Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in THE CROSSING - Season 1 |©2018 ABC/Bob D'Amico

Sandrine Holt, Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in THE CROSSING – Season 1 |©2018 ABC/Bob D’Amico

ABC’s new series THE CROSSING, now in its eleven-episode first season on Monday nights, deals with an unusual refugee situation. A large group of people wind up in the water off the coast of a small town in Oregon. When the survivors are brought ashore, it turns out they are refugees fleeing a war. However, they’re also Americans – from a hundred and eighty years in the future. While most of the refugees are regular humans, among them hide a few Apexes, genetically-enhanced individuals who have exceptional speed and strength.

THE CROSSING creators and executive producers Jay Beattie and Dan Dworkin are genre veterans who previously teamed up to create the El Rey show MATADOR (which also delved into speculative fiction about human biology) and adapted the SCREAM film franchise as an MTV series.

In a phone conversation, Beattie and Dworkin discuss details of THE CROSSING.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did the two of you come to work together?

JAY BEATTIE: Yeah, we’ve been partners since, I would say, 2002. We were introduced by a mutual friend who suggested that we should read each other’s work and maybe try to write something together, and we wrote movies initially. Then I think I persuaded Dan to take a crack at TV, and a year later, we got into TV – [writing] features at the same time, but we haven’t stopped working in TV since.

AX: With THE CROSSING, did the whole idea come to you at once, or did one part of it come, and then you went, “Wouldn’t it be great if we added this peanut butter to this chocolate concept?”

DAN DWORKIN: The peanut butter is the sci-fi, I guess, but we both love sci-fi and genre, so that’s always bubbling around us when we’re trying to think of new ideas. But I guess the germ of this idea did start with both of us being hit on a daily basis by coverage of refugees, which was at the time, and still is, pretty inescapable. Whatever newspaper you open, it’s there. So we were struck by that, and we were compelled to tell some sort of a story dealing with that, but then we mixed it with the time-travel element. We’ve written pilots in the past that didn’t make it to air that were [combined genres] – we wrote one about the pharmaceutical industry, but gave it a sci-fi spin. And we wrote one about fracking and blended that with genre. So that’s kind of our style.

AX: THE CROSSING begins with a very striking, disturbing image of a kind of kelp forest of drowned human bodies underwater …

BEATTIE: When we had conversations about how refugees might wash up on shore, not unlike the Syrian dinghies we’ve seen washing up on shore, we started to think about how the time-travel element might have gone wrong, and wouldn’t it be interesting if they opened off-course, not just in the water, but underwater, and that’s really where that image came from, was out of that discussion.

Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in THE CROSSING - Season 1 |©2018 ABC/Eike Schroter

Steve Zahn and Natalie Martinez in THE CROSSING – Season 1 |©2018 ABC/Eike Schroter

AX: When did the Apexes come into the premise?

DWORKIN: At one point, we were talking to our executive producer, Jason Reed, who was on this with us pretty much from the beginning. And we were just brainstorming where the show could go, and what would make the pilot compelling, and it was actually his idea originally to have someone separated from the group. And then from there, we just kind of backed into our love of things like THE TERMINATOR and ended up telling the story of something that is actually pretty real, or at least will be in the near term, which is genetic engineering. Genetic-engineered super-species seem to be kind of a no-brainer in a way. We actually had a synthetic biologist as a consultant who read all our scripts and would check us on the reality of the genetic engineering conceits we were dealing with, and that was a pretty fascinating bit of research to do.

AX: And also making sure that the dialogue about it was something that somebody dealing with the subject might actually say?

DWORKIN: Yeah. His name is Andrew Hessel, you could Google this guy or watch any number of TED talks he’s done, he is on the vanguard of science, of genetic engineering, of synthetic biology, and we’d have him read our scripts, or we’d be bouncing ideas off him, and it was surprising how many times he’d be like, “Yeah, that could happen, yeah, that sounds about right.” [laughs] Because we expected him to be shooting us down left and right. Nothing is impossible.

BEATTIE: Yeah. What surprised us most is how fast these things might happen, a lot faster than we thought.

AX: Is one of the ideas with the Apexes that they’re sort of a metaphor for terrorists in the midst of a refugee community, where the community is like, “Hey, we’re afraid of these people, too. We’re just as scared of them as you are, and in fact, this is what we’re trying to get away from”?

BEATTIE: I don’t think there’s a clean analogue to terrorism in the show, per se, but certainly, not just the Apexes, but also, there are normal people who’ve traveled through time who might have their own agenda. The metaphor is certainly there if you want to read into it, but I don’t think you can cleanly draw a connection to modern-day terrorism, ISIS or whatnot. Certainly in the real world, a lot of the arguments against letting in refugees, whether it’s here or in Europe or wherever, that’s certainly something that’s discussed, is [the possibility of] ISIS or whomever being embedded with them.

AX: Although in THE CROSSING, it would be very difficult to send anybody back where they came from, since that’s the future …

DWORKIN: Exactly.

BEATTIE: That’s true, and it’s also part of the reason that makes it difficult. They can’t prove they’re Americans, they can’t prove their citizenship. That’s the challenge of the government – how are they supposed to deal with these people and process them? Certainly with any asylum seeker, [the government tries] to determine whether there’s a credible threat to their lives if they send them back to where they come from. Certainly, they have that, but obviously, they have no way to send them back [laughs].

DWORKIN: And that’s where we had to start getting creative, that’s where the real-world parallels broke down in terms of, okay, there’s a refugee camp, I guess, but there’s nowhere to send them back to, so what do you do then? And that forced us into kind of a creative box that we had to write our way out of it.

BEATTIE: What was surprising about our research, and these are statistics that were available in 2016 about immigration and asylum seekers and refugees, there are over two hundred camps that are detention centers around the United States. Some of them are privately run, they’re for-profit kinds of places. These exist everywhere, and I think at any given time, as many as a hundred thousand people are being held. And asylum seekers can be held for years at a time, because the process is so slow, and it also requires money, which many of them don’t have, and so we really dove into that research, because our intention was to treat this as real – what would really happen in our country if something like this were to occur? It definitely surprised me to learn that that many people and that many detention facilities exist in the United States. My numbers are approximate there. I don’t have the research at my fingertips.

AX: Is there talk in THE CROSSING that this town was not set up to hold a detention center, maybe these people should be moved to other places that were set up for this?

DWORKIN: Well, this detention center is obviously not like others, and the character of Lindauer [played by Jay Karnes] doesn’t necessarily want news of these people getting out. So it’s going to become unique, where they’re being kept, in that not a lot of people are going to know about it. Whereas normally, the kind of centers Jay is talking about, they’re very prevalent, they’re not too difficult to find out if you want to do your research, whereas this one is kept a little more under wraps.

AX: When did your creation of THE CROSSING happen in relation to the 2016 U.S. presidential election?

DWORKIN: We had sold the pilot and had pretty much finished writing it by the time the election happened, if I remember correctly.

BEATTIE: Yeah. This has been a very long process, abnormally long for a network pilot. This has been about two years. Because it’s a midseason show, and it’s pretty much the last midseason show that’s premiering [on network TV this year], and we sold the pilot very early in whatever that was, 2016, it’s been a pretty drawn-out thing, so yeah, we had written it well before the election.

AX: Is the U.S. government in THE CROSSING like the government in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, or SCANDAL, or MADAM SECRETARY, where it’s not meant to be exactly the one that we’ve got in real life?

DWORKIN: I would say that’s accurate, yeah. Also, I haven’t watched much of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, but the government is a huge character in that show, whereas for us, we have kind of a couple characters who happen to be in the government, like Lindauer is part of the DHS, but beyond that, we aren’t showing a lot of government hierarchy. The government is always there in the background, but the government is always represented by one or two characters, and that is essentially our government representation. And also, as you can tell from the pilot, Lindauer is not who the rest of the government thinks he is. So in that way, he’s not actually an accurate representation of our government, because he has a completely different agenda.

AX: By the end of the first episode, we know there have been two events of people coming backward through time to the present. Are we going to find out that there have been more events, will we find out quickly how many people were involved, or is that that one of the arc mysteries?

DWORKIN: I’d say the latter. We slowly reveal the extent of – we call it “the earlier migration,” and one episode in particular, Episode 5, is somewhat dedicated to that story, so there will be a lot more answers about that.

AX: Steve Zahn plays the town sheriff, Jude Ellis. Did you tailor the character at all for the actor?

BEATTIE: I don’t know that we tailored so much for Steve, but once he was cast, we certainly realized we had an actor with a lot of range, and so I think maybe after the table read, we might have tailored it a little bit more for Steve. What’s great about Steve is his ability to improv and his chemistry he achieved with the other actors in the show, so you can give him a lot of leeway on set.

DWORKIN: I would say also the cool thing about Steve, Steve read the role and came to us and said, “I get this guy.” Which was great. We were like, “Really? You do?” And he was able to just be that guy without us having to reconceive the character very much. He is good at coming up with occasional improvs and line stuff, and his instincts are fantastic. So he certainly took it to another level. But it was great and heartening to us that he responded to the role. We’ve been in a couple of interviews with him, like at the Upfronts and stuff, and again, it kind of warms us to hear him say [he likes the character]. He’s not a sci-fi guy, he’s not a genre guy. He likes Westerns.

BEATTIE: He responds to material, I think, more than anything. Of course, he doesn’t gravitate towards sci-fi, but certainly when a script comes across his desk that he responds to, the genre is irrelevant.

DWORKIN: Yeah. That was cool.

AX: The Apex Reece, who is played by Natalie Martinez, she seems to be a good person when we meet her and is basically acting in defense of self and child. What were you looking for in casting that character?

BEATTIE: It was an exhaustive search for that character, partially because you’re dealing with somebody who’s genetically enhanced. I think there are two-dimensional ways to play that, so first and foremost, you’re looking for [a performer] who somehow presents different because of her comportment, because of her intelligence and her physical abilities. We had worked with Natalie before [on MATADOR], and Dan had watched a lot of her work on KINGDOM, where she played an MMA fighter. So the physicality we saw in her performance there, we knew she could handle that aspect of the character.

AX: Right now, because there are so many shows about enhanced people on television, do you guys feel like you need to sit on the lawn with a sign saying, “We’re not DC, we’re not Marvel”?

DWORKIN: A little bit. It’s funny you should say that – I feel like I’ve had that conversation with some people, but I would say, one of the differences is, our show has, hopefully to its benefit, a lot of stuff going on that is not just about an Apex. There’s Jude’s story, there’s the rest of the refugees, there’s the story of the town. So it’s not specifically about that. It’s about a lot of other things. So that, I think, helps us in differentiating our show.

AX: Can you say how arced versus how standalone the Season 1 episodes are?

BEATTIE: I would say it’s pretty arced. We tried to do what we did on MATADOR, which was, each episode has a beginning, middle, and end, but there is a big serialized story running underneath it, and it is quite serialized. There’s no getting around that. That was our goal. We wanted to tell an eleven-episode movie.

AX: You shoot THE CROSSING in Vancouver. Was there a reason you chose the Pacific Northwest as the setting for the series and then you went to Vancouver, or did ABC say, “You’re shooting in Vancouver,” and you went, “Well, in that case, it’s the Pacific Northwest”?

BEATTIE: Initially, when we wrote it, we were setting it on the East Coast, but because we were going to be shooting in March and there’s the threat of the nor’easters coming through, we just thought it would be too cold to be on the beaches out there while we were shooting, and then we thought the Pacific Northwest would be helpful. A lot of shows shoot in Canada, and [there are benefits with] the exchange rates and the tax breaks, and Canada doubles very nicely, Vancouver and Vancouver Island, for the Pacific Northwest, so that’s what led us there. And I thought there was something a little more provocative, too, about refugees washing up on shore in Oregon, especially because they seem to be American, because where could they have come from?

DWORKIN: Yeah, where could they have come from? The Aleutian Islands is about it [laughs]. We weren’t exactly excited right off the bat about Vancouver, just because so many shows and movies shoot there. We thought maybe we’d end up with a show that kind of looked like other shows, but just the nature of the stories we’re telling forced us to go [to less-used locations]. There was no place we shot at that was less than an hour from our hotel. Every time we shot, it was just way out there in some interesting woodsy location, or on some remote beach or something. So it has a texture, I think, that’s nice. So Vancouver worked for us.

AX: Do you welcome the idea of controversy around the refugee themes? That is, are you hoping people will see this as more sci-fi, or are you hoping that people will see this as more of a conversation starter? Not that sci-fi is not a conversation starter, but this is dealing with something that’s very much in the news right now.

DWORKIN: I think the topical nature of the pilot is an engine in a way that gets us started and gets us moving, and the season goes on, it’s a thriller. It’s a drama. It takes on a life of its own, and some of that fades slightly, but the issue of these people who have come here, seeking freedom, seeking peace and still unable to do it because of various roadblocks we throw in their way creatively, that never goes away. So I think, when I watch the show, it’s a drama, it’s a thriller, it’s sci-fi. I think the refugee element is not in your face, it’s texture.

AX: What would you most like people to know about THE CROSSING right now?

DWORKIN: I’d say it’s different. We are true fans of this kind of material, of high-concept but grounded genre stuff, and part of the reason we developed this idea is because there wasn’t a lot out there, certainly on broadcast, that was reflecting that, so I think in that aspect, it brings something different.

BEATTIE: I would echo that. Dan and I are very proud of this show, I think it’s the best work we’ve done in our career, and I think, episode to episode, it does deliver on what Dan is talking about. It’s slightly different than what you get on television.

DWORKIN: You know what? When Jay said, “Episode to episode,” that triggered something for me. That’s the answer to your question. I find myself telling people, I just hope people stick with this show, because it goes some really interesting places, like a lot of stuff that you’ll find on Netflix or whatever. You could never expect where some shows are going to go, and this show really builds and evolves to a crescendo in the finale that really explodes. We love where it goes, and that’s the message I would send is, we hope people ride this thing to the end.

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Article: THE CROSSING creators Dan Beattie and Dan Dworkin on Season 1 – Exclusive Interview

 

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