Executive Producers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Len Wiseman Talk SLEEPY HOLLOW, the Inception of the Series, Crafting the Headless Horseman, and More

     August 5, 2013


In this modern-day twist on Sleepy Hollow, premiering on Fox on September 16th, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is resurrected and pulled 250 years through time to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the founding fathers.  Revived alongside Ichabod is the infamous Headless Horseman, who is on a murderous rampage in the present-day town.

While at the Fox portion of the TCA Press Tour, co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Len Wiseman talked about how this show came together, finding the look for the Headless Horseman, the time table for when he could get his head back, how the relationship between Ichabod and Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) will evolve, and how involved they’ll be able to stay with the project.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

bob-orci-alex-kurtzman-sleepy-hollowQuestion:  How did this show form, with the various ideas that you’ve put together?

ALEX KURTZMAN:  Well, I think the credit, actually, really goes to Phil because Phil came into our office and said, “You know, I have this idea that we can do a modern-day Sleepy Hollow show.”  And we were such fans of Sleepy Hollow, in all of its iterations – growing up with the Disney show, and then Tim Burton’s and, obviously, the most important being Washington Irving’s short story.  It evokes and invokes a very specific feeling and tone.  And the other thing that was very smart about what he brought was that he actually managed to sidestep the time travel aspect of, “How did he get over 250 years into the future?,” by actually taking Sleepy Hollow and the Rip Van Winkle story, and finding the spirit of what was great about both of them and putting them together.  So it felt, actually, like one of those ideas that clicked for us, right away, on instinct.  That’s a really, really cool entry point.  Then, it became about figuring out how what context we were going to put him in and who we were going to pair him with.  The obvious would have been to make the character of Ichabod skeptical and not understanding of what was happening, but we flipped it and we made Abbie that character.  Suddenly, I think we felt like the expected dynamic was reversed between the two of them, which was really exciting for us.

ROBERTO ORCI:  But once we got together, the order was the original thing, and then doing it modern-day, and then actually linking it to the Bible.  A lot of people we tell the story to assume that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were actually part of the original Washington Irving story, which only happens to be 17 pages.  It’s a great starting point, and then we built on it, very much in a logical progression. 

When you guys were creating this show, what was the main mission that you had in mind?

LEN WISEMAN:  I can say one of the main missions was fun.  We really wanted to be a fun and entertaining show, to be honest.  It was about just finding the right tone and the right balance of horror and suspense, and the fantasy element.  But, we want it to be really fun, so that’s the first thing that was a real goal of ours.      

sleepy-hollow-tom-mison-nicole-beharieHow did you decide the way you would depict the Headless Horseman in this world?

WISEMAN:  It was one of the things that we were excited about, but also were shouldering.  We wanted to present the Headless Horseman in a new light.  That’s where the fun comes in, of just diving in.  He’s modernized.  He’s able to see how we operate.  We’ve always known him as the character with the swords and the ax, but if he were to be confronted with our modern-day weapons, would he take note of that and adapt that?  I just thought that was interesting, in terms of a visual take with him.  We have a lot of plans for when he comes back into the series, from time to time.  He is still a man.  He’s not just going to be a creature.  And we were really fascinated by the idea of how cunning and calculating he would be, and how much personality you can actually get from somebody when they’re not expressing.  They can do a lot of attitude, just within their body movements.  So, we have a lot of plans for that that we’re really excited about. 

KURTZMAN:  One of the ideas that we wanted to do it in the pilot, we actually ended up not being able to do it, but it really got our juices flowing.  What would an interrogation scene look like, if Headless was on the other side of the table?  How would that work?  How would he even respond to that?  The minute you start thinking about that, you go, “I really want to see that scene.  I really want to see how that would play out.”

WISEMAN:  But to actually communicate with him in an interrogation, he can still write, so apparently he can hear because he’s hearing everything that’s going on.  We’ve all known that.  We’ve never really gotten into it.  So, you can have that communication.  There are a lot of those elements there. 

Is there a time table for when the Headless Horseman will get his head back?

KURTZMAN:  He’s such an iconic character that, if you gave him his head back too early, it would be no fun.  I think we still have so much left to do and so much left to find out about who that character was.  The other thing that’s really fun for us is that we get to have our cake and eat it too, in the sense that there are flashbacks in our show.  Flashbacks are a huge part of our narrative storytelling, so we’re going to actually get to find out who he was before his head was cut off.  The past will inform the present.

sleepy-hollow-4WISEMAN:  And he needs his head for a specific reason, as strange as that sounds. 

KURTZMAN:  I would say the simple answer is that he will he get his head back, no time soon.

How is the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie going to work, going forward?  Will there be an evil-of-the-week that they fight?

KURTZMAN:  We’re in a real shifting moment, in the way that people watch television.  You used to have to make a choice.  Is it a serialized television show, or is it a stand-alone or procedural?  We were wildly influenced by The X-Files.  Even when we created Fringe, it was the same thing.  It’s the gold standard of all gold standards, in genre television, and it was so wonderful because you felt so much for those characters.  But in the case of The X-Files, you could leave the show for a couple weeks, come back and you wouldn’t be lost.  I think our goal and intention is to make sure that, when you watch each episode, you don’t have to make that choice, but also that you can have stand-alone episodes, where a story can have a beginning, middle and end.  I think what people watch television for is the emotional continuity, from episode to episode, and feeling that the experience that they had, four episodes ago, has actually been building to an episode that comes later, and knowing that the characters are growing, as a result of that, and making mistakes, is really, really important to the way people connect to television.  So, we want to make sure that there is a serialized, emotional reality.  We obviously have an ongoing mythology in the show, and that’s an onion we’re going to keep peeling layers off of.  Hopefully, it will be the best of both worlds. 

Did you ever consider making Ichabod Crane less sure of himself and less a man of action, and more of a bumbler?

sleepy-hollow-1WISEMAN:  It’s been portrayed like that.  We know the tale, we know Ichabod, and we know the Headless Horseman, so well.  We really wanted to show a different version of Crane.  He’s tied into the Apocalypse.  He’s a professor and, as a professor, with our version, he is almost like the Clark Kent who’s following this quest to fight the Apocalypse.  He was brought in by Washington, into the secret order.  It was a fun way to look at it.  He has the professor element to him, and it plays hand-in-hand with how he uncovers a lot.  It was almost his cover, and his day job. 

Ichabod’s wife is stuck in the other time.  Is she going to end up in the present, or are they going to communicate more through those dreams?

WISEMAN:  And Ichabod is just trying to make sense of what that realm even is that she’s in.  Is it a dream?  Is it hell?  Is it purgatory?  Are they visions?  And then, he starts to get clues within his reality.  We find that she’s able to break through and leave these messages and clues about how to free her and how to contact her.  We plan to really get into those questions and pay them off, so I hope people are curious about that. 

With as busy as you guys are, how involved are you going to be able to be, with this project?

KURTZMAN:  We’ve been extremely involved, in every aspect of it, from the minute it started, and we plan on staying that way.  I think that part of what enables us to do that is really hand-picking the most amazing team.  We have Mark Goffman, who is an extraordinary man and a very experienced showrunner.  We have a writing staff that’s beyond compare.  Every one of them is so invested and so excited to be there.   

sleepy-hollow-castORCI:  We are writing multiple episodes, and Len is coming back to direct.  Sometimes you find yourself in a band that wants to go to band practice more.  This is that kind of band. 

KURTZMAN:  Also, whatever you tend to fall in love with, you want to stay with it, and I think we’ve fallen very deeply in love with it.  The network has been unbelievably supportive of the show.  They asked us early on, “Okay, you’ve got this idea for this really cool pilot.  We need to know where it’s going.  We need to know that you have a big plan.”  And they would not pick us up, frankly, until we told them, “Here’s what’s going to happen in the first season.  Here’s how we’re setting up the second season.  And here are the six big tentpole moves of the first season.”  Just by having to answer those questions, you come up with the six tentpole moves of Season 2 and Season 3, and suddenly you have this whole incredible canvas that you know you want to paint.  The minute you get that invested, you’re like, “Oh, now I have to be there for all of it.  I have to see how it all pans out.”  So, we’re definitely here, and we’re in it. 

WISEMAN:  And I think it’s important to create and be involved in a show that is so tapped into the core fan in yourself that you can’t stay away from it.  As busy as we get, if it’s three o’clock in the morning and the dailies are coming in, it’s something that you want to see as a fan, too.  We’re all very much in that same boat.  That’s a big part of it. 

Sleepy Hollow premieres on Fox on September 16th.

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