Amid the insanity drummed up by all the higher-profile projects at Comic Con this year, one of the more under-the-radar events at the convention this past week was a screening of the pilot for would-be Fox TV series “Locke & Key” – based on the comic book series created by Joe Hill – and a subsequent panel discussion that featured Hill, artist Gabriel Rodriguez, executive-producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, director Mark Romanek, writer/executive-producer Josh Friedman, and cast members Jesse McCartney (Tyler Locke) and Harrison Thomas (Sam Lesser).
While some were expecting the presentation of the unaired pilot – which was rejected by Fox for inclusion on their Fall 2011 schedule – to be a bid for pickup elsewhere, it became apparent very early on that that was never the goal of those on the panel.
“One thing we should do is we should jump in and say the series is not being picked up. It’s not,” stressed Hill – the son of novelist Stephen King who bears more than a passing resemblance to his dad – when an audience member opened up the Q&A by asking how the show might have unfolded had it gone to series.
“We’re here a) to share the work that we’re all really proud of, and b) to let you know that the stories continue with ‘Locke & Key’ [the comic book series]…that’s really where our expectations end,” said Orci. “We didn’t come here as a Hail Mary to try and pull a fast one. We’re really here to kind of premiere and to share this experience and say how happy we are with it, and how obviously we wish we were working on it.”
At one point, Friedman even came to Fox’s defense by noting that unlike the other big networks, they’re actually willing to take chances on genre television.
“You know, Fox takes a lot of heat from this audience every year for all these shows… sometimes I see people [who say] ‘I can’t believe you’re trying to do another show on Fox, won’t you fucking learn? What kind of an idiot are you?’“, he said. “It’s very difficult to keep a genre show on television. Fox does more genre shows…and has given people like me, like these guys, ‘Fringe’, ‘Firefly’, they’ve given us a lot more chances. And I think they get berated year in and year out because those things don’t work out.”
Piped in Rodriguez: “Something we all should be very aware of is that from the very beginning, this was a very risky project,” he said. “This is not the usual story you see…even in comics it’s a risky project…In a way, this is a testimony of courageous creativity, and I think we have to keep this as the result of this experience. It may have not worked…as a TV show, but well, it was done in the best possible way, and we are all proud of the fact of what came out of it.”
Clearly aiming to temper all the positivity building among the fellow members of his panel, Romanek immediately followed this up by saying: “This is all too gracious. They should’ve fucking picked it up” to a huge round of applause from the assembled crowd, most of whom seemed to have liked what they’d seen (though I unfortunately was unable to attend the screening).
So why did Fox decide to leave it on the shelf? According to Orci, the pilot, which had originally been envisioned as a film until Steven Spielberg (the show was also produced by Dreamworks) suggested it might work better as a TV series, was ultimately too cinematic for its own good.
“I remember Fox said, ‘you guys made a movie here’,” said Orci. “They didn’t quite see how we could continue it on because it was so well-done, it was so well-written…it just really was a little movie. So they were skeptical about our ability to continue that movie. We were a victim of our own high standards.”
According to this line of reasoning, the pilot’s quality was simply far too excellent for Fox to consider it as a series, which makes absolutely no sense and sounds like a line of bullshit the network fed to the creators to soften the blow (probably a smart move on their part given the big names involved). But I digress.
So what could fans have expected had the show become a part of Fox’s upcoming fall schedule?
“There had been a discussion about how to handle the material in the comic, which…you’d probably have about eight episodes of TV in the existing comics,” said Hill. “So the idea had been to scatter the material within the comic as these sort of recurring mythology episodes. And then in between, it would be individual episodes where it would just be about this key or that key. And the keys would operate something like the monsters in the ‘X-Files’. You’d have the ‘key of the week’, and then every third or fourth episode…you’d go right back to the source material in the comics.”
Hill also excitedly described one episode they’d brainstormed when mapping out possible storylines:
“We got kicking around this idea – Bode would find all these little clay figures that could be activated with a key,” he began. “And they convince him to make a bigger person out of clay that could be brought alive with the golem key. So Bode would slap together a big mud version of his dad. And it would be like, you know, 300 pounds, and he’d bring it to life…and then it would be up to like Ty and Kinsey to try to figure out how to shut it off, and I had an image of this giant clay golem stomping along towards the interstate.”
Whether the pilot is ever packaged and released to the public remains to be seen – though at this point it doesn’t seem likely – but Hill did state that he hopes to officially release Friedman’s pilot script to give fans a taste of what could’ve been.
“At the very least, I would love if someday there was a copy of ‘Welcome to Lovecraft’ [the first story arc of Act One of the series] with Josh’s script in the back and some illustrations by Gabe so people could see how great the script is, too,” he said. “Cause that, apart from the show, was a really tremendous work of art.”
P.S.: While it didn’t fit into the scheme of the larger article, I still wanted to highlight this particular tidbit from Hill on what inspired him to create the comic book series in the first place. Though it probably won’t please fans of the slasher genre (and while I actually find it rather reductive), it’s nevertheless an interesting look into his sensibilities as a creator:
“You know, part of the genesis of ‘Locke & Key’, the comic, has to do with my dislike of slasher films,” said Hill. “I’ve always thought that most slasher films completely fail effective horror. And the reason why is you go see these movies, the Freddy Krueger films, [the] ‘Friday the 13th’ picture, and you’re given a collection of teenagers who are just one-dimensional types. We never care about these people. You know, you have the smart girl, you have the jock, you have the good-looking juvenile delinquent. And when these characters are knocked off, one by one, we laugh! We root for Freddy Krueger to wipe them out…which I find, actually, vaguely morally abhorrent.
“So ‘Locke & Key’ has always been partially an attempt to correct that. I think if we have 30 issues to get to know the kids, and to see that they’re not just types, that they have full emotional lives. They care about things. They’re trying to discover who they are, they have triumphs and defeats. And so you would have this time to build identification with these characters, then we have the slasher film in the last six issues. And then it’s not so funny when something happens. And to me, I think that that’s more emotionally effective and more powerful and more honest.“
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