SHADOWHUNTERS: A Behind The Scenes Look
Article Excerpt Written by & Copyright Edward Gross
Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments book series has spawned a feature film, graphic novel and, now, the Freeform TV series Shadowhunters. What follows is a behind the scenes look at the show via interviews with the director, producers, showrunner, and more...
From its debut earlier this season, the Shadowhunters TV series has worked its magic, ensnaring large audiences and consistently building its fervent fan following. Not really surprising considering that it's based on Cassandra Clare's best-selling (36 million copies in print) The Mortal Instruments books, the latest spin-off of which, Lady Midnight, was recently published. And even with a failed big screen adaptation in the form of 2013's The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones in the mix, the franchise continues to grow in popularity - a point exemplified by the fact that the show has officially been renewed for a second season.
"Listen, I think you have the marriage of the two most important components in being successful," offers executive producer/director McG. "One is archetypal story. I mean, come on, it's the Skywalker story. It's Peter Parker. It's everything I love. That's what you're doing and that's what Cassie is doing such a great job bringing to life. You know, you think that you're regular, and then the hand of fate touches you and you realize you have a higher calling and you're so much more than you thought. It's scary, but you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you make it happen. That's just my favorite story to tell, so that's bean one. Bean two is to do that with original voicing so that it doesn't feel played out and boring. Those are the two elements that I find most exciting, and that's what Cassie's brought. That's what we do our best to bring to life."
In Shadowhunters, Clary Fray discovers on her birthday that she is not who she thinks she is, but instead is the latest in a long line of "Shadowhunters", human-angel hybrids whose purpose is to hunt down demons. Following her mother's kidnapping, Clary finds herself immersed in this world of demon hunting, relying on Shadowhunters Jace, Isabelle and Alec, who are there to help guide her on her journey to her true destiny. With her best friend, Simon, Clary finds a new life among vampires, faeries, werewolves and warlocks as she tries to find her mother. But as she quickly discerns, nothing is as it seems, including close family friend Luke, who knows more than he is letting on; as well as the enigmatic warlock Magnus Bane, who could hold the key to unlocking Clary's past.
Karey Burke (executive vice president programming and development, Freeform network): We were looking to branch into this genre. In our movie packages we air Twilight and The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and we do very well with big saga programming. The feeling was we should do our own, so we should develop a series based on the interest our audience has in this subject matter. We were developing some ideas not based on previous material, but this seemed to us to be kind of like the golden goose. It's hard to find something that is so pre-sold and beloved and has the bones of years of storytelling.
Ed Decter (executive producer/showrunner): I have an 18-year-old daughter, so she and her friends of course knew the novels before I did. When I got contacted by an executive from Constantin [Film Produktion], I read the first book right away and went in to take the meeting. I am also a YA author; I'd written six books for Simon and Schuster, so it's a passion of mine. The whole genre is. So I came in and showed them my six books, saying this is something I could really get passionate about, both as a writer and a parent. What I hooked into the book was a little bit different than some other people. I hooked into unique aspects, among them a Jewish vampire, a relationship between a warlock and a Shadowhunter that may not be accepted by other people within their world; and then I hooked into the idea that a mother would protect a child so much that she would try to hide this world from her. Those things I felt were super unique in the novel.
Burke: We had been tracking the book series and what was happening with it, and whether or not there was going to be a second movie. Then we were told we were going to get a shot at The Mortal Instruments as a series. I knew the books from my teenagers and I knew Ed Decter from many years of working on TV shows together, so I was excited that it was him and he was going to be adapting the books. They came and pitched us and left the script behind for the pilot, which we loved, and they had a very fully thought out visual presentation of what the show would look like, down to the imagery and special effects and tone. There were other networks that wanted the show, so there was a bidding war, but we got it.
Decter: Constantin shopped the books around after the movie version, but they didn't have a lot of takers because of it. But the knowledge of the property was increased by the movie, so that helped us in a way in terms of that increased awareness. The fact that it advertised what a big best-selling series this was helped us a lot. So the movie hindered us in some ways but helped us in others. I think Cassandra would be the first one to tell you that they sold a lot of books because the movie was made, so it ended up all positive.
Burke: The Mortal Instruments seemed perfect for television. The movie gave us a moment's pause, but I think after the meetings it was obvious that Constantin was very clear-eyed about lessons learned and things they thought they hadn't done as well as they could have. So it was actually almost a benefit that they had made the movie, because they knew where the landmines were in the material and they didn't want to step on them again. We felt like we reaped the benefit of them having learned those lessons, and it's really a testament to the underlying appeal of the material and the book series that it could recover from a movie that didn't do that well.
Michael Reisz (executive producer): What TV is able to do, as opposed to a feature film, is explore all the nuances that might not have the time to be explored within two hours. What we really sought to do was take the richness of the world that Cassandra created and see how we can, hopefully, do this in many seasons of a TV series, where we have full hours at a time to explore the very specific relationships, very specific adventures, and the evolution of the characters. So it allowed us to go into greater detail and really explore the things that the fans absolutely love about the series, and create new surprises that fans of the books can come in fresh and be excited about. We looked at the TV series as our own kind of unit and just ran with it.
Decter: Once we got the green light, I read all the novels and did an unbelievable amount of research on what were the high points, what we were trying to get to, what absolutely had to be kept and everything like that. But no matter what book you're adapting – it doesn't matter if it's a famous book or not – you have to decide what you can and can't include. For instance, the novels stay very close to Clary's point of view and on a TV show, just by the fact that you have all of these characters and storylines, you have to shift the focus to other people as well. These books have got a lot of moving parts and are so famous that we had to build in some surprise for even the diehard fans. We're hoping they're going to say, "Wait a minute, that wasn't in the book!" and then we're hoping a few episodes later they'll say, "Oh, I see what they did. They got to this part that I really loved, but they did it in a whole new way." So it's challenging, but the fans and the excitement about the books is what makes the show so popular and worthwhile; they're the ones that are talking about it and really going back and forth online. We knew there was going to be some dispute with some of the things we're doing and we think we're winning more battles than we're losing. It was actually more exciting than nerve-wracking.
Marjorie David (co-executive producer): When Cassandra wrote the novels, she was developing the characters as she was in the process of writing, which is often the case with novels. But we had the whole tapestry of their lives from the beginning of the series to the end, so we were able to take things we knew about the characters in novel number five and pull them into novel number one. Since you're seeing characters in the show and you're with them all the time, it's something the audience needs to know. That's how we got to move it around and so far the fans have been pretty okay with it. I've always had an affinity for stories that have a lot to do with transitioning into adulthood.
McG (executive producer/director): What drew me to this is that I love that period in life; I've always had an affinity for stories that have a lot to do with transitioning into adulthood. I saw that reflected in Shadowhunters; the opportunity to talk about that period where things have so much intensity and you're experiencing things so deeply and thoroughly, be it music or love or relationships of any sort. I really identify with stories that take place during that point of life as a primary point of entry. I brought that to Charlie's Angels, The O.C. and to a great many things that I've done. It just seems to be a place where I'm very comfortable. Plus I like the opportunity to tell stories of a secret world – whether it's comedic expression, as in Men In Black or something decidedly more serious. The idea of there's something out there that we don't even know about, but it's going on right in front of us, day and night. It's an exciting story platform. Those elements are what really brought me in to it.
Among the series' cast members are Katherine McNamara, whose credits range from Broadway to guest starring roles on television and such features as Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, as Clary Fray; Isaiah Mustafa, a former NFL practice squad wide receiver who is best known for his role in a series of Old Spice television commercials, as Detective Luke Garroway, who also happens to be a werewolf; Dominic Sherwood, a British model and actor who had a starring role in the big screen adaptation of Vampire Academy, as Shadowhunter Jace Wayland; Matthew Daddario, who counts among his film roles Delivery Man and When The Game Stands Tall, as Shadowhunter Alec Lightwood; and Harry Shum, Jr., known for Glee, Stomp The Yard, You Got Served and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, as warlock Magnus Bane.
McG: The casting of this show is something that's very, very dear to me and I'm proud and pleased with what these actors are doing with these characters, and the way they're finding their voice and bringing it to life. I'm just exceptionally proud of them.
Katherine McNamara (actress, "Clary Fray"): I'd been looking for a role I could really grow into and this one really brought that. I'd read the script and I knew of the book series, and I fell in love with the world, the stories and these characters that are so three-dimensional and developed and flawed in so many ways. And who exist in this incredibly rich world.
McG: Katherine has the burden of being the lead of the show. She's obviously a very attractive, very dynamic actor, but here's what made me want to cast this young lady: She's brilliant, and she's intelligent, and I can't fabricate intelligence as a director. Either the actor has that intelligence and that verbal acuity and that skill set, or the actor does not. Katherine is just wise beyond her years. She has an extraordinarily active mind and she's very, very intelligent. What a huge asset that is to play with.
McNamara: One of the things I loved about working on Broadway was working with a cast of people mostly the same age for such a long period of time, playing the same character, really getting to know these people and having a home and a family at work. That's something that's so rare in this industry, because people are moving, constantly doing different things and recycling coworkers. It's nice to step back and have a home for a little bit and to really dig in deep with the same people and the same story; to dig into the nooks and crannies of the story and the character and see where it takes you. TV is such a fun medium, and it keeps you on your toes. There's no room for breaking, no room to stop and rest. It really makes you work hard and that's something I thrive on.
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