The mes­sage is in the medium

The for­mula turn­ing a hit pod­cast into a Hitch­cock­ian TV thriller

Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - John nu­gent

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.

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