With the finale of AMC’s Preacher less than a week away, The Beat was given the opportunity to join in on a press conference at SDCC with show creators and executive producers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, as well as the co-creator of the original DC/Vertigo series, Garth Ennis (who also serves as an EP for the series).
Below you’ll find a, more or less, unabridged transcript of the entire press conference in a Q&A fashion. For the record, I asked the questions about the Jesse/Tulip relationship alteration and if we can expect Garth to write for the series anytime soon.
And here we go!
How does one balance character relatability and unlikeability as you all have managed so well with these characters?
Evan Goldberg: I imagine Garth’s going to tackle that one.
Garth Ennis: At least start. Really to give the audience enough relatability, if such a word exists, with the characters that they would stay with them for the five or six years of the comic. Jesse, I suppose, is the most like a traditional hero. I often said he would be happier himself if it was 1865 and he has a six-gun on his head but he was welcomed onto the OK Corral for a shootout so he’s the most traditional hero, although he is, as you say, broken in the same way that the others are. Really, you have to give the audience something to hook onto.
I know there have been a number of successful stories where characters are completely unlikable from the get-go. Preacher just wasn’t going to be like that; it had to have just enough traditional heroism to keep people coming back. I’ve written things since where the lead characters are absolute monsters, one of which you two have sort of an interest coming up, but Preacher was far enough back in my career that I think I was still into the idea of some kind of traditional hero as the lead.
Garth, is there anything that Seth and Evan have changed in this adaptation that you thought, “I wish I had done it that way!”?
Garth Ennis: Oh god, tons. The fight on the plane, I thought, “Christ, that’s wonderful.” There have been various other things. We have Tulip’s little escapade on the corn field, stuff like that. Both of those characters, I’d say Cassidy and Tulip were introduced in vastly more imaginative ways than I managed. Tulip I think shoots someone and runs down the street and runs into Cassidy who happens to be passing. So yes, I wish I’d thought of the fight in the plane.
When it comes to adapting a comic book to new medium, how do you balance telling your story in a way that works for screen versus keeping comic book fans happy?
Evan Goldberg: Well here, when we pitched it, we were like, “We’ve got to do it like Sin City! We’re just going to do the comic book panel for panel.” Then we pitched and AMC bought it off that pitch and Sam Catlin then said “so we’re not doing that, obviously”. It’s absolutely terrifying. It just won’t work, and then Garth kind of set us free by saying that as long as we maintain the core characters emotional arcs and the damage that they have, we can kind of run why, which, if you hadn’t said that, I would have been very trepidacious the whole time and uncomfortable changing too much, but he kind of told us to go for it.
Garth Ennis: The impression I had was that he was really just confirming the suspicion that you had anyway which was that you were going to have to change it. I remember at the pitch meeting when you laid out what you wanted to emphasize, what you wanted to pull back on, what you thought would work and what didn’t and everything sounded right and that’s when I said, “The spirit, keep the spirit.”
One of the strengths of the series is how you maintain a sense of core darkness while also leaving questions of faith up to interpretation. What is your thinking process that leads to that endpoint?
Evan Goldberg: It’s kind of- the trick to that is just having the argument on screen instead of telling people what we think. Like Cassady his thoughts and Jesse has his thoughts and when they have their arguments, they have proper arguments and there’s two sides and they both have valid opinions. That’s how you respect the balances by just having each side go for it as hard as they can, representing numerous things.
Do you find you have a preference for one character’s viewpoint when you’re writing?
Evan Goldberg: I’m all about Odin Quincannon. I relate to him, I have a deep relationship with meat.
Seth Rogen: I think as long as you feel like you’re exploring an idea rather than telling people your beliefs, I think it’s a lot easier to delve into subject matters that maybe some people think is maybe a very hard subject matter to delve into, you know? It’s a conversation, it’s not a statement. It’s like a dialogue, not a monologue, and so I think that is hopefully what keeps it from being alienated and what keeps it from feeling preachy for lack of a better word.
Evan Goldberg: Nice.
Can you speak to making Tulip and Jesse childhood friends?
Evan Goldberg: In the comics, they have a relationship and a backstory that is touched upon but is not heavily gone into and they have a criminal past and we just started talking and it kind of stemmed from how we made Jesse’s father into a preacher and made the town and the church his father’s church. The town kind of became a place that we lived in more and just the idea that they knew each other the whole time just made it a richer story.
Seth Rogen: The thought was how to incorporate all of these themes into each other as much as possible. How do we incorporate Tulip into the father, into the church, into Jesse’s quest for redemption and his internal pain and how instead of those being a bunch of different things, how we kind of meld them more into one idea, basically.
Has the potential for controversy caused you any worry at all?
Seth Rogen: All I know is that after the events of the last several years, my barometer for what I would consider controversial has increased significantly. I don’t see the show ever doing anything that I would consider being truly controversial. If the President does not talk about it, it’s not a controversy, and so it’s not something that we’re worried about, honestly.
Given that online there’s the occasional controversy from some segments of fandom regarding changing character races, was there any backlash regarding casting Ruth (Negga) as Tulip?
Evan Goldberg: I didn’t feel any backlash from anyone on it. We did it intentionally. We just thought having an all white cast is lame and it’s also interesting for love stories set in the south.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, we thought it added to the characters, the stories, the themes, and it made it slightly more of our time in some ways, just literally 2016, and allowed us to potentially kind of explore some of the things that are clearly going on in our world and our country and so there was really endless reasons to do it. Once the idea came up, there was literally no reason not to do it.
Evan Goldberg: But then Ruth just showed and he was like, “I don’t care.” Woah, it’s just you. It’s one of those things at auditions where she just knocks it out of the park.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, she was incredible. And it’s one of those things where now that how I see Tulip in my head, which is strange.
Evan Goldberg: The trippiest thing was the cover that they made. They made like a cover with our versions on the comic. It’s very exciting to look at.
Garth Ennis: Was that the Steve Dillon one?
Evan Goldberg: Yeah.
To speak to Joseph Gilgun a bit, can you talk about his audition process for the role of Cassidy?
Evan Goldberg: His mother videotaped him in his basement and sent a video in that Sam Catlin watched and we just didn’t stop hearing about him for like weeks and we kept hearing from Sam, “You gotta watch this Joe guy.”
Seth Rogen: “You’ve gotta watch this video this guy made in his basement.” And for some reason we were like, “No, we’ll be auditioning actors with agents!” We didn’t realize that he was an actor with an agent and the tape had just come in from his basement. We watched it and we were just kind of blown away by it and then we Skyped with him, I think, right? And it was like talking to the character, it was amazing. I don’t know if you’re met him yet or interviewed him, but he is that.
Evan Goldberg: He’s the least disappointing person you could ever meet.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. It’s not like you meet him and it’s like, “He’s so different than I expected.” You meet him and you’re like, “I just met Cassidy from the Preacher comics.”
What are the key things you’d want someone to understand about the series if they were going in cold?
Evan Goldberg: I think that it’s genre jumping is a big thing. It’s a show that has action, horror, and comedy. To me that’s one of the biggest selling points of the whole concept. It just goes everywhere. There’s a whole chunk of it that’s a New York serial killer mystery and there’s that’s New Orleans and to me that’s wonderful.
Seth Rogen: I think going in cold honestly is like- it’s funny, because now that we’ve been making it people are like, “I’ve started reading the comic.” Part of me is very thrilled to hear that and part of me’s like, “It’s kind of just going to ruin the show.” I’ve actually toured and suggested- part of me just thinks, “If the comic’s not going anywhere, just wait until the show’s over and then get into the comic or if you’re the type of person that likes comics, then read it but it will for sure put you a few steps ahead of what we imagine to be our average viewer.”
Garth Ennis: That said, keep buying it.
Seth Rogen: Yes, buy ten copies and give them to people. Or just burn them.
Evan Goldberg: Hold them when you watch the show.
Were there any actors you considered for the series before the cast was solidified?
Evan Goldberg: We had a nice conversation with James Franco at one point. He looks very Jesse-ish. He was into it, but just literally he has to make four thousand things in 20 different formats, he wouldn’t be able to do a Tori Spelling movie or whatever the hell he was talking about.
Seth Rogen: He was dangling from a crane.
Seth Rogen: He couldn’t work us in. Yeah, I think that was before…it was in a very preliminary phase. Not really, it was- casting a TV show; probably all the differences between movies and television, the casting process is one of the biggest differences. You just have much less time, it’s much more competitive, and-
Evan Goldberg: The craziest part is in movies, no matter who we’re working with, no matter how famous they are, we do a read just to make sure it feels good. But in this, with Dominic, we just had to watch his stuff, meet with him once and offer it. That was a weird thing in television, just taking that jump. “Okay, haven’t seen you do Jesse yet, hope you do it great.” Lucky he did.
Seth Rogen: But we keep telling you, if he auditioned, he would not have gotten a role.
How about the spin-off potential of Preacher, to follow in the footsteps of The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad?
Evan Goldberg: We have Totally Tulip coming out in August and then Can’t Get Enough Cassidy comes out next. *laughter* No, we’re just going to make his other comics instead.
How much extra planning goes into your fight sequences which are clearly very meticulous and one of the bigger highlights of the series so far?
Seth Rogen: Our fight choreographer is this guy, John Coiamo whose incredible, and really understands that our biggest enemy in filming these sequences is time and understands how many setups we’re generally able to accomplish and how many hours-
Evan Goldberg: The airplane fight we did in half a day or a day, and in a film it would have been a week.
Seth Rogen: And in the second episode, there’s this big chainsaw fight. We literally did that the last third of a shooting day, basically. In that amount of time, we can probably do around twenty- maybe in a day, maybe you get forty setups on a good day, then the last third of a day you’re getting like 20 into 16 setups or something like that, and as we’re choreographing the fights and filming it and editing it together on video and literally counting how many setups there are and saying, “Is there a way to remove three setups from this shot so we can do it in one shots instead of four shots?
Is there a way to put two cameras on this moment, so we don’t have to reset it up again and we really-” In the past we never did a lot of fights that were handheld and kind of scrappy and in Preacher, we wanted them to have a much more definitive style and a much more confident choice in how they look, and because of that, it does really make it that you can’t just shoot a bunch of guys wrestling and just cover it with a few cameras and hope it falls together. It’s all about the amount of setups and how much time we have to do it.
Evan Goldberg: And John does a thing where he films it, and it’s super funny to watch – I want to put it on a DVD or something – he’s got it down to a science. “We’re doing this; this is one, this is two,” and they edit together.
Seth Rogen: Then while we’re on set we add the microphone and so in some form of watch and we literally go through and like, “He’s over here stabbing with him a knife and then the shot ends. Okay, next up, he’s over here, he punches him in the face, the shot ends.” We watched Kill Bill a lot, actually in preparing to do the show and it just had such a delivery it’s kind of- you know Sam Raimi, we’re huge fans of, and again, there’s kind of very deliberate shot choices and angle choices when it came to the fight, it was very important to us.
Did you have any specific aims with the tone of the series?
Evan Goldberg: I feel like we’re just doing the tone of the comic, truly.
Seth Rogen: We’re really trying to capture what is the cinematic translation of this comic? Obviously a lot changes, like something goes from a comic book to something on screen, we’ve all seen it go horribly, disastrously wrong, a lot of times, we’ve all seen it go really well a lot of times.
Evan Goldberg: I guess what it was is what I was saying: the comic goes from genre to genre to genre and it’s something that will make you laugh, five minutes later you’re be disgusted and five minutes later you’re be crying because it’s sad and you’re feel emotional about a love story.
Seth Rogen: When we were making the pilot, especially, what we talked about was creating a show that had an infrastructure that allowed it to go to any style or tone or genre at any moment and it wouldn’t feel like it was diverting or subtracting from the sum total of the show. That was probably the biggest conversation we had, over and over and over, how do we do that? How do we not make it feel just like a grab bag; how do we make sure each style’s really behooving with the story that it’s under?
And at the same time, one of the things that we talked a lot about was we wanted the show not only to be unpredictable story wise, but on a visual level, we wanted it to be unpredictable. We didn’t want you to know what the next scene was going to look like and what it was going to be- what the palette was going to be.
Evan Goldberg: We would always, ideally, someone would turn it on and be like, “Oh, I’m watching the wrong show,” in the first three minutes of an episode.
Seth Rogen: Which apparently TV networks don’t like.
Evan Goldberg: The Saint of Killers stuff has been so fun. People just have no clue what it is, how it ties in, it looks differently. That’s been the most fun thing.
Seth Rogen: But really leaning into the genres. I remember I think it’s like the third, fourth episode starts with kind of like this B slasher movie intro where the girl’s getting hunted by these guys with paintball guns. And I remember there’s a conversation where they’re like, “Are any of us going to feel like a slasher movie?” And we were like, “Yes. That’s exactly what it’s going to feel like.”
Evan Goldberg: They were like, “You’re going to make it look a little shitty on purpose?” “Yeah!”… A cool side effect of that is that we just couldn’t seem happening is the crew gets super pumped to get to do different things. I love House of Cards, but if you’re shooting that, it’s like, “Okay, lamps, lights, shadow. We’re doing our shtick.” But with this, they get to come up with new ways to do different things.
Seth Rogen: It’s like they’re working on four different shows sometimes.
Garth, will you be writing for the series in the future?
Garth Ennis: Ah, yes, provision has been made for me to do so. I do have this ongoing feeling that I should just sit back and leave them to it, because what they’re doing is so good. But yes, I would like to try my hand at it eventually.
How does working in television compare to working in film?
Seth Rogen: Yeah. It’s very good. It’s completely different. It’s like a new job, creating a show and we don’t direct all the episodes at all, but we spent way more time in post-production than I thought we would. We spent a huge amount of time in the editing rooms and in visual effects and sound mixing and color time and music and score and really taking the material that they deliver us and then being like, “Okay, now we turn this into our TV show every week.” Because again, the tone is so specific and the style and the music is such a big part of it – something we didn’t know is that TV directors don’t really do that: they work on the show for five days and then they’re gone and we don’t even see them.
Evan Goldberg: I remember the first time we went in, we’re like, “Where’s the director?”
Seth Rogen: And they’re just like, “They’re done! Probably directing an episode of NCIS.” We didn’t understand that, it wasn’t something we experienced, and so we didn’t really understand that all, literally, all of the music and the score and the visual affects and the color timing and the pallets and all that stuff was left up to us, basically, and Sam, who was very busy with other stuff lots of the time.
Either way, it’s been very educational to see how much we are doing on the post-production side of things, how much the show can come together; I mean, the directors have been amazing and they’ve obviously left us with varying degrees of work to do on the various episodes, but it has been very different than I thought; we spent a lot of time- when we first started, we planned a lot of the very complicated sequences: all of the flashbacks with the Saint of Killers, they were all meticulously story-boarded: literally every single panel and frame was poured over and discussed with me and Evan and Sam and our DP for weeks because we had so little time to shoot all of that stuff and-
Evan Goldberg: Four days for all of that-
Seth Rogen: Four days, and there’s more of it to come. So there was a lot of that going on in the front end of things, and then the last four months for us have been a lot of post-production, basically, but that’s when things really come together, so …
Evan Goldberg: It’s a little problematic for our company in general, because we keep doing things we don’t need to on Preacher–
Seth Rogen: Yes, we just like it.
Seth Rogen: The other thing is Sam, the other creator is kind of color blind-
Evan Goldberg: Which I thought was a fucking joke. I thought he was fucking with us.
Seth Rogen: He leaves all the color time choices up to me and Evan, which is a lot of fun.
Evan Goldberg: And I don’t think he understands how crazy we go.
Is there anything you guys had to fight for regarding the content of the show?
Evan Goldberg: It’s like night and day for movies. With movies, you’ve got to fight for what you want. With AMC, we have super rational conversations, and if it’s emotional and character-based, they let us do it, and if it’s unnecessary, they call it out and they’re right. We were ready to throw down.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, we thought it was like the MPAA like it’s this faceless, nameless, organization that we just send our stuff to and pray it comes back.
Evan Goldberg: They’re all really reasonable
Seth Rogen: Yeah, we called a guy and he’s like, “Why do you need to do this?” “Well, we think it really helped the story.” He’s like, “Huh, let me think about that.” We get a call back twenty years later. “You know what, I thought about it, I think you guys were right. We’ll let you do it.” We’re like, “Great!” But honestly there has not been anything that we have been rejected on as far as something we wanted to do and not do. There’s things that took many conversations and many hours of our collective time and energy in order to make sure we were all on the same page as to why we thought it needed to happen, but in the end, I’m honestly shocked at how much we were able to do.
Truly, the only thing we can’t do is say ‘fuck’. Other than that, we can pretty much do anything we want. It’s really been surprising as to how free of a creative process it’s been. It’s been amazing.
The season finale of Preacher airs this coming Sunday on AMC.
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.