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Few people would remember the name of Oscar Levant from the 1930’s and 40’s but there is no doubt that many are familiar with one of his most famous quotes: there is a fine line between genius and insanity. And these are the most widely used adjectives that fans have applied when referring to Eric Kripke, the creator, Executive Producer, writer, and even one-time director of CW’s popular series Supernatural. The show revolves around the adventures of the Winchester brothers as they strive to carry out their motto of Saving People, Hunting Things — the Family Business. It features unique paranormal hunts based on widely accepted urban legends, playing alongside unexpected plot twists that fans have often labeled as <genius>. Equally, some of those plot twists bringing changes to the successful formula of the show have been seriously questioned to the point of being labeled as <insanity>. It appears Oscar may have been right… a fine line indeed!
To the delight of fans, Eric Kripke made an appearance at the Salute to Supernatural Convention sponsored by Creation Entertainment and held in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. To his own amazement, fans not only traveled from throughout the U.S. to attend, but had also come from as far away as China, England, France, Germany and Australia. He answered a myriad of their questions with grace and humor, appeared to be practically orgasmic at the opportunity, and often spouted words that would make a sailor blush after being assured by the attendees that those types of words were completely acceptable. His passion for his work, appreciation of the fans, willingness to engage in open dialogue concerning the current and future direction of the show, and eagerness to sign autographs entirely complimentary for everyone in attendance, made Eric Kripke appear not only genuine as a person but truly incomparable among showrunners.
Following an enthusiastic welcome, fans wasted no time asking a wide range of questions, from the ordinary to the incredibly analytical. Through his answers, there was much we discovered about this decent and genuinely kind, caring and intelligent man, and about this very smart, complex and entertaining show. Additionally, I discovered that writing down this many notes in shorthand can lead to a mild case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! The Q&A that follows has been rearranged and somewhat grouped into similar subjects, but is otherwise closely verbatim. And yes, there are a few spoilers. Answers involving direct spoilers for the rest of THIS season and the upcoming one have been labeled, but general or speculative answers have not. So spoiler-phobes, continue at your own risk.
In Part 1 we hear about the music, his inspiration, difficulties created by budget problems, a visit to the big screen, what we can expect in the DVDs, and what he thinks about the manner in which this show resonates with so many people. Check back for Part 2 which will deal with specifics about a variety of episodes, past and present. Then Part 3 will get into the analytical discussions about the mythology, what we can expect for Season Four, and just how painful this season’s finale will be.
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Q: Supernatural has the best [classic rock] soundtrack ever. Are there any plans to put a CD out?
Eric Kripke: Thank you and I so agree. (heavy sigh) This is the one thing that really pisses me off. I think there should totally be a Supernatural soundtrack. And I’ve been mentioning this to Warner Music that our music is not like anything else on TV. I had to really fight to get that music on in the first place. The network was very resistant at the beginning of Season 1 and I actually threatened to quit… <either the music stays or I go> and now it’s really distinct. We literally go into my own private collection to choose. So I was looking into doing a compilation with ‘Supernatural’ on the cover and they can’t because part of it is licensing since all this music exists from so many different record companies. So there would be a lot of legal issues. And part of is that [they tell me] these compilations just don’t sell well. So what I’m trying to do now is to get iTunes to publish the Supernatural music canon where everyone can virtually create their own album, and that’s still in the process.
Q: [Music supervisors] Chris Lennertz and Jay Gruska have been hitting it out of the park as well and we’d like to see their work included on the soundtrack.
EK: That’s a great idea, and I’ll be sure to mention it to them.
Q: There have been rumors online that just like Firefly did a full-length movie, Serenity, there is talk about a Supernatural movie. Would you ever be interested in that?
EK: I would be super-interested in it, but there is no talk yet … (jokingly) so everyone write letters to Warner Brothers! It would be tons of fun to do a full-length feature, but there are no plans yet and now that there is a Season 4, everyone is focusing on that. If there was a movie, it would be much further down the line.
Q: What was your inspiration, either a person or event, that made you want to be a writer.
EK: It’s actually a silly, lame story. I was one of those freaky kids and at nine years old in 1983 I decided I wanted to make movies. It was Spielberg’s E.T. … and then Evil Dead 2, which I discovered later. (chuckles from the audience) Hey, it was one of the greatest movies ever made… (sarcastically) … Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and Evil Dead 2. So the totally embarrassing and lame story is that when I was nine years old, I wanted to grow up and be a fish, a stop sign, and then a film director. And when I was watching E.T., I was watching the audience [reacting to] watching the film and that’s when I figured out that it’s what I wanted to do. So I started focusing on running shows and writing, not necessarily directing. And then coming out here from Ohio and breaking into the business was something that I really wanted to do.
Q: How are the cities in the show chosen?
EK: It’s basically my taste since I’m from the Midwest and the writer’s will come up with some names… New Haven sounds better than Smithsville. But they know to pick towns in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, etc. It’s like when they come in and give me something like Seattle or Vancouver, or the scripts states <fade in: Portland> and I just groan, so now they know to just state <fade in: Indiana>.
Q: You’ve talked about how the show’s music is yours, and that you really wanted to make a show about a road trip, but you also created a show with a great family relationship and a really intense brother-bond. Did that also come from you or someone else?
EK: That’s part of it too, and I’d like to take all the credit for it, but it’s a real group effort. I’m a little brother and I have a really close relationship with my big brother, and also I have several best friends that I have a tight relationship with. As a writer, I really enjoy the ways guys talk – the way they say how they feel by saying absolutely nothing because… they’re idiots – they’re so non-communicative and I really love that type of rhythm of conversation. But I’m from the Midwest and a tight-knit family, in a family business that goes back for generations. I left that family business, which is scrap metal, to come out to California, which sort of made me the black sheep of the family since my older brother is in the family business. So those issues of having to be a part of your family, and free will versus destiny, and family versus individuality were real issues that were playing into my life and I ended up making a show about it. Even as I wrote the pilot I kept these cards in front of me with notes such as <individuality vs. family>, which is still an issue in the show. Depression and stress can cause erectile dysfunction and then a man starts taking Cialis and gets an erection, but it’s better to deal with the cause. That was part of it but the other writers on the show, Bob Singer, Sera Gamble, Raelle Tucker and Ben Edlund… all those people have brought so much emotion to the guys and created this sibling relationship in a way that is probably the most honest that we’ve ever seen, and we’re really proud of that. I first came in saying that I just wanted to make a horror show and kill people, and it was also going to have this emotional through-line. But Bob Singer, to his credit, pointed to the through-line and said =that there is your show= The horror stuff is cool and good, but at the end of the day it’s just set decoration. The brothers’ relationship is what you need to focus on. And the show improved drastically as a result. You can see it in Season 1, after about the first four episodes, where you can see that it was a show about these guys and not really about the monsters, and that’s when the show really took off.
Q: I have a comment and then a question. First of all thank you for the show. One thing I’ve noticed in many other shows is that characters don’t carry the accumulation of experience… they don’t seem to remember what they’ve learned, so I appreciate that with your Sam and Dean they do remember what they’ve learned and they catch on. My question is [about music]. I know you’ve said you’re a big Led Zepellin fan and that they are way too expensive for the show. Where should we start the fund for fundraising? You know this fandom can do it!
EK: Yeah, I would love that. (jokingly) Send your cash to the Supernatural writer’s office in care of Kripke! But seriously, Zepellin is SO expensive and not only that, they’re also super picky what they give their stuff to. If you look at movies, there was School of Rock [but] they were buddies with them and… that’s about it. But we do know that AC/DC digs the show. And Quiet Riot. And all these other bands who think Supernatural is bada**. But unfortunately Zepellin would cost millions, so it’s unrealistic.
Q: I’m a fan of The Actor’s Studio, so I need to ask you, what is your favorite word?
EK: Oh God…(calls out from the audience: renewed) Yes! Renewed! Q: Least favorite word. EK: Cancellation! Q: And favorite curse word? EK: (contemplating, hesitating) Favorite curse is <f–ing sh–>.
Q: I noticed that Supernatural episodes are about 38 minutes long whereas shows on other networks are a few minutes longer. Is that a network or a budget issue, or planned that way?
EK: No, we certainly wouldn’t want it to be that way. The real answer is that it’s a budget thing. Making this show is such a f—, and they don’t give us that much money to make it. And we’re really just busting our as**s to get it done. It’s so hard for all the guys who oversee our army up in Vancouver. It’s so f’ing hard because there are no standing sets; it’s a new deal every time… the creatures are new, the sets, the stunts… and they literally give us no f’ing money!! And we’re really trying to keep up with the quality.
So basically here is what happens, I’ll walk you through the process. We start out with a 50-page script that would translate to about the right time. And we’ll get a call from up north telling us that we are hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. We present that info to the network and they basically tell us to cut it down or they’ll shut us down. This is literally half my job… I do this every f—ing week! So Bob [Singer] and I go through the script and try to figure out which scenes we can do without — get rid of this scene and we’ll save twenty thousand dollars, get rid of that and it’s another ten grand — and we’ll end up with a 46-page script so that we can avoid getting shut down.
Q: Do you think that in Season Four you’ll get a better reaction if you need more money?
EK: I know for a fact that they’re NOT giving us more money to shoot the episodes, so unfortunately it’s going to be more of the same. In fact one of the reasons there hasn’t been as much classic rock this year is because of that. A lot of times when we are over budget, the one thing that can go quick is the music budget. And it KILLS me every time (expletives). But it gets down between the choice of rolling cameras or not, so you make some hard sacrifices. The reality is that I wish we were a show that they could throw money at, but we’re not; we’ve always been a bit scrappy and on-the-bubble, thus production has to make hard choices to stay on the air. It kills me too since we always end up with shorter episodes for that reason.
Q: How do you feel about ad libbing? If they ad lib something, do the directors also have to shoot the script exactly in case you hate it?
EK: Yes. But I generally dig the ad-libbing. The boys [Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki] are awesome at ad-libs. But the director who is the heavyweight champ of ad-libs is Phil Scriggia. He directed Nightshifter, Hollywood Babylon and Kids are All Right. Now he’s directing Ghostfacers. To give you an example, he’s got great instincts and he’ll let them ad-lib and do something hilarious and all these little moments that aren’t scripted, and then also shoots it straight. But 8 out of 10 times we’ll use the ad-lib. Because I don’t give a sh#& where the good idea comes from, as long as it’s funny. It makes ME look good, so why not! You’re going to really like Ghostfacers because it’s like Spinal Tap. We’re watching the dailies and there is so much ad-libbing. Harry and Ed, the Hellhounds from Season 1 are back. And everyone is just so funny! We’re going to be using a bunch of dialogue that they just came up with on set.
Q: Will Jensen’s audition be included in this season’s DVD set?
EK: I actually do not know the answer to that question. (comment from the audience: ‘the answer is yes’) Oh, okay then, I guess the answer is yes! (chuckles)
Q: Can you give us any idea of what we can expect of the Season Three DVD extras?
EK: There’s actually going to be a really cool feature regarding Ivan Hayden and all the visual effects on the show. And rather than whole episode commentaries we’re doing favorite scene commentaries. I’m doing my three favorite scenes of the year, Sera [Gamble] and Ben [Edlund] are doing a bunch, as are the team up in Vancouver. And of course, there will be gag reel!
Q: I have a question about the [tie-in] novels. You probably don’t have a lot to do with it but I noticed they are doing very well. Will there be more, and if so, are there any plans of letting any new authors have a shot?
EK: I actually don’t have almost anything to do with the novels and here’s something really embarrassing… (whispers) I haven’t read them. There’s a new one coming out, Bone Key, that takes place in Key West. And it’s not that I don’t want to [read it], it’s just that you get so jammed and pressured to get the show done. I barely have time to read the comic book scripts. Other corporate people make those decisions above me, so I really don’t know. Q: Keith [DeCandido] is contracted for one more. Yeah, Keith is pretty bada**. I see he has a lot of online comments and is pretty tight with the fans and I respect that.
Q: In regards to the Supernatural fans, do you have any crazy experiences, or do you just love us to death?
EK: I love you guys. You guys drive me crazy, but I love you! You force me to make the show better, so how could I not love you? But I don’t have any super-crazy fan stories. It’s generally been a lot of love and respect. It’s a very smart fan base, you guys are kicking a**, so thank you.
Q: We can’t thank you enough for taking the time to listen to all us fans and trying to make us happy…
EK: Of course, but it’s impossible! I try, I really try but it’s so quixotic… I try to make you happy, but you’re never happy!
Q: The show has been an underdog show that you have had to fight for tooth and nail from the beginning, but you have really inspired a lot of people. How has it been like for you personally, especially now that the show has gained some success?
EK: It has been a dream come true. It is, by far, the single most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had a lot of career twists and turns, and disappointments. Looking back, they all added up to getting me to this point. I’ve written a lot of scripts that were crap, and bad screenplays that never got made, but there is a lesson in all this because this is the first show that was personal to me and that I was passionate about. It was about people from my part of the world. It was my values. It was a subject that I was interested in, my obsessions, and because of all that, it was just better. And for this to be the one that has gone the distance and for people to connect with, means more to me than you could ever know. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever have another show that I will be as passionate about as this one. This was my dream. Incarnations of it have been in my back pocket for ten years, so to be able to do this show and have you guys connect to it just absolutely blows me away. I never take it for granted, thank you!
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Besides stating that there is a fine line between genius and insanity, Oscar Levant was also famous for another saying: What the world needs is more geniuses with humility… there are so few of us left. Luckily for all Supernatural fans, Eric Kripke has a generous heaping of both genius and humility. But that still won’t stop his dedicated fans from analyzing every detail and letting him know when they don’t agree with something. Please check back tomorrow for Part II of the Q&A panel. And don’t forget that you can catch the continuing adventures of the Winchester brothers on Supernatural every Thursday at 9:00 pm on The CW network. New episodes will air beginning April 24.