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Near Perfection: The 2018 Tremors Pilot - Pt. 3

AnotherfilmnerdComment
Near Perfection: The 2018 Tremors Pilot - Pt. 3

Part 6: An Eye to the Future

The pilot ends on a cliffhanger that would’ve been all but sure to get people tuning back in for episode two. Val’s being held at gunpoint by the Deliberates, who force him to sing and dance to summon a graboid (both a neat twist on the old ‘dance, rummy, dance’ cliche, and a choice opportunity for Bacon to belt out a few lines of the 4 Non Blondes classic ‘What’s Up?’), so he can offer himself up as a sacrifice to ‘atone’ for his past sins (namely, killing the monsters in the original). The last thing the audience sees before the credits roll is a group of six graboids heading to the surface, with Val screaming at his friends, urging them to run for the truck. 

“We wanted it to be impossible for people to not tune in to the next episode - even if it was just to see what was going to happen in the first five minutes of episode two,” Miller said.That was my hope, that once people were there, enough would say ‘OK, let’s see what happens to these dumb bastards in the desert’ - and, from there, it’d be a hard ride to get off. After all, the whole season would take place over three days, things would be happening so fast, and secrets would be spilling out all over the desert floor.”

 The Tremors team - (l-r) Kevin Bacon (Val), John Ellison Conlee (Harlan), Toks Olagundoye (Jessica), PJ Byrne (Melvin) and Megan Ketch (Mindy)

The Tremors team - (l-r) Kevin Bacon (Val), John Ellison Conlee (Harlan), Toks Olagundoye (Jessica), PJ Byrne (Melvin) and Megan Ketch (Mindy)

Miller was sure to incorporate enough into the pilot to tell a satisfying story, while still ensuring the seeds were planted for threads to pay off over the remaining episodes.

“A lot of the ideas weren’t fully-formed, but they were enough to get us going,” he said.

“I met with a lot of writers in the hopes of putting together a writers’ room - getting a lot of people smarter than me in a room to say ‘here’s what I’ve been thinking, let’s figure it all out’.”

Key to Miller’s ten-episode roadmap were different styles and tones that would keep the story moving at a relentless pace.

“My hope was that we could construct it in a way that was slightly different from most TV shows, in that we could move the lens judiciously from one story to another,” he said.

 Writer Andrew Miller on set

Writer Andrew Miller on set

“For example, episode two could be Val and Mindy finding a way down to the tunnels to look for Emily and Nico - two people trying to find their friends in a subterranean tunnel network that’s filled with monsters. It wouldn’t be a standalone episode, but that’s where our focus would be that week. Then we could look at the Deliberates in more detail, and find out who these crazy hippies are that worship the graboids. One episode would be in real-time, where the characters need to get from one end of Perfection to the other without making a sound... there’d be no dialogue in the episode. Then, maybe, we have an episode in Chang’s, where the monsters that are coming out are the emotional monsters they’ve been hiding from each other, and it’s like a play. Then the next episode is like ‘Mad Max’, where they have to get to Datalux headquarters, and you’ve got eight people in six cars, and half of them are going to die in this mad race to get to the bad guys. So every episode would be like an event, but all part of one consistent story.”

Miller was also keen to bring at least one more movie character back to the new ‘Tremors’ universe, Fred Ward’s Earl Bassett - Val’s handyman partner and mentor. In Miller’s mind, the ever-pragmatic Earl sought to take advantage of the events of the original film to leave Perfection and expand their handyman business - or, as Miller puts it - “ride this wave of shit to success”. Instead of following his partner, Val tries to instead build on his celebrity by remaining in Perfection and starting a graboid-oriented theme park. While Earl’s high road takes him to success, Val’s low road leaves him... well, pretty much where he started.

“In the end, my hope was we’d have seen that Earl wasn’t as distant as he seemed, and had a far better idea of what was going on than anyone could’ve imagined,” Miller said.

 Bacon on set

Bacon on set

“My greatest hope was to get those two guys (Bacon and Ward) back together for those last few episodes. It never got to the point where I actually spoke to him (Ward) about it. People kept assuring me he’d do it, I’m not sure if that’s true... but we’ve bad unloaded such a pitch on the poor guy that I’d like to think he couldn’t have said ‘no’. That said, whatever Fred Ward would’ve been willing to do with us, I would have gladly taken - one episode, three episodes or even just a brief ‘hello’, I’d do what I could to figure it out.”

Yet, despite an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences and the healthy level of interest, Miller would never get the chance to flesh out his ambitious plans.

 Director Vincenzo Natali with John Ellison Conlee (Harlan)

Director Vincenzo Natali with John Ellison Conlee (Harlan)

Part 7: The Wrong Fit

“It’s all a sad, tear-stained blur,” Miller says of SyFy’s eventual decision not to pursue the series. The studio was incredibly happy, they tested it, and it tested very, very well. Kevin tested off the charts, the people who knew the film loved it and the people who didn’t were intrigued. So they handed it up to the network confidently. But, at the network level, they just weren’t as enthusiastic about it as we hoped, and I’m not entirely sure why. All of it feels like it should’ve been a no-brainer to me. The pilot turned out really well, and the plan for the series would’ve taken it to another level.”

The most likely explanation, according to Miller, is that the series didn’t gel with the rest of SyFy’s slate.

“It’s something that’s never really been explained to me, I only heard it third-hand, and never talked to the network about it,” he said.

“Ultimately, networks shoot for brand and, in this case, the brand worked against us as much as for us. They’ve got this George RR Martin horror on a spaceship thing coming, they have ‘Krypton’, at the time they had ‘The Expanse', they were into much more serious, dark corridor-type science fiction shows.

 Will Kevin Bacon’s Val McKee ride again? Andrew Miller reckons it could still happen

Will Kevin Bacon’s Val McKee ride again? Andrew Miller reckons it could still happen

“I think they were leaning into that side of their brand more than ours, which was a daytime fun ride. Someone leaked the trailer to the pilot, and it was seen by two or three million people in a week or so.

“I heard some people were surprised by that reaction, but I wasn’t remotely surprised... it was exactly the reaction I would’ve expected.”

And while Miller’s moved on (although he does hope people will eventually get to see the pilot for themselves), he would not be surprised if ‘Tremors’ lives on, with Bacon still involved.

“It’s ‘Tremors’! It took us 25 years to get to this point,” Miller said.

“It’d be one thing if Kevin said ‘We tried and it didn’t work, quit bugging me’. But he’s still a big fan of the franchise and a big fan of the show... and he really enjoyed playing Val again. I think he’d jump at the chance to continue it. I can imagine him saying ‘Let’s see what Val’s like in 30 years’, or whatever the case is. For a guy who doesn’t look back, and who hasn’t done a sequel to anything, I think this was a good enough experience that it always remains possible.”

Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don
Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead
Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema
that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of
places.