Elwood Reid Interview: ‘Barkskins’ showrunner
“The impetus to write any kind of book is usually evident in the first 50 to 100 pages. That’s where you’re really laying down the themes that are going to propel you through the rest of the book and that’s particularly true of Annie’s book,” Elwood Reid reveals in his exclusive interview with Gold Derby about sticking to the opening 100 pages when adapting the novel “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx as a television drama (watch the video above).
The creator and showrunner continues about the origins of the project for National Geographic, “They said, ‘We don’t know if this is adaptable.’ If you look at this book on its outside, it’s a 700-page book that tracks multiple generations of characters throughout the centuries. That’s hard to translate to television, but there was a tone and a theme in there, like I said, in the first 100 pages that I was captivated by.”
The 2016 novel opens in 1693 and that is roughly where Reid plans to keep his story, differing from the novel that ends in 2013. He explains, “It was an easy decision for me and I toyed with the idea of jumping around, like each season could jump 100 years or 50 years and tell a different part of the story with the relatives, the descendants of these people, but I had such an amazing cast and I was really loathe to — once you lay that story track down for these characters and these actors — to then throw that away next season. I was just getting going with these characters and the first 100 pages of the book, that’s where the gold is and that’s where a lot of events happen and I focused on that solely.”
Reid envisions “four to five seasons” to “tell this complete story” and explains about the eight episodes that air this spring in the context of the whole show, “It’s a beginning-middle-and-end story and this thing is the first chapter of the story.” Using only the novel’s initial setting for the series, Reid has created characters like the one played by Marcia Gay Harden and fleshed out David Thewlis‘s with scrapped characterization from early drafts of the novel, while staying true to the heart of the beats of later chapters that will not be depicted. He explains, “I tried to absorb the immensity of her book and the tone of it and go, how can — when I create new characters and new situations — how can I circle back to those themes that she had?” Proulx’s novel is noted for its environmental themes, but Reid admits, “I’m a little bit nervous about putting big flashing themes. I don’t think anyone’s going to tune into watch a show about deforestation. I would not.”
“Barkskins” is filling in for “Genius: Aretha” on the schedule after that show was unable to finish production before the lock-down and “Barkskins” is also filling in for “Genius: Aretha” in Nat Geo’s Emmy campaign, as they are submitting it in its place for Best Limited Series consideration. Reid admits that “what the future holds” is always uncertain, so “Barkskins” could end up being a miniseries, hence its placement. “You don’t know with where our current environment is right now what the future is,” he adds after clarifying, “Would the show go on? It was certainly designed to go forward and would I love it to? Yeah.” This head writer contends additionally in Best Movie/Limited Writing for his scripting of the first episode, titled “New France,” as well as the season finale titled “The Black Sun” co-written by Jason Sack in his only credit on the season.