Back in April of last year, I was invited to attend an event hosted by the Director’s Guild of Canada. The aim of the evening was to connect showrunners and directors in a speed-dating-like setting. Prior to the date, I was forwarded a list of 200+ directors and instructed to choose six. Then, on the night, I met with each of my chosen directors for a total of 10 minutes each. It was fun and I did, in fact, make some great connections. But there was one director who I met on the night that wasn’t on my list. I was introduced to RT Thorne through a mutual friend, former Stargate producer Alan McCullough, during some downtime between meetings. He was very complementary about Dark Matter, so I suggested we simply meet up later that week.
A few days later, over a two hour lunch, RT filled me in on the ambitious series he was planning to pitch – a far future, post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that would incorporate music, performances, and an underlying theme related to discovery, social change, and youth empowerment. Oh, and Hip Hop. He was very passionate about the project, and that passion, I felt, would serve him well. But without a pilot script to accompany the series overview he had put together, I assumed a sale would be a lofty prospect.
So imagine my surprise weeks later when RT phoned me up to tell me he had sold the show. They had a 10 episode first season order and were looking for a showrunner. I wished him luck but couldn’t really think of anyone who might be a good fit. But RT wasn’t looking for recommendations. He was looking to me. My response was: “I’m not Hip Hop. I’m sci-fi.” And he countered: “I’M hip hop. You handle the sci-fi.”
In the end, I was convinced to meet with the production company, Sonar Entertainment, that was in the process of interviewing for the position. To be honest, when I went in, it wasn’t with the intention of pitching myself. I went in out of respect for RT who asked me to sit down and talk about the project. So I did. And I was brutally honest. I told them what I loved about what they had, but also made it very clear where I felt the problems lay.
The following week, I received a call from my agent informing me that I’d been offered the showrunning position. I was flattered, but didn’t think I was the right fit for the show. And there were still some issues that I felt needed to be addressed. My agent asked me how I would address the issues. So I told him. I wanted to co-write the pilot with the series creator RT to establish the world and these characters with him. And I wanted to write the finale which would, no doubt, require a fair amount of narrative juggling as our various stories would dovetail. I also wanted my Dark Matter team backing me up, key positions like Production Designer (Ian Brock), Line Producer (Robbie David), and On Set Producer (Ivon Bartok), as well as most of the old crew.
I got them.
RT and I spent the month of August breaking the world, the characters, the relationships, broadstroking the various character and story arcs, and then, in October, we convened the writers’ room. Over the course of five weeks, we world-built and broke all ten of the show’s first season episodes.
Prep on the series started in February and we rolled into production in March.
It was a very different experience from my time on Stargate and Dark Matter, but rewarding nonetheless. I got to work with some incredible people – a terrific cast made up of young up-and-comers as well as more seasoned veterans, new faces on the crew, casting director Stephanie Gorin, VFX Supervisor Greg Behranes and his team, Post-Production Supervisor Katherine Hul and HER team, as well as our point people at Sonar – Andrea Gorfolova, Ashley Rite, and Marc Kell Whitehead. And then, of course, there were the talents of Music Supervisor David Hayman, Composer Nikhil Seetharam, Music Producer Boi-1da, choreographer Tanisha Scott, Snoop Dogg (as the voice of our A.I.!), and the man himself – RT Thorne.
Fair to say that a good time was had by all.
Utopia Falls premieres February 14th on Hulu and CBC Gem.
18 thoughts on “January 9, 2020: Utopia Falls”
I’ll definitely check it out, but it sounds really strange. I might not be your audience, I guess we’ll see.
Hurray about your new sci fi show !
( Shame about the hip hip though… ! )
What can I say, I’m not a teen and I hate hip hop and snoop dog.
But I’ll keep an open mind and give it a try.
I did LOVE the 100. ( but then, it had no hip hop )
I’ll have to subscribe to Hulu since I don’t have regular cable tv.
Good luck!! Sounds interesting.
I am stoked for this!
I don’t get hulu but I will try to watch on CBC gem.
I think I’m too old for hip-hop, but I’m a dance fanatic, so I’m interested to see how it plays out. It can’t be bad if you and your crew were persuaded to be in on the project. Sounds like it should attract a younger sci-fi demographic, which would be good.
Sci-fi? Sign me up!
Post-apocalyptic future? Hell yeah!
Hip hop? Ummmmmmm. I can understand your reservations. But I also trust your writing!
No Hulu here in Australia (without VPNs, anyway) so I don’t know about an Aussie broadcaster. Still, if I get a chance I’ll check it out!
Congrats! I hope it is a great success for you!
Congratulations! I’ll be looking for it next month. I’m happy for you and the entire cast and crew.
I can’t wait to see it. Been looking for an air date. I’ll figure out the Hulu issue so I can watch it.
I don’t think I’m the target audience but honestly, I love ambitious. I’m definitely going to give it a go when it drops.
This really seems out of your wheelhouse, but I’m glad you took the chance and enjoyed the experience!
Ah, I want to see this, but don’t have Hulu. I already have several streaming services, and cable, so Hulu is off the table for now. Dang.
But if it’s got your style of storytelling, I would hope that it’s a watchable show,
I’ll be keeping an eye out for it, here in the UK.
Too bad CBC is not willing to take a chance on BROADCASTING it, though it’s good that it’ll be available on Gem.
I began watching a few hours ago. I don’t know Joe, this doesn’t feel like a show by you. The world is strange. I’m going to watch all 10 episodes today, if I can I’ll give a non-spoiler opinion tomorrow.
It’s just wrong that you don’t have the power to green light your ideas. Dark Matter was truly marvelous.
Tonally, this show differs greatly from Dark Matter because Dark Matter was my creation. I didn’t create this world or these characters. They are the vision of the show creator, R.T. Thorne. I just helped him bring that vision to life.