Part 2 Of Our Interview With Kenneth Johnson: The Making & Future Of V!!
Published at: Feb. 15, 2008, 9:41 a.m. CST by merrick
...with the second installment of our three part interview with Kenneth Johnson.
If you don't remember who he is or what he's done, CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1 OF THIS INTERVIEW. Chances are, you'll remember him...or at least know his work.
This time around, our man David Chase talks to Johnson about the making of the original V miniseries, and discusses possibilities for a resurrection of the franchise on either the big or small screen (references to contention between Sci Fi Channel and Warner Bros. is interesting).
Here's David Chase...
In this 2nd set of questions from my interview with Kenneth Johnson, held during our V: The Second Generation promotional Q&A, I’ve assembled all the nostalgic and juicy tidbits regarding his original record-breaking television mini-series V.
DAVID CHASE: So Ken, as a fan of V, its great to finally chat with you - you really created a world and characters that have remained memorable for over two decades.
KEN JOHNSON: Thanks, it’s been a fabulous experience. In the past few years, I’ve probably gotten 7 to 10,000 emails from people all over the world; men and women, younger people, older people who have shared their love for V. It’s so rewarding to be able to be in touch with the people who like your stuff, it’s really great…
DC: Well it was such a huge under-lining pop culture phenomenon… I know it stuck with me and my friends our whole lives, and is a staple for when I think about my early teen years…
KJ: Yeah, its interesting. About ½ the emails I get say, ‘I was 10, 12, 15 when V first aired, now I’m late 20s early 30s and as much as I loved it then, I’m watching it now and realizing how much more was going on then I realized’.
And that I think that’s the thing that’s most rewarding…as people get older, they begin to realize the different layers and levels I was trying to work at, and that V was never really about alien people and spaceships and reptilian races and stuff…it was about POWER, and how people would suck up to it…or keep their heads down and try not to be affected by it…or ultimately become heroic and fight against it (which is what the resistance did).
DC: I remember when the original series aired, all those comparisons of the visitors to Hitler and the persecution of the Jews. People were even comparing the symbol for the visitors to a swastika…
KJ: Funny story about that: Chuck Davis, who was my production designer, over a weekend came up with the design for that symbol. And I looked at it and said, “Oooh…Chuck that’s something. It has a really scary resonance to it” and we left it.
DC: Now we know you were heavily involved in almost every aspect of the original V mini-series. What will your involvement be for The Second Generation when it comes to TV? And I guess the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Is it coming to TV?’
KJ: Well the whole TV series mini market thing, as you know, has gone away. All the networks have cancelled their big TV movie nights, and mini series are few and far between…except on cable channels…but the problem is that most cable channels are very, very branded.
I mean V they didn’t feel was right for Lifetime or the Cooking Channel, obviously the choice would be the Sci-Fi Channel, who actually wanted to do it, but Warners actually refuses to make any deal with the Sci-Fi Channel on anything. Not just V…they had a huge Stephen King project go down, and a George Clooney project go down, all because Time Warner Corporately can not figure out a good template with NBC/Universal corporately.
It’s like Ford and Chevy trying to make a car together, it’s very frustrating. But, I do however have the motion picture rights to the original V and Warners is working out for me to have the motion picture rights to The Second Generation as well, so we’re essentially trying to now get it set up as a motion picture - and hopefully that will come to pass.
DC: So, when V: The Second Generation is ready to be made into another TV mini-series…or even a motion picture…the big question is, would we be able to get some of the original actors back to do it?
Oh yeah. Well, when I originally sat down to write it, I called each of them and said, “Here’s what I’m planning to do - and god knows if it will ever get made - but if it ever gets made and it happens, would you guys be interested in coming back?” And everyone of them said ‘absolutely’; Marc and Faye, and Robert Englund and Jane Badler (who now lives in Australia and has an Australian accent, so we’ll have to deal with that now wont we?) But all of them said ‘Yes, PLEASE, please include me’ and I really couldn’t imagine going forward without them.
I think it’s a fascinating thing if I can get it made the way I want to, to be able to have the same actors that I had 20 years ago, to be able to do flashbacks with them, and see it’s the same person. That’s just so cool, and the fans really have reacted very, very positively to that possibility.
DC: One thing I really enjoyed about the original “V” series was how it didn’t feel like a TV movie…it had more of a movie feel to it…the angles, the sets, even the effects for what you had to work with at that time were awesome…
KJ: Thanks. Well, I’ve always done everything I’ve done with a cinematic view - not thinking I’m doing a television show, so it should be shot in a certain way.
When we shot V to begin with, we shot it in 1:85 letterbox aspect ration because we thought Warners was going to release it as a foreign theatrical. That happened w/ several things…like my Hulk pilot…which became the top grossing motion picture in Europe for 2 months, and I said “What”!? And another Hulk movie I did went over there, so I thought Warners was going to be smart and release V as a movie overseas. But they never did, but we shot it that way, and I tried to approach everything in a cinematic view. The frustration I had at the time was that I didn’t have enough money or time to do it quite the way I wanted to do it, that’s part of the excitement of trying to do a new theatrical version of V at this point, because now…my god look at the tools I’d have to work with now that I didn’t have then!
DC: Well you were able to scare the crap out of my kid brother (with the tearing of the skin off to reveal the reptilian Visitors underneath), and for that I thank you! Though you say resources were limited, you really did a great job with that effect, however it was done.
KJ: Well, back in the day, masks were rubber masks no matter how you did it…and I was using the same technicians that George Lucas was using…and that was the state of the art for the time and visual effects.
The motion control, and all of that, was just so primitive compared to what we have now that I can make a movie that would absolutely take everyone’s head off and essentially would be the same story…and the same characters…but on a scale that’s far more vast then I was able to do way back then.
I mean, look at the face of Voldermort from the Harry Potter movies - it’s really, really scary, and that kind of technology just wasn’t available. It was like when I would try and do the metamorphosis of Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk - we had to do the old Wolfman dissolve you know? There were no computer CGI programs, or morphing abilities available for that type of thing then. To be honest with you, it made me cringe then and it makes me cringe now to look at it…but that’s the best we could do at the time we did it.
DC: It sounds like you were under the gun, what type of time constraints did you have?
Normally…on a big mini-series like V…at the time mind you it was the most expensive mini series ever made… you had 4 to 5 months to prep the thing. But in the case of V, from the day Brandon Tartikoff read my script and said “Go” to the day I was on set and yelled “Action”…it was 2 ½ weeks. It was impossible, but we did it…it was fun.