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Bitten - Exclusive Interview with Daegan Fryklind

    I had the terrific opportunity to interview Daegan Fryklind about Bitten at their production offices in Toronto. It happened to be the first day back of production – though clearly the writers had all been hard at work already. The atmosphere in the office was laid back and we had a terrific conversation. Daegan was welcoming and very generous with her time in answering all of the questions that I’d brought with me. Do be warned there are spoilers for season one and some nice hints about season two. If you want to know more about my set visit, you can read about it here. As usual Q: is me and D: is Daegan...

Q: You’ve said that TJ Scott (director of 1.13) is coming back. The finale was wonderful. I especially loved the one shot of the mutt running toward the camera down the hallway.

D: That was on the... we... that stunt performer, we didn’t know in advance that he could do that. It was just something like I can do this, are you curious to see this? And we went yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah and he could do that and it was like oh – it was so amazing that shot. So creepy and sells all the elements of wolf and menacing without us having to spend a dime on vis effects, so it was perfect, and really just a cool shot.

Q: This leads into a question I had. In talking to some of the other actors, they said there weren’t necessarily scripted directions to do this or that, but they really seem like they are mimicking dog and wolf behavior, especially when it came to eye-contact. Did you nudge them in any sort of direction or did they just naturally do that?

D: There were a couple scripted moments, like in 1.02 where they don’t eat until Jeremy nods and says it’s ok. And then I think they just inhabited those characters and just had an innate understanding of those sorts of behaviors, pack behavior and especially with Greg in terms of the Alpha and how they related to Greg.

Aside: I gushed about the scene in 1.03 when Clay wants to go after the hunters and Jeremy just looks at him and Clay drops his eyes and submits to his Alpha.

Q: They are very tactile – such as when Logan wants to fist bump and Pete is having none of it and grabs him in a big hug.

D: One of the things and credit to Joel for that... it was a huge undertaking for Joel to be able to come in and take a character and make that character beloved so that after only three episodes, we kill him. You had to feel the weight of that. And so, he completely brought that to that character.

Q: Could he have a non-evil twin and come back?

D: laughs. Well, we keep saying we should work in more flashbacks to bring back Paulino (Antonio) who was just amazing to work with as well. He was hilarious. If we could do the half hour comedy version of this, it would be starring Paulino. Yeah. But we’re moving ahead and to different story avenues so.... We do think about that though. Where are the flashbacks to bring those guys back.

Q: Will there be flashbacks to Clay’s childhood and his time in the swamp?

D: It’s possible that we’ll go into that story aspect this season as well. Yeah, because we wanted to be able to go into a few of our backstories for our characters and really sort of expand our audience’s knowledge of who they are, where they came from.

Q: You did a great job of that in season one, but it’s hard with only 13 episodes...

D: And now we’re only 10.

Q: Are you serious? That sucks!

D: Well, it’s an interesting story-telling device to have 10 because there’s sort of... I kind of like it, actually. The stakes get higher all across the board, and you can just compress everything into a much more exciting ride.

Aside: discussion of the challenges in maintaining a story arc over 22-26 episodes.

D: It’s not only that, it’s the marathon of energy that it takes to produce 13 when we’re a fairly tight crew and it’s pretty exhausting by the time you get out the other end of 13 episodes. So 10 is really nice. It’s not that 13 isn’t doable, but with 10 you know you’ve got the energy to sprint that whole thing no problem.

Q: Will we being seeing more of Elias Toufexis and Benjamin Ayres?

D: Yeah... we have Joey and Jorge definitely in mind because they help fill out the pack. So we have some story areas and episodes that we have them in mind. Because we haven’t been breaking season two for very long, we’re doing a kind of odd drywall, spackle, drywall, spackle – like we’re kind of moving forwards and backwards at the same time to make sure that everything logically with our mythology is making sense. So we know how our core pack is playing within that and then have our wish list of other people that we’d like to bring back in this season. So, we’re looking for areas for Joey and Jorge and hopefully they’ll land.

Q: Will we see Amber – Eve Harlow – again? It seemed obvious to me that she was dead, but others aren’t quite so sure...

D: We unintentionally left it open-ended in that shot. Our feeling was that she didn’t survive because we wanted to make it clear that there are reasons why Elena is the only one. And we’re playing with this a little bit in season two as well, but in season one, we wanted to show that somebody else going through the same situation couldn’t survive.

Q: Yeah. Even if they were really motivated to.

D: I have to say from that shot, she’s got this open wound on her arm from where he bit her? And so if she didn’t die from the change, she definitely dies from the tetnus that she gets from rubbing that open wound on the rusty cave. (Laughter)

Q: Yeah, and the black ooze, it was gross...

D: John Fawcett did a great job. (Director of "Vengeance")

Q: Is Nick going to get to see his mother in the second season?

D: We’re working towards something like that... It was something that we tee’d up in season one, and whether that’s landing in season two or onwards, it’s definitely something that we’d like to honor.

Q: Is Jeremy grooming Nick to be the next pack leader? It sure seems like that to me...

D: I don’t think Jeremy is ready to stand down...

Q: Oh no – I don’t think he is, I just think he’s a good enough leader that he would want to have somebody in place and it wouldn’t happen overnight... I think that he’d want to spend time training someone...

D: I think he’s grooming Nick to be more of the Antonio that Jeremy was able to rely on, and Nick’s arc in the first season was taking him more towards that, and season two is bringing him more towards that. I think that Jeremy has someone in mind, and for readers of the books, they’ll know who that is... but we’re not close to that yet. We’re not ready to put Jeremy out to pasture any time soon.

Q: Who are the new writers?

D: Returning are Will Zmak and Garfield Miller, who was script coordinator last season. And new this year is Michael MacLennan, who came to us from Bomb Girls, Larry Bambrick, who was previously on Played and Flashpoint, and Jenn Engels, who was on Less Than Kind. Grant Rosenberg is off onto Olympus, Will Pascoe is on DaVinci’s Demons, Karen Hill is on Motive, Denis McGrath is on CampX, and Julia Cohen is on The Royals.

Q: Do you think the new writers will bring something specific to the table?

D: Yeah. They all are really great with character. And that’s the basis of our show is building story out of character. Larry also brings great procedural with him too, so we do have kind of a procedural element in the show. We play with thriller and suspense, the way that we did in season one where it was suspense until we played cards up about the mutts and then it went thriller from that point on. Same with season two. There will be a thriller aspect to the show and a rush for the big finale.

Q: Who else will be directing in season two besides TJ Scott?

D: The other returning directors will be Grant Harvey, who did 1.08, that was the Cain/Clay faceoff.

Q: (I interrupted again to gush about this scene and to lament the loss of Noah Danby who I think is a terrific actor)

D: And James Dunnison, he’s coming back. He did the combinations of episodes 10 and 11. Clay being back in Toronto with Elena, leading up to the two big fights that happened at Philip’s apartment and at Logan’s place. And JB (Sugar) is going to do an episode this year too.

Q: How hard is it to equalize storylines with such a big cast?

D: It all hinges off Elena, really, so we look at what is her story and the pack. So as you were walking past our writer’s room, without looking at the cards, we color-code our cards, and this is a technique that we brought from Motive with us. So Elena’s cards, we use yellow. The pack we use blue, and then for our other characters we use different colors for other sorts of worlds. When we look at the breakdown of an episode, the primary color we should be seeing up there should be yellow and then blue and then whatever the other colors are that we’re dealing with. As I said, it really hinges off of her and what’s the story that we’re telling about her and what are the pieces that we’re using to put that into place.

Q: So the yellow is the plaster and the other colors are the spackle?

D: Laughs – yeah.

Aside: I couldn’t really trust myself to look closely, but imagine a room with all the walls almost completely full of multi-colored post-its... I will say there were lots of yellow and blue ones!

Q: What was your reaction to getting season two, and how soon did you know that it was going to be a go?

D: The reaction was hurrah! We still have so much story to tell, and we just love our whole cast and crew and the whole spirit of our first season of shooting. For most of us it was the best experience that we had had in terms of creating a family – a drama-free family as well. To be able to come back for the fans as well because we’ve built this great fanbase. We were really excited. We had found out that we were going again, and it was about two weeks before we could announce it, and there were so many people asking all the time on Twitter, and we were just sitting on our hands and we couldn’t wait to announce it! Just knowing that there would be very, very happy fans. We finished airing and then there was a bit of a time, but we sort of anticipated that we would be coming back because the fan response, and it was just a great response to the show. The network was very happy with it.

Q: How do you think you’ve grown as a writer or showrunner, and what have you learned from season one?

D: Last year was the first year that I had showrun. There was no curve to the learning curve, it was just straight up. It’s an odd juggle because writers are sort of weird introverts a little bit and producing is extroverts, so it’s a balance between that and also sort of all the various hats that you have to wear in addition to the creative hat. The lessons that I learned were basically just exhale and enjoy the ride. Everybody’s got everybody’s back here. We’re not going to let each other fail, so just trust in the team and move forward. And take some time on weekends to run errands and buy groceries. I didn’t have any food in my house at all last year! That’s what I learned. Make sure that you have food.

Q: I suggested she could raid the fridge on set which is always packed! I did notice as the season went along we saw Elena eat less often.

D: Poor Laura. We wanted to do that just to establish the fact that they have big appetites.

Q: What were your biggest challenges in season one?

D: It was a pretty smooth ride. I can’t think of too many challenges because we had a dream cast, dream crew... Is that an awful thing to say? People look for drama but all of our drama was on the screen.

Q: Please say that there will be a resolution to Rachel and Logan’s storyline.

D: Well, resolution, I don’t think we give you a resolution... I think we give you a continuance.

Q: Are there storylines that are not in the books at all, that you’d like to create? Different directions that you may want to go?

D: One of the things that we brought in to season one, which was different than the books, was our big bad, which was Malcolm. And also Rachel and Logan. Those are elements that we’ve tee’d up to honor in season two, so those are definitely off book elements that come into play in season two.

Q: Are there any insights into season two that you can share? Specifically how it might be different from season one.

D: We do have a new Director of Photography this year and we also have a new Head of Wardrobe this year. We have a new Production Designer this year. But our network is very happy with the look of the show. So our show won’t look significantly different in season two, but because these are new people, they may bring exciting new thoughts to it. There might be a slight shift in that way. In terms of our storytelling, we’re not working with a love triangle anymore, we’re working with two people who are good together and who should be together. We’re going to throw a bunch of challenges at them though. I mean happiness is sort of the boring place in a show.

Aside: I asked about their filming schedule as we were touring the sets, and Daegan remarked that they liked having the tight filming schedule during Toronto’s summer as it was a reflection of the lush, natural atmosphere that reflected the show so well. She also mentioned how horrible it was for Laura filming the first change scene in the first episode during April in freezing rain!

Q: One of the things that really impressed me was that Philip was very sympathetic at first and Clay seemed kind of creepy, but Greyston quickly won me over. Though I did still feel bad for Philip.

D: What we wanted to do in those first few episodes was make you see Clay through Elena’s eyes. So that he feels like a creep because that’s how she’s perceiving him at that point, and then as her view of him shifts then, of course, you as an audience member hopefully as he comes onside, you start to see that he’s a decent guy and that they should be together.

Q: Some of the books don’t include the pack at all, so at that point, do you completely create a pack story or will you focus on those other characters?

D: Well, the show’s called Bitten, and the show will follow the pack. And at such point that we choose to step off the books, we’ll do so, and Kelley Armstrong has been great with the grace that she’s given us in terms of how we’re using the characters and the world that we’re taking them into. She’s been really great with the book fans too, and being really honest with them and saying you know the books and the show are two different things. What we do in the show does not affect her, and what she’s doing with the books, at all.
Q: Next season, as you’ve said, they’re clearly going after Malcolm – James McGowan is so great, especially in that final scene with Greg Bryk...

D: It was so much fun to write! And then when they shot that... they were perfect, perfect, perfect – it was that fantastic sort of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader moment between the two of them.

Q: Michael Luckett’s scene with Laura Vandervoort in the finale was also wonderful.

D: Yeah. They all were top shelf the whole season, and then in that episode they just... You know it was our... they knew it was the last hurrah. And when we were shooting out at Stone Haven it was such beautiful weather it was like being at summer camp. I don’t know if Greg mentioned this, but afterwards his kids had bought him an axe for his birthday after that, and I think he had his sons out that day that he was throwing the axe. It was a pretty cool moment for them to see Dad do that...

Q: Are we going to see Sheriff Morgan? Is she still going to be sniffing around?

D: That I’m not sure of. We have some, I mean there are a few characters that we love in season one, and so, as I say, we’re looking for opportunities for them in season two to honor them. Sheriff Morgan and Deputy O’Neil, slash Dipshit. We love Fiona and Rogan. Fiona actually went through the Canadian Film Centre’s writer’s program and she’s writing on Saving Hope. A woman of many talents.

Q: Do you worry about pleasing the book fans.

D: For us, it’s just the fans and whether they come to us because of the books or they come to us because of the show, now that we’re going into season two, we don’t differentiate between book fans and show fans, they’re all show fans. But we understand that there are expectations about where we’re going from book fans and look to honor that.

Q: It seems to me that you’ve done such a good job of bringing the core parts of those characters to life that even the hard core book fans are really on-side. I also review Game of Thrones...

D: We haven’t had any death threats – laughter. We’ve had some people, and this was in early days, some hard core book fans who just chose not to watch the show any more and that’s absolutely fine.

Q: One of the things that really struck me was how their jobs are really reflections of them. Like Clay being an Anthropologist and Logan a psychologist and Elena a photographer. They have this interest in human nature what makes people tick. One of the scenes I really loved is when they’re discussing Elena’s photography, and Clay is seeing that conflict within her and her obsession with the “pure” human form that she doesn’t really have any more.

D: And what our production designer, Rob Gray, the photographer that we were using, and I apologize, I can’t remember her name, it was a friend of his. And we play with certain colors when we go into the werewolf p.o.v. Dogs see in shades of yellow mostly and then blue. So if I’m looking around this room, and I’m a dog, anything that’s not blue is going to be in a shade of yellow, but this couch and this wall will pop. (the couch was blue) So that’s what we play with when we’re in the werewolf p.o.v. So, Elena’s art is washed in red. And it was a great idea from Rob Gray. She’s rejecting this werewolf life so she’s using the color that they can’t see in her art. And when you look at Jeremy’s paintings, they’re in the werewolf palette – blues and oranges and yellows.

Q: Will there be another cameo from the Inner Space team?

D: Maybe Teddy or Morgan this time!

Q: I loved the music in the finale by Todor...

D: Todor Kobakov – yeah! He’s fantastic. We did have a needle drop in the middle of that too. Thirteen was magic in a bottle because we also had Gillian Truster who was editing that one, who is a great fight editor. She came to us from Orphan Black. And so it was sort of the whole combination of everything. Just really pulled it together and set the bar for what we’d like to do in season two. So Todor wrote... Gillian had cut a version of that that had a lot of source music in it and then Todor wrote the majority of that just for that episode. And he came to us from the Film Centre as well. He’d done the composer’s lab there. I think we’re his first series. He’s so dedicated and hard working and fast and smart. He’s from Bulgaria originally, so he brings with him this deep musical credibility. He’s a pianist, he has a classical training, but he also works a lot with a label here called Arts and Crafts, so working with various Indie bands, so he’s able to bring both levels of it. Also? Super nice guy.

Q: Will Greyston be as naked as often in season two?

D: Oh, let’s hope so! Weather permitting because we will be shooting into November this year. We’ll keep him inside if it gets cold outside.

Q: Is it going to be set in Toronto at all for season two?

D: We’ll have some stuff in Canada for sure. We may pop back into Toronto with Logan and Rachel at some point. But in terms of are we in Toronto as much? No. Is Toronto playing as much as last year? No. But we’ll have a Canadian location.

I hope you enjoyed the interview - I know I did! Don't forget that you can catch up on season one if you missed it or re-live the magic of season one on CTV Saturday nights at 10pm if you are in Canada! Season two will air on SyFy in 2015...