Interview: Producer Ken Olin on 'Sleepy Hollow' Season 2 and getting Timothy Busfield naked
WILMINGTON, NC. Ken Olin's giant dog has the run of his office in the gloriously air-conditioned oasis that is the "Sleepy Hollow" production offices at EUE/Screen Gems Studios.
This is a fact I had forgotten until I went back to the recording of my interview with Olin and discovered that the audio is a fine conversation with a steady background of occasionally deafening panting.
While "Sleepy Hollow" production has the run of large chunks of Wilmington, plus a variety of outdoor environments, EUE/Screen Gems Studios is the home to several stages housing a variety of regular interiors, as well as frequently repurposed sets like the tunnels and caves and caverns and various subterranean chambers that our characters constantly seem to find themselves navigating. [You can check out some non-spoilery pictures from the various stages here, as well as the photo of a dog who is NOT Olin's dog.]
The production offices are largely Olin's domain.
TV viewers of a certain age will perhaps always think of Olin as Michael Steadman from "thirtysomething" or, for those with a love of the esoteric and quickly canceled, Cameron Quinn from "EZ Streets." However, he's been directing since "thirty something" and for around 15 years that's been his primary gig. He has been a director and a directing producer on "Alias," "Brothers & Sisters" and "The Mob Doctor."
He's now director and executive producer on "Sleepy Hollow," helming a trio of episodes -- "Bad Blood," "The Sin Eater" and "Blood Moon" -- last season and Monday's (September 22) Season 2 premiere.
The premiere reunites Olin with "thirtysomething" veteran Timothy Busfield, who plays Benjamin Franklin in which is apparently a rather revealing turn. Olin immediately lights up talking about this latest collaboration with his longtime friend. [Like Olin, Busfield is also a steadily working director and producer, who happened to be local because of his work in those capacities on ABC's midseason drama "Secrets and Lies." Peter Horton has taken the same career path, with his own midseason drama as producer and director, making one wonder what, exactly, was in the water on "thirtysomething."]
During my day on the "Sleepy Hollow" set, I chatted with Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, John Noble, Katia Winter, Lyndie Greenwood and Matt Barr, but I relished the chance to talk to Olin, because I love the nuts-and-bolts perspective on the process. And also because of the air-conditioning.
In the conversation, Olin talked about the advantages and disadvantages of the early production start and the 18-episode order for this "Sleepy Hollow" season, as well as the unique challenges that "Sleepy Hollow" presents that he's never experienced before.
He also explains why getting Timothy Busfield naked was a career high point.
Check out the full interview...
HitFix: I guess my first question is just what is, from the point of view of your job, the difference between doing 18 episodes versus 13 and how that impacts the scope of the season.
Ken Olin: I don't know. Because we're not focusing on serializing it as much, it's just a question mostly for the writers. I don't think the pressure of that impacts us here the same way, because we're not breaking the stories. The only thing that's tough is every once in a while when you start thinking about the coming months, that's a little daunting. But in terms of breaking the story, that doesn't really impact us the same way. I think for the cast sometimes, they become anxious about what it takes. It's just a very, very demanding show, physically, and I think for them just the extension of half-again as long, it's a lot. I think because we started much earlier this year, that helps. We're not up against the same kind of delivery schedule that we were last year, but this season is extended probably by two-and-a-half months or so, which is a lot, three months.
HitFix: And the success of last season, what sort of latitude does that give you guys from the network and studio?
Ken Olin: Well, I haven't experienced as much latitude. I think there's a lot of pressure on us to continue to be successful. I think right now, for network television, anywhere that they find something that they can consider a bonafide hit is so precious and so rare that there's an enormous amount of energy, pressure and focus on those things to maintain that success. The other thing that was tough is because we started in May, for a little while we were the only show they had in production, so there was a lot of attention.
HitFix: The eyes could only be on you.
Ken Olin: Yeah. And also, the other side of it is that the network is extremely supportive -- the network and studio, they're sorta one now, I guess -- they're enormously supportive of what we do and what they feel needs to be done in order to make sure that the shows that we're producing are really excellent, so if there's something that falls short -- you can't always tell what that's gonna be before you see it -- we spend the time and the money to fix it. We have a lot of resources at our disposal and there's a lot of support. So as much as there's that kinda scrutiny, there's just a lot of enthusiasm and, I guess, confidence in what we're doing.
HitFix: Working on the first season, did that sorta give you a sense of what the limitations are within the production environment, the special effects, etc? What you can actually pull off versus what you just can't make happen?
Ken Olin: Yeah. I think, "Yes." But that doesn't mean that we necessarily adhere to that restriction. Look, every show I've ever done, the bar gets raised. I don't know that I've ever done a show where the bar was raised as high as this off-the-bat and we're still, on an episode-to-episode basis, we continue to try to reach it. The other thing is there's not really a model for this show. I was talking to [producer] Mark Goffman about a week ago, talking about what's a template for the show, because Mark and I are just constantly trying to figure out, like, "OK, so how are we gonna make the show in some sort of a consistent, functioning fashion?" And he was saying, "Well actually, there are four templates." Neither of us have ever worked on a show where there was really more than maybe two. There's either *this* kind of episode or *this*. And here there's four and they're very different stories. And then maybe not every episode, but a large percentage of the show, there's the creation of a different kind of creature with a different kind of story that could involve different kinds of special effects in conjunction with visual effects.
And that's, I think, part of the charm of the show is that it's not a procedural, there's not a formula that you can say, "This is what every episode is" and you tune in to see that. It's a constantly evolving and changing environment that we put these characters in. But listen, what we have done is we've gotten very good at doing what we do. The scope of that varies. Sometimes what we do is really, really big and ambitious and sometimes what we do is just big and ambitious. There's just so many factors, which I think is why the show is so rich. We have period and we have wigs and we have wardrobe and we have visual effects and we have special effects. And then who knows what the weather's gonna be? You're here, it's 95 degrees and the humidity's 90 percent and they're running around in period outfits or whatever they're doing today and that's all of the stuff that makes it hard, but I think that's something that it has in common with the big movies is the amount of texture is extraordinary. It's just extraordinary for a television show, there's just so much texture and so many layers in each scene that are just part of it. That's what we keep trying to accomplish.
HitFix: How many episodes are you personally directing this season?
Ken Olin: It's shifting a little bit. I did the first one and I think it's still up in the air in the remaining number how many I'll do. I'm not sure.
HitFix: You mentioned the "four templates" for "Sleepy Hollow." Which of those four templates do you feel most comfortable in as a director? And do you have a desire to stretch into other templates?
Ken Olin: [Laughing.] I'm not even sure I can remember what the four templates are! But when he was describing it for me, I was like, "Yeah, that's true. It's very different." There's the period ones and then there's the creature-of-the-week and then there's whenever something is happening to one of the characters? I can't remember. Every episode is such a stretch, not only from a physical production point-of-view, but just in terms of the visual sophistication, or at least the vocabulary visually is so extensive. What we do, if there's no other mandate, it's make sure there's a lot of visual information and make sure there's a lot of visual variety -- with the kinds of shots, with the way that it's shot. So I don't know. Stretching? My favorite episode, for me, was the one I did last year that was very character based. It was with Crane and we went back in his past and we saw what turned him against the British. Even though there were a lot of very cool visual effects, it was also really strong from a character point-of-view and I really liked doing that. I like the emotional material the best probably.
HitFix: Have you gotten to work with Tim? [I wasn't sure which episode Busfield was in.]
Ken Olin: [Big smile.] Busfield? He's in the first episode and I worked with him. I'm the one who convinced him that he had to walk around naked carrying a kite. That's the high point of my career, was getting to do that with Tim.
HitFix: What is it like when you reunite with him? What's the dynamic?
Ken Olin: Oh man! He's one of my closest friends in the world. Look, what I'm really glad about is I got a chance to work with him as an actor again. He's a great actor and he loves acting and so that was really fun for us. Like me, he's really focused a lot on his directing since "thirtysomething" was over, but unlike me, I think he really prefers acting. He loves acting. He's just been so successful as a director. So whenever he acts, he comes to life and he's fantastic. He's great and he plays Benjamin Franklin, as he said, "A red-headed freckled Benjamin Franklin." So that's pretty great.
HitFix: Do you not ever get the acting itch the same way?
Ken Olin: Sometimes when I'm under a lot of pressure here, that's when I get the acting itch. But nah... Not really.
*** Interview: Nicole Beharie on 'Sleepy Hollow' Season 2 and North Carolina summer heat
*** Tom Mison on 'Sleepy Hollow' Season 2 and an odd 'Silence of the Lambs' comparison
*** 'Sleepy Hollow' star Orlando Jones on Captain Irving's legal woes and interacting with fans
"Sleepy Hollow" premieres on Monday, September 22 at 9 p.m. on FOX.