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The Boldest Show You Haven't Heard Of (Yet): Showrunner Greg Yaitanes Talks Cinemax's Pulp Saga 'Banshee'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire January 2, 2014 at 2:24PM

"Banshee" showrunner Greg Yaitanes tells Indiewire about the upcoming second season of the Cinemax action drama, whether there's ever been a moment on the show that he thought was too extreme and how the storytelling extends onto multiple platforms in a way few other series manage.
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Trieste Kelly Dunn and Demetrius Grosse in 'Banshee'
Gregory Shummon/Cinemax Trieste Kelly Dunn and Demetrius Grosse in 'Banshee'

The fight scenes in "Banshee" are very visceral and memorable, and I wanted to ask about your approach to them, especially with the ones involving women -- they're not staged in any way as softer than the ones involving the men.

Jonathan and I love Jason Statham films. We also love the old John Carpenter films like "Big Trouble in Little China," "They Live" and things like that, so we had moments where we were like, "We're going to do a man-woman fight in episode eight of season one. If we're going to do it, let's do it. Lets make it the best man-woman fight put to screen." Marcus Young, our fight coordinator -- he is a phenomenal talent, and the way they work is great. If there's anybody I need to pull back, it's those guys. Sometimes it's like, A, I'm not going to shoot that and B, oh my god. [laughs] They'll just go. That's what I want from them. I want them to go all the way and I'll pull them back to where we're at with what's going on.

The end of episode two of this season is one of my favorite fight sequences because it's just so great. It's got this old Russ Meyer kind of throw back with them fighting in prison and the way we resolve [Banshee deputy] Siobhan's (Trieste Kelly Dunn) arc. They throw down as hard as the guys and I like how we don't discriminate in that regard. I'd say the women throw themselves into the choreography and the planning and the precision of those fights even harder than the guys. So, there's a nice friendly competition happening in the cast.

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In that installment, we get some of Siobhan's backstory. How much of the character histories have been mapped out -- and are we going to get a Job (Lee) episode?

We are! We are going to learn about Job this season in a big way. Actually the mythology of the show has been intricately planned out. Part of that came from Jonathan not having worked in television before and me having worked in television for so many years. I personally have frustration with shows that felt like they were winging it, that fans were hanging on every frame but there was no real game plan.

We went into season one with WelcomeToBanshee.com, our whole interactive site with all the backstories we do. We got an Emmy nomination for multi-platform storytelling last year and that's something we have a real passion for, Jonathan and I.

"Banshee" is a story -- where are all the places we can tell that story? In episode two of this season, there's an interactive companion piece at WelcomeToBanshee.com that takes you further, gives you further ammunition as to why Reese is a dangerous person who comes back, because we explore Siobhan's backstory online. We shot a whole companion series called "Banshee Origins" that involves the whole cast that goes across the 15 years that Lucas was in prison. So this year, our backstory, our origin content ties directly into the episodes. There's a full episode's worth of content online that's written by Jonathan and mostly directly by me and involves the whole cast. It's show-quality material. We use that content to fill out the stories we're telling in the actual show.

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And you shot those as you were shooting the episodes?

We are social in our DNA. If you look at a call sheet for "Banshee," there's going to be this scene from this episode, a "Banshee Origins" scene, and the "Banshee" Vine that we're making. All that will be on the page, and we work them in to part of the flow of how we shoot the show -- we don't think of them as some sort of other thing that isn't at the same quality and the care at which we make the show.

You were a showrunner on "House" before this, and I'm curious about what the difference in experience has been for you. You directed some very innovative episodes of "House," but what has it been like in terms of getting to start from scratch and be on a cable network with "Banshee"?

It's something that I look at and it's actually that thing that provides that affirmation of loving what I'm doing. "House" was an amazing experience, and it was incredible to be a part of the life of that series in different ways, from guest director to showrunner. Catching Cinemax at a crossroads of rebranding and starting its original programming -- I work in Silicon Valley startups, and one of the things I love is the excitement of coming in at ground level. That's something that's happened with Cinemax. It was fantastic to come to a place where there were no rules, and there was the full creative freedom of working in cable and telling this big story across this huge canvas.

Part of my success in the business has been being able to run my shows like a business, and treat them as fiscally responsibly as I could possibly treat them. I love the streamlining of Cinemax -- there isn't a lot of the redundancy that I found in other aspects of television. It's a very different experience, but a lot of those boundary-pushing episode of "House" really lent themselves well to the way I approach the scope of "Banshee."

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Do you see "Banshee" as having a particular underlying theme? Is it a coming of age story, as you mentioned earlier?

One of my favorite love stories is "Rocky." The love story is an aspect of this that isn't what's at the foreground for people, and that's one of the things that I love. "Banshee" is at its core this intense character drama, and it has this candy-coated genre shell that allows us to tell these great stories with these great characters.

For me, I get to touch on the human condition and the things that most action films don't get to touch on. Especially this season -- episode five is one of my favorites this year, because it's so out of the box and a departure, but it thematically catches what our show is about, which is: Can we change?

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Cinemax, Banshee, Greg Yaitanes





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