True Blood Season 2 Spoilers: Alan Ball Interview

June 14, 2009 had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Alan Ball along with several other websites to speak with him regarding season 2 of True Blood and what we can expect to see.  So sit back and enjoy this wonderful interview with the amazing Alan Ball and don’t forget True Blood Season 2 returns Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 9PM/ET on HBO.  We are all so excited for the return of this fangtastic show!

Alan: Hi Everybody.

All: Hi!

Tracy from Fancast:  Hi Alan.  Thanks for doing this.

Alan:  Absolutely!

Tracy from Fancast:  You mentioned in another interview that this season was just going to be more of everything. The show is already incredibly sexy and gory.  So what can you tell us about what MORE we can look forward to, there’s already a lot.

Alan:  Believe it or not, the show is sexier and gorier.  I think it’s also funnier and I think it’s also deeper.  I feel that the show is finding it’s identity and settling into itself in a way that’s very organic.  It definitely feels to me as if things are ramping up for season 2.

Tracy from Fancast:  For those that haven’t read the books, last season the story plot was a serial killer and this season a mysterious creature.  Is each chapter of the season going to be a different mystery?

Alan:  We are basing show on a book and serial of a very, very successful minor novel by Charlaine Harris.  And there is an element of mystery in each book.  But it’s more than just that.  That’s just part of the mix. There’s also an up story, there’s also horror, there’s also some stuff that’s funny.  I wouldn’t say that each season revolves around a mystery because, for example, the first season, we the audience did not know who the serial killer was.  We were trying to figure it out at the same time Sookie was trying to figure it out.  In this season, as the show progresses, we know that there is a character who’s really up to no good and who is dangerous, long before any of the other characters in the show know it.  It’s a little bit of a split in that regard.

Tracy from Fancast:  Thank you!

Noel from StarPulse:  I was wondering if you could tell us how you feel about Anna and Stephen’s real life romance and how that affects filming and what’s going on there?

Alan:  They are such consummate professionals, both of them, that it doesn’t affect filming whatsoever.  It only affects filming in the sense that they are incredibly comfortable with each other and their feelings translates to the screen. And I’m very happy with both of them.  They are both terrific people and they’ve really found somebody that they want to be with.  There’s nothing negative about it.

Daniel from Hitflix: Thank you so much for doing this call.  I want to ask, given how passionate the fan base is, is there any concerns that the subplot involving the cult and how that reflects on zealotry?

Alan: No.  That never even crossed my mind prior to you asking that question.  I really don’t think the fans… actually there are two cults in the show this year, which one are you talking about?

Daniel from Hitflix:  The main anti-vampire cult.

Alan:  Oh… ok, no.  Because I don’t think vampire fans are going to associate themselves with anti-vampire zealots.

Daniel from Hitflix:  I think you could also talk about Maryann’s cult and how that plays into people who are so overwhelmed by pleasure that they give up to everything else.

Alan: I think people who are overwhelmed by pleasure will love the show.  Those kind of people who would look at this and say, “Oh that’s me.  They’re making fun of me and they’re casting me in a bad light are not the sorts of people who are watching the show.  They’re going to be watching Fox News.

Daniel from Hitflix:  Changing a little bit on that, then.  Do you feel that the second season is a bit more directly satirical because of the way it looks at the cult.  Instead of the first season was more political analysis of some sort?

Alan:  I suppose it can look that way having just seen the first four episodes.  But actually, it turns deadly serious.  That whole conflict becomes one that is deadly, deadly serious.  We did not set out to go, “Oh, Let’s base it on a more satirical show this year”  And again I’m basing it on  the given that it’s more satirical.  However, given the nature of political debate in this country, I think it’s very easy to look at it via a satirical mindset.  But I have been very clear from the beginning, with all the actors, and with the actor playing Steve Newlin specifically, that they really believe what they’re doing.  They really believe that they have a mission to save the world.

Sandi from Daemon’sTV:  Hi Alan.  Thanks for doing this today.  My question is more about your process as far as writing the episodes.  How do you come up with a story for each episode and is it based mostly on the book or do you invent new things just to go with what you want to do with the show?

Alan: I think it’s about a 50-50 combo dealing with the stuff in the book and coming up with stuff on our own.  The books are all narrated by Sookie so the books are really about Sookie‘s story.  The other characters are really only in existence when they’re in the room with Sookie.  We stick pretty closely to the Sookie story, we do make changes here and there that feel right, help streamline the story or work better in a business meeting that we go to.  A lot of the story line is original but we do try to make sure that it stays true to spirit of the book.  We start each season with a book and we go and say that these are the great moments that we want to hang onto.  And then we spread it out over 12 episodes and we fill in the blanks of the other characters.  I work with four really great writers, and I’d like to actually name them:  Brian Buckner, Nancy Oliver, Raelle Tucker and Alexander Woo.  They are as much a part of the story telling of the show as I am.  And then it becomes organic collaboration.

Emma from Fanbook:  I’m a big fan of the series and of the books as well and I was wondering if you’ve actually read all the books?  And how close plan for the series to ultimately follow the books in the bigger picture?

Alan:  I have not read the newest book that was just released because I haven’t had time. I fell in love with these books and I thought this is a great tale.  This is a great universe and I think one of the reasons the books are so successful is because they work.  Now honestly, I think as the series progresses we will be forced to not… you know you’re walking a fine line, you want to be as faithful to the books as possible but at the same time you don’t want to subscribe because there will be no surprises for the audience.  But I definitely intend to be very faithful to the source material because it’s really good and it works.

Sara from FEARnet:  Hi Alan. How are you?

Alan:  I”m good.  How are you doing?

Sara from FEARnet:  Good.  Just to go back for a second to the gore and sexiness of the show.  Did you fell you had to up the ante this season?  Did you draw on any specific horror or sci fi references aside from Charlaine’s books?

Alan:  I did not feel like we needed to up the ante just to up the ante.  I did feel that it was important to make Eric more frightening, to see his more monstrous side because as the season progresses we also see his more human side.  There’s a scene where Sookie and Bill make love in the first episode, that on the page says basically, “Bill and Sookie make love” and then I saw the dailies and I saw the scenes come together, I wasn’t there when they shot it and I thought, “Oh wow!  OK!”  But I love it.  I think that’s part of what the appeal of the show is.  I don’t think we do anything gratuitously, but it’s important to show that between Sookie and Bill there is this incredible erotic chemistry.  These are two people who thought that they had no chance to ever have a real love affair and they found each other.  There’s something fantastic and mind blowing about that.  For example the violence in the first few episodes…it’s important to see that these two are monsters. Vampires are capable of being monsters, not that they are monsters but they are capable of being monsters. And these monsters are violent. And it was also important to have the character who will remain nameless to have to deal with all that.  To suffer from a type of PTSD over the course of the season because you don’t want to have all that horrible gore and an awful psychological experience for him and then have him be OK the next day.  That’s not the way it happens in real life.

Sara from FEARnet:  You really explore different aspects of evil in people and also in the undead.  Can you pinpoint one character this season that you would say is the most evil of all?

Alan:  The most evil?  Yeah… it’s interesting because I don’t think people who are actually evil know that they are evil or believe that they are evil.  I think people they believe in some way that their actions are justified. So I would hesitate to say that Maryann is the most evil although she definitely revels in chaos and destruction but she doesn’t look at it from the polarities of good and evil she’s got a different perspective. But in terms of someone who enjoys being cruel and sadistic and has a really dark vision is a character that has not shown up yet, it’s another vampire in Dallas.

Alan: Hi Liz:

Liz from  Hey Alan how are you?

Alan: Good how are you doing?

Liz from  Wonderful, happy to talk to you again.

Alan: Yeah, me too.

Liz from  We’re pretty excited about season 2 obviously.  I am spoiler free, I have not seen the first 4 episodes, so yea me!  I know the new season takes place mostly in Dallas, how is that going to be reflected in the look of the show as far as costumes, art, set design, things like that?

Alan:  It’s definitely a different look than Bon Temps, but I would correct you, a part of the show takes place in Dallas but not most of the show.  There’s a lot of stuff still going on in Bon Temps.  But definitely we chose to show a very different side of vampire culture in the big city.  A lot of the show takes place in a hotel that caters to the vampires and it’s very, very upscale.  It’s definitely a different look in Dallas.  We were in the city but but a lot of it takes place at the Fellowship of the Sun which has a leadership conference that takes place on a campground.  So that’s still nature based and rural.

Liz from  What about the music this season.  Is that also going to change?  Have you stumbled upon a new favorite, yourself?

Alan:  What do you mean a new favorite?

Liz  A new favorite band or song?

Alan:  We’re very excited that we’ve been using a song from the new Bob Dylan album called “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”.We’ve been using that for all our promos.  When we go to Dallas and we go to the hotel it’s a different kind of music than what you hear in Merlotte‘s. It’s urban, sophisticated, definitely different.  We use a lot of different music in the show.   I will say where there are some moments where the show goes back in time to visit some of our characters in earlier parts of their lives.  Since we have some characters who are hundreds of years old, that’s a very different time.  But generally the music is still pretty Louisiana based aside from the fancy upscale hotel music when we’re in Dallas.

Alan: Hi Jim.

Jim from TheFutonCritic:  Hi There. Loving the new episodes so far.  With Sookie and Bill’s relationship being the core of the show, how do you keep the complications natural?  How do you do that as a writer?

Alan: Given the source material there’s a lot going on.  This year Sookie goes to Dallas to help Eric find this vampire and ultimately we broke down the timeline of the entire season and season 2 takes place in 12 days.  When a lot of that time is spent running for your lives or trying not to get killed or trying to get past this or that obstacle that keeps you from each other, it’s not really hard.  They don’t have time to run into the same kind of relationship things that us mere mortals do.  You know, “I really hate it when you do that!”  They’re basically trying to just get through the day without getting killed.

Jim from TheFutonCritic: Now that the show is a bonifide hit do you feel more pressure or less pressure?

Alan: I don’t really think about those things. I feel that that’s a real trap.  I just try to do the best work that I can do and stay out of the results.  I’m glad that people are watching the show, I always thought it was a show that a lot of people would have fun with, but I don’t feel more pressure.  I work very hard to stay in a little bubble in that regard or otherwise you just go crazy.  It doesn’t help.

Tara from Newsarama:  Hi Alan, thanks so much for talking with us today.  We want to talk a little bit about Tara and Jessica who really weren’t a part of the books, per say.  And you’ve done a wonderful job weaving in all these different stories with this ensemble.  What are you trying to explore with all these characters, straying from what the book is.  What do you want to explore with those characters?

Alan: Again, my process and the process that we work with in the room is very organic.  So we never start out saying, “We want to explore this so let’s create a character where we can explore that?” Certainly Tara does exist in the book but she’s not African-American and she doesn’t show up until book 2.  Thinking about Tara we did think that we need another strong woman who’s one of our core group of characters.  Including her allowed us to explore the racial make-up of Louisiana and that region, and this is Bon Temps where they still do things like hang nooses from trees at high schools and that’s based on racial tension.  I think it would be silly to do a show set in Bon Temps, in Louisiana, where you didn’t have Cajun characters.  Tara in the books did have an alcoholic mother and she was Sookie‘s friend but I wanted to explore a really strong friendship of two outcasts.  Jessica, once we decided to make Bill the guy who stakes Longshadow instead of Eric, which is the way it is in the books, it felt that it would be interesting for him to have to do something that he never wanted to do, the worst punishment for him would be to have to turn someone else into a vampire because for him, that was the worst tragedy of his life.  And then once we had a girl who came from very sheltered, home-schooled background and plucked her out of that and put her into an entirely new environment with entirely new powers, that opened itself up to all kinds of interesting situations.

Tara from Newsarama:  Great, thank you.

Liliano from Hi I’m a really big fan of the show and the books.  I once read an interview that said that early in your TV writing career that didn’t really have an emotional connection to what you were writing.  I was wondering, what kind of emotional connection do you have True Blood.

Alan:  With True Blood, the emotional connection is it is so much fun to work on it, it’s such a fun story.  I feel for all these characters, they feel real to me … which may be a subtle form of madness and if it is, so be it.  But when we’re writing stories… we might as well have a sign in the writers room that says, “It’s the emotions, Stupid!” because if you don’t have characters that you care about, if you can’t base their behavior in their own emotional needs then it’s just a parade of set pieces and special effects.  I personally do not respond to that kind of entertainment.  I feel that what makes this show special is that it has all the trappings of an amusement park…rides, fun, thrill rides, but at the same time characters are behaving the way they are behaving from an organic emotional place.  As much as one can on a show about vampires.  But I think it’s really important to get rooted in the characters desires, wants, needs, struggles and disappointments and not just in “BANG” special effects, “Werewolf” Buuaah.  Ultimately, that stuff on it’s own, I don’t think is that interesting.

Tim from Hi Alan, thanks for doing this.

Alan: Absolutely

Tim from Your last show, “Six Feet Under” was a regular at awards shows and I was wondering if you think True Blood will follow that and if you think it will have a more difficult time because it’s a genre show?

Alan: I don’t really think about those things.  The award show stuff, it’s nice, it’s fun, it’s like being prom king but it’s not what it’s all about.  I really don’t think about it that much.  I’m not that invested in it. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve won a bunch of awards, more than I ever thought that I would.  I’ve got a shelf at home with them all on it.  I personally don’t ever need to win another award.  I would rather work on something I really, really love and enjoy.

Tim from  Can you talk about the process of going from regular drama to the genre category or is it the same process for you?  Do things open up a little more?

Alan:  In a lot of ways the process is the same.  Certainly, the way that I put shows together, with writers and involving people that I work with is very much the same.  I think “Six Feet Under” was a very personal show and it was also as great an experience as it was, and I loved every moment of making that show, it was a connected persona and professional achievement for me that I’m very proud of, but it was hard.  Five years of staring into the abyss, it took it’s toll.  I think that’s one of the things that really appealed to me about Charlaine’s books when I was reading them, they were so much fun and I couldn’t put them down.  It has an emotional basis but it’s also just crazy fun.  I think that’s just what I wanted to do, something different.  I don’t want to do “Six Feet Under” over again.  I remember when I wrote “American Beauty” I suddenly got offered every midlife crisis movie that was in development.  I thought, “Why are you giving me this?  I did this?  I don’t want to go through life repeating myself, what fun is that?

Rachel from BuzzSugar:  Hi Alan.  I was hoping you could talk a little bit about Jason and his arc for the season?

Alan: Jason in the books is basically the hot guy in town who is a total womanizer.  I think, once we started to flesh him out, no pun intended, we started looking at him as he’s sexually compulsive and what is that about? What is he hiding from?  Ultimately, at his core, Jason is a scared little boy who’s been abandoned by everybody he’s ever loved.  So it was fun playing the nefarious horn dog aspect of Jason and his getting involved in an addiction storyline and having him fall in love.  Or at least what he assumes is love, although he was mostly high out of his mind most of the time, and then losing the woman that he loved.  In the second season I think he really is very much aware of a deep hole that he has in the center of his soul.  He’s looking for something to fill that, and as many people do, he latches onto religion.  He becomes part of this organization that makes him feel special, makes him feel like he’s really good and gifted at something.  That really means a lot to him.  But, of course, as time goes on he’s going to realize that not only is the organization that he’s involved with doesn’t really have anything to do with the fundamental message of Jesus.  But also there is going to be a lot of … let’s just say Jason can’t keep his clothes on too long.

Rachel from BuzzSugar:  I was going to ask if he’s going to be more buttoned up this season?

Alan: He is at the start.  We’re trying to explore something about Jason‘s character as opposed to having him have the revolving door of sexual experiences because we’ve already done that.

Alan: Hey Kasandra

Kasandra from Hi Alan.  Thank you for the phone call and thank you so much for True Blood.

Alan: Oh thank you!

Kasandra from When you are writing the episodes, do you always know where you want to go with them, or do they ever surprise you by taking you to a new conclusion than you thought you were going to go to?

Alan:  What happens is that we break the entire season at the beginning of our process.  Then we outline the first six episodes and send people off to write them and they come back in.  Then it seems, by that point, the last six episodes … the show is becoming what it wants to be for that season so you end up making changes.  You end up rebreaking the last six episodes because of that.  Certainly there are things that do surprise me.  I know when I have an episode of my own to write, sometimes the scene will be about one particular thing in the outline but then when I’m actually in the script itself it takes a full turn and becomes something else. I just feel that’s part of the process.  With the other writers that I work with, when that happens to them as well I totally respect it.

Kasandra from TrueBloodNet.comOne quick question that we ask everybody.  Has your involvement in True Blood had an effect in how you think about good and evil?

Alan: I tend to think that good and evil are black and white polarities that we turn to in a very, very grey world.  I think that’s reflected in the show.  It certainly hasn’t changed how I look at good and evil.  I certainly see good and evil, my perceptions of good and evil, in day to day life and the 24 hour news cycle.  I will say there’s a moment in the second episode when Jason‘s at the church they’re being greeted by the Newlins and somebody in the audience yells out, “Die Fanger” I would be lying if I didn’t say that some of the reactions of people at some of the Sarah Palin rallies of last fall wasn’t behind that.

Alan: Hi.

Shadaliza from The Vault: Hello Alan.

Alan: Hi, how are you?

Shadaliza from The Vault: Fine thank you.  I haven’t seen the first episode yet, I’m completely in the dark, I would like to ask you, Charlaine Harris left back stories of Bill and Eric perfectly untouched in the books, but in season 2 we learn more about them.  What can you tell us about that?

Alan: I can’t really tell you anything about it because I can’t give anything away.  Certainly Bill has been alive since 1830 something so we have 170 years that we can explore.  We will see more about… we saw Bill‘s transition to vampire last season, we will see some parts of Eric‘s life that are very interesting and parts of Bill‘s life that are very interesting.  But I can’t really tell you what’s going to happen because I don’t want to give anything away.

Noel from Starpulse: I’m probably in the minority here, but I read the first book from Charlaine and I didn’t like it that much.  I completely love the series though.  I’m curious about Evan Rachel Wood’s role, I don’t know if her character was part of the book as well as the series or if they are different.  What is she going to be doing?  What’s going on with that?

Alan: She is going to be playing, Sophie-Anne the vampire queen of Louisiana.  The vampire political structure in the state is that each state has a king or queen they are where the buck stops in terms of vampire politics.  She does exist in the books but she doesn’t show up until the fifth or sixth book.  It turned out that it had made sense for her to show up in the second season. I had actually gotten a call from Evan’s manager last year, during season one, saying that said she loved the show and would like to do it sometime.  I thought great, if we find a role where she fits we’ll definitely make that happen.  Then we decided to have the queen appear in season 2 that was the first person that came to mind.  In the book she is a young woman, or a young looking woman, she’s more than 400 years old.  And Evan is really beautiful and pale and she looks like a vampire to me!

Noel from Starpulse: Have you started shooting her episodes yet?

Alan:  We have started shooting her episodes but we haven’t started shooting with her in it but I’ve seen pictures of her from her costume fitting and I think she’s going to be really, really fantastic.

Anna from Fanbolt: I was wondering what you guys are going to be doing with Comic-con this year?

Alan: We’re going.  We’re going to have a panel discussion.  I believe it’s going to be… I’m not sure, I think Charlaine is going to be there, I’ll be there, and Anna and Stephen and Ryan and Sam and Rutina and I believe Alexander Skarsgard will be there and Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Jessica and I think Terry Bellefleur.

Kasandra from What is the most difficult part you’ve had with creating True Blood at this point?

Alan: Trying to produce the show on a TV schedule and budget.  Trying to fit everything in, those episodes are packed and it’s not just people sitting in a room talking.  There’s a lot of story boarded action sequences, there’s special effect sequences, there’s a lot of big sequences in season 2 with lots of extras and the hardest part is just getting it done in time and not having the schedule and the budget just explode.

Dan from Hitflix: I remember back at the first TCA press tour for the show, there’s some things you said, that you weren’t viewing vampirism as being a metaphor for anything else.  Is that still the way you look at it?

Alan:  It’s very easy to look at the vampires and their struggle for assimilation and equal rights as a metaphor for gay and lesbians at this point in history, maybe African Americans fifty years ago.  I think I would be naive if I didn’t see that, see that it’s easy to look at it that way … you could look at it and say, if I’m using vampires, these murdering vicious monsters as metaphors for gays and lesbians…would I as a gay man really do that?  It’s very fluid, the metaphor in the show.  I think one of the show is about is how difficult it is to co-exist with those that are other, those that are different.  But that ultimately we have to.  But again, I can’t take any of that stuff too serious because come on it’s a show about vampires.

Dan from Hitflix: Can’t you have it both ways?

Alan:  There’s definitely something fun about that.    It’s fun to create a prop “Time Magazine” that says vampire [are here] to stay… but ultimately it’s not really the point of the show, it’s this extra on the scale.  Being a comment on any specific struggle that is going on right now, is more a way to try to make the show feel real, because if vampires were out of the closet and they were struggling for rights there would be that kind of thing going on.

Sandi from DamonTV: What is your favorite episode this season so far?

Alan: Oh that’s really hard because I’m really, really happy with season 2.  I watch these episodes probably 40 or 50 times given the amount of time I spend in editing and post with them.  I really can’t say I have a favorite episode.  I’ve only seen through episode eight.  I have a rough cut of episode nine but I haven’t watched it yet.  I just love the show.  I love the fact that we had the premiere last week and showed episodes 1 and 2 in a big theater with 500 people and I had seen those episodes so many times and I still just loved them.  That was a huge, huge luxury for me because I’ve worked on shows in the past, not “Six Feet Under” but shows in the past where I have this feeling, ‘Oh do I have to watch that show again?” and I never have that feeling with True Blood.

Liz from How far along you are, how many episodes have you filmed?

Alan: We are shooting episode 11 right now and we start episode 12 next week.

Liz from This is the one you wrote, right?

Alan: I wrote number 4 and number 11 this year.  We are shooting the episode that I wrote which means that I have to be on set as writer-producer and I was there until around 11 o’clock last night and I’ll be going out to location around 2 today and I’ll be there until 2 in the morning.

Riana from How do the actors and actresses in the show perfect their Southern accent.  I know a lot of the lead characters are not from America so do they work with a coach or how do they do that?

Alan:  We had a dialect coach for season 1.  We had a dialect coach available for most of season 1.  But this year they all have it down.  I am from the south myself so if I hear something that really sounds off to me, I’ll have them correct it in post but they’ve all gotten really good at it.

Tara from Newsarama:  You’re finishing up this season, will you take a break and work on something else during hiatus?  And then will you go back and work on season 3?

Alan:  I think what we’re going to do is start arcing out season 3 while we’re still in post. And then when we break for hiatus I’m going to send out, hopefully a batch of outline stories for people to start writing scripts.  I think we’re going to shoot one episode prior to the Christmas holidays so that we’ll be a little bit ahead of the game next year because right now we are scrambling to get everything done by the time it airs those last few episodes.  I don’t’ really have time to go work on something else different during my hiatus.  I need to use the time to recharge and rest up.  However I do have a couple of projects in development at HBO, neither of which I wrote or came up with but which I’m serving as executive producer and brought other writers and ideas into the network.  And I also have a screenplay that I wrote years ago that’s in the vague process of putting itself together as a movie.  But I would not direct that, I would produce it but my focus is True Blood, it has to be True Blood right now.

Sarah from You are obviously a fan of Charlaine’s books, was there anything in the second book or the third book that you were hoping to include in the season but you just couldn’t work in?

Alan: Actually no.  I’m in a unique position where if there are moments in the book that I just love, they’re going to be in the season.  My answer is no.

Sarah from We also have a question we like to ask everyone.  What’s your greatest fear?

Alan: What’s my greatest fear? America turning into a fascist theocracy.

Tracy from Fancast: Have you ever gotten any notes from HBO about the sex or violence?

Alan: Meaning to much? No.  It’s there for a reason, it’s there to tell a part of the story.  We’re not like one of those Showtime after hours shows where there’s a vague plot as an excuse to put together a bunch of soft porn sex scenes.  The sex is a very important part peoples psyche. Their sexuality is weighed as who they are as characters.  That’s always underlying everything that we do on the show.

Tracy from Fancast: It’s also an important part of being a vampire.

Alan: It’s kinda our sex.

All: Thank you for your time!

Alan: My pleasure thank you so much!

All: Bye!

(Photo credit: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos)