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The Next 'Breaking Bad'? 'Low Winter Sun' Showrunner Chris Mundy on His New AMC Crime Drama

By Leah Churner | Indiewire June 12, 2013 at 1:26PM

When it comes to interviews, Chris Mundy is better acquainted with the other side of the table. The Rolling Stone editor turned AMC showrunner sat down with everybody from Kurt Cobain to Elliott Smith during tenure at the magazine, which spanned the peak of the record industry, from 1989-2000.
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Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Mark Strong in 'Low Winter Sun'
Alicia Gbur/AMC Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Mark Strong in 'Low Winter Sun'

The episode is heavy on close, tight shots, especially in the first scene. We're practically looking up the guys' nostrils.

We tried not to cut much in those early scenes. That's something Ernest Dickerson, the director, was adamant about. I was obsessed with Alejandro González Iñárritu. His last movie, "Biutiful," with Javier Bardem, is just amazing. It's a hard movie. It's set in the slums of Barcelona, but it never shoots ugly-for-ugly. It's a beautiful movie despite a really bleak story. We talked a lot about that.

Ernest would shoot long takes and he wanted to have really long masters. He'd get coverage if we needed it, but he wanted to never let you out of the scene or out of the moment. Part of getting in really tight in the first scene was just that, to feel disoriented and claustrophobic. And when you've got Mark and Lenny acting, you can let those guys go. You want to just watch them.

Did you know they were going to be your leads? Did you write with them in mind? 

I didn't, but it was hard not to have Mark in my head because he was in the original. In the miniseries the cast was all white, Scottish, and I knew the racial makeup of these characters was going to be different.

Low Winter Sun 5

Unusual, having two British actors playing the leads in a show about American cops.

Detroit's a hard accent to do because it's kind of the last strip away. It's not like you're putting on a Southern accent or putting on a New York accent, you're really stripping away to the basic barebones thing, which is tough. They're great.

What are your favorite crime shows?

"The Wire" is the benchmark. The level of depth and how meticulously it was plotted without ever feeling plotty is amazing. And every season year was its own short story that made up one novel. I was a huge "Hill Street Blues" fan. It changed what people could do on television. ["Low Winter Sun"] doesn't share a lot in that we don't solve a case every week, but there was a sensibility that is similar, a grit and reality. But I'm only talking about that as a fan and I'm not trying to equate it.

You mentioned "Crime and Punishment" as an influence during the Q&A and made the point that your show is not a procedural. It's not a crime-solving show, which is what people expect from a cop show.

It's not a mystery. It's not a whodunnit. You know who did it. It's about people who keep making decisions based on a bunch of lousy options. That's what I really liked about the original "Low Winter Sun." You see this decent man do a horrible thing, then new facts that come out put more weight on him and it keeps escalating.

What's your role as the showrunner, are you more on the writing side or the producing side at this point?

You have to be both. You start off as a writer and suddenly your job is administrative at least half the time. I just said that to one of the writers the other day: "I used to be a writer, I swear to god!" Your primary goal is writing. If the stories aren't good and the scripts aren't good, none of it matters. Yet you're dealing with the budget and postproduction and flying back and forth from Detroit, wearing a lot of different hats.

"It feels like there's an 'AMC brand,' but 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men' have nothing in common except that they're both really good."

How did this project get started? 

AMC gave me a what's called a blind script deal, a deal to commit to write a pilot for them. They'd never done one before so it was one of those things it could have gone really well or really poorly. I was their test case. They wanted me to come to them with five ideas, and they would come to me with three. I knew all the things that they owned, and this was the one I knew I really liked. There was good synchronicity. It's just felt inevitable, and nothing in this job ever feels inevitable. 

How long did it take to develop with AMC?

I decided to do a deal with them in the middle of the summer, two years ago, and we decided on "Low Winter Sun" by September, I gave them an outline right away and a script by Thanksgiving. The next part of the process people call the "bake off" but AMC doesn't like to call it that. They narrow it down to six scripts that they might want. Everyone lays out their plan and AMC decides what to shoot. They've always shot one at a time but for the first time ever they shot two pilots at the same time. Then from there they made their decision in the beginning of the summer. We shot the pilot in August, wrapped in September then waited until right before Christmastime.

Did you know they were going to order it to season when you shot the pilot? 

We shot the pilot, then I had to talk to them again. Once they picked it up I pretty quickly was hiring a staff and started with the writers at the end of January and we started filming at the end of April.

They're trying to speed up their development. They used to narrow it down to six scripts once a year, now they're doing that twice a year. So they just finished filming two pilots, "Halt and Catch Fire" and "Turn."

AMC, like HBO, seems to be developing a show in each genre they can find.

They want to be balanced and have a breadth of stuff. It feels like there's an "AMC brand," but "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" have nothing in common except that they're both really good. You feel like you know what to get from it as a destination, yet there's total diversity. "Halt and Catch Fire" could not be more different from "Turn," which could not be more different from "Low Winter Sun." It's cool that they all exist on the same network.

Low Winter Sun 6

"Mad Men" is a soap opera. "Breaking Bad" is a caper. What is the genre of "Low Winter Sun"?

Good question. You tell me. I hope it doesn't have one. I know there are cops, but I hope it's not a cop show at all. It's a blue-collar crime drama. Some of the main characters happen to be cops, but we're not solving crimes this season.

The best working-class dramas are very regionally specific. Like John Huston's "Fat City."

What really struck me about Detroit was that, as an outsider, I expected it to be very urban. It's very Midwestern. It spreads in the way Midwestern cities spread with those two-story brick buildings and it's empty in places. It feels exactly the opposite of what I expected it to be like before I got there, so it was important for me to capture it in the right way.

The production design is very sharp. Every single character drives a black car, yet the black cars are all very different.

They're all American cars. You will not see a foreign car in the city of Detroit. 


This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Chris Mundy, Low Winter Sun, AMC, Mark Strong, Lennie James, ATX Television Festival







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