Posted on Monday, November 12th, 2018 by Fred Topel
YouTube Premium’s latest original series Origin premieres this week. The first series created by writer Mika Watkins is a sci-fi ensemble show. Paul W.S. Anderson directed the first two episodes and executive produces alongside Watkins.
In the series, the spaceship Origin is on its way to a new colony, but several of its passengers wake up early. As they explore the ship to try to figure out what went wrong, they also learn about each other as the audience sees their backstory in flashbacks. The cast includes Natalia Tena, Tom Felton, Sen Mitsuji, Nora Arnezeder and Fraser James.
Anderson spoke with /Film by phone from the set of his next movie, Monster Hunter, based on the Capcom video game franchise. Origin premieres Wednesday, November 14 on YouTube Premium.
How is Origin your first TV pilot? Had there been others over the years that you tried to do?
Well, it’s not a pilot because it was a straight commission which is one of the attractive things about it. I have basically not really had much time to do TV. I’ve done back to back movies for several years now. TV is something that me and my wife watch a lot. I started in television in the U.K. and I’ve always wanted to get back into TV. I had this gap in my schedule. I was prepping to do this movie Monster Hunter but I knew because of the weather, we weren’t going to shoot it until the later half of this year. So it opened up a six month gap when I could jump into a television show. Coincidentally, the script for Origin came across my dest, which I loved. All the stars were aligned.
Since you did the first two episodes, was that like doing one movie?
I directed the first two and then I’m an executive producer on the whole show. I think one of the things I did was I brought my feature film crew to work on it. We shot the whole thing in Cape Town which is were I shot the last Resident Evil film and which is where I’m shooting my new movie right now. So basically, I pretty much put the feature film crew onto the TV show. They shot the TV show and then when the TV show was done, I took them back and put them on my new movie. One of the things I wanted to do, I felt the show should have a very cinematic look to it. So I felt it should be shot by a feature crew. It was very much in terms of working and in terms of the gear we had and the crew we were working with and scale we were working at, it was very much like a feature film. Obviously, it was a fast one but we shot two 50 minute episodes. If you look at it in that way, it was feature length definitely. In terms of the ambition, the sets that we built that Ed Thomas designed for us, they were definitely feature film sets. The bridge of the Origin took up an entire soundstage at Cape Town Studios. It was a big, big build because it was a big expansive world that we were trying to establish.
Does Origin resemble a video game, the waking up on a strange ship, exploring the ship and meeting mysterious characters?
It’s not dissimilar. It would definitely make a terrific video game. It was a very compelling, you see a lot of the first episode from Sen’s character’s point of view, who plays Shun. In that regard, you’re following one person around this gigantic labyrinthine spaceship. So it did have some of the hallmarks of a video game in terms of the visuals but Mika’s writing was a lot more engaging than most video game scripts, that’s for sure. In terms of the story that it tells and the depth of the characters. That’s not to take a swipe at video games. It’s just, you know, video games, movies and TV are different media.
Was it written to have a diverse cast and was that important to you?
Yeah, it was again one of the things that attracted me to it. One of my favorite countries in the world is Japan and I’ve spent a huge amount of time there. The fact that the opening episode, 1/3 of it was in Japanese and gave me an opportunity to tell not only a science fiction story, but a Yakuza story at the same time, in Japanese with Japanese actors set in Tokyo. I mean, that was a big, big draw for me. The movies I’ve made have always been very diverse. I feel like television is definitely catching up with that and that was one of the hallmarks of this show. It had episodes set in Berlin, in Tokyo, in France and it wasn’t afraid to let those people speak in their own voices as well. There’s no one putting on French accents. If it’s going to be in French or Japanese, it’s in those native languages and it’s subtitled. So it had a very diverse cast and a very diverse setting as well. I definitely saw it as an international show. This was a ship of survivors that represented a basket of humanity from all around the world. That was very exciting because most shows or movies, you get to establish one world. I love building worlds and this was a chance not just to establish one world. Just in the first episode, I got to do futuristic Tokyo and the spaceship. In the second episode, futuristic Washington, D.C. and the spaceship. Then the show went on from there.
When you cast the characters, were you more casting for the backstory they are eventually going to play than their current state on the ship?
It was both really. You can’t have one without the other. You need the narrative strands of the present to also merge with the past. You didn’t cast a person just for the backstory or for what they were doing on the spaceship. It had to be both. Quite often, we were casting a little against type so that you found characters would develop and be quite surprising. Someone who you thought was an irredeemable asshole would actually become somebody who was very sympathetic. I think that really takes an audience by surprise.
How did you decide how futuristic those flashbacks would be?
We didn’t put an exact date on exactly when they’re set but they’re set in a very relatable near future. Technology has not really evolved that much. If you look at how much technology has evolved in the lats 30 years, it hasn’t made huge strides forward. Things have gotten a little smaller sometimes. I don’t think anything works particularly better than it did 30 years ago. Sometimes it works worse, the better technology has got. So we felt if our show was projected 30 or 40 years in the future, although we weren’t specific about it, that things would have changed but they would basically still be the same. It will be a very clear projection from today into the future. So it wasn’t going to be something that was in the far future because I think sometimes those settings and those characters do become a little unrelatable. It’s a character piece and we wanted the characters to be very relatable. So we didn’t want the science fiction to get in the way of the character stories.
When you’re doing a show with flashbacks, do you have to think about Lost? How did you want Origin to operate differently?
I think Lost didn’t invent the flashback obviously. It’s been a cinematic tool. It’s been around almost as long as cinema has. Certainly it did it exceptionally well so I think that was something that was always in the back of our minds, to try not to emulate Lost but to learn from what it had done really well and perhaps what it had failed to do as well. It was a big part of what we thought of but we didn’t see the show as being an imitator of Lost because the setting is so different. Ultimately, the character stories are a lot different as well. If you look at Lost, it was predominantly set on the island whereas this is more 50/50 or 60/40 split between Earth and the events on the spaceship.
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