The message is in the medium
The formula turning a hit podcast into a Hitchcockian TV thriller
A fiction podcast
Telling the story of shady military programme for veterans returning from war, an experimental drug treatment, and Hitchockian themes of memory loss, Homecoming originated as a 2016 scripted podcast from Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg. With a starry cast and gripping cliffhanger storytelling, it was a fast hit; when Mr. Robot showrunner Sam Esmail was approached to adapt it for television, he was initially sceptical. “My inclination is that if something is good in one medium, it doesn’t necessarily need to be translated into a television show or a movie,” Esmail says. That changed after his third listen. “It was on the third binge that I started seeing how a visual medium could change the complexion of the story.”
A from-the-ground-up rewrite
The TV show diverges heavily from the podcast, from the cast (Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac are replaced by Julia Roberts and Stephan James, respectively) to the plot. “I felt it was important to hit the reset button,” says Esmail. “I don’t want to compete with the podcast.” Much of the rewriting involved turning conversational scenes into more dramatic, suspenseful sequences. “In the podcast, a lot is being told to us in hindsight,” says Esmail. “Now we are in this different medium, we can experience it with them, and the tension can resonate with the audience a lot more.”
A cinematic Look and feel
Esmail’s influences are very clear: masters of suspense like Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, and Alan Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’ (All The President’s Men, The Parallax View and Klute). The show’s striking look and feel is explicitly cinematic: an audacious unbroken tracking shot in episode one is “lifted directly from any number of De Palma films”, Esmail admits, while the soundtrack also borrows from those classics — quite literally. “We made a decision that none of the music would be original,” says Esmail. “It would be licensed from these great old thrillers.” Pino Donaggio, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Michael Small all feature. “Music impresses upon the audience, the atmosphere and the feeling,” he says. Even in a visual medium, audio is everything.
Top: Ex-homecoming government facility caseworker Heidi (Julia Roberts) starts to realise that all is perhaps not as it seemed with her old job.Above: Behindthe-scenes shot on set inside the Homecoming facility.