Tomorrow HIDDEN CITY debuts on the Travel Channel. This show probably would have escaped my notice, since I don't watch television, but it's being hosted by one of my favorite writers, Marcus Sakey. I'll be trekkin' over to the parents' house to watch; I'm very excited.
I was able to pin Marcus down for a few minutes and get him to talk about his experiences working on the show. I've also collected some of the videos that have been made to preview the show. So, I hope it entices you to check it out as well.
Now over to Marcus.
Q. You have a rather solitary career now. Was it refreshing to be with people all day or did it take some getting use to?
Marcus: It’s been great. The people I’m working with are all spectacular: smart, funny, and dedicated. Every one of them is trying to elevate the show, and that’s a cool feeling.
Though I admit that I miss working in goofy morning hair and slippers. That’s frowned on in the television world.
At least, if you’re in front of the camera. The crew mostly does look that way.
Q. So, you were offered this opportunity; you said, "hot damn! Let's do it." Then what surprised you most about television production - the actual back stage process, filming, any part of it good or bad?
Marcus: The most surprising thing about television is just how much work and time goes into every aspect. It’s sort of like the old line about watching the sausage get made; once you’ve seen the process, you never look at the result the same way.
Every shot is captured multiple times, multiple ways. The setup for an interview takes three guys an hour to light and rig. At any moment we have no fewer than three cameras running, and often as many as seven if you count some of the ones we use for effects. And that’s not even mentioning the planning, the editing, the writing. It’s a pretty complex process.
Q. What was the experience that you'd do again in a heartbeat?
Marcus: There have been so many. I’ve gotten to interview the most incredible people: mayors, armored car thieves, Harvey Milk’s campaign manager, FBI task force leaders, convicted murderers.
But my favorite parts of the show are the ones where I get to do something. This season alone I’ve been pepper sprayed, trained with SWAT, landed a plane, driven an airboat, fired a sniper rifle, gone diving for treasure, tried to outrun State Troopers, been attacked by a dog...
Q. What experience would you refuse to do again regardless of the money you might be offered?
Marcus: There hasn’t been one. There are a few I’m leery of—all of my cop buddies urge me not to get Tased, for example—but I like getting my hands dirty, and I don’t mind taking lumps.
Q. Your favorite place you visited?
Marcus: The only one I hadn’t been before was Anchorage, and I loved it. The city itself is nice enough, but it’s really Alaska that swept me away. It’s just as breathtakingly majestic as you imagine. Watching the sun rise over a glacier, or hiking against 80 mph winds on a frozen river, these things turn me right on.
Q. Place you won't be rushing back to anytime soon?
Marcus: Oddly enough, the Florida Keys. There’s some stunningly beautiful stuff there, but after a week of sixteen hours days, sweating in places I didn’t know I had places, I was ready to go.
Q. Through this experience did you discover anything that crime fiction is portraying all wrong? Or something that crime fiction nails and gives the "everyman" an accurate portrayal of?
Marcus: One thing that is never really portrayed right is how matter of fact this all is; how much paperwork is involved, how many hoops need jumping, how many T’s and I’s need crossing and dotting. The truth is that for a homicide detective or an a FBI task force member or a ballistics expert, this is a job just like yours. They love it and they live it, but they have a lot of the same hassles and frustrations you do.
On the flip side, one thing crime fiction does really well is portray the intensity of it: the moments in life when everything changes, the pounding heart and sweaty armpits, the fear and tension and passion. Whether you’re talking the moments before a thief goes into the bank with a gun, the frustration that leads to an assassination, or the culture clash that ends up with a bloody body count, it’s all real, and ironically, fiction nails that.
Q. Do you feel this experience has changed you as a writer at all? If so, how?
Marcus: I don’t see how it can’t. I’ve met too many people and gotten too thorough a look into this world for it not to play in. Not only that, but writing for television is a lot like writing for advertising—you need to keep stripping down and down and down until you get to the essence of the thing, the one line that will slap someone awake, that will make their chest swell or their heart hurt.
I have to expect that will play into my novel writing as well. At least, I hope so.
Q. So where does Marcus Sakey go from here? Back to a full-time writer, "thanks for the fun, once was enough for me"? Is Spielberg going to be knocking down your door? Would you do this again?
Marcus: I had a blast, and if you’ll forgive me saying, I think the end result is great. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, we’re talking about Season Two now…
That said, I love being a novelist. Books were my first love, and I’ve been faithful to them. I wouldn’t want to stop writing novels.
So tomorrow night, I won't be reading, I'll be checking out the first episode, featuring Chicago. It airs at 10pm on the Travel Channel. I'll look forward to hearing what you all think. Have a great week!