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HomeCraftsShowrunner Series: Tim Kring-NBC-Heroes

Showrunner Series: Tim Kring-NBC-Heroes

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No series made a bigger splash this season than NBC�s freshman drama Heroes, which drew enthusiastic approval from critics and viewers with its epic, globe-trotting tale of normal people with amazing powers tasked with the catch-phrase friendly mission of �save the cheerleader, save the world.�Heroes is the brainchild of veteran TV producer Tim Kring, who made his first writing sale to Knight Rider. That lead to a number of TV movies and the feature film Teen Wolf Too on the way to joining the series Chicago Hope as a writer and producer. He co-created the short-lived Sci Fi Channel series Strange World and was a co-executive producer and writer on Providence before creating the procedural crime series Crossing Jordan, which is completing its sixth season on NBC.As the 49-year-old showrunner explains, Crossing Jordan became the base from which he launched Heroes, drawing on the experience of his producing and directing partners, Dennis Hammer and Allan Arkush, to build a crew to execute the new show. Heroes is an ambitious show that relies heavily on the talents of its crew to tell a fantastic story convincingly grounded in rich environments that push the envelope of TV production, whether on the stages of the Sunset-Gower Studio or shooting multiple units on one of the production�s many LA-area locations.Below the Line: What attracted you to this kind of show?Tim Kring: I wanted to do a big ensemble drama, a serialized drama. I was very intrigued by the success of some of these other shows in the last several years. I was interested in the challenge of telling these longer stories, but secondly, I had worked on a closed-ended procedural for the last five years and I was anxious to try something new.BTL: Did you think about how you were going to pull some of this stuff off technically when you were writing the script for the pilot?Kring: Sure. I started talking to the special effects people who I worked with on Crossing Jordan on how I would do certain things in the script. The intention was always to make it feel like it was bigger in scope than it really was by having a story that took place in a global environment, where we shot New York and Tokyo and India and Texas, but we never left the zone here in LA. We now have the ability on a TV budget to place us in downtown New York with a virtual back lot.BTL: How did you set up the show and who were some of the first people you brought on board?Kring: It was a solo project as a writer first. But the second that it became a reality, I immediately went to my producing partner on Crossing Jordan, Dennis Hammer, and we decided that the only way we were going pull off something of this scale and this magnitude and as complicated as this on a pilot budget and a pilot schedule was to work with people I had worked with for all these years. So Heroes was basically launched off the platform of Crossing Jordan in terms of large numbers of crew people that followed us, the infrastructure of the physical production offices and all of that. I think it was hard to calculate how much we saved by just having it be such familiar territory and the shorthand of having worked with so many people.BTL: Who do you delegate responsibility to, and who are some of the key crew on the show? Kring: The idea is to try and create an environment where things run without you because, as a writing showrunner, you have to disappear for big chunks of time and you are much better served by setting it up with people that you know aren�t going to call you if they don�t have to call you. So key crew members immediately were, besides Hammer, an actual physical line producer to really command the production side of it, and that was Jim Chory. He�s an extremely efficient producer and very ingenious about how to get things done on a tight budget and put things on the screen that defy the logic of the budget. We run a very tight, tightly budgeted show. It�s forced us to be really creative and to rely on people�s work ethic to get jobs done. Instead of four people, we have three in certain departments, and we�re all just working that much harder to make it work.BTL: What is the budget for an average episode of this show?Kring: We don�t know yet. (Laughs). I claim to know, but I don�t know that I do, really. I will tell you this: It�s less than people think that it is.BTL: What were the decisions you made about what you wanted the show to look like and how the people you brought in helped you achieve that? Kring: From the very beginning we had a lot of discussions about the homage, the nodding that we do to the comic-book world. It�s the idea of these angles that you very rarely see on television. Most of our sets have ceilings, so you don�t light from the top and you�re not open�and that�s an extra cost to build a ceiling on a set. But we invariably shoot from the floor looking up and see the ceiling. The other issue that that brings up is that most of the time that angle plays no part in the normal coverage of the scene. So you literally have to do the normal coverage, then stop and re-light, move the camera and do the entire scene from that angle, which is another 45 minutes to set up. You add that times five times a day and you can see why the show takes as long as it does to shoot.BTL: How much of it was your decision to do as much location shooting as you�re doing?Kring: It was dictated by the stories as much as anything else. We build a tremendous amount on this show. It has been one of the logistical challenges of the show.BTL: And you have two DPs, John Aronson and Nathaniel Goodman, on this show?Kring: Yes. For us, prep is everything. You get to a location and because the director of photography was able to spend several hours here on multiple occasions with the director talking about what he wanted to do, it pays off when you get out here.BTL: What�s your prep process like?Kring: They�re seven to eight days, depending on the episode. We always have a completed shooting script on the first day of prep, which is one of the keys to launching efficiently. But a director starting off immediately gets folded into an entire battery of scheduled meetings where we discuss everything from casting to costumes to locations and scouting. In the first season, you�re auditioning a lot of directors, and every time you have a success with a new director, you try and hold on to that guy so that when he or she comes back, that prep process takes less of your energy.BTL: You guys shoot on an eight-day schedule?Kring: Theoretically. We do a lot of simultaneous units.BTL: How many units do you have going at once, usually?Kring: We generally have two and we have three sometimes. And we went several stretches this year where we shot every day of the week, so it�s been a real juggling act. We had four directors working on one day�that�s the most we ever had on one day�for four different episodes.BTL: At what point do you bring in the visual effects crew?Kring: As early as possible, but it�s never as early as it should be because you have to lock the picture before you do that. We have somebody dedicated to the show (Mark Kolpack) from our effects house who is here all the time and is either one phone call away or is just down the hall.BTL: Who does your visual effects? Kring: A company called Stargate, who I worked with on Crossing Jordan for five years. We�re pushing the envelope with them and they�re push
ing the envelope with us.BTL: About how many visual effects shots do you have in an episode?Kring: I don�t know what the average is, but I will tell you that in episode 17 we had 119 visual effects. And that was one of those episodes of television that had one of those crazy, three-hour postproduction schedules where everything had to work and had to work right now.BTL: What is the most difficult thing about running this show?Kring: It�s the time management part of it that�s very hard. As a showrunner, you don�t get a lot of time to write and your time is pulled in many, many different areas. So sometimes although you have floated around and made a thousand different decisions, at the end of any given day you can feel like you haven�t really accomplished anything, because still my measure of accomplishment is so ingrained in how many pages I got done writing.BTL: And what do you find the most rewarding part of it?Kring: When you can solve a problem creatively about where the storylines are going, it still gives me the most satisfaction. Some episodes are kind of blessed from the very beginning. But the ones that are really rewarding are the ones that you were really afraid of for a while, and you dig deep somehow in the editing room or somewhere along the process and you find a solution to what is a problematic episode and you get it from a D to a B- and you can really pat yourself on the back for that.BTL: What are your goals for the show going into your second season and possibly beyond?Kring: This show has become a show that people are seeing as defying expectations. It�s going to be a fairly different show in the second season. I think the show is going to live or die by it being able to reinvent itself on a constant basis. We have to have people halfway through the second season say, �I can�t believe they�re actually going in this direction.� That�s the measure of success for us.

Written by Tom McLean

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