The showrunners and cast of highly anticipated series 'American Gods' shared some BTS secrets at SXSW.
Television's evolution as an increasingly viable and respectable platform for filmmakers was further confirmed with the American Gods sneak preview world premiere at—none other than—a film festival. It was the SXSW film festival, to be exact, and the line of filmmakers, film lovers, and sci-fi fans waiting to get in was hundreds long.
American Gods is a new series premiering on the Starz network next month, and based on the bestselling novel of the same name by cult author, graphic novelist, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman. In a pre-recorded video, Gaiman himself introduced the pilot episode, assuring the audience that we were the "first people in the entire world" to see the show.
"Nothing is ever as it seems in this show. It’s reveal after reveal after reveal."
In fact, lead actor Ian McShane (who plays Mr. Wednesday with nothing short of brilliance), was seeing the pilot for the first time, too, and was apparently blown away. During an extended Q & A moderated by Mashable TV editor Laura Prudom, he told the crowd, "It's the first frame [of the completed show] I've ever seen and I thought it was f*cking amazing." He has reason to be impressed; if the pilot is any indicator of things to come, we can expect highly cinematic visuals, insane SFX, bingeworthy plot twists and high caliber performances.
The Q & A also included showrunners Bryan Fuller (Star Trek: Discovery, Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan, Green Lantern), along with ten of the show's cast members. They play several ancient mythological gods from around the world in their modern day American form—battling against the "new gods" of tech, data, money, and celebrity. Here are some things we learned about how the highly anticipated show came together:
Adapting the book led to a major timeline shift
When asked how they approached adapting such a beloved book, Michael Green admitted that it was done "nervously, then playfully." The show creators stayed true to much of the book's core, but they played with many elements, most importantly the timeline. Bryan Fuller added that even fans who have read the book many times will be surprised about what comes next because the show re-orders events considerably.
This decision was likely made to help a TV audience better grasp the many story strands, or, as Ian McShane put it, "Gaiman's book goes all over the place," whereas, "When I read the script, it seemed like the perfect blueprint for a TV show." But he assured audiences that things would be far from straightforward: "Nothing is ever as it seems in this show. It's reveal after reveal after reveal."
Visualizing the show required making up new words
The story combines sci-fi, fantasy, action, and dramaturgy from various time periods so the show requires massive special effects that would have been far outside television budgets of the recent past. Another complicating factor of this production is that the original book deals with some heady, philosophical topics like faith and worship, which can be a challenge to represent on screen.
Green said, "We wanted the show to operate on various levels of reality." Doing so required the team to make up some entirely new vocabulary to describe what they needed to show to viewers. For example, director David Slade came up with the term "Godflesh." (Incidentally, Slade comes squarely from the indie film world, having directed festival favorites like Hard Candy early in his career.)
"Godflesh" is how the creators describe the state of the god characters when they reveal their spirit selves, in answer to the producers' question, "How do they come together visually when they're made up of human emotion?"
"It was a much more inclusive casting and we got to represent America with faces that actually reflect America."
Casting the season was a global affair
The showrunners revealed that one aspect of the show that Neil Gaiman was adamant about was casting—every character cast should be representative of who they are in the book, and since they hail from all over the world, casting had to become a global effort.
Fuller revealed, "It was exciting casting a show where much of the book is based on other cultures and ethnicities. It gave us an opportunity to not be color blind. It was a much more inclusive casting and we got to represent America with faces that actually reflect America."
Some of the casting choices that were particularly important were the female roles, because their presences were expanded greatly from the book. As Fuller said, "We knew we needed more female energy." If the premiere is any indication, they found it.
One example is a wild sexual power trip scene with Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, who told the audience, "There was a lot of power in her from this ancient time. I got to play with a person who is not allowed the agency that she is used to and how she survives in this world."
American Gods has put some filmmakers at the helm, and pulled from some of the best aspects of genre cinema, with promises to further the evolution of cinematic TV and be, as lead actor Ricky Whittle described, "a crazy emotional roller coaster."
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Vimeo.