“Showrunners” is a new podcast from INSIDER, a series where we interview the people responsible for bringing TV shows to life. The following is a highlight from our interview with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green – the showrunners of Starz’s “American Gods.”
Starz’s new drama series “American Gods” (based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name) is a cerebral fantasy tale that follows protagonist Shadow Moon as he becomes embroiled in a world of gods. When INSIDER sat down with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green — the “American Gods” creators and co-showrunners — they explained how the sprawling world contained in the show nearly got out of their control.
“I remember early on when we gave [Starz] outlines,” Green said. “The response was ‘We love it — if you can pull off half of it, we’ll be thrilled.’ We pulled off about 60% or 70% of it. Some things we did bite off more than we could chew. Or we chewed wrong.”
“I choked,” Fuller said.
“We certainly did,” Green added. “They did give us the room to make our own mistakes a lot of times, or believed us when we said ‘we’ve got this covered’ and we thought we did. Most the time we did.”
Fuller and Green told INSIDER the story of a time when things nearly went very wrong. In the pilot episode, Shadow Moon and the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday meet at a strange watering hole. The bar itself is shaped like the gigantic mouth of a crocodile — a setting straight from Gaiman’s novel.
But when it came time to construct the bar and shoot the scenes within it, Fuller and Green ran into timing issues that wound up costing an additional $2 million in the budget. Below is their account of what went wrong, excerpted from our interview on INSIDER’s podcast, “Showrunners.”
Green: We tried to shoot an episode of “American Gods,” which takes a certain number of days, in a smaller number of days. We had a director, who’s brilliant—
Fuller: Guillermo Navarro.
Green: He had done amazing work for Bryan on “Hannibal.” I’ve been a fan of his for a very, very long time, and he—
Fuller: He had less days than anybody.
Green: We asked him to do [something that] really couldn’t have been done. It was a standard “American Gods” episode, which is enormous, and we were trying to do it on a less enormous number of days. By accommodating our demand, we put him in an impossible situation. He’s someone we owe an apology to, but at the same time, some of the stuff he did shoot is some of the best stuff in the series and was allocated elsewhere.
Fuller: Salim and the Jinn and Mr. Nancy’s coming to America were all beautifully shot by Guillermo Navarro. The stuff that didn’t work was not by any stretch of the imagination his fault. In the effort to save $500,000, we ended up spending $2 million to fix it.
Green: It’s learning how to make your own show. This all goes back to something we’ve been talking about, the idea of the straight-to-series show. It’s something that everyone thinks is the greatest thing in the world, and it’s not.
Fuller: It’s stupid.
Green: It’s really stupid.
Green: We did something incredibly stupid in our production that we regretted instantly. Everyone did. Our original production plan was that we were going to be shooting our first three episodes with one director, David Slade. We were going to shoot the first episode first, take two weeks off, then assemble it, look at it, and just breathe. Then we were going to shoot the second and third episode after.
Fuller: Giving him a chance to prep the third episode—
Green: And seeing if we needed to replace any crew, or seeing if any cast was an issue. Just giving ourselves a “pilot moment,” as it were. We realized that our budget was astronomically over, and one of the things that was put on the table that we decided to pull out was that two-week break.
Cross-boarding two episodes is herculean. It’s nearly impossible. Most television directors can barely pull off that. We started trying to pull off cross-boarding three. We knew it was a problem.
Fuller: One of those episodes had no prep time because it was completely taken away from our poor director. [He] was going into an episode that he wasn’t given time to prepare to shoot. Every time we showed up on set, he was scrambling because we put him in that situation in order to try to save money. It ended up costing us so much more in re-shooting.
Fuller: Once again, we are responsible for that situation because we agreed that we would have to cut those things in order to save money, but once again, in order to save this amount of money, we’re spending four times more later to fix it.
Green: That falls to the showrunners because it’s the studio’s obligation to suggest those things. It’s on us to filter this is a good way of saving things, this is a bad way.
Fuller: We made a lot of bad way decisions to save money. It ended up costing us a lot more.
Green: We make mistakes, even two people. Constantly.
Fuller: It does help sort of to turn to Michael and say “We f—ed up” as opposed to “I f—ed up.” Everybody is trying to do the show as efficiently as possible. Everyone is aware that it’s a big-budget show. No matter how big your budget is, it is never enough. You have to make cuts. You have to try to find solutions to issues that you couldn’t ever anticipate.
Green: You’re also learning the crew you have and what they’re capable of. Every crew is different.
Fuller: [Like] how long it takes them to do something. When we got into the physical production of this show, which has very particular demands in terms of aesthetic qualities, they would say, “This is what we’d do on a standard seven-day shoot in order to get it done, but it will not be up to your standards.”
We kept on flirting with those issues. I think we were well aware of what was coming, but we just had no choice but to try to save that money. There were many aspects of it.
The Crocodile Bar, the story that Michael referenced earlier, we completely rebuilt that set after we had built it and shot a couple of scenes in it. When we arrived on set, the paint was still wet. We had only seen it the day before because everything was under tarps. They couldn’t show us because nothing was done.
The day before, it was like “Oh my god, what can you do in the next twenty-four hours to fix this?” When we arrived the next day, and it wasn’t fixed enough, we were in the situation of knowing full well that none of this was going to make it to air because it looked terrible.
Green: By terrible, [he means] it didn’t feel believable in the world that we were trying to create. It had a much more amusement park feel.
Fuller: It looked like a children’s show.
INSIDER: I feel like that could be something like a Pee-wee Golf.
Green: We said it was Pee-wee Herman. It’s funny — a picture of that set was one of our first leaked pictures, in Entertainment Weekly.
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) June 16, 2016
We were looking for something that was much more “bayou-chic.” A real destination where we want to serve beer there.
Fuller: That was something that we both felt very strongly [about]. I remember when we sat down to talk about the show, I sketched out the Crocodile Bar set in terms of what we wanted to see. We worked on it together, then we worked with illustrators to bring it to life. Then that didn’t happen. It was all about trying to get it back to the original illustration that Michael and I created.
Green: I think our final note when it was rebuilt was “These illustrations. We want you to build the illustration. Just build this picture.”
Fuller: Which we’d been saying for months.
Green: It was a process.
For more from Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, listen to the full episode of “Showrunners” below. Subscribe to “Showrunners” on iTunes here so you can hear new episodes (featuring the showrunners from “Silicon Valley,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Insecure” and more) first.
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