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September 20, 2013

Simon Barry Talks CONTINUUM, What They Wanted to Achieve in Season 2, and Looking Forward to Season 3


Christina Radish / Collider

From show creator Simon Barry, the sci-fi drama series Continuum has been one of the biggest television surprises, with consistently compelling characters, a complex mythology and a story that always keeps its viewers guessing. The show follows a group of fanatical terrorists, known as Liber8, who escaped their planned execution in 2077 by traveling back in time to 2012, inadvertently taking City Protective Services officer Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) with them. Trapped in the past, Kiera infiltrates the local police department and, with the help of Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) and teenage tech genius Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), tries to track down the terrorists before they change the course of history.

Not wanting to wait until 2014 for answers to some of the big questions and reveals at the end of Season 2, and with nearly all of the friendships and alliances left in question, I spoke to showrunner/executive producer/writer Simon Barry to see what he would be willing to share. During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Barry talked about what they were looking to achieve with Season 2, that Season 3 will explore sacrifice as a theme, just how damaged alliances are now, what Julian’s (Richard Harmon) role will be and how Carlos will figure into it, delving deeper into the time travel aspect of the show, the Freelancer mythology, adding new characters, and having a good idea of how they’d like the series to end, when that day comes. Check out what he said after the jump, and be aware that there are spoilers.

Collider: Where did the idea for this show originally come from?

SIMON BARRY: It started with an approach to the structure of the show, more than any specific characterization. For me, the idea of blending genres and trying to do a little twist on the time travel genre with something that was grounded, so that it could be produced. Going into the sales mode, you position everything to be as least scary as possible. When you’re selling shows, and I’ve sold quite a few ideas, I know some of the pitfalls that get in the way of people moving forward with your ideas. So, I wanted to include things that I wanted to do, which is more of the sci-fi and time travel stuff, but package it in a way that is a little bit more appetizing for a network that was looking for something familiar but different.

And so, structurally, the original idea of time travel terrorists is where it first started, and that they would be pursued by one cop who actually went through with them and was forced to deal with the local law enforcement when she arrived, or he arrived, at the time. It set up a very, very simple, easily understandable TV show structure that had a progressed of storytelling arcs built into it, with discovery and fish-out-of-water elements. Once that was fairly squared away, in my mind, then I started building the initial characterizations for the pilot, which were some of the prototype characters. I built Kiera’s backstory, and who she was and where she was coming from. And then, in the writers’ room, in Season 1, we started building on that and adding new characters and expanding the universe.

When you’re dealing with such a complex mythology on the show, how much has been planned out, from the beginning, and how much do you figure it out, along the way?

BARRY: It’s both. In the first season, we had an over-abundance of ideas. We had more ideas than we could possibly put into the episodes, so a lot of things were pushed into Season 2, and some things are actually going to be pushed into Season 3. The reason for that is because there’s a limited amount of story time that you can introduce all of these different ideas. But in our first season, we had a very productive writers’ room environment, just for breaking ideas and building on them. The only thing written when we started the writers’ room was the pilot script, so everyone was working off of the pilot script that I’d written. We had a very productive several weeks of just spit-balling what could happen in the show, and a lot of those ideas remain in the show and have been held onto. And then, as you write, new ideas pop up and things change on the set. Scenes get cut and have to be replaced with other ideas. Sometimes just through the organic process of making a show, you add new things and take away things. It’s very much a planned, but unplanned process. The big things in the show were certainly planned, early on. Some of the smaller little things are either happy accidents or sometimes they’re just discoveries along the way that we wanted to expand because either the idea just improved with age or an actor presented way more opportunities than we had imagined on the page, so we had an obligation to expand that.

Is there one particular character that you found changing the most, after you cast the role?

BARRY: I think they all changed, in their own way. Once the cast is put together, it becomes tangible in a way that it never is and you start to play to the strengths of the actors themselves. Certainly in the initial stages, with characters like Kellog and Garza, I might not have been able to predict how deep we’d go and how many surprises we could have mined from them. Also, the performances are so good that they’re characters the writers love to write for. But, I would say that it applies to almost everybody. You start with prototypes, in a way, and you have characters who have a direction, but when you only have a pilot to work off of, there’s a lot of room for building. We had a bible, going into the session, but we were all collaborating on the bible, so it wasn’t a road map that the writers were necessarily following. We were all contributing to it, as we broke the season, in the first season, so it became more of a record of our ideas and less of a guideline. It very much took on its own life, in many ways, and a lot of the characters took on their own lives, as a result of that.

Had you always known when Kiera would reveal the truth to Carlos, or had you even known for sure that that would actually happen?

BARRY: In the original draft of Episode 10 of Season 1, I had originally written that Carlos saw Kiera go invisible. On the day, we decided to hold off and make it more about what Gardiner witnessed. We’d discussed, early on, the appropriate time to do it, when it would have the most impact. I think the reason we didn’t do it, at the end of Season 1, was that we realized that we were juggling too many balls in the air to come back to Season 2, and we really were not servicing that reveal in the way that I thought was best for the show. So, I was really glad that we chose to not do it then. I was really happy with the way it turned out in Season 2.

When you started down the path for Season 2, what were you hoping to achieve with the season and are you satisfied that you got to where you wanted?

BARRY: The audience didn’t see Season 1 until we’d completed shooting all of the episodes. There was a bit of uncertainly, from my position, being a first-time showrunner, with the show finding its footing and its fan base. So, we weren’t sure what to expect. We didn’t know which parts of the show would resonate the way we wanted, or which elements would really find their traction. In the first season, I think we were trying to spread ourselves out, in terms of what the show was. We were trying to be a few too many things, maybe. But once we got into Season 2, we really had great feedback. Because we had done well in the ratings on our home network in Canada – we were the #1 show – we felt like we could extenuate some of the things that were working the best and that we had gotten not just the network’s positive feedback on, but the fans’ feedback.

So, Season 2 was really our attempt to be the show that was not just trying out. We could own it. And I think because we started thinking long-term in a much more pragmatic way, we certainly decided to lay in much more mythology, and split the balance of procedural episodic storytelling and serialized mythological storytelling a bit more in the favor of the serialized. Incorporating those characters was great because, once those characters had been established, we could really mine those relationships in Season 2, which we couldn’t really do as well in Season 1. And we got so much good stuff out of the relationships of the characters that everyone knew that it felt like it was a very self-sustaining engine for storytelling, which is great. For Season 2, I think we were also trying to attach a theme of power and responsibility. That carried many of our storylines through. There were no easy choices. Once Kiera took her power and had to implement decisions, it was never going to be as cut and dry as she’d hoped.

By the end of Season 2, alliances have really shifted, and Kiera, Carlos and Alec are really pulled in very different directions. Can any of them truly be friends or allies again, especially when they’re all seeking or fighting control and power?

BARRY: Well, that’s a good question. It’s funny with friendships. Sometimes they are defined by the dynamic in the relationship, and sometimes they’re not. We always try to never think of anything on the show as working on one level. We’re always looking at the many layers, not just for defining things, but for the truth of things. It’s been our mandate to complicate things, and we like that. We feel that life is a very nuanced, complex experience, and our characters were always looking for that element of complexity and nuance. Whether it’s friendship, story, plot or morality, we never want to feel like we have a very clear-cut approach. That allows for characters to do things that are unexpected, which is great, but it also complicates relationships in a way that I feel is better for the show. The stakes of the show should never be so simple that it’s just, “Well, I’m your friend, so therefore this is going to happen.” Everything is in motion and people’s decision making is shifting with the stakes.

Where do you see Julian’s role in Season 3, and what is Carlos’ place in that now?

BARRY: I don’t want to talk too much about that. I actually do know what’s going to happen to Carlos and Julian, and they’re both going to have interesting lives in Season 3. But because of the way we finished Season 2, it would ultimately tip our hand, as to what we’ve chosen to do, at the beginning of Season 3, and I don’t want to spoil it. Julian’s role is going to evolve in a way that’s surprising, and I think Carlos is certainly going to show a different side of himself that will challenge everyone. They are both rich characters who should not be stagnant. I think we try to hold every character up to that standard and the objective not to change them for the sake of changing them, but to mine the little shades that we’ve revealed in the past, and see where those shades can go.

When you introduced Escher and Jason, did you know how they would ultimately connect to Alec?

BARRY: Yeah. When we introduced Jason, we had had a round of discussions about who Jason could be. That was when we were breaking and writing Season 1. I will say that we had intended to always connect Jason and Alec, but we did change our approach to that, in Season 2. What we did was, at the very beginning of Season 2 story breaking, we realized that we had to commit to a track with Jason and Escher that was specific and intractable. Because we hadn’t really seen Escher in Season 1, we left room for ourselves to basically make him whatever we wanted to make him in Season 2. But early on, we realized that playing Jason as being someone he wasn’t was a mistake. We were going to possibly have Jason be a little bit more complex and a little bit more duplicitous, and we thought that that was really against the grain of who we’d established. Also, the character that Ian Tracey had portrayed was so organically confused and fun, so we didn’t want to spoil that by adding a layer of intent. So, we very quickly landed on the eventual relationships that we settled on in Season 2, with Jason being Alec’s son and Escher being his father.

Up until the Season 2 finale, you’ve never really explored the possibility of any of these characters traveling to yet another time period, whether it be backward or forward in time. But, now that Alec has used the time travel device presumably to go back and save Emily, how will you handle that in Season 3?

BARRY: There’s this horrible two-sided blade with time travel. By not exploiting it, you can be safe and solid in your foundation. If you do use it, it can get really messy, really quickly. It is a time travel show, after all, and we’ve always wanted to explore more time travel on the show. So, we really planned ahead, that this would be our second use of time travel, after the original incident in Season 1. We felt very confident that the storytelling would support the way this would play out and how we would be able to portray what Alec has done. I think in the first episode of Season 3, there will be no more questions about how this works or how to tell stories using time travel. We have a fairly straightforward and fun approach to the reality of time travel that allows us to have our cake and eat it too.

Clearly, the Freelancers have deeper motives that we’re only just starting to learn about, with the way things were left with Kiera, Kellog and Garza in the finale. How will that come into play, and how much more will viewers get to learn about that, now that you’ve trapped some of your main characters?

BARRY: Well, Season 3 definitely has a major component of Freelancer activity and the mythology of the Freelancers, as it relates to the larger mythology of the show, the future and Alec Sadler. That’s going to be explored in a major way. We’ve always resisted the urge to throw too much, too soon at the audience. We will be using every hour of the 13 hours in Season 3 to explore our Freelancer mythology and take advantage of it.

After seeing Kiera as something of a superhero for the first two seasons, did you intentionally want to balance that by stripping it all away and leaving her helpless and defenseless, by the finale?

BARRY: Yeah. The superhero motif was very much in our awareness when breaking Season 2. When we first opened the room, I told all of the writers that we were going to do a backdoor superhero show, in a weird way. Here was this character who had an incredible advantage, in some respects, but was also at a huge disadvantage in other respects. We wanted to play with some of the tropes of superhero characterizations that worked for us, but we never really needed to fall into the full construct of the superhero story. We could borrow some of the best elements of superhero mythology, as it applied to character. And certainly in the early stages of the season, we were tipping our hats to the superhero genre and including Kiera. But, all of the writers knew internally that it was not something we wanted to sustain. It was a way of launching Season 2 in a way that felt like it had steam. Kiera, in that position, felt organic, but we weren’t going to hang the season on that. We wanted everything to fall apart very quickly and get complicated. And so, the goal was to start her very strong and finish the season with her in an almost hopeless situation.

What themes are you looking to explore for Season 3?

BARRY: We definitely want to look at sacrifice as a theme. We feel that, in a lot of science fiction, there’s always a temptation to build in thematic storylines that resonate with viewers, not just using topical themes of politics and humanity and social studies, but also just the idea of larger thematic problems. Especially in time travel, every decision has a consequence. We always felt like we hadn’t really mined the notion of sacrifice to its full extent, given the world that we’re playing in. There are high stakes. It’s easy to avoid making those big decisions because, when you’re uncertain, you play it safe, but we didn’t want to play it safe anymore. We really liked the idea that people would make choices that had immediate impact and immediate consequences, and those choices could be wrapped up in an emotional wrapping of sacrifice, as opposed to selfishness or something else.

Do you have any significant new characters that you’ll be adding?

BARRY: I don’t want to give anything away, but we have two very important characters that will be coming into Season 3.

What was it like to actually direct an episode this season? As the showrunner, you’re involved with every aspect of every episode already, so was it nice to step back a little and focus on one episode?

BARRY: This may sound strange, but it was kind of like a break for me. I normally never get to focus that much energy on one story. I’m constantly bouncing between shows that are in prep, shows that are shooting, shows that are in editing, and shows that are still being written. I have to thank my co-executive producer, Shelley Eriksen, and the other producers, Pat Williams in particular, who allowed me to essentially slack off on my job as showrunner for a couple of weeks, and really dig into prepping and shooting my episode. It wasn’t fair to them to have them take up the slack, but at the same time, they were really happy to do it and provide me the opportunity to direct, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for almost my whole life. So, the choice for me was very straightforward. But because it was not at the end of the season, I made my life a little tougher than I need to. Because I was in the middle of making the show, it was tougher. In future seasons, when I do direct, I think I’ll probably push it to the end of the season, so I’m not interfering with the other duties as much.

What are the biggest challenges of making this show on a TV budget?

BARRY: It’s not even a real TV budget. We’re on what we would call a good Canadian budget. The hardest part is keeping the quality controlled at the level we expect from an American show or a cable show that we love to watch. We don’t want it to lose its footing because the production value falters. Pat Williams and myself are both former camera guys. We’re particular about the visuals and are very conscious of the show looking good, whether that’s visual effects, production design, lighting in camera, actors or the scripts. Everything needs to feel like we’re spending twice as much as we are. The struggle for us is making a show that looks like it has the same budget as Arrow, or something that is in our wheelhouse, but we’re doing it for half the price. That is really hard. It’s hard because you have to make sacrifices in story, a lot of the time. Once the script gets to our line producer, Holly Redford, she comes back to us and says, “You can’t do this!” We don’t have a studio that we can just go and ask for more money. We have a set amount of money and we can’t spend more than that because there’s nowhere else to go, if we need more.

So, we really have to budget and be responsible in a way that forces us to compromise, a lot of the time, on things that we don’t want to compromise on. Sometimes we cheat it. Pat and I have a mantra of, “We’d rather not do it than do it badly.” We’ll end up making cuts to the scripts or doing the things that don’t force us into a position where we feel like we do have to compromise on the production value. That’s a better choice. That’s one of the nice things about being in Vancouver and being the showrunner. Writing the show and physically being on set allows myself and the other writers to make changes on the fly that will have a huge impact on the budget, and there’s no disconnect between myself and production. We’re all in the same room, all the time. So, when those decisions come down, it can happen very quickly. We know immediately that that money has been saved in a way that will allow us to do the things we want to do.

Do you know how you would like things to end with the series, however many seasons it ultimately takes to get there?

BARRY: In the first meeting of Season 1, the room discussed how we wanted the show to end, and we had an arbitrary number of seven years. So, we have a good idea. In terms of the large view, we do know how we want the show to end. It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s also great when a better idea comes along and you’ve situated yourself in such a way that you can improv on it. So, as much as I love that we’ve always had a fairly straight-line plan for the show and the mythology, I would be crazy to think that that one idea on that day is the best idea that will come up.