A little over 19 years ago, Terry Gilliam's mind-bending sci-fi film, 12 Monkeys, hit theaters with a unique time-traveling premise and a standout performance by Brad Pitt. Those who enjoyed spending time in that post apocalyptic world can now return to it in Syfy's 12 Monkeys TV series. Based on the iconic movie of the same name, 12 Monkeys further explores the ideas and scenarios of its source material, and for our latest Q&A, we caught up with the series' co-executive producer and co-writer of the pilot, Terry Matalas, to talk about time travel on the small screen.
Were you initially worried about adapting such a beloved sci-fi movie? What convinced you to take this project on?
Terry Matalas: We initially said "no, let's not do it. The movie is perfect." But after going away for a moment and talking about what a multiple season "12 Monkeys" might be like -- opening up the world, changing the tone, there really was an opportunity to do a serialized time travel show that had never been done before. Thematically, it shares the same DNA as the film and Chris Marker's work -- but we thought it could live and breath on its own.
Can you tell us a little about the creative process? How important was it to make this your own take versus adapting the movie in an episodic format?
Terry Matalas: Well, it almost would seem insulting to the perfect Gilliam film to copy his tone. And we knew we couldn't do the "is Cole insane or isn't he?" over and over every season because neither answer would be satisfying. And we knew that if we were going to do a time travel show of this nature, we had to change the the rules of the universe. Here you CAN change time. In the movie you couldn't. But again, it's the same DNA as the movie. On the same family tree. It's about love -- what do we do for those we most care about when the world is about to end? It's about changing one's fate. It's a conspiracy thriller -- a mystery. Who are the Army of the 12 Monkeys?
So, Travis and I ended embracing these elements but making what we hope is a fun, gritty time travel show. The kind of show we wanted to see week after week. That's all you can do -- and hope people feel the same way.
Time travel can be tricky to implement, especially on a show that deals with it on a week-to-week basis. How did you handle time travel and possible conflicts / plot holes in the writer's room? Can you tell us some of your influences from movies to books to TV shows that helped shape your vision of this world and time travel?
Terry Matalas: Every time travel story we could find was digested. And there was a lot of arguing about time travel in the writers room. But we got through it! Ultimately, time travel needs to make emotional sense for the audience to care. If you didn't care about Marty McFly and his parents and Doc Brown... the Delorean is just a neat car.
The movie only gave us a glimpse of the future. Will we get a broader view of life in the future or will the bulk of the show stay in the past?
Terry Matalas: Yes, we spend a lot of time in 2043 getting to know the post apocalypse. And here's a hint... it may not be as apocalyptic as one may think.
Was it important to establish a new look and feel for the show, to try and make these characters look and feel like your own?
Terry Matalas: Yes. Again, to try and emulate Gilliam and Marker just doesn't feel right. It would be insulting to their brilliant work. We absolutely love those films as fans and feel it's our duty to do our own thing here. Early on though, we did reach out to David & Janet Peoples (who wrote Twelve Monkeys) for their blessing and they've been extraordinarily supportive. And before he died, Chris Marker was sent the script and we got a fax back from him with his blessing. So we feel honored in that regard to get that "go ahead."
Looking down the line, how far out have you planned this series? How many seasons would you like to see it last?
Terry Matalas: In order for the time travel to work, we had to know where it was all going. We've got many seasons planned -- lots of mythology that will twist your brain up. But each season has its own drive. So while we know what seasons two and three are, you have to focus on season one. Lots of threads to keep track of.
Can you give our readers a tease of what they can expect to see over the course of the show's first season?
Terry Matalas: Hmmm. Okay. Here's something: you may not know who to root for at a certain point. It's going to get emotionally complicated.
"By 2043, a virus has wiped out most of the world's population. One time traveler, Cole, must journey to 2015 to stop the virus from ever happening."
Co-created by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett and based on Terry Gilliam's 1995 film of the same name, 12 Monkeys stars Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, and Noah Bean.