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Your Last-Minute 'Harper's Island' Preparation Kit

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I don't know about you, but I can't wait for this Thursday's premiere of Harper's Island.  The thirteen-episode "mystery event" follows a group of friends and family who head to the eponymous location for a wedding.  The island has a dark history, which resurfaces when wedding guests start to die.  They call it a mystery, but from the footage I've seen, this is more along the lines of Saw TV.  It promises to be a gruesome little addition to your TiVo.

But wait!  That's not all!  If you act now, you will also get Harper's Globe, the 16-part "social show" that is the perfect companion piece to Harper's Island.  The first episodes of Harper's Globe are already online, but the TV series is still shrouded in secrecy.  We gathered up a panel of Harper's personnel and gave them the third degree.  Among them: Jeffrey Bell, Island executive producer; Dan Shotz, Island co-executive producer; Karim Zreik, Island co-executive producer; Cameron Richardson, who plays Chloe on Island; Matt Barr, who plays Sully on Island; Adam Campbell, who plays Cal on Island; Greg Goodfried, founder and COO of Globe's company, EQAL; Matt Seigel, Globe executive producer; and Melanie Merkosky, who plays Robin on Globe.  Enough experts for you?

Will there be a death in every episode?

Bell: Yes, there will be at least one death in every episode.  Some episodes there are a lot more, some just a few more.  We didn't want it to feel formulaic, so it won't always be at the end.  Sometimes it will be in the teaser.  We've tried to make it interesting.

With so many genre shows and movies constantly pushing the envelope, how do you make a show like this transcend expectations and stereotypes?

Bell: Because we are a network show, we can't be as grotesque as Saw or things like that.  What we can do, and I think we do really well, is we let you care for the characters.  In Friday the 13th, you go through characters pretty fast.  You know them as a stereotype or a cliché.  We started with archetypes for some characters, but by the time the show is over, we try to give everyone a really interesting arc, and bring surprises to every character.  It got to the point, in the writer's room, where we didn't want to kill someone because we really liked them. 

Shotz: We tried to push the envelope as much as we could, but standards and practices wouldn't let us.

Bell: We tried to get away with what, like, CSI gets away with, but they wouldn't let us.  But CSI has earned it.

Shotz: We had something happen in our show that we had heard happened in CSI.  So we found the CSI clip to send to the practices guys and said, "Look!  Look what they did on CSI!"  They are just like, "Nope."

Bell: There was this one guy – or gal – who gets into a fight and throws another guy – or gal – into a wall, and their head goes thump.  The network said, "That sounds violent.  Can you soften that thunk?"  So we showed them the clip from CSI with the headless body hanging upside down with a breast cut off, and were like "Really?"

How much oversight did standards & practices have with Harper's Globe?

Goodfried: None.  We don't have standards & practices on the internet.  That's actually something that came up in one of our meetings.  John came to the set a few times, and he really pushed us to make it more intense.  But I think were still within the TV-14 guidelines.

How will Harper's Island and Harper's Globe combine?  It seems like we have two separate sets of murders going on.

Shotz: When we were working the pilot presentation with John Turtletaub, before CBS even picked it up, we told them that if the show goes, we want it to have a huge online presence.  Once it got picked up, they introduced us to the guys at EQAL.  It was a love affair because they loved what we were doing, and we loved the stuff they were doing, like LonelyGirl15.  What we really wanted to do was change the way TV and internet worked together.  Characters from our show will end up on the web show, and characters from the web show will end up on the TV show. 

Does one inform the other?  Do you get clues if you watch Harper's Globe?

Bell: We wanted to create something that you could watch on line, and it would feel complete.

Shots: We wanted to do things that were "relevant but not required."  That was our buzz line.  When I watch TV shows and, at the end, there is a call to action to go to a website to "check out more," that internet time doesn't translate back to the TV show.  But you don't want to alienate your TV viewers by saying that if they don't go to the internet, they won't understand the TV show.  Harper's Globe fits into the story.  It is one elegantly designed experience if you want it to be, or it's just a kick-ass TV show if you want to watch it that way. 

When you signed up for this show, did they tell you that you could be killed of in three episodes?

Richardson: We all basically got the same contracts – seven out of thirteen [episodes] – and we all had to be really well behaved.

Barr: I'm not really even on the show.  I'm just a decoy.

Campbell: No one knew anything.  That was the most unique thing about this show.  Week to week, when you would get the new script, that was when you knew what happened to your character.  No one really talked about it.

Bell: We wanted to be humane, so the actors who would die in a script, rather than let them read it, Karim was the "assassin."  He would go up to an actor and say:

Zreik: "We need to talk."  That is usually how it would start.  Then people would just start running the other way.

Barr: The show is kind of like a game.  The actor's got to play along because we just didn't know.

Richardson: We would sit around the lunch table going, "What about so-and-so?  What about this-and-that?"

Was this something that was always conceived as being self-contained within 13 episodes?

Zreik: Always, yes.  We knew going in that you couldn't have this storyline go season to season.  Thirteen would give us enough time to tell the story.  If we are fortunate enough to have a season two, it would be a new location, new storyline, new characters.

Bell: Harper's would continue, but instead of being Harper's Island it could be Harper's Safari or Harper's Castle or Harper's Space Station or whatever.  That would be the one constant.

Shotz: And we would keep that same murder-mystery formula.  One or more people get killed each week, and then it is figuring out the killer amongst the survivors.

How was it to work on the TV show?

Merkosky:  It was awesome.  It was really cool to be part of both, and see first-hand how they were going to interact and come together.  I don't think anything like this has ever been done before.

Knowing it was only going to be 13 episodes, how far in advance did you plot out the story?  How long did it take to figure out who the killer would be?

Zreik: Dan and Turtletaub and I started out shooting the sizzle reel.  While we were shooting, it was the best time of our lives, because nothing had to make sense.  It's just a lot of people running, screaming, dying.  Then came the hard part: now what? That's when Jeff Bell came along, thankfully.  We had the basics.  We told him what we thought about the story, and he came in and said, "Nope.  Wrong.  Try this."  [Laughs.]  The way the writers conceived it, it all mapped out perfectly.  We all had hints of who we thought the killer or killers should be, why the killer or killers are doing the killing, what brings all these people to this island.  We had the heavy stuff, and it filtered from there.  But we never predetermined who was going to die, other than a couple specific tent poles.

Did you shoot an "R-rated" version of the show for DVD?

Zreik: We shot it as a feature film would shoot it – we didn't hold back.  We are hoping to put all that footage on the DVD as an extra.  Obviously for television, we had to trim it down.

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