Sunday, December 12, 2010

"I'm Crying About Fake People!" An Afternoon with 'Life Unexpected'...

Liz Tigelaar, showrunner for The CW's Life Unexpected, has explained before that she drew in part from her own life when creating this show about a young girl in the foster care system who ends up in the care of her mismatched biological parents. But yesterday, at IBG Inc's second-ever Conversation Series event featuring her and her series stars Kristoffer Polaha Shiri Appleby, she took us back to those early days of creation and went even further into detail about from where the story stemmed.

As a writer in general Tigelaar shared that she "always start[s], kind of in a way, of thinking, like, 'Well, what's going on in my life right now?, like how am I feeling about things, and what am I thinking about in a thematic sense?' It just happened to be at a time in my life when I was like, oh I hate babies, but I love teenagers. And I was like, I had these teenagers in my life, and I was like God, not that I want anything bad to happen to their parents, but if it did, and I had these teenagers got dropped-- if I had to take them, I'd be psyched! It would be the best!"

But she went on to add that Polaha's character is actually named for her own high school boyfriend Nate, and that she based the Cate and Baze relationship partially on her own: "'God I could have gotten pregnant by him a zillion times!' And if I had then I would have a teenager right now, and that'd be awesome, and then I started thinking that if I got pregnant with Nate, that would have been so awkward because obviously we have a very contentious relationship: we love each other, we hate each other, and blah blah blah blah blah, and that kind of spawned this idea of Cate and Baze: these two people who don't get along."

The hour-long Q&A event took place in an intimate theater in Beverly Hills where fans of the show, and the individual talent, came out to hear the group talk about their experiences working with each other, and in Hollywood in general. The audience was privy to little nuggets of trivia, such as the fact that Britt Robertson was the first girl Tigelaar saw read for Lux. The network hyped her up and Tigelaar shared she was against casting the first person she saw-- until she saw Robertson. Kerr Smith, on the other hand, didn't want to take a part that wasn't a series regular, so when he expressed interest in the role of Ryan, Tigelaar agreed to expand the character for him.

"And then they said Kerr called and wants to talk to you about the arc for Ryan," she laughed, "and I was like 'I have no idea!'"

Tigelaar added that the inclusion of Ryan past the pilot episode as originally planned really took the show on another journey: suddenly there was this love triangle aspect, which she said was never part of the original plan. And more recently, when the writers sat down to wrap up the story lines, they had the discussion of 'Well, what is our show really about? Is it about a love triangle or a family?' And ultimately, Tigelaar said, it really is about the family. As Baze said in "Stand Taken": "We're crazy; we're unconventional; we're often inappropriate, but no matter what we're your family."

And for many of the fans, the characters on the show have felt like family, as well. This is due in strong part to the deep bond the cast has formed while filming the series up in Vancouver, but also in how they have reached out to their fandom through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, or even agreeing to do interviews for my small, local-based news outlet week after week.

"We really did band together," Appleby stressed, adding later that on the second to last day of shooting (which was Polaha's last day), when the production team called wrap on him, Britt just broke down and began bawling. That's not something that typically happens on a set; usually wrap is called and hugs are given, but you know you'll see each other around so it's not a big deal. For this group, living up in Vancouver together, hanging out at each other's houses, watching every episode as a tight unit, they have become so much more than just co-workers.

"The day we got the email that the show got canceled, we were like 'Okay, we're going to be done on the 23rd; Thanksgiving's on the 25th; we're staying!" Appleby told the audience. "And we stayed in Vancouver; we had our last Thanksgiving together, and then we all left the next morning to go back to L.A.. And this is what I think was amazing: we could all be going home to our families, but we're going to finish this job out with this family and then move. This is the kind of experience I want to continue to have in my life."

In season two, that family got a little bigger. Tigelaar shared that it was actually the network who said the expansion of the world was necessary. "I can actually see so many reasons why that's such a great idea; I think that means adding new characters so it's not always the same old triangle of Cate and Ryan fighting, and Baze showing up somewhere," she explained. "I think that's good; I think it makes it less redundant, and new, and fresh.

"But as any writer would point out when getting that note, you have to say 'Okay, but you realize what the downside of expanding the show is, [right]?' Now these characters are going to have more satellite stories with guest stars; they're going to come together to inform each others' stories and learn valuable lessons from each other. Okay, Cate talks to Baze, and they take their lessons back to their stories with Emma and Ryan...It's a little bit different than when the four or five of them were just interacting with each other: in expanding it, you lose some of the family element."

While the cast and crew will go on, continue to be friends, continue to be in each others' lives, and continue to root for each other, it is really the characters that should be grieved. After all, while Tigelaar may take elements of some of her Life Unexpected characters into new ones and new scripts, there will never be another Cate or another Baze or another Lux!

"It's weird, but it's a loss," Tigelaar said. "When I walked into the writer's room to tell them we were canceled, I said I'm crying about fake people!"

Well, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture cries over these fake people every week when the new episodes air because they-- and their traumas and heartbreaks-- feel so real, so we can only imagine what it's like for Tigelaar who has had them consume as much, if not more, of her life over the last few years as her own friends and family.

Tigelaar didn't know episode 213 would be the last when she first broke the story for it, but once she got the call, she was able to go back and make some tweaks so that the story lines would be satisfying for the fans. She considers the final two episodes a sort-of hybrid version of seasons one and two of the series, indicative of what the tone would have been if allowed to continue, taking her original premise, mixing it with the network mandates, and birthing a super baby, so to speak.

Austin Basis came out to the event as a surprise guest in the audience and got to actually ask a question this time around:

Tigelaar spoke in greater length than I anticipated about the give-and-take a writer must undergo when working on a television show, as opposed to, say, a film or a novel. With a television show, elements are constantly changing and are under the scrutiny of the studio producing the project as well as the network airing it. It can become a battle of wills as to how much a writer must compromise, and Tigelaar shared one particular note that hurt her a little (and hurt me, too!): less Cate and Baze.

So how does a writer handle it when the key romantic relationship must be toned down and cut out? Why, she calls on her extremely capable actors, of course!

"[Shiri and Kris] basically made a commitment that it doesn't matter what is written, we are playing that connection. That's not going away for us!"

Polaha added that that is one of the things he loved most about his time on Life Unexpected: he actually got to do real character work and be a real actor: "There's that rare stuff that when you watch it, it gets into you and it taps into something that's very human, and very real, and very deep, and I smelled it when I was reading the pilot that Liz had written. I smelled that there was something very true and human, but I had no idea that as we carried these two seasons out it was going to be such a compelling, human, heartbreaking show."

Tigelaar, therefore, proved an argument I have been making since "Music Faced" was not, in fact, my over-analyzing or reading too much into a performance but in fact very specific and very deliberate acting choices.

"I think the way I reconciled it as a writer," Tigelaar started, "was is Baze in love with Emma? Yeah...Does Baze need to be in love with Emma because he needs to get over Cate? Yeah! And then I understand how someone can move on quickly; I understand when you need it so bad-- and you need to move on because you can't stand seeing her with Ryan, and you can't stand being in this place, and you can't stand that she married him anyway and that you were late and you missed your chance...What does a flawed person do, who isn't a self-examined person? They fully commit to it, and they embrace it. And so when I start to think of it like that, I say okay, I get what Baze is doing, and I get what Cate is doing. Because she needs this marriage to work because she made a decision...It becomes complicated and messy and fun!"

There: proof that through it all, and as much as she loves Emma Caulfield, Tigelaar is still Team Baze, too, you guys!

And though some actors in Hollywood would (and have) scoffed at playing parents to a teenager while they are still young, for fear of typecasting or never being able to play the "sexy whatever" role again, Appleby doesn't feel pigeonholed by Cate at all. She admitted she wants to take some time off before finding her next project, because she's not one to want to work all the time, but she is comfortable

"I actually think that we're all in much better places post the show in terms of our careers," Appleby offered. "The fact that we're part of an ensemble that got such critical acclaim and was well respected in the business. The fact that Kris is a father, and I'm not a mother yet; we're showing we have range, and I think that's what people respond to."

Well, wherever they go, My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture will surely follow!


loli_yi said...

I'd like to say so many things...I love these 3 guys: Liz, for creating this show and especially Cate and Baze (ha) and Shiri and Kris for portraying the best tv couple I've seen in years on tv. I must clarify I find it very, very difficult to believe something I'm watching on tv, and I bought this show entirely!
Believe me that if I had a tv channel Life Unexpected would live until Cate and Baze have grandchildren, and not Lux's kids...
Thanks for everything and you are not the only ones that cried over the end of this show. Fans like me are still bawling like Brit.

PS: Damn you, CW. Sorry

loryl said...

I hate that this show is ending, it has been the only thing i look forward to. Since i saw the preview to the premier i had the tv set for the date. And haven't stopped since. This show is Amazing, and CW is lame for letting it go! I am pretty much boycotting them. Not that I watch T.V. anyways, this is actually the only show I watched on T.V. and once again the good ones get canceled. That is why I am done getting into any show anymore, because it always starts getting better and batter and then its gone, I Cry and have this sense of emptiness, because I was so into it. This show was one of the best out there. The cast ROCKS and the story is always leaving you wanting more.

Ana said...

It's so so sad to let these characters go! I'm sure Kris, Shiri, Britt, Kerr and the whole cast will move on, they still have a lot to offer, but not seeing them every week as Baze, Cate, Lux and Ryan is going to be... weird. I figured it was the network's decision to take the focus away from the triangle... still, the actors managed to keep the connection alive in the few scenes they shared and it didn't go unnoticed! Family is all that matters, that's why (for me) the speech Baze gave on Stand Taken was the perfect closure, no matter what happens next...

Keri said...

I'm so devastated to let these characters go! I have not been so invested in "fake people" in a long time. Maybe I'm in denial, but I need to hope for a miracle. I want MORE LUX!!!! Thank you to Liz, Kris and Shiri, and the entire cast for letting us fans be a part of the family you created. Cate and Baze will always be a part of me - one of the most epic, compelling, and entertaining couples I've ever seen on television.

Wake Up CW!!!!! You are making a HUGE mistake!

TheHappyThree said...

Isn't there a chance for another station to pick up the show when CW is so dumb to cancell it? It would be so wonderful if the show kept going on... I love it so mcuh and it's heartbreaking to see it go :(

Cristal said...

Thank you for this great write-up, Danielle. I'm finally able to sit and go back to comment your blog and examiner posts (yay!).

Bits and pieces of your write-up made me a bit emotional because, essentially, this show isn't just about a family - it's MADE a family out of the cast and crew as well as the fans. I've talked and made so many friendships with so many people through this fandom, including you and members of the cast/crew. For now I'm still really bitter toward the CW, I feel like they've broken up a family for their own mistakes. If they'd listen to fans, I'd say they should just give LUX another 13 episodes without intervening and see what Liz does with it, if there's no improvement then by all means cancel. They just didn't get a fair chance and I'm confident if they give Liz back full creative control this show would really prosper the way it should have for season 2.

Anyway, kind of went on a tangent there, but thanks for all you do! I never heard of IBGinc and now I'm pretty interested in the organization since I was into philanthropy in high school - it seems great! Thank you for spoiling us with these LUX goodies, the videos, and insider tidbits. You've been amazing, Danielle!