Interview: Sera Gamble, Producer and Writer for "Supernatural"
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The last of Supernatural's pre-strike episodes, "Jus In Bello," has aired. Intense and heavily myth-arc based, the episode leaves fans with a long wait until April 24, when the last four episodes of season three start to air. Sera Gamble, producer and writer for the show, agreed to talk to Firefox News via email about what it's like to get back to work, why the staff is laughing, matching tattoos, savvy fans, and how rough things could get for Sam and Dean Winchester. (Spoiler warning for upcoming episodes).
FFN: How did being on strike affect you as a writer? Were you able to work on any independent projects?
SG: Well, the main effect, of course, was that I had to stop working. And I was involved in a couple of projects that lost momentum -- one might be salvageable, but I'm pretty sure the strike killed the other one. I'm philosophical about that -- I expected it to happen. Almost every writer I know took a hit for the strike. And plenty were fired or had their shows canceled, so all in all I was very lucky. I had a job to go back to. And yes, I did try to use my strike time wisely. I saw the fact that I was barred from writing anything for the studios as an opportunity to work on stuff that I could never pitch as a slick, easily-understandable commercial package.
I picked my favorite weird idea and immersed myself for a few weeks. It worked, too -- the run-up to the strike was hugely stressful, and I was burned out and exhausted. Now, I feel back in touch with why I love writing.
FFN: What's it like getting back to work? Are people charged up? Is it a smooth process picking up where you left off?
SG: By three o'clock on the first afternoon, we were all half-joking that it felt like we never left. I was afraid it would be complete chaos, because we only had three weeks to get up and running before production resumed. But everyone came in focused and ready to make it work. It's actually gone much more smoothly than I anticipated. One funny thing that happened: the first script in the hopper was almost complete before we left work, and it's kind of hilarious in its new context.
It's a light, high-concept episode – shot entirely in documentary style by these bumbling would-be ghost hunters we introduced in Season One. The whole hour is the “pilot” of a cable show called “Ghostfacers!” So it's quite a departure from our usual structure. And it’s completely self-enclosed and breezes right past all the mythology we set up in “Jus In Bello”, which was great when we had lots of time before we had to close in on the end of that arc.
In fact, it was necessary breathing room for our audience before we pounded them with Dean's deal coming due. But being part of the final run of this shortened season, being the first episode when we come back, gives it a sort of importance that it's definitely not engineered for. We all laugh about it -- it's just one of those out-of-our-control things that happened because of the strike, and we rolled with it. I think our audience will too -- they're savvy, and they'll get it. And it's a wildly entertaining episode, so for my part, I'm glad we get to do it. I would have been so sad if the strike went longer and it didn't get shot.
FFN: How will the foreshortened season three affect the stories we'll get in the next four episodes?
SG: Some story threads were condensed, and some were set aside for next season. We had to be creative with the storytelling, but these weren't difficult decisions to make. It was obvious which story had to be serviced: Dean's demon deal. His time’s running out; he’s going to hell. They've got a very short time to try to save him. The Season Finale takes place on Dean’s last day.
FFN: What about season four, are you optimistic?
SG: If this were Vegas and I had $100 in my pocket, I'd put $92 on a Season Four pickup. Then spend the other $8 on a strong drink if I'm wrong.
FFN: On "Dream A Little Dream of Me," Cathryn Humphris has the teleplay credit, and you and she share the "story by" credit. Can you talk about developing the episode and how that co-writing process worked?
SG: “Dream” wasn't a co-writing process so much as a tag-team process. I started it, Cathryn finished it. Basically, I pitched the idea, Eric approved it, and I got to work. A week or so later, Eric popped in and told me he needed me to write the very next episode, so he was pulling me off "Dream" and giving it to Cathryn. It had to do with the time crunch we faced going into the strike. I wrote “Jus In Bello” in a lot less time than we usually have to finish an episode. But I don't want to make a meal out of it, because this sort of thing happens all the time when you're making TV. Time runs out, things get shuffled, writers and directors get reassigned, and you write as fast as you can. It's actually one of my favorite things about the job. I thrive under the pressure of a tight deadline.
And about "Dream" -- I have to hand it to Cat. It was a really peculiar concept to be handed in half-baked form, and I hadn't done an entirely convincing job with the logic of the episode when I handed it over. But Cat tackled it, fixed all the lame bits she'd inherited from me, and made it much better than it was.
FFN: Dean had a break through there, where he realized he didn't want or deserve to go to hell. Meanwhile, Sam said in "Malleus Maleficarum" he thinks he has to become more like Dean. How are things going to develop emotionally for both of them in the next batch of episodes?
SG: Dean may not want to go to hell, but it's looming large. They're scrambling. Trying everything they can think of -- and failing over and over. We've been saying all season that Dean's deal isn't something he can just cleverly wiggle out of. He doesn’t know which demon holds his contract, and even if he did, Bela’s taken the Colt so he has zero leverage. He is deeply screwed. That’s taking a major emotional toll on both brothers.
FFN: In "Jus in Bello" you introduced a new big bad, Lilith. Can you talk about her, give us a hint of what's ahead?
SG: You'll be seeing more of her. And it won't be pretty. In "Jus In Bello" we learned that Lilith is extremely powerful. Flick of her hand, police station explodes. In coming episodes, you'll see that she's also smart. Which is bad news for Sam, obviously.
FFN: Agent Henriksen is a popular character, and his interaction with the Winchesters has been terrific. Please tell me there's a chance he survived!
SG: Well, since you asked so politely... Seriously, though -- even if he didn't survive, since when is death the last we see of people on Supernatural?
FFN: Those matching tattoos are pretty cool. How long has that been planned?
SG: I remember talking about it with Ben Edlund last season, while Cat was writing "Born Under A Bad Sign." We agreed that if we were Sam, the first thing we'd do is take that anti-possession amulet and head for the nearest tattoo parlor. He reminded me of it while we were working on “Jus In Bello,” because breaking out the amulets was an important story point in that episode. So I stuck it in there, and it made for a nice moment. It’s like, of course Sam and Dean have matching tats. How could it be any other way? By the way, I'll be convinced we're truly a cult hit when a fan gets the same tattoo.
FFN: The fans seem divided on Ruby and Bela, some like them and some don't. Do you read the fan reactions online?
SG: Sure, I occasionally go online -- in small portions. And with a grain of rock salt. We sometimes talk about fan reaction in the room, because we're clear that we make this show for the fans. We're not a big, vanilla procedural crime drama that zillions of folks watch while also checking their email and flipping through tabloids and doing their nails; we're a scrappy little genre show with a small audience of incredibly devoted fans. They turn off all the lights, they pop popcorn, they sit down, and they devour the show. I've seen posts that say “Here’s what I noticed the third time I watched the episode.” I mean, you've gotta respect that. Our fans are not fucking around.
So -- all that said, we knew going into this season that we were going to have to win the fans over with the new characters. And we also knew Ruby would be an easier sale -- we find out quickly that she’s a demon. There’s a lot of precedent for demon characters on Supernatural, male and female. And her twist -- her insistence that she is not the enemy -- is intriguing.
As for Bela, the writers were all excited by the idea of her. A person who moves through the supernatural world in a very different way than Sam and Dean, with different goals. I've seen “I HATE HER!” responses, but here’s the thing: we don't want you to love her. She’s a self-interested, wily mercenary who put our heroes directly in the line of fire with no remorse. You're never going to love her. Hopefully, you'll love to hate her. That’s the sweet spot.
FFN: Can you tell us about Ruby and Bela's role the rest of the season?
SG: Ruby is invested in the demon war and in Sam; we'll see more of her in that context. I'm enjoying her role in that story arc, because even though she's proven herself time and again to be a strong ally, there's always that underlying tension. Because she's a demon, and everything Sam and Dean know of demons tells them not to trust her. As for Bela -- well, she swiped the Colt and led Henriksen to the boys, which led to a bunch of demons attacking them. Dean is pretty into the idea of killing her.
FFN: A lot of people want to know if we're going to see Ellen again.
SG: Yup! Season finale.
FFN: Any type of character you'd introduce into the hunting world and haven't been able to yet?
SG: I'm writing the penultimate episode of the season right now, and it introduces a new hunter. I don't want to say too much about him, because today he’s a paranoid survivalist type, but by the time the episode’s finished he might be a friendly female goatherd from Normandy. Each of the writers has an idea or two for a hunter, and we wait to see where we can plug ‘em in. It’s all about waiting for right story.
Note: You can find out more about Sera Gamble at her website, http://www.seragamble.com. She and a friend also have a blog, Very Hot Jews.
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