Author Tara Bennett Talks About The Making of Outlander Companion Books
Author Tara Bennett talks about The Making of Outlander The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons 3 & 4 in this interview with Outlander Cast.
If you are a true Outlander addict, maybe Santa brought you The Making of Outlander The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons Three & Four (TMOS3&4) for Christmas. If not, treat yourself, and add this gorgeous and informative gem to your Outlander collection.
New York Times best-selling author Tara Bennett also wrote the companion book for Outlander Seasons 1 &2. Once again she guides us on an extraordinary journey behind the scenes with cast and crew as they tackled the adaptation of two extremely challenging novels in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Voyager and Drums of Autumn. This second volume satisfies your Sassenach hunger with exclusive interviews, behind the scenes development, cast profiles, costume and set design creation, special effects and production profiles of every episode. Stunning photos and fabulous design illustrations adorn each page. TMOS3&4 is truly a MUST for any serious Outlander fan.
I caught up with Bennett at NY Comic Con in October. In addition to authoring over 20 movie and TV companion books, she’s also a senior producer and podcast host for SYFYWIRE as well as a contributing writer for several science fiction magazines. Additionally, she teaches TV writing for Rowan University.
Tara Bennett may have been the busiest person at NYCC, conducting a constant stream of SYFYWIRE Live Stage interviews the entire weekend (see her Outlander interview above) along with a book signing appearance with Diana Gabaldon. She works closely with the cast and crew of Outlander to produce these companion books, so I was fortunate she reversed roles for a wee bit to talk shop and share her impressions.
No Rest for the Weary
Q: I know you were already familiar with the production since you wrote the previous companion. So, what was the most intriguing or surprising thing that you discovered while writing this book that you didn’t know before?
I think it was how early Matt [Roberts] and Maril [Davis] had to start for a lot of the things they were doing and the crosslapping of when they were doing South Africa to when they had to start the next season..
More so than in Seasons 1 and 2?
Absolutely. And they had no break. They had breaks before between Seasons 1 and 2, but they had no break between Seasons 3 and 4. They had to work straight through. Knowing that, plus knowing the depth and breadth and scale of what the show needs? As someone that covers a lot of television shows and knows a lot of writers and what they do, I thought, Wow, that is really hard.
Not getting a lot of ZZZZZs, popping the multi-vitamins and guzzling the java, huh?
Yeah! (laughs) Honestly, that’s it. I mean you have to go at a rate. Matt is such a multitasker because he is the producer, the EP on the ground. So, he’s looking at dogs [to play Rollo], and finding all kinds of things for the production. He’s driving around North Carolina and saying, “Can this be Scotland? Are we leaving Scotland to film? Are we not?” He’s making huge decisions, and at the same time, he’s still having to write episodes and edit other episodes. Just the scale of the overlap.
I hope to impart that to the fans, so they understand. As audience members we are like, “Give it to us… as much as you can … as quickly as you can.” But, you really need to understand the stakes and the time that it takes.
And the hoops they have to jump through with the studio and network. I think a lot of fans forget that side of it.
Absolutely! Yes, they do. And, you know, the actors do get a break, a hiatus, but everyone behind the scenes doesn’t get that break. The show has to be ready when they walk right back in again. So, this book really crystalized how hard Seasons 3 and 4 were for them.
And that surprised you?
Not taking a break was a surprise because it’s usually mandated that they have a little bit of time. When you’re a show runner, a writer, any of the actual production crew in Scotland — your life basically goes away when production happens. You don’t do social engagements or anything else, you know?
Additionally, you are dealing with the crazy logistics of weather and light in Scotland because they have the seasonally long days or nights, so it’s difficult to schedule night and day shoots for various episodes. Plus, the frequent harsh elements. You have specific windows, and you have to maneuver them even more when it’s supposed to look like North Carolina.
Yes… It’s unique to this show. There are specific Scottish issues that you may not have when shooting in Atlanta or Los Angeles. It all zaps your creative energy and just your day-to-day body energy. It gave me a lot more compassion for this production. Aside from loving the storylines and how it’s portrayed, it’s the behind the scenes that gave me a hefty layer of respect.
Interviews with the Cast
When interviewing the newer cast, who did you find most memorable, interesting or fun? For instance, did you talk to Lauren? I only knew her in character, but seeing her in person was such a surprise. She is joy…a personality plus.
I didn’t get a chance. See, this is the difficult part that usually happens…. Depending on where they are in filming, someone may be long gone by the time I get ok’d to start production of the book. She was already finished and going on to another thing. Plus, we have a page count. which stinks because on the internet, you just write and there’s no boundaries. However, in order to keep it at a price point where fans feel like it’s a value to them as opposed to just getting bigger and more expensive, we have to stop at a certain point.
So, we have to just choose. “What do fans not want to lose?” “Who do we want to introduce?” “What special sections do we want to put in [that allow] people to know things they didn’t know before?” So, sometimes we just have to schedule, and because of page count, we can’t include EVERYBODY we’d love to have.
(While TMOS3&4 doesn’t feature interview profiles with Lauren Lyle and Cesar Domboy, Bennett includes hearty features on nearly every other key player. You’ll meet new regulars such as David Berry, Ed Speleers, Marie Doyle Kennedy and John Bell. She also includes deeper conversations with primary actors Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton.)
So who really intrigued or stayed with you that you DID speak to?
I’ve interviewed Maria (Doyle Kennedy) before with Orphan Black, but I really loved being able to talk to her [about Outlander]. Jocasta was a real challenge because of the blindness and then coming into a production that was already three seasons running. So, it was great to talk to her in that respect… an established project that she was coming onto and learning how to make Jocasta pop in a short time. You know, we read chapters and chapters of a book where we get lots of Jocasta, but we only get so much of Jocasta in an episode.
And she read the books and researched it, I’m sure. I can tell as a book reader by the nuance she gives the character…
Yes exactly. So it was cool to talk to her about how she navigated that with grace and the humor which she always has …which is awesome.
I had a great talk with Rik [Richard Rankin]. We were able to do our interview face to face. We had a really long nice breakfast where we just talked and talked.
SYFYWIRE’s Outlander Fan Content… What’s in Store for Season 5?
Those SYFYWIRE episode interviews you did with Richard on each of the second half Season 4 episodes were excellent. I know we always shared them to our Outlander Cast groups and Twitter. I saw them posted all over. Richard’s fan groups, of course, loved them as well. So, are you going to do that again for Season 5? Do you have that lined up?
We hope. We have already talked to Starz, and we have really expressed to them how much we love the Outlander fandom, and how much SYFY wants to cover the show as much as possible. So, we have several different things we pitched to them, and as they open the promotion for Season 5, we will be in ongoing talks with them. So, we anticipate and hope.
(Here is the SYFYWIRE interview Tara Bennett did with Richard Rankin on the finale of Season 4 as part of this regular post episode feature series… )
It’s great to have those focused pieces. I know during the back half of Season 2, Variety did something like that with Sam. Then, we had you and SYFYWIRE in Season 4 with Richard. I just LOVE those.
I do too!
It’s a small steady window of in-depth focus with one character, and what they see and craft into each episode.. It’s fantastic. They are packed with flavor and interesting tidbits, and it’s a different vibe than the typical post episode coverage. I hope you can do it again.
It’s great to hear that you like that. It’s great feedback. I hope we will.
And if you do, hopefully you can get Richard again because he has a huge arc in The Fiery Cross, and frankly, his character and relationship were misunderstood a bit in Season 4, especially by the non-book readers.
Yes, I’d like to get him too. Yeah he was [misunderstood]. I saw it [the comments] out there.
Having Rik’s perspective helps. Roger is complex, and in the books, we have his POV since Dragonfly in Amber (book two), so readers really understand him. He gives a fun interview as well. He blends humor with thoughtful detail of his craft and mindset. If you do this feature piece each episode, do you plan to target Richard?
You know, it depends on when talent is available. He was in Los Angeles, so we were able to do that. You’re absolutely right. He IS a wonderful interview. We would love to have him, but it will really depend on who is around and who they allow us to have.
(Here’s an update on SYFYWIRE Season 5 coverage that Bennett posted on Jan 14)
Life Without Ron Moore at the Helm
I know this book covers when Ron took a little more of a step back. So, what’s your impression of how things are now. He was here on the [NYCC] panel, but is he really involved in anything?
He is involved in post-production. He watches all of the cuts and the edits and he makes notes. That’s really what he loves the most anyway.
So scripts aren’t run by him at all or even how episodes will break?
No, not anymore. Since Star Trek, he believes in enabling and empowering his writers. There’s steps in the writers’ room, starting at a story editor and going all the way up to what would be an Executive Producer like Matt and Toni. When you are show-runner, a good show-runner like Ron, you enable your writers to walk up those steps through the years of working with them. They’ve done that… Listen, Maril will always stay with this show because this is her baby, and Ron loves it and will always watch it.
But, he doesn’t get involved with pre-production because he trusts them, and he’s groomed them to do the show in the best way possible. Matt and Toni both know those books as well if not better than Ron because he is always in development of other things. He’s read all the books, I’m not saying he hasn’t, but he has moved on to For All Mankind and other projects. That’s a natural movement of a show-runner.
Seasons 3 and 4… Talk about a TV Production Challenge!
I especially look forward to reading your new book because of the sheer scope of Seasons 3 and 4. The behind the scenes must be absolutely fascinating. They cover multiple time periods, more characters, more complex story lines and several continent settings. They switch character focus. They traverse the battle of Culloden, prison, caves, the Caribbean, three different decades of Boston, Mohawk villages, colonial America, and the frontier. And you span 25 years of life!
Yes exactly! It’s incredible what they accomplished.
So, it’s not as connected as the first two seasons. Even though the French part looked different, they still fused one basic story. Season 1 talks about Culloden and the fate of the Scots, and that story continues to unfold in Season 2 leading up to Culloden. But, Seasons 3 and 4 spread and stretch in every way. Considering all of these elements, what do you think was the biggest challenge Outlander faced?
Well, you know, it’s always when you have characters that are separated. And that is true of every television show to a certain degree, when you separate characters into different places where they have their own stories. Here, you have Roger doing his own thing, you have Brianna on her own journey, you have the Frasers on their homestead.
So, multiple storylines featuring different primary characters.. Actually, you saw that occur in both seasons. As you said, you have the three separate lines of Season 4, but you also split Jamie and Claire in the first half of Season 3… So they contended with that situation back to back.
Yes. It’s typical in the episodic nature of television. You tend to cluster characters in different kinds of ways, so that you give the writers different ways to be able to show what characters will do, think, or say around other people.
Sometimes, you get more insight into a character [separating them]. For instance, Roger might not say something to Brianna that he would say to Father Alexandre inside of that hut. It’s like talking to a stranger. All the emotional things you would hold back from someone you didn’t want to hurt, you might say to someone who doesn’t care, and you’ll never see again. So, in a way, while you would love to have all the characters together [for story development and ease of writing an episode], you end up learning more about their character, emotional growth and things that will infuse where they go as characters … when you separate them.
Then you always have those great moments of bringing them back together again. Those reunion moments can always be epic and sweeping. They have so much momentum. So the show figures out a way to create those kind of moments that a book does differently.
So, the writing of separated characters with enough layers in a limited time frame creates a challenge for the writers’ room. What’s the biggest hurdle for the crew in general with two back-to-back complex seasons such as these?
Just all the needs of the show. The more complex, the more needs and considerations. Logistics, weather, figuring out availability for talent that are not actually regular cast. When can they actually be there? When will we be able to shoot what sections? What local requirements dictate for sights etc. That is the hardest stuff to do.
Looking Ahead: Adaptation Challenges for Season 5
I know you have read The Fiery Cross, so as a fan yourself, what are you personally looking forward to in Season 5 as far as how they will translate a book scene or section?
Well, as you know, the Gathering takes up a tremendous amount of the first part of this novel. I’m just personally interested to see how they are going to use the Gathering because on a television show, you wouldn’t have the Gathering go on forever. So, I want to see how they will condense or redistribute that material, but still get the weight, the depth and breadth of what the book needed that to be.
I am interested as well. Diana describes the internal shape of each book, and The Fiery Cross is shaped like a firework shower … tails and streams arcing from the initial bursting point. The Gathering initiates every streaming bit of light that falls through the book. So, the content matters, but I can see that structure needs to change for TV.
See? As someone that loves the art form of fiction writing, but then also literally teaches television writing, I am always interested in the form and function of how they adapt. And one of the great things for me working on these books is that I get a deep inside look the adaptation process, the mindset and what they do … It fascinates me.
I just want to see how they do it, how much real estate they give it, and how they unfold the rest of the story. It’s the craft that fascinates me because they have parameters and those parameters have to be kept. You only get so many hours, and it’s a very large book…
Since this interview, we’ve seen the first four minutes of episode 501, the full trailer, the opening credit sequence and a new featurette for Season 5 (see above).
It seems they have indeed changed the actual Gathering and redistributed it, starting with a five-month time jump and a wedding at the ever-growing Fraser’s Ridge. I think it will prove a wise adaptive choice. Based on all we’ve seen, Season 5 looks stunning. Hurry up, February 16!