Exclusive Interview: 'Reaper' Creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas
Exclusive Interview: 'Reaper' Creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas
In conjunction with our 2007 Fall TV Guide, BuddyTV will be publishing exclusive interviews with the creators and showrunners of some of the hottest new shows this fall throughout the week.  Check back all this week for interviews with: Cane Creator Cynthia Cidre, Viva Laughlin Showrunners Tyler Bensinger and Stephen DeKnight, Chuck and Gossip Girl Creator Josh Schwartz, and Journeyman Creator Kevin Falls and Director Alex Graves.

Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters know what they're doing with Reaper.  The two met while working among The X-Files writing staff, a fact that is readily apparent in their pilot script for Reaper.  The new CW sci-fi/drama/action/comedy takes a look at the age-old question, "What if your parents sold your soul to The Devil and you had to capture renegade souls and send them back to Hell?"  Michele and Tara stopped by last week to discuss how Reaper came to fruition, how they got Kevin Smith to direct the pilot episode, and the pressures of receiving really good reviews.  Below you will find both the written transcript as well as the full mp3 audio of the interview.

Can you both give us a little background on how you ended up in the TV business, and how you ended up becoming writing partners?

Michele Fazekas: This is Michele speaking. How we ended up in the TV business, I grew up outside of Buffalo, New York, and was really into writing. Thought I wanted to be a journalist, but then realized as I did internships that everyone in TV news kind of hated his job. I took a screenwriting course and I was in grad school.  Kind of was 22 and naïve, and said, “Oh, I'll just move to L.A. and get a job.”  Which I think, you have to be 22 and that naïve to just up and move. I worked as an assistant at MTV and for a production company that did movies of the week, and my big time break was getting a job as an assistant to the writers, and to Frank Spotnitz at the X-Files which was where I met Tara.

Tara Butters: And I actually was working out of college for a graphics design company that did stuff for television shows like t-shirts and products. Met the group at The X-Files, and was working with them through this company. Then they asked me to come work for them directly, and handle their licensing and merchandising. So that's how I ended up there with Michele, and I worked there for a year, then I was leaving to work for David Goyer, but Michele and I stayed friends.

Michele: We started writing together as an exercise. I'd had an idea for an X-Files script that Frank Spotnitz, the executive producer, said, “This is a great idea, but we're already kind of doing a similar idea, so why don't you come up with another one?” And it was about the Antichrist, and I did a whole bunch of research on it, and Tara said it would make a really good Buffy the Vampire Slayer script, and so we just kind of wrote it just to see if we could do it.  And got really good response, the guys in the X-Files and David Goyer were all really helpful. They sent our script out, it really does help to have kind of big guns behind you when you do a script, and people are sending it out. So people read it, that was very, we got really lucky.  We got some meetings with agents, and everybody wanted to see another script, so we wrote a spec for The Practice and we got signed. We got a writing job three weeks after we got signed, when it happened, it happened very quickly.

We talked about X-Files and Buffy, there's both of those shows in Reaper a little bit. Where did the idea for Reaper come from, and what was it inspired by?

Tara: Well, we were working on our Buffy script and everything, and for some reason it just stuck in my head. The idea, it might be kind of funny to do a show about a kid who finds out his parents sold his soul to the devil.

Michele: It was like eight or nine years ago that we initially had this idea.

Tara: And it was really because the idea, can you be a good person and technically work for evil? That's kind of the starting point that we started with, and we were very lucky because once we got staffed on a TV show, which was Get Real for Fox which only went a year. We continued the work, so we had this idea, we just kind of kept it on the back burner for the last eight or nine years.

Michele: We never really had time to do much, we would come back to it and talk about it, but we were always working. I saw the movie Shaun of the Dead, and I started to think about what I loved about that movie. One of the many things I loved about that movie was the kind of protagonists of the movie, are these kind of guys who are Everyman, who are kind of too hung over initially to realize that the world had been taken over by zombies.  I started to think about kids that I know, and you probably know, who have gone to college or not and who are in their early 20, still living at home and they live in a nice suburb, and they have a car and they have money, and their parents kind of take care of them. They have all the comforts of home, and if they're not really motivated to do anything, they don't.  So, when we started to marry that idea together with the idea of the kid's parents sold his soul to the devil, that started to feel like a show to me. After we signed with Touchstone and they let us develop it, was one of the first ideas that we pitched to them, and they were like, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good.” So we then had the opportunity to really develop it and work on it.

Kevin Smith directed the pilot, obviously kind of a big deal. How did that happen, and why'd you think of him in the first place?

Michele: Once the CW bought the script and decided that they were going to produce the pilot, you start making a list of directors. You make your wish list of, “Who do you want to direct here, who would be the most amazing person directing your pilot?” We'd have ridiculous names on the list, like, “Is Steven Spielberg available?” You make your wish list and then the more reasonable list.  Kevin was on our wish list, somebody who we'd never thought we'd get, but we'll send him the script, he'll pass on it, and we'll get somebody more realistic, and we never thought we'd hear anything about it. The next thing we hear is, “Kevin read the script, can you go over to his house?” And we're like, “Yeah, we can do that.”  We went to his house, and we thought we had to kind of sell ourselves to him. But he was like, “This is really funny, I want to do it.” It was simply that easy. He wanted to do it, he was interested in directing something that he hadn't written. He just signed on, he just responded to the material, we were so lucky that happened.

I'm a big Kevin Smith fan, but he's not really known for his visuals or action scenes and all that, which is what Reaper has. Did that worry you at all, and how happy were you with the final product?

Michele: We were thrilled with it. It didn't worry us at all, because much of the script is very much in his wheel house, it's guys sitting around talking about stupid stuff. Even Kevin was, Kevin brought his DP on, who is great. Even they were joking like, “We have never moved a camera this much in any movie that we've ever done.” They really just stepped up and did incredible work, and I wasn't worried at all. I think we're really thrilled with the final product.

Can you talk a little bit about casting? It's full of relatively new faces. Had you targeted any of them before, or was it they came and auditioned, and you liked what you saw?

Tara: Bret Harrison did an episode of Law and Order: SVU for us, and in that show he actually played the victim, and he was absolutely wonderful.

Michele: His dramatic range, it was so sympathetic and heartbreaking,

Tara: But it was also around the time where he was on Grounded for Life. And then he also did The Loop for Fox last year, and he has great comedic timing. Michele and I were talking, and I brought him up to Michele. Then literally that exact same day, we were sitting with our casting director, and asked him who he felt was the new breakout star in this age range.  He mentioned Bret, and so just kind of felt like it was right. We asked if we could meet with him, and he did, and we offered him the role without him reading. Then Tyler Labine had a deal with Touchstone or ABC Television, and we saw his tape, asked if we could meet with him and it was the same deal.

Michele: The character that Tyler plays is Sock, and Sock is actually based on a friend of Tara and mine. He's the kind of guy who, I don't know if you know people like this, but they can kind of say anything. It can be the most obscene, crude things, but because they're saying it everyone thinks it's funny. We met Tyler and we were like, “Oh, he's just like our friend, he's like the doppelganger of our friend.”  So we were lucky to get him too. I think it really helped that Kevin Smith is directing the pilot, so it really made people more interested in doing it than maybe they would have been.  And with Ray Wise, we looked at dozens of actors, very good actors for the role of The Devil. Nobody was really popping for us, it was hard, we couldn't find anybody. Then Tom Spezialy, who is another executive producer on the project who came on board with us, who was actually our first boss on Get Real, came in one day and is friends with a manager who suggested, “What about Ray Wise?” And so Tom came in and said, “What about Ray Wise?” It's one of those things where you couldn't believe you didn't think of him, and it was like, of course. Ray came in and just read, and just nailed it. He brought this kind of game show host, politician take to the role, where he's really charming and likable. Yet everything he says is completely disingenuous, and so as soon he left the room, we're like, “Wow, there he is.”

I read somewhere that Nikki Reed from Thirteen was originally cast as Andi before Missy Peregrym took over the role.  Is that true, and what happened with that?

Michele: That is true, and when you just, when you're doing pilots and Missy wasn't even available when we were casting the pilot, because she was on Heroes. So just new people become available after pilot season is over, and we were looking for somebody who had kind of a vulnerability. It was a very hard role to cast, because the character of Andi is, she can hang with the guys but she's not one of the guys.  And Missy just, and it's funny when you see her on Heroes, you're like, “Oh, she's a badass.” But when you meet her in person, she's like sweet and bubbly, and just adorable. Just a really sweet person, and she's just kind of brought that kind of vulnerability that we wanted for the character.  So we were really happy that she became available, and we stole her away from Heroes.

I got to see Reaper at the screening at San Diego Comic-Con, and there was such a packed crowd, and everyone loved it. The response pretty much universally has been great. How exciting is that going into the premiere, and does that kind of ease the tension of having your series premiere coming up?

Tara: It actually makes me feel more nervous, because we want to live up to everybody's expectations, and we love the show. It's something that we've done for such a long time, you know, we've been happy each step of the process, in the sense to finally be able to write it, and to be able to make the pilot. Now to be able to put it on the air, we just want to see it succeed, and let people enjoy a good show.

Michele: It isn't that bad, because one way, it's amazing that we're getting such great reviews and great press. But it just adds that kind of extra level of pressure, like OK, now we got to live up to it. But you know there's always pressure.

Tara: Believe me, it'd be far worse if no one wanted to watch the show.

Michele: Yeah, exactly. If they were like, “This sucks,” that wouldn't be as good.

Seeing the pilot, it could be a lot of things going forward. From episode two on, is it going to be a monster of the week? Or will there be some mythology that goes on from episode to episode?

Michele: We would like to do a little of both. Our kind of paradigm that we really respond to is The X-Files paradigm. The X-Files did a really great job of having self-contained episodes, where it was the monster of the week. But then threaded through each episode is a little, or every couple of episodes you'd get a little hint to the mythology.  So, we're going to see the mythology out, and get people to know the show, and know the characters. And then every couple episodes, you'll get a little hint to...things are not as they appear. There are secrets that are not being revealed, and everything is not what it seems, so that's what we hope to accomplish. I think the X-Files paradigm was perfect.

-Interview conducted By Oscar Dahl
(Image Courtesy of The CW)