This weekend I had the pleasure of attending C2E2, the second annual Comic and Entertainment Expo held in Chicago. This year, Warner Brothers brought for the first time to this event producers and actors from two shows to the event. One of those shows was the CW hit show The Vampire Diaries.
In the press room the first person that sat down in our roundtable session was Executive Producer Julie Plec, who calls the Chicago area home. She proudly told us before getting started with the Q & A that she is a Park Forest native and a Northwestern University grad. After getting settled, we got started. Julie had a lot to reveal about her show’s renewal prospects for season three, the creative process that has gone into the show’s two very successful seasons, how characters like Jonathan Gilbert and Elijah have really enhanced the show, how secondary characters have become really important this year and that how Damon’s character journey is giving Ian Somerhandler a few challenges.
No worries spoilerphobes, you’re pretty safe here. Questions from me personally are indicated in parenthesis. I was very fortunate to get several questions in.
(Alice) You guys are still going. Still number one (on the CW).
Yep, still number one. Still kicking, still getting people more and more excited. The feedback has been fantastic. Second season is always scary because you never know are they still going to like you, are they going to get tired of you, are they going to get over you, but they’ve been just as enthusiastic and I think we’ve been holding our own so it’s good.
(Alice) And I assume third season is going to happen.
Yeah, it’s not official yet. I don’t want to be cocky about it but I would be kind of like, “What? Are you kidding me?” I’m sure we’ll hear soon, I think they said they’ll do that stuff officially in the next month.
(Alice) I write for a Supernatural fan site and fans are like, “Where’s our announcement?”
I know! I’ve been wondering about that stuff for a month and a half actually.
I think the show is really coming into its own. For me, honestly, the first couple of episodes I wasn’t so sure and then it really took off and I think it keeps getting better and better. And I’m sure it’s mentioned all the time the pacing of the show is incredible. When you’re plotting a season long arcs obviously so much must be mapped out in advance. As you do that, do you ever find that the stories end up going in directions that you never anticipated and do you allow for that to happen?
Yeah, we absolutely do allow for that to happen. When you’re doing a 22 episode season which is already as a time schedule almost impossible and have your season mapped out from the beginning. You know where you’re beginning is and you know where you want to end and then burden is you to find your way through the middle. You try to come up with new moves and new turns along the way that can make it feel fresh so that it doesn’t feel like you’re just stringing the audience along for 22 episodes.
We’ve had a couple of really fantastic success stories in doing that, (one) which is the creation of the John Gilbert character. David Anders last year came out of us realizing we don’t want to go down a road that we were planning going down with one particular storyline but we needed to fill that 3 or 4 episodes before we get to end with Founder’s Day. We’re like “What are we going to do?” Out of nowhere we thought of the idea. In fact, the character was originally conceived as a Fell cousin coming into to town and stirring up trouble. And when we realized we could make him a Gilbert, so he’s still part of the founding families but a relative of Elena and Jeremy’s everything just clicked. And that’s been great.
The same thing happened this year with Elijah, who really was meant to give us a little mid season oomph while we waited for Klaus. He has grown into this tremendous character, due largely to Daniel Gillies, the actor, being just so extraordinary and so cool and badass. So we’ve actually had good luck straying from the path.
(Alice) If you could dwell on that, I see that you’ve left it open for Elijah to not really be dead.
I make of joke that when we started talking about the originals, we never considered them to be true immortals until we realized how much we liked Daniel as Elijah and then we thought, “Well, how hard can we make it to kill him?” So forget about all those great twists and turns. The idea of removing the dagger, the dagger’s removal brings him back to life, was something again that we came up in the moment of wanting to have freedom to revisit Elijah’s character. Originals are going to be with us for a long time.
That scene is probably one of the more frustrating ones. I’m watching and Elena’s giving all the details. She’s “don’t let Damon do it.” They’re like “Okay, It’s all taken care of” and she’s like “Oh, good, as long as it stays in place.” Seriously, did they not read the instructions?
(laughs) It’s very funny, because that episode was the very last episode that we had to deliver the script right before Christmas break. We’d been writing for like nine months straight and we’re exhausted and our brains were dead. And what we wrote made perfect sense of the time. It wasn’t until we saw the cut of it, it took that long for us to watch and be like, “There had to be a better way to execute that in which Elena just doesn’t turn the page...” Those are the things as writers Kevin and I make fun of ourselves all the time. “Aw man, if we could only go back and fix that a little.” But we get a good laugh out of it anyway and people seem to make a good joke of it as well.
(Alice) Speaking of you and Kevin, and the whole network, how do you manage to turn storytelling on a budget? How does the limited budget really affect how you approach storytelling?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know how we do it, but money is not one of our problems. We don’t have a lot of it. But I think shooting in Georgia has made a huge difference for us. For every dollar you spend there you get a check written back to you from the state. We’re able to make a show that looks like it’s made on a true network budget when it’s really it’s made on a much smaller budget. Warner Brothers as a studio has been very supportive of us and made sure we had enough to live up to what we did in the first episode. Money goes a long way when you’re shooting on location and you can have the most gorgeous beautiful, epic rolling landscape for ten dollars where in LA it’s twenty thousand dollars and a visual effects house.
As much as it’s difficult for our cast and our crew to shoot on location all year round, I’m a huge advocate for it creatively because you can’t do that at home. That and there are limitations in the way we do our stunts. You’ll see a lot of other shows have big wirework effects and we try to keep our stunts grounded and in a human place because it’s difficult to shoot and takes a lot of time. Also, because we don’t want our show to get bigger than itself. We want everything to feel like its still rooted in some kind of real place. That creative decision has helped us spend our money wisely as well.
One of the strong suits of the show is that it doesn’t default into effects. I’m wondering if it has a lot to do with the individual performers or if it starts with the writing and goes to the performers. There is such a great focus on secondary characters. With the character of Caroline, I remember the first couple of episodes this is the obnoxious high school character that will eventually have a fall out or is just filler in the background and but she became the favorite character. How much of that is on the writing end and how much is coming from these actors?
It’s both. One of Kevin’s and my disappointments in the first season was that as much as we wanted to bring a deep rich, life to the secondary characters a lot of them ended up getting sidelined to make room for the core story for what we call the power of the three. And then we had guest stars coming in and getting huge magnificent story arcs and there our human characters were sitting on the side lines. So we did what we could to try to give them the right emotional stuff to play.
The beauty of Candice as Caroline goes right back to the pilot when she’s like “Why doesn’t anybody ever pick me?” You see this bitchy mean girl that’s is exposing her most vulnerable fear that she’ll always be the second choice. One of our goals when we went into season two was we have to give our family, our team, let them shine. Kevin’s the one who came up with the idea to turn Caroline into a vampire, we already knew Tyler would be a werewolf. The two of them have this terrific chemistry so we were able to tell both of their stories at the same time and they took on a life of their own both individually and as romantic potential pairing that has given us a lot of opportunity.
(Alice) Ian, you’re working that boy. He’s had some powerful stuff. Has he come back to you and said, “What are you doing?”
Yeah, oh yeah. Ian is at his happiest when he is episode one Damon, the not gonna to smile, the grins and the kill, he’s never happier than when he’s playing that Damon. So every now and then he’ll be like “What are you guys doing to me? I’ve got to be all vulnerable and honest, and caring.” Yep, it’s called a journey son, a character journey. The beauty of Damon, when we learned that the thing that had brought him to town was the love of the woman, that was a game changer just for his character because for all his “I’m such a badass and I’ll kill everybody and I don’t care” he really was the deepest most powerful emotional character that we had and he hates that, Damon hates that about himself. The battle that’s going on within him between his humanity and the part of him that really misses being human and then the part of him that doesn’t want to feel that at all, that’s a series long journey for him. He’s going to go up, he’s going to go down, he’s going to love, he’s going to get hurt, he’s going to go back to not caring at all, he’s going to occasionally slip and stub his toe a little and kill a girl on the road (laughs), it happens. But he gets mad at us. He’s like, “You guys, you’re making my job too hard.” “You can do it. You can do it.”
(Alice) I have to commend you guys. That episode with Rose, Damon and Rose, Ian and Lauren, oh my Lord, that’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen on TV. That was amazing.
We had really high hopes for that. We introduced that character for that reason. We knew coming in that Rose would be the character that would establish a friendship and then a sexual friendship with Damon that would ultimately die tragically and make him come face to face with a part of himself that he’s been trying to avoid. That is exactly why she was put into the show and that is what she delivered.
When I saw that episode for the first time all assembled I sat there and I cried like a baby and I was sobbing. It was so embarrassing because I wrote some of this and I’m crying. I called Kevin and I was like “I...can’t...talk...to...you...” and he hadn’t watched it yet. Then he called me back and was like “That was so sad.” And those are the moments that you just live for when something that was in your head executed in that perfect, poetic way and does exactly what it’s suppose to do for Damon’s character plus you get some good fun of it and meaty shots and all that.
And that was all the time we had with Julie before she went on to another table. Given the ten minutes we got with her, we couldn’t be more grateful. Coming up soon, interviews with Candice Accola and Michael Trevino.