Marc Guggenheim, an executive producer/show runner on the CW’s ARROW, Wednesdays at 9 PM, and its spin-off THE FLASH, Tuesdays at 8 PM, is very happy. Not only have both series been picked up for next season – it will be ARROW’s fourth and THE FLASH’s second – but the network has put together an impressive display of costumes from both D.C. Comics-derived series for the Television Critics Association.
THE FLASH, a DC Comics title, was born for television in the generation within episodes of ARROW (itself derived from DC Comics’ GREEN ARROW), introducing super-fast Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) to brooding, wealthy vigilante Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). This season, there has been a major crossover, just before a midseason ARROW cliffhanger that saw Oliver apparently killed by Ra’s al Ghul.
Guggenheim, who developed both shows alongside DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and his fellow executive producers/show runners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, admires the costume exhibit as he talks about his work at generous length with a couple of reporters.
AX: Since Arrow is your title character and Stephen Amell is still contracted to play him, is it safe to say it’s not a spoiler that Oliver Queen/Arrow survives after all?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: I think, suffice it to say, we’re crazy, we’re not stupid. But I think for us the fun of the show is, even if you think you know what’s going to happen, it happens in a way you don’t expect.
AX: Can you talk about structuring that? Did you come up with what you’re doing after the midseason break and decide, “The best way to get there would be to have Oliver impaled” or did you go, “Let’s have him impaled, and uh-oh, now what do we do?”
GUGGENHEIM: I would say it’s a little bit of both in the sense that, we start the season off, we know exactly what the big tent poles are going to be and we know where we’re ultimately headed, and then as we move through the season, we dial in and focus each thing. A lot of the best ideas on the show really come from Greg, Andrew and I in a room together, going, “What if we do this? What if we do that?” And the ideas that excite us the most are not an individual idea, they’re the fifty other ideas that that one idea birthed. So if we go, “Wait a minute. If we impale Oliver and throw him off a mountaintop, then we can do this, this, this and this.” It’s not about stabbing him through the chest and throwing him off a mountaintop, it’s the fifty other things that happen as a result of that that get us excited.
AX: Stephen Amell has suggested that this plot development gives other actors/characters more screen time. Does this mean he’s actually out, except for flashbacks, for awhile?
GUGGENHEIM: He’s pretty gone. You’ll certainly have to watch the show to see what the amount is, but the first three episodes back from the midseason break, they really are a trilogy that explores in the present day the consequences of Oliver’s absence and what that means for Starling City, what that means for various members of Team Arrow, what that means for just about every character in the show. And everyone’s going to react in different ways, and everyone’s going to have different things to deal with. And that’s the exciting part of the story for us. We’ve sort of watched the show grow into a true ensemble, and I think Episodes Ten, Eleven and Twelve really sort of are a testament to that, that it is an ensemble. I think they’re some of the best episodes we’ve done. Episode Ten features some action and some moments that are unlike anything we’ve ever done on the show before. Glen Winter directed it. He’s the one who directed our big Episode Fifteen last year, with the ship and everything. I don’t even know how he comes up with half the stuff he comes up with. He’s an artist and it’s so much fun to get a chance to see Roy [Colton Haynes] and Diggle [David Ramsey] and Felicity [Emily Bett Rickards] all come to the fore a little bit more. It does create more screen time for other people.
AX: Without Oliver there, does this mean other characters are going to fundamentally have to change in order to fill the void of his absence?
GUGGENHEIM: I think exactly what it means is, they fundamentally have to change and so if Oliver does return, he’s going to return to a very different Lair and a different set of dynamics. Our goal with the show is, everyone should always be growing and everyone should always be developing. We start each episode off in terms of, what are the character journeys for this episode? So the show hopefully is never in statis. Hopefully, It’s never just one thing. I know people sometimes are very nostalgic [about], “Oh, we just like to see the troika of Felicity, Diggle and Oliver.” And we do, too. We love writing that troika. But the show has also grown and developed even beyond that, and part of the fun for us as writers is exploring the different character dynamics.
AX: Is Arrow’s apparent death going to affect Flash at all? Is he going to feel the need to come over there and comfort Felicity?
GUGGENHEIM: No, I think Flash actually has a lot of problems that he’s got to be dealing with in the wake of his midseason finale. Certainly, one thing we’re always talking about is, how can the two shows what’s going on in each other’s shows at the same time, especially on ARROW, we don’t want to sort of run into the problem of, well, why don’t we just call Barry, because he’ll solve the problem in thirty seconds? It’s not dissimilar to the Marvel movies where, post-AVENGERS, why doesn’t Captain America call Thor and just beat up H.Y.D.R.A.? So it’s always trying to be as realistic as possible, at the same time making sure that your characters are – on ARROW, they’re driving the drama.
AX: How did you originally become involved with ARROW?
GUGGENHEIM: Greg [Berlanti] and I have worked together for many years now. We did JACK AND BOBBY, we did ELI STONE together, we wrote THE GREEN LANTERN movie together, and when he mentioned that there was interest at Warner Brothers in this project, he asked if I would do it with him. At the time, I was already producing another pilot with Greg, it’s GREEN ARROW, I’m a huge comic book fan, there was very little decision-making involved.
AX: What is the division of responsibility between the three of you exec producers/show runners?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s a great question. Andrew and I run the room every day. Every day, we’re checking in with Greg, we’re showing him pages, we’re meeting with Greg, we’re breaking story with him. Greg is heavily involved with all the scripts, was heavily involved with the pilot. I’d say it’s a third/a third/a third. Each of us have different perspectives, each of us have different talents. The thing that we’re always saying is, the best version of the show is sort of a mix of the three of us and our three different sensibilities.
AX: Have Mike Grell or any of the other artists who worked on GREEN ARROW had input into this?
GUGGENHEIM: Not input, but actually, if you’ve seen the pilot, in the police sketch, that’s Mike Grell. That’s my little producorial suggestion – “Let’s get Mike Grell to do the sketch of Arrow.” In fact, there’s also a character named after him, Judge Grell, and Andy Diggle, obviously, the John Diggle character is named after him, because we were so inspired by GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE, which he wrote. So the individual writers and artists have not weighed in, but we’re trying to keep them alive in the series.
AX: How much do you weigh referencing ARROW as a modern-day Robin Hood?
GUGGENHEIM: There’s an interesting thing that’s happening in the country right now, where you’re talking about one percent versus ninety-nine percent, haves versus have-nots. Poverty and whatnot has become a political issue, which is interesting, because to me, it was always an issue on both sides of the aisle, how we distribute wealth in this country. It’s a little scary to me that it’s become this polarizing political thing. That’s not the country I grew up in, so it’s weird also to be writing on a show that’s clearly dealing with that issue head-on. Obviously, GREEN ARROW is inspired by Robin Hood and we’re playing around with those elements, but you go it’s more about social justice than it is about politics. At least, that’s what the show should be about.
AX: Aren’t social justice and politics sort of the same thing?
GUGGENHEIM: Well, the point I’m making actually is that social justice has become a political issue in a way that it never has been in this country. Obviously, yes, there’s always been a political divide, we’ve always had disagreements in terms of how to address these issues, but it just feels like the disagreements have become so vitriolic and the differences have become so severe that it’s taken on a different cast than it used to have.
AX: Given that a lot of ARROW is set in the world of the one percent, is that a budgetary issue? Or is production design just as expensive if you’re building caves instead of mansions?
GUGGENHEIM: Richard Hudolin is our production designer. He did BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. He is amazing and he has delivered a look for the show that I’ve never had the good fortune to have on any of my other shows. When you get to Queen Consolidated, which is the company that the Queens own, you’re blown away by that set. But part of I think the nature of a CW show is a certain look and a certain glamour. I don’t worry about it from a budgetary perspective; we’ve sort of built that into the system and we’ve got great people, wonderful costume designers delivering that look, so that’s not a problem.
AX: You had talked about “responsible violence.” What is non-responsible violence in this context?
GUGGENHEIM: I think it’s violence purely for the sake of violence, violence that is gratuitous. And it’s also without follow-up and commentary. It’s without consequence. One of the things that we’re very sensitive to in the show is, when you kill someone, there’s a reason behind it. It’s not gratuitous, it’s not violence for the sake of violence. And in future episodes, we’ll be dealing with the consequences of it, not just the consequences in terms of the idea of breaking the law, but the consequences for Oliver’s soul. What does it mean to be someone who kills somebody, even if you’re doing so in the guise of being a hero? I think it’s an important issue to address.
AX: Were you happy with the way ELI STONE wrapped up, or if you’d had more time to wrap it up, what would that have been?
GUGGENHEIM: The thing about ELI is, because we were always on the verge of cancellation, season finales became potential series finales, so every thirteenth episode, we had to make the episode work on both levels – as a satisfying conclusion for the show and a continuation of the show. I would say the last episode wrapped up a lot of the threads that we were talking about. Obviously, it didn’t wrap up all of the threads. There’s just no way for a forty-two-minute episode to do that. Plus, when we wrote it, we were still hopeful that we would get additional episodes. But I’d say as a final episode, it stands up. I’m reasonably satisfied with it creatively. It’s like, “Oh, we put a nice bow on it.” Returning to the Himalayas, which is where the final scene in the pilot takes place, [reuniting] Eli with his dad, there was a nice feeling of closure to it. So while there were dangling plotlines that were still left undone, like Eli’s vision of the future that’s established in Season 1, maybe the relationship with Maggie, while all of those things were unresolved, it put a nice bow on it. I couldn’t ask for more.
AX: Jonny Lee Miller as Eli and Katie Holmes as Grace had a fated relationship on the show. If Katie Holmes had been available, would Grace have appeared in the finale?
GUGGENHEIM: Well, actually, yeah. Because if you go back and you watch the last episode, there was a comment that his father makes about, “I did this for Grace. Grace was going back.” That was actually something that wasn’t in the original draft – it was something that we were planning for a future episode later in the second season. When we got canceled, I went back and wrote in that closing of the loop, because the idea was that Grace would return. You would discover that the woman’s heart went to her, her heart condition was cured, she and Eli could be together. It was going to be a nice thing, but it was also going to complicate the relationship with Maggie.
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Article: ARROW and FLASH showrunner Marc Guggenheim gives midseason scoop – interview