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Roger Avary on Working in TV and Bringing ‘The Spirit of an Indie Film’ to Spy Series ‘XIII’

Roger Avary on Working in TV and Bringing 'The Spirit of an Indie Film' to Spy Series 'XIII'

Indiewire’s own Eric Kohn caught up with Roger Avary at the Locarno Film Festival for the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director’s first interview since he was jailed for eight months for vehicular manslaughter. While talking to the “Pulp Fiction” writer, Kohn asked him to share some details about his current gig writing and executive producing “XIII,” a Franco-Canadian action series starring Stuart Townsend as an amnesiac secret agent, based on a Belgian comic book series by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance and currently airing in the US on Reelz.

I was asked by Ken Alpluz and Europa Corp, the TV division of the Luc Besson company, if I could take this series based on a French comic book in a somewhat different direction. One of my very favorite television shows growing up was “The Prisoner.”

“XIII” is a spy show. I think the comic book is a little too similar to “The Bourne Identity.” I tried to take it away from that. I believe there was, many years ago, before the Bourne movies, a lawsuit that made it so they couldn’t be published in English.

Having never done television, it was an opportunity to step right into a greenlit season and have firsthand experience. Apparently the first season of the show was shot so much on stages and they didn’t want that. They wanted more location work. I said, fantastic, that’s what I love to do. I wanted to bring the spirit of an indie film to this series.

When asked if that was becoming more common with TV in general these days, Avary agreed while saying that “the problem with that is that it’s an action show and you end up killing your crew.

TV is designed a certain way where you have three, four days on stage and three or four days out. You’re basically making a feature every sever days. You have to shoot an hour’s worth.

You’re constantly writing. In this case I was mostly supervising other writers, a relatively light duty, but I’ve never been part of something like this. It was almost like working in a sausage factory — you’re just cranking that crank as fast as you can. It was some of the most exhausting work I’ve ever done in my life.

Writing for television, Avary pointed out, is a very different experience from writing for film.

TV writers are a very special breed of people. It’s very difficult to do. It was a valuable experience because I’m used to completely and entirely satisfying myself in my writing. TV writing is tricky to navigate because you have so many different personalities — the actors, multiple producers.

In this case we had four networks to deal with and really only two of them were giving us notes. You need to satisfy what the network wants or else they’ll pull the plug. I’ve never actually had as many notes in my life than in television.

Check out Indiewire’s longer profile of Avary here.

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