Bryan Fuller and Michael Green discuss adapting Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and bringing the incredibly visceral experience to Starz.
Starz’s American Gods premiered in late April to critical acclaim and widespread fan approval. Adapting Neil Gaiman‘s cult novel for the small screen wasn’t an easy task, but it’s one that the producing team of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green tackled with relish. The result? An incredibly visual series that layers hot button political issues like immigration over copious amounts of sex and violence. American Gods delivers an experience not easily forgotten.
And that’s exactly how Bryan Fuller and Michael Green prefer it.
How did American Gods begin for you?
Bryan Fuller: Michael and I worked together on Heroes over 10 years ago, and we had been talking about doing a project together for some time. Then, American Gods reared its head, and I sat down with Neil where we had this great conversation about the themes of the book. He asked if I wanted to do this, and I said, “Yes, only if I can do it with Michael Green.”
Michael Green: And that was a very easy yes for me because I was a huge fan of the book. I adored working with Bryan so the chance to do it on this was such an easy agreement.
What conversations did you have with Neil about taking the work and adapting it?
Michael: It wasn’t so much that we had a specific reinvention or big ideas in terms of how we would change the book to make a TV show. It was more about respecting the novel, listening to each other’s enthusiasm for the novel, and making sure that we were servicing our place as the first audience for this adaptation as fans of the source material.
Bryan: There are so many big ideas in the novel and visual chapters that really it was about being authentic.
When it comes to writing the episodes, how do you divide those tasks?
Michael: By the time we started talking about it enough to start writing it, we were both pretty excited about it. There might be one person more excited or one of us might say, “I’ve already drafted it because I couldn’t help it.” Or, there’s something that one of us has an affinity for. The most enjoyable process of this entire show is when we trade each other’s work and just read it over because we both enjoy each other’s writing. It’s fun seeing the discoveries that the other writer made. Generally, it’s saying, “I love this,” and we offer each other suggestions for additions or cuts, but we’re always respectful of each other’s stuff because we like each other’s stuff.
At a certain point in the season, we brought on a team of writers to work with us and flush out the back half of the season after we’d written the first four episodes and that was the wind in our sails.
What is it like in the writer’s room when you have scenes like Bilquis devouring lovers?
I just want to be a fly on the wall in the room.
Bryan: Come be a fly sometime. One of the things that was really important for Michael and I was that we each have an interesting relationship with religion. Not necessarily requiring us to be religious but just have a point of view on faith, belief, and religion and something interesting to say on those subjects that would get us excited about further exploring those themes within the show. That was fascinating to hear, so many different people coming at religion all respectfully but from different point of views.
At the time of you taking this on, did you realize how much it would resonate and be so current?
Michael: I don’t think any of us could have predicted it or wanted to predict that. The things that we thought would be the most challenging and confronting have ended up being not so. Our crystal balls would have cracked. The world blew up, and we’re all staring at these broken pieces of the America we knew. We were trying to adapt a novel we love about subjects we found interesting. We really could never have anticipated what happened.
There is a line in the show which came through, “There’s no shortage of the evil men will do to bring down a powerful woman.” Then you had Trump. What goes through your mind, did you think Holy…
Bryan: Initially there was no joy taken. The day after the election when we were screening that particular episode with that line. I felt nauseous. It was sad, profoundly so in a human stain sort of way. I just felt like humanity had been stained.
Michael: Certainly, American History has.
What does Starz have to say about the jaw-dropping moments of nudity and raciness?
Michael: There were no real boundaries about what we could and couldn’t do beyond that equal opportunities in that they didn’t want more women being nude. They were aware of that criticism in the industry, and they didn’t want to be guilty of it.
Bryan: Just the same, there was no request on their part for nudity. It was at our discretion. We were free to do an entire episode or season with no sexual content. It became for us what tells this story best. That let us be restrictive with ourselves that we didn’t want anything that could ever be taken as gratuitous. If the nudity wasn’t interesting in some way or furthering the character or creating an indelible moment then, it wasn’t worth doing.
Talk about the lushness of the visuals and lighting. I haven’t seen anything this delicious in a long time.
Bryan: Michael and I both feel very strongly that we’re working within a visual medium that we can take advantage of that. We both have a cinematic style of the stories that we enjoy telling. It was a matter of working with David Slade who helped us with our own instincts, create a unique vision for this show that didn’t feel like any of our previous shows but was also trying to push the envelope as TV continues to evolve. Not in a button pushing way, but what can we do to make this as aesthetically pleasing as it is narratively inspiring.
Michael: That was very much a part of our initial discussions with Starz about our ambitions of the show. Every meeting where we told them what we intended with the narrative arc was partnered with descriptions of our ambition for how it should look and how it should feel. That we were going for as artful a cinematic experience as we could get, and we would be talking about color and music and the experience we were trying to deliver. To their credit, they understood it and heard it and supported it. It was a very early ambition, and we had the advantage and experience of experienced people that Bryan had worked with on Hannibal.
On the subject of music, it’s a character of its own. What did you talk about with Brian Ritzel?
Michael: There have been so many different musical styles represented on the show. There are written heavy musical tones that Brian creates to take Shadow into dream stage or into numbed depression or awe as he conjures snow from the air. There are other scenes that are heist-like and give you an energy. There’s the sophisticated jazz that accompanies Shadow and Wednesday’s first adventures. Then we have sequences that are set thousands of years ago, and he uses only instruments that were around at that time on planet Earth. He takes every scene on its own merit, and he tries to craft a soundscape for that scene or sequence as opposed to demanding that all of the scenes have the same musical style. It’s as ecletic as everything else on the show.
Bryan: His music demands to be blended in with the soundscape of the show so that sound effects are not just an independent thing and they end up being a uniform scape for how to enjoy the show. In our own discovery of what it took to make the show.
How have the fans reacted to the show?
Bryan: The reaction in the online community has been really supportive. This show deals with the new dawn of media. We are taking full advantage of that platform to share the viewing experience. Now that the Starz app is available, you can download the episode the night before, so there’s a loose conversation that’s happening all day Sunday with the fan community and is focused on the East Coast and West Coast where we tweet photos during one airing and answer questions during the second airing. That’s a fantastic evolution of the television viewing experience.
American Gods airs Sunday nights at 9pm ET on Starz.