We recently had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Mark Schwahn, the creative mastermind behind One Tree Hill
, the hit teen drama on The CW. Another interview in BuddyTV's series of sit-downs with the TV industry's biggest names, Mark Schwahn talked to us about the origin of One Tree Hill
, on-set trials, the uncertainty of getting renewed and his exciting plans for season five of One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill
airs on The CW every Wednesday at 9PM ET/PT.
How did you get into the world of television?
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You know, I had a major in radio/TV/Film from the University of Maryland, but I was a musician at the time and wasn't ever planning on using that major. But when I moved out to L.A. I was in a band, and the band all sort of turned tail and ran and I was still here and I had a girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I wanted to stay and I found myself sort of without a music career in a city that makes a lot of TV and film. So I started working for Sundance, and I worked for Doug Wick, who was making "Wolf" at the time, so it was kind of this cool balance between independent film, when independent film was blowing up, and studio films and I didn't know anyone, so I interned and worked for free, and I got to learn everything from the ground floor on up.
So, I did a lot of reading and wrote a lot of script coverage and I sort of arrogantly believed that I could do better. I was seeing things that were being sold for a lot of money, and I was seeing things at Sundance that were being championed as really cutting edge and indie, so I think it was very healthy for me to see both sides of the spectrum, the show and the business, and that ultimately convinced me that I should be writing too. Fortunately, I was surrounded by good people and I ended up writing a film that I directed which got back into the Sundance film festival a year later and then I had my foot in the door.
I wrote several films after that, I had this great run where everything I was writing was getting made which doesn't mean they were all good movies, some of them aren't, but getting movies made was really difficult in this town and when you're a young writer and a new writer, and its nice to have a reputation of A) being easy to work with, and B) you get movies made. So "The Perfect Score" got made, "Whatever it Takes" got made, "Coach Carter" got made, and I wrote One Tree Hill
as a feature, and I would get to the President of the studio, and they would kill it because they didn't feel like it was big enough in scope, and that sort of said to me TV, because it was character driven and it was situational and it wasn't this great big movie, it was sort of this quiet movie about people.
So I was on set of "The Perfect Score", and Brian Robins was directing it, and he's the producer of our show now, and he said why don't we go down and pitch it as a TV show and if somebody buys it great, and if they don't buy it you still got your movie. So we did just that, and the WB bought it, and it was the last script they bought, it was the last script they ordered to pilot, it was the last pilot they picked up, and they picked it up for mid-season and then a Bruckheimer thing fell through, this thing called "Fearless", so they accelerated us to Fall and it was the lowest rated show to debut on any network, but for like eight weeks straight it was the only show on any network that actually grew every week and I think in part it was because we started so poorly but also in part because when people found the show, because we had no advance press because we were rushed to Fall, when they found the show they stayed with it, and a few more people came every week, and by Christmas we were solid. We were working and we were sort of sniffing around the fringes of being a hit and then we got a nice promotional push over the holiday season and we were safe. And then every year we are not safe, and then we squeak through again, and we find ourselves shooting, like, episode 77 now.
A lot of your work ("Coach Carter", "The Perfect Score", One Tree Hill) involves basketball? Were you a fan growing up? Did you play?
Yeah I was a big fan, I was a pretty small kid so I never played organized ball, but like Mouth, I was probably closer to the character of Mouth, I loved the game and I hung around with a lot of the athletes and I played a lot of streetball like Lucas, and by the time I got to college I had a really good game and I ended up at the University of Maryland and I would play a lot on campus and got to know a lot of the guys on the team, and always been a big fan and now that I'm out here, I was a Cubs fan growing up and so I became a Clippers fan when I got to Los Angeles instead of a Lakers fan and have been a season ticket holder for a bunch of years and was thrilled to get Darius in "The Perfect Score", because he was a Clipper then. I think with sports, we've seen it time and time again, there's been some great sports movies made, it's a great arena for telling stories about human character.
John Wooden had this really cool quote, he said that people say that losing builds character, but he used to say that losing defines character, reveals character. I think he's right. When you put people in the sports arena, even in this day and age, a lot of the other stuff goes away and you find out what people are made of. Will they be gracious in the face of adversity? Will they rise above themselves and discover something about themselves? In this upcoming episode, Mouth has a little monologue, the Ravens are going to the state championship and Mouth has this really cool monologue that I wrote for him that sort of encapsulates what I think sports can be and what they mean and why we watch in this day and age when there's so many prima donna athletes and it's so corporate, yet it still reminds us that we can rise above ourselves and we still have greatness within us and I think that's why I've always been so sports obsessed.
Are there any other teen shows that inspired you?
Yeah, I think most people you talk to will talk about "My So-Called Life", which was a show that I really liked and thought was very human. I think it was extremely ambitious and the cool thing about it was it didn't try to be hip or edgy, it was very true to itself. The Claire Danes character was so aching and so adolescent and I always say to my staff I wish we did a better job of that and I wish we let the small moments be the big moments. It's what we always preached and it's what we always planned to do, and if you look at the history of our show, you see less of that then you see car crashes and huge moments. But, at the spine of the show, they're rarely about those huge things. It's usually about something that's a little more human and quiet, but I learned that from "My So-Called Life", and I thought they did a great job of it. I loved "Freaks and Geeks". I thought it was steeped with texture, but at the same time I knew that it wouldn't find its way because it was titled "Freaks and Geeks" which was referencing a time that would make sense to adults more than kids.
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This interview is the fourth in a series of BuddyTV interviews with the creators, writers, and producers behind many of TV's hit shows. Thus far, we've featured an interview with Hank Steinberg (creator of The Nine), an interview with David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (the creators of The Class), and an interview with David S. Rosenthal (new Head Writer/Executive Producer of Gilmore Girls).