s not a job you really understand until you do it. You can intellectually understand all the tasks that need to be accomplished, but [it doesn’t fully sink in] until you are actually in the position where you realize that every creative decision, the buck stops with you. It’s a very daunting but incredibly gratifying and challenging role to be given, and we were very, very lucky to be given this opportunity.
AX: Did you look at any other fantasy genre shows to see things that you either did want to do or traps that you wanted to avoid?
HOROWITZ: No, I wouldn’t say we looked at other shows. I would say that it’s more a case of, we’ve been writing television and movies for over ten years and we just looked at all the stuff we’ve done in our career and tried to learn from the mistakes we made and build on the things we think we did right and tried to use all that experience to allow us to have the best chance at achieving what we set out to do with this show.
AX: How do you keep track of all the plot threads in ONCE UPON A TIME? On LOST, one of the producers had a nuclear football-type suitcase with all the different storylines in it. Do you have something like that on ONCE UPON A TIME?
HOROWITZ: There is no nuclear football. Eddie and I had an idea for a show, and we have been lucky enough now to have be given twelve episodes to work with, and we are doing our best to make them as awesome as we know how, and while we have ideas for where we would love to take this show if we are lucky enough to get an opportunity to go past the twelve episodes, right now, all we can really do is focus on what’s in front of us and say to the audience, “Look, this is what we’re trying to do, hope you take a look, hope you like it, and if you do, then let’s see where we go.”
AX: In the opening episode, we see a lot of characters moved from Fairytale Land to Storybrooke, Maine. Is literally everyone from Fairytale Land now in Storybrooke and, if so, are we going to revisit Fairytale Land in the present or just in flashbacks?
HOROWITZ: The question is exactly what we explored in the first couple of episodes. This town of Storybrooke, Maine – who lives here, who are these people, and who are they potentially in this other world? We’re just showing you the tip of the iceberg in the pilot and that there’s a lot more we’d love to explore. We intend to tell you exactly who over there came over here and what became of them.
AX: Are there any significant fairytale characters we have yet to meet?
HOROWITZ: There are certainly characters who we intend to play a large part in the series who we will meet, but for now, we have this core group that we’ve met in the pilot whose stories we feel are really rich and that really have a lot of cool things to mine, and we want to spend our time on them before we bring in all the other toys that can be fun.
AX: How did you decide on Snow White as your primary princess, as opposed to, say, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty?
HOROWITZ: For us, Snow White is the cornerstone fairytale character. On a personal level, [SNOW WHITE is] the first movie I ever saw, it had a huge impact on me. To me, there’s something really powerful about that story, which is that it says no matter how horrible things get, true love can fix any problem and overcome any odds. And that hopeful message is something that we really keyed into as kind of the basis for this show, because ultimately for us, this show is about hope. It’s about how in a world where there are many, many challenges and tough times, if you can find hope, you can overcome anything.
AX: The idea of the evil fairy queen coming in and laying down a curse is from SLEEPING BEAUTY, isn’t it?
HOROWITZ:Once we started with the idea that we wanted to do Snow White, the initial concept of that was, what was her happy ending? Starting with that and then seeing where we go from there, and what would the Queen do in frustration at the end of that story? This is a Queen who lives in a land where she constantly loses, so to us, it was like, well, she’d want to go to a place where the rules are different and maybe she can win.
AX: Henry’s mother Emma, who doesn’t realize she’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, is obviously a crucial character. Is Henry’s father ever going to become significant?
HOROWITZ: Henry’s father is something we’ve talked about a lot and the fact that he’s not seen in the pilot or talked about – he’s only obliquely referenced once – we purposely put that in there, because that is a story, if given the opportunity, we would love to tell. We would love to get to it this season.
AX: With the production design of the show, particularly for Fairytale Land, were you concerned about maintaining a balance between something that looked kind of awesome and also like a place where people could actually live for real?
HOROWITZ: Yes. Very much. The last thing we wanted to do was camp or Renaissance Faire. Our whole aesthetic for the show on a production design level and on a storytelling level was realism and humanity. We always talk about the scene where Snow White and Prince Charming are talking about their worry about the curse that the Queen has promised to enact. And that scene starts with Prince Charming saying, “You know, are we really talking about this again?” And for us, it was about writing the scene and approaching these characters as a real couple with a real problem. And that extended to everything, which was, how do we make the world very tangible and real and relatable, while also not shirking the fantastical, awe-inspiring elements? And it is a really tricky balance to achieve. We were very lucky to have an amazing creative team that’s helping us realize that.
AX: Robert Carlyle has said that one of the big attractions for him in doing ONCE UPON A TIME is that it shoots in Vancouver.
HOROWITZ: He loves it there and Vancouver is a great city. And also, more importantly than just being great people and a great city, it really affords us an incredible backdrop to be able to create the fantastical lands that we want to explore in the show.
AX: As far as the casting went, did you have anybody in mind for any of the roles at the beginning?
HOROWITZ: We were so lucky that everyone in this cast was essentially our first choice. I mean, we met Jennifer Morrison and knew immediately she had to be our Emma. We sent the script immediately to Ginnifer Goodwin and Robert Carlyle. We were very, very lucky.
AX: Are you working on any other projects right now?
HOROWITZ: No. When you’re running a show, there’s really no time. We wrote TRON: LEGACY and we were working on the sequel to that, but we stepped aside from writing that to a co-producer role. We just finished writing a OUIJA movie for Universal, Hasbro and Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes that McG is directing. We finished our work on that right before the pilot got picked up and then put all that stuff aside and realized, if we’re going to do this show, our focus has to be completely on this show. We have to give it our all.
AX: What are your hopes for how the audience will receive ONCE UPON A TIME?
HOROWITZ: What we want is for people to be able to come into this show and if you come in any week and find a story that week, that you can come in, sit down, relax and enjoy from beginning to end and get enjoyment out of it. And also, at the same time, if you want to dig beneath the surface and look for the bigger story, that that’s there as well. We’re really gratified that ABC is giving us this chance and we hope the audience takes a shot with us and we hope they like what they see.