Like many of you, I’ve had a subscription to Entertainment Weekly since I was 14. That’s 24 years of EW in my life (I absolutely just used a calculator for that). So when I was asked to write a weekly column for EW about my new show Wayward Pines, it might have been more exciting than when I sold the show itself. Perhaps the best part is that I was asked to do this by the inimitable Tim Stack over a boozy brunch at Pump, Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant in West Hollywood. I could write a whole thing about that, but I also could not. (Okay, but you do need to know Vanderpump was there herself, and she stood up and asked the entire restaurant to immediately follow her on Twitter. And we did.)
Okay. Wayward Pines. Each Friday morning I’ll give you a “deep dive” (Tim’s words) into the episode from the night before: fun facts, anecdotes from set, teasers. Here’s what I won’t be doing: recapping. There are plenty of smart and hilarious writers who do those better than I can. [Ed. note: You can read EW’s recap here.] Point is, when I write these things, I’m going to assume you’ve seen last night’s episode. So if you haven’t yet seen the first episode, stop reading this now. I mean I’m not the boss of you, but just a suggestion.
I wrote the first draft of this pilot in four weeks. I know that sounds like a not-so-humble brag, but I’m telling you this because that’s how inspired I was by an advance copy of Blake Crouch’s novel, Pines. I tore through the book in one day. I was obsessed. I immediately had a vision of how I wanted to adapt it. You know how the first episode ends with Sheriff Pope catching Ethan on the road that leads out of (and back to) town? I underlined that when I was reading the book and wrote “End of first ep” in the margin. I always think you have to know your ending when you’re writing. Not just the end of the series, or the end of each episode, but the end of every scene. It gives you a certain confidence, which I think gives the writing a certain confidence. Anyway, I just sat down and started writing. (Yes I had the rights—never adapt something you don’t have the rights for unless you have no intention of showing it to anyone or selling it.)
One year later, I was sitting next to M. Night Shyamalan at our table-read. A table-read is where the actors sit around a big conference table and read the script out loud in a room that is usually too hot or too cold. It happens a few days before the first day of shooting. This is so everyone is on the same page, so the director gets a sense of the actors’ chemistry, so I can hear the words before we shoot and make changes if we need to, and so the network has some sense of the thing they can’t believe they decided to spend this much money on. The table-read of the pilot was great, especially because Melissa Leo just went for it. I mean, went for it. She was full-on Nurse Pam from the moment she opened her mouth. Remember when she threatens Matt Dillon with a giant syringe and says, “Hold still Mr. Burke, or I’ll jam this bad boy straight to the bone”? The line in my original draft at the table-read was, “Hold still Mr. Burke or I’ll jam this motherf—er straight to the bone.” People were absolutely terrified. I was in heaven.
After the table-read, some of the actors had questions. Questions about the plot, the confusing time-line, “What does my character mean when they say this.” That kind of stuff. All understandable given that the story is supposed to be confusing. I remember sitting around with Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, and Juliette Lewis, going through the script for about 10 minutes, when I heard someone behind me say, “Can I get out of here?” I turned around. It was Terrence Howard. “Because I’m good with my s–t,” he said. Yes.
Many people ask me how we found that perfect town to shoot the exteriors. It’s a small town called Agassiz about 90 minutes outside of Vancouver, B.C. It has real pine trees. It’s surrounded by real mountains. It has a real Main Street. But their Main Street only had buildings on one side. The other side was a big park. We initially thought this was a deal-breaker, but our brilliant production designer Curt Beech thought he could design and build our own opposing side of Main Street in the park. It was a perfect solution, allowing us to create the exact look we needed, with the exact shops and restaurants in the story. So when Ethan walks into town, on his left-hand side is our fake set, which includes the Biergarten, the Wayward Pines Hotel, a toy store (where Ethan might find a certain someone in the next episode), while the right-hand side is a dressed-up version of the existing buildings in Agassiz. But real towns as beautiful as Wayward Pines do exist! My inspiration for the look of Main Street came from Telluride, Colorado. Google Image it, and you’ll see what I mean. Telluride is one of my favorite places on the planet. The big difference between Wayward Pines and Telluride is that you can leave Telluride.
I think my favorite part of the pilot is the very first scene we shot—when Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) is at his desk eating an ice cream cone while Ethan (Matt Dillon) tells him about a dead body in a house up the street. Pope just licks his cone and says, “Rum raisin. You like rum raisin?” I added that into the script the day before we shot the scene. Why rum raisin? It’s my dad’s favorite flavor. Whenever he took me to 31 Flavors as a kid, I would get something normal, and he would always get rum raisin. So revolting and embarrassing. Obviously that’s what Pope needed to be eating.
And yes, I asked Night to shoot a few extra takes with Melissa Leo saying the “motherf—er” version of that syringe line. They both happily obliged.