Aaron Stanford, Travis Fickett, and Terry Matalas Talk 12 Monkeys [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the first season finale.]
While you’re still processing the season finale of 12 Monkeys, settle in for a deep dive with the co-creators and star, where we talk about where we’ve been and what’s next. All season, we’ve seen so many threads unfold, and heading into season two, we have a lot of unanswered questions, and so many possibilities. When I chatted with Aaron Stanford last month, we talked a little bit about that but I held those comments until after the finale. This week, I also jumped on the phone with Travis Fickett and Terry Matalas, executive producers, and newly-minted showrunners for season two.
First, a little background. WhenÂ Fickett and Matalas pitched the idea for the show, it wasn’t a direct leverage of Twelve Monkeys. “It all started five years ago. We’d written a time travel script called Splinter that landed on the desk of Atlas, who had produced the film. Richard Suckle had been trying to make a series version of the film and didn’t know how to do it,” explains Fickett. “[Time travel] is considered the third rail of television. We pitched our version of it. We took the bones of our script and turned it into the pilot that you saw.”
In the first season, the show was run by Natalie Chaidez, who has moved on to her own project for Gale Ann Hurd called. For season two, Fickett and Matalas have been handed the whole shebang with the formal title of showrunners. While some showrunners hang back and run their staff from Los Angeles. Fickett and Matalas want to be on set in Toronto as much as possible–the same as they were in season one. For right now, they’re in LA getting staffed up and breaking the scripts for season two.
“Being on set is extraordinarily valuable as the voice of the show. Just getting a quick answer to props, set design, wardrobe, actors, and directors [is] easier than a phone call to L.A.,” says Matalas. “We spend a good amount of time in Toronto. At the same time, we’re making sure those scripts and stories come out. It’s a lot of long days, but it’s rewarding. We brought a lot of our writers back and we have new writers joining us that we’re excited about. We’re in the thick of it right now.”
Fickett says they know their endgame for the series, but it’s not so fixed that it can’t evolve as creativity warrants. “In a time travel show, you have to think many years in advance. We did know what season two was [when season one ended]. We have a lot of the tentpoles planned. You leave room to maneuver,” he says. “You want to have an open mind for new ideas that come in, and [as] you see performances that work that [you want to see more of]. You don’t want to write it all out and then just shoot what you wrote three years ago.”
Packing so much into season one was always the plan, but Matalas admits they learned where they can try to pace themselves next season. “The story you saw in season one was exactly what we needed to tell. We might have been a little breathless at times,” he admits. “We know what the story for season two is, but from watching the show [live], we’ve seen where we could take a few breaths and see more of our characters and we’re incorporating that in season two.”
Both echo what Stanford told us last month–a 13-episode season is preferable to 22. “If we had to do 22, we’d all be dead now,” laughs Fickett. Matalas adds that they definitely had enough story for 22, but it would have killed one of them to do it.
They add that it was supremely helpful to have Chaidez on board in season one. “She helped us break the stories and develop the season. She was a big part of what we did last year,” says Fickett. “She was the ideal for running a show along with the creators. She gave us creative authority and allowed it to be our show. We really learned what we were doing to the point that the network and the studio had the confidence in handing the reins to us.”
Matalas points out that it was also great that they all had the same learning curve. “Natalie was a first time showrunner. The three of us learned together,” he says. “We learned what to do and what not to do. I think we’re all better for it.”
Now that we’ve wrapped, both can claim favorite episodes this season. For Fickett, it was episode nine, “Tomorrow,” and for Matalas, it was episode 11, “Shonin.” “When Sean Tretta wrote the script [for ‘Shonin’], I was kind of blown away by it. When we shot it, some things worked better than others,” Fickett explains. “Certain things weren’t coming together and Terry came up with the overall idea that we’re seeing the series from another perspective, and we go back and see all these moments from the perspective of the 12 Monkeys.”
“It’s almost like the master stroke in an essay where you make your point. Now all those things that Ramse was doing come together. This may have been the episode I had the least to do with. I don’t like my own stuff. When I watched it again when it aired, I got chills. Terry and I had always planned for this moment and it still gives me chills. I think it’s really well done.”
“‘Tomorrow’ is a little bit of everything the show does well. Every character has a great moment. That’s the moment where the series changes–where there’s a chance to save the future and the past,” says Matalas.
Fickett shared that nine came together in a really special way, and was filmed overlapping with ten. “We were filming 10 and 9 at the same time and 9 had gone into 10’s schedule. The director, T.J. Scott, had to get in van to go catch a plane. [The last moment] he was filming was [the scene] where Cassie is dying and Cole is holding her,” he recalls. “As she dies, a single tear comes out of her eye. It wasn’t planned. It was just one of those magical moments. And then Cole’s holding her and rocking her. He was so emotional. And then T.J. says, ‘Cut.'”
“Everybody was so moved, and we knew that they had just witnessed something monumental and perfect for our show and T.J. gets in a van and leaves. You couldn’t have a better final moment on set, where he just drops the mic and is sort of, ‘Thank you. I’m out.’ It was a phenomenal moment on set and we knew we were firing on all cylinders.”
With the finale sending Cassie back to 2043 and Jones, and Cole and Ramse left behind in 2015, I asked whether we’d get more of the background on Cassie’s statement to Cole that so much had happened to them, and Fickett and Matalas teased the following:
Fickett: Cole is going to get a job at UPS. You’ll never see Cassie again. All of the scenes of Jennifer will be in front of a live audience.
Matalas: It’s going to be a workplace comedy.
So there’s that to look forward to! I also asked if we’d get any insight into who’s bankrolling the Army, and they said we will, but, “Our heroes are going to have bigger problems.” Matalas added we’ll have to stay tuned about whether we see Noah Bean and Aaron again.
When we chatted with Stanford, I asked about where he and Ramse go from here, now that they’re reunited at the end of the finale as Ramse fulfills Jennifer’s prophecy that he’s a good friend and tells Cole to send Cassie to Jones. “It’ll never go back to what it was. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be something very strong and potent,” he says. “The friendship was forged through adversity and they became as close as they are by living through and surviving the apocalypse together. They had been through very, very hard things. This is different, but also hard, and sometimes when you break things, they heal and become stronger.”
Going into season two, Stanford said he’d love to have Cole just pop up at random moments in history. “I’d love to get into the time travel more. I loved the scene in the movie where there’s something wrong with the machine and suddenly he’s transported to a trench in WWI, and because it’s [Terry] Gilliam, there’s all this rick texture,” he recalls. “I’d love for Cole to find himself in all these fascinating chapters in history.”
We also see Cassie and Cole turn a corner in the finale where Cole’s survivalism rubs off on Cassie, and he’s more sympathetic to what just happened with Aaron. “They have a great dynamic. He brings his world into Cassie’s life and she’s completely changed by it,” he explains. “She’s never had to worry about very much, subjectively. His introduction to her world–[where] he feels emotions he’s never felt before–[and her introduction to his] color their perceptions of reality and change them fundamentally.”
I asked Stanford if there had been anything more written between Cassie and Cole to reflect back on their exchange in “Tomorrow,” and at the end, of the finale, when there’s so much implied but left unsaid. He said no. “They very much wanted to leave that ambiguous and open-ended,” he says. “They want people to want to want more. That’s going to end up paying off in season two.”
Matalas says when eventually get Cassie and Cole back in the same timeline, “Their dynamic is going to be much different.”
Stanford also said we’ll likely see Peter Outerbridge‘s other Dr. Jones next season, too.
Matalas and Fickett are active on Twitter and Matalas likens it to live theater. “It’s extraordinary to see live reactions. It’s like [being] in the audience [to hear them] gasp, and laugh and cry,” says Matalas. Fickett has been impressed by some of the ideas fans have floated. “Everybody’s got theories. Some of them are so terrific,” he says. “It’s not [something] we were going to do, but we’re like, ‘that actually would’ve been a really cool idea.'”
As busy as they are, they make time to watch TV as fans. “We both try to stay up on shows,” says Fickett. “It’s important as writers on TV. You can’t just pull yourself out.” Matalas is into Games of Thrones, House of Cards, and Agent Carter. “Black Mirror is an amazing one that blows me away every time I watch it,” he says.
Fickett watched Walking Dead and just binge-watched The 100. “[It] was pretty fantastic. The Flash is doing a terrific job. It looks like it costs a billion dollars,” he says. “I love Veep and Silicon Valley, too.”
Since streaming has taken over the world, I asked whether DVDs still have a place in the world, and both said yes, and they have several goodies planned for the 12 Monkeys set. “I think Blu-Rays are beautiful and I like to actually own them,” says Matalas. “Our DVD set is going to have all this extra content [like] the webisodes that I directed and our writers wrote that delve deeper into Jennifer Goines and the Striking Woman. Plus some deleted scenes and the gag reel, which everybody seems to like.”
We’re also getting a soundtrack–on traditional CD and for download. “We just sat down with Trevor Raybin and Paul Linford. who do the score, which I love. We picked out the best tracks,” says Matalas. “There’s a real cinematic sound. They’re getting in the studio and mixing them for the larger audience. The plan is for a CD from Varese Sarabande and there’s also probably going to be a download with more music.”
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