Nathaniel Halpern has participated in the writing of many TV series such as The Killing, Resurrection, Outcast and Legion. He was also a producer on this series. Today he talks about the challenges of bringing to life the paintings of Simon Stålenhag for Tales From The Loop.
How did you get involved in this project?
Matt Reeves and his producing partners introduced me to Simon’s work and I was instantly intrigued with the world he depicted and the feeling the paintings evoked. I was then drawn to the unique opportunity of creating a series inspired by artwork.
Can you tell us about your collaboration with the artist Simon Stålenhag?
Simon was incredibly supportive throughout the process and designed several visual elements unique to the series. I wanted to make sure the series stayed true to his aesthetic and so there were instances where I asked him “what would this look like in you world?” and he generously designed those elements, which my visual effects teams then built. These included the bionic arm and the stasis device.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing Simon Stålenhag’s beautiful illustrations to life?
The biggest challenge was staying true to that unique balance between the ordinary and extraordinary that Simon captured so well in his paintings. In order to do that we had to be disciplined and treat the science-fiction elements as if they were mundane rather than showcase them. So it became a mentality that if for instance there was an interesting science-fiction structure in a field it should be filmed as if it was no more special than a broken down tractor. As a result, I think this approach created a deeper sense of reality to the world of Tales From the Loop.
Apart from the illustrations, what were your influences and references in writing this series?
I don’t recall any direct references outside of the paintings when I was writing but when it came to making the series I found myself often speaking with everyone about the films of Ingmar Bergman, Krzystof Kieslowski, and Andrei Tarkovsky.
Can you tell us about your collaboration with the other producers and directors?
From the beginning I wanted these stories to be told visually as opposed to relying too heavily on dialogue. I wanted to make something you could follow with your eyes as opposed to just with your ears and so I sought out eight directors I greatly admired and was so fortunate that they came aboard and brought with them an invaluable amount of cinematic artistry. Collaborating with each of them was incredibly rewarding and it all began with the brilliant Mark Romanek in shaping the look and feel of the first episode.
How did you choose the different actors?
Casting is a strange process and each instance has its own little story. I will say many of the roles by design relied on actors who could be compelling to watch while alone and not speaking and I was very fortunate to have an array of actors who have the rare ability to command the screen with their presence while somehow also allowing us access to what they are thinking and feeling.
There are two children in the cast. How did you handle this aspect?
It’s no secret that it is difficult to have children in a cast because of the restricted hours of shooting and what that means in relation to the already tight production schedule. This challenge falls on the line producer and assistant directors who were very skilled in juggling the schedule to make sure it all worked out. In addition, the young actors in this series are among the best I’ve seen. They each brought such intelligence and heart to their characters and quite frankly those stories wouldn’t have been as emotionally effective without that level of performance.
Where did you shoot the different sequences of the series?
The series was filmed in Winnipeg and the surrounding area where the flat rural landscape had the right visual quality to match Simon’s work.
How long did you work on the series?
Roughly five years.
What is your best memory?
Standing waist deep in Lake Winnipeg late at night filming the Vagabond character in a canoe. We only had time to get a couple takes and there was lightning in the sky and it was very quiet as we watched the Vagabond drift past in the dark with its lantern. Since there was so few crew members out there on the water and we couldn’t really see each other it felt more like a moment that was really happening and I was witnessing than a scene we were filming.