A few people will die on the night of this April 9 right before your eyes… That is, if you tune in to CBS at 10 p.m.
Harper's Island, the much-anticipated 13-episode self-contained murder mystery series is premiering. By kinda mixing Murder One with Survivor as written by the love child of Agatha Christie and Gil Grissom, this show hopes to tackle a different fictional crime and setting each season, making the 'Harper's' name all about continuing entertainment and suspense. Created by the guys behind episodic cult faves such as Jericho and M-TV's The Real World, it looks like Harper's Island could just be be the next boiling hot water-cooler show.
Horror.com was invited to check out the pilot episode of Harper's Island (read the review and synopsis here), as well as meet and greet some of the producers and cast. While the bride and groom (played by Christopher Gorham and Katie Cassidy, pictured below) are ostensibly the stars, it's those mysterious peripheral characters with hidden agendas which often put the frosting on the wedding cake. Each is represented by an archetype — for the press conference, we got to meet "The Outsider" (Adam Campbell), "The Flirt" (Cameron Richardson), and "The Best Man" (Matt Barr), and chatted with exec producers Jeffrey Bell, Dan Shotz, and Karim Zreik.
Groom and Bride
After we saw the pilot episode, Bell promised, "There will be at least one death in every episode — in some episodes there's a lot more. We tried to keep it from being formulaic, so it's not always at the end and sometimes there will be a teaser, or sometimes you'll think it's one person but it's not… so we tried to make it interesting. There are so many models out there; there's Scream, there's 10 Little Indians, Orient Express… there's all these things out there and so we looked at them, but tried to do something that worked for us."
With death, at least on TV, comes censure. "Standards and practices were really tough," Bell said. The producers would try and make their argument by showing even more gruesome clips from CSI — decapitated bodies, hanging corpses, guts and blood — but Harper's Island editors had to tone down somebody's head hitting the wall because it "sounded too violent." The aural mislead of a woman walking alone at night, a cry and then darkness, and the sound being revealed as another girl's orgasmic scream was also taken down a notch or two. (But there is hope for the blood-lusty: The Harper's Island DVD will probably be R-rated, and the online-only sister show, Harper's Globe, does not have to follow Network S&P).
Bell said they "Wrote the show pretty organically, without predetermining who was going to die. Wrote only a couple of weeks in advance, and were only a little ahead of the actors.
"Because we are TV series, we can't [shock people] by out-grotesqueing Saw or whatever. What I think we can do, and what we do really, really well is, let you care for the characters. In a Friday the 13th [for example] you go through people pretty fast, and you use the stereotypes and clichés. We started with some archetypes but by the time the show is over, we've given these characters some really interesting arcs which will be surprises to everyone. In the writers' room, we were finding that we didn't want to kill someone because we liked them so much. So, it became a really challenge, but we have created characters which an audience is really going to want to spend time with."
Jeffrey Bell: The show starts off kind of soapy, and then it changes quite a bit over the course of the story and really picks up steam. As murders start happening and as the group becomes aware, it changes, tonally. A lot.
Cameron Richardson: Yes. When we watched the pilot, we found it very bright. And after having gone through everything, we [the actors] watched the pilot and thought, 'What is this?' Because we remembered going through hell.
Matt Barr: It's hardcore. From the pilot, it just jumps.
Adam Campbell: In that way, it really is like a horror movie. It's like a serialized horror movie because it starts out bright and happy, and then by the end it is something quite different.
In the pilot, we see one short flashback to a spate of killings which took place seven years before our current cast lands on the shores of Harper's Island for their big party.
Staci Layne Wilson / Horror.com: Will you be flashing back to some of the original murders throughout the series?
Dan Shotz: Yes. The back-story of the show, the mythology of what happened to Abby Mills is as important to the show. It's set up in the pilot, but yes, we do continue with it throughout the story and so you will see much more, and learn much more about what happened there seven years ago.
SLW: Matt, as an actor being on a secrecy-shrouded series do you anticipate any bribes from your friends to get the scoop?
Matt Barr: It is the hardest thing! Because you know, your friends and your family want to know everything, and I literally can't say anything. I can say my character has blonde hair and he wears blue jeans, and that might be about it. And I'm The Best Man. Oh, and I think you can tell from the pilot that Sully has an eye for Chloe ["The Flirt"], and so there's a little arc that develops there. Maybe a little competition with Cal ["The Outsider"].
SLW: Great advertising campaign. You guys really put it out there that you're leading up to something big… so, is there performance anxiety?
Dan Shotz: We're just very excited at this point. The thing that's most exciting in regard to the way CBS has been selling the show is they're embracing the concept, and these amazing faces, and this cast. Because this concept is what it is — a short-lived series — this season is Harper's Island, and another season would be something new. Could be anything: Harper's Safari, Harper's Cruise… you know, they're really focusing on the concept. So I think the audience is going to be really excited that they know they are going to get their answers by the end of the 13th episode and they will feel satisfied by the end.
SLW: What made you want to try a murder mystery?
Karim Zreik: Dan and I are producing partners; we run Jon Turtletaub's production company. We were just coming off Season 2 of Jericho, and after it was canceled we were looking to produce and get another show on the air, and this show just fell into our laps. We developed it, shot the sizzle reel, and here we are.
SLW: Matt, with so many actors vying for roles on TV, what'd you do to set yourself apart when auditioning for The Best Man?
Matt Barr: I just auditioned, and I guess I was lucky enough to wear the right shirt or something!
Dan Shotz: He had no shirt.
Matt Barr: Yeah, right! I think I am considered the Matthew McConaughey of this show.
The Best Man
Dan Shotz: He's a big stud, so we made him take his shirt off on camera a lot.
SLW: So it this stripping a running joke on the series, or what?
Matt Barr: I think the joke was, 'If I keep working out, will you not kill me? I'll take my shirt off, I'll do anything,' because I wanted to stay on the show.
SLW: What's the timeline of the events?
Dan Shotz: It takes place across nine or ten days, and that's the whole thing. We wanted it to be sort of self-contained in that way. This group is coming here for this wedding, and chaos ensues. It's the wedding-week, on Harper's Island. There are some cool reveals [of discovering bodies, for the horror fans], but we really wanted to arc it out so that the characters don't quite know what's going on and then they slowly learn, 'Oh, my gawd…' So these horrible things are happening and we show how that affects them.
SLW: So how do you avoid the obviousness of the information age, with cell phones and laptops and everything? How do you keep the victims and suspects insulated and isolated?
Dan Shotz: I don't want to say too much, but yes: It is addressed. So it's an obstacle, keeping them on the island, but we worked hard in the writers' room and came up with all these different ways to keep them there and to deal with all the modern technology.
SLW: What were some of your entertainment cues, in creating this atmosphere of horror and mystery?
Dan Shotz: We in the writers' room are big fans of the genre. I've been to Horror.com. So, we're big fans of movies like Scream, TV shows like Twin Peaks, and older-school horror stuff like The Exorcist and just the things that everybody loves. So you learn the tricks of the trade from all the greats. And so we embrace that, but we wanted to do something very original, so that's the benefit of doing a television series. In Harper's Island, you get to really care about these people and love these people, so when they do get taken from you, the audience is going to feel that emotionally. That was our main goal for the series: for you to care enough about these characters so that every week when one of them goes, it's crushing.
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by Staci Layne Wilson