Elvis Mitchell introduced the guest of honor at Thursday night’s Film Independent at LACMA screening as “the man who’s too good for TV too many times.” Bryan Fuller is the creator of the television shows Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and most recently, Hannibal. All of them were cancelled within their first three seasons, with Hannibal getting the axe on June 22, but not before they’d gained a healthy following and often not before Fuller landed a deal for his next show.
What’s his secret to success in the face of such scrutiny from the networks? Fuller says it boils down to giving his collaborators a creative stake in the process. “I want everybody who works with me to feel like they’re respected as storytellers,” said Fuller, “And that way you get them coming back.”
The first time he met with Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who plays the titular psychiatrist turned serial killer, Fuller said he was already getting ideas from him.
“Mads sat down and he said, ‘I am seeing this character as Lucifer. He is a fallen angel.’ And I thought, ‘Oh that is so cool. Let’s have that be a parallel reality where both things are true.’” And Fuller and team set to work. “When we look at the stories and we see how Hannibal gets to places inexplicably, he either turns to smoke and goes under the door or he goes into a tunnel or something. So we wanted to make sure that it was both real and also had the capacity to be fantastic at the same time.”
The show’s other lead, Hugh Dancy, who plays FBI special investigator Will Graham, was also a major creative force throughout the series, sometimes in more of an editorial capacity. Fuller said he and his writers loved incorporating Thomas Harris’ dialogue from the Red Dragon novel so much that they sometimes overdid it.
“There was one time in particular that Hugh called me and he said, ‘You’ve used this line before. Should we say that differently?’ and I said, ‘Yep.’”
Fuller said input from the show’s stars was a constant. “Mads and Hugh, more than any show that I’ve experienced, those two leads came up with as many ideas as the writers,” said Fuller. “Because they knew the characters, so they would come and pitch stuff to us.”
And they weren’t the only ones. The idea of starting Hannibal’s second season with a climactic fight scene and then working backward from there also came from a cast member. “Mads had a fight sequence in the first season and then Laurence [Fishburne, who plays Graham’s boss, Jack Crawford] came and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘I know how to have fight sequences too.’ And so I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got to get these two guys in a brawl.’”
From there, it was Fuller’s impatience to make that happen that motivated the structure of the season. “I wanted to see it sooner than later.”
But this spirit of collaboration didn’t stop with his actors.
Mitchell called Fuller a “director-friendly” television creator and attributed the specificity and uniqueness of the shows to Fuller working with established film directors, from Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) on Pushing Daisies to Neil Marshall (The Descent) on the most recent episode of Hannibal.
“There are a lot of writers in the industry who will say, ‘Okay, it’s a writer’s medium, television, so I’m going to micromanage the director,’ and you just never get good work from anybody if you micromanage them,” said Fuller. “It’s really about finding people who have the same likes and then just saying, ‘Make it better.’”
In fact, Fuller said when he saw what Hard Candy director David Slade did with the pilot of Hannibal, he had to rethink the entire first season.
“We had several scripts written before we started shooting,” said Fuller. “We did the pilot and David knocked it out of the park, and I said, ‘None of these scripts are up to David’s par. So we have to rewrite all of these…He’s raised the bar and we need to follow him.’”
Fuller said the decision made for a scary first season. “It was a scramble, but I’m glad we did it.”
And so are the fans. The room was packed on Thursday night. The crowd—many of them adorned in meme-worthy flower crowns—laughed and cheered the whole night through.
Mitchell felt their love for the series from the moment he took the stage for his introduction. “This kind of enthusiasm will make sure [Hannibal] lives on somewhere, right?”
The audience roared.
Fuller is already moving on to his next show, American Gods for the Starz Network, but he’s not ruling out a Hannibal return.
“Mads and Hugh are willing to come back whenever and do these characters again. They both had a great time, and like I said, we had a wonderful collaboration.”
Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger