Art Eddy III

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“Under the Dome” Producer and Showrunner Neal Baer Talks About What Fans Can Expect From the Series

Under the Dome”, which premieres Monday, June 24 10:00 ET/PT on CBS, is based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel about a small town that is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by a massive transparent dome.

“Under the Dome” stars Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy and Aisha Hinds.

One of the producers and showrunner of this series is Neal Baer. Neal has helped to produce hit TV series such as “ER” and “Law and Order: SVU.” Not only did he make a name for himself in Hollywood, but he also received graduated from Harvard Medical School.

I sat down to chat with Neal to talk about “Under the Dome” and how it was to work with Stephen King. Plus we talked a bit about his time on “ER.”

Art Eddy: “Under the Dome” is an adaptation of the 2009 Stephen King novel with the same name. Can you give me a brief synopsis of the series?

Neal Baer: Imagine living in some small town in the United States and one day inexplicably an invisible dome falls over your town. No one can get in and no one can get out. How would that change your life? That is the basis for the novel and the basis for our show.

We are trapped under the dome and life changes in ways that the citizens of Chester’s Mill never expected.

AE: Stephen King has been working with you on the production of the show. I know he has helped out on past projects that made his books into television series. How is it to work with him?

NB: No, I have never worked with him before. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work going all the way back to “Stand by Me,” “Carrie,” all these great books and short novellas that were made into films. It is really a thrill and honor to work with him.

He came to the set. We shoot in North Carolina for the first few episodes. That was really fun for everybody to see and meet him. He watches all of our episodes and reads our scripts. We chat with him about ideas. It has been really fun.

AE: Is there much difference to the show and your interpretation of the story compared to his novel?

NB: We really see the book as a stepping off place. It allows us to have this really unique format. We have the town of Chester’s Mill. We have a lot of the characters who appear in the book. We have the whole situation.

Then the television show can go week by week and explore in a different way than a novel can. What the lives of the characters are like through dialogue and behavior. Whereas a book is much more descriptive and tells of course what people are thinking.

There is a big difference between the two in that way. We are fortunate to be able to draw on many of the things that Stephen has in his book, but with his blessing we are able to go in other directions as well.

AE: Tell me about the process of casting for this series?

NB: We started casting in November. We cast Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad” as Big Jim Rennie. Rachelle Lefevre from “Twilight” as Julia and Mike Vogel, who was just recently on “Bates Motel” as Barbie.

We have some young actors Britt Robertson, Natalie Martinez, Colin Ford, and Nicholas Strong. A new actor, who literally came into audition for his first audition after college, a guy named Alexander Koch. We cast him as Junior. We cast him off his first audition for television, which really never happens. It must be Hollywood, you know. That is a Hollywood story.

We were so impressed with him. We just think that he is phenomenal. He was doing a lot of work in college and theatre. So he had a lot of training. It is really great to bring on someone who no one has ever seen before.

AE: What can viewers expect out of this series?

NB: There are a number of things that I think are fun about the show. One is that there are a lot of mysteries that we introduce in the first episode. We will give you hints and clues and take you through the mysteries and certainly solve a lot of them.

Then there is the mythology of the dome and what it means and what’s it about as our characters start to explore that. Then just the character elements of being in this hot house under the dome. It is very intense. Secrets that could have been easily kept where you could disappear or leave town. Now you are stuck and secrets start to leak out.

AE: I find it very fascinating on how you studied at Harvard Medical School to become a doctor and you have been the executive producer of hit shows like “ER” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Can you tell me a bit about that journey?

NB: I am from Denver, Colorado. I used to go to movie as a kid. I would take a bus to go to downtown Denver to see movies. I thought I would end up being a doctor, but even before becoming a doctor I was a graduate student at Harvard in sociology. I started taking film making courses because I wasn’t really happy with sociology.

I fell in love with making documentaries. That led me to go to film school in California at the American Film Institute. That led me to start writing. The first show I wrote on was “China Beach.” I also did what was back then called an ABC Afterschool Special that I wrote and directed called “Private Affairs.” That was my first project.

I thought that was what I wanted to do, but I got cold feet when my son was born. I ended up going back to school to medical school at Harvard. When I was in my fourth year, my childhood friend, John Wells, hired me on “China Beach.” He then sent me the script for “ER.” He said ‘What do you think?’ I said it is like my life only it was outdated because Michael Crichton wrote it in 1969. This was 25 years later in 1994.

Stephen Spielberg owned it so he decided it would make a great TV show. John asked me to come back from Boston to work on it for a couple of months to bring some authenticity to it. I ended up staying seven years, but I finished my M.D. and I did residency at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles while I was on “ER” and part of the two years when I was on (“Law and Order) SVU.”

AE: I have always wondered while watching shows like “ER” if the medical jargon the actors are saying is really what a doctor would say. I read that you would help out shows like “ER” with that. Is that correct?

NB: I did the medical stories the first seven years. We always had two doctors on the set. So when Noah Wyle, George Clooney, Eriq La Salle or Anthony Edwards would sew up a wound it looked real. They actually learned how to suture on chicken parts. They would be sewing chicken pieces. Eriq and Noah got really into it. They were taught to make it look real by real emergency physicians who were always on the show from the very beginning.

AE: Speaking of the cast members of “ER.” I heard that George Clooney is known to perform pranks on some film sets. Did he ever do anything like that on “ER?”

NB: Oh yeah! He once took a latex glove and filled it with lubricant. Julianna Margulies had to put the glove on in the scene. It was amazing to see her expression when she grabs the glove and slides her hand in it. She was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was one of the many things that George did.

To hear the entire interview click here!

Film Director David Rodriguez Talks New Film “Last I Heard”

David Rodriguez had a life-long dream to become a director. Growing up he had a passion for the film industry. He is the youngest of four siblings and was born in the New York City. After ten years of living what he called the “suburban grown-up life” he wanted to make a change.

So in 2003 David went to make his dream a reality. In 2004 he was able to direct his first film called “Push.” Now with a few films under his belt, David is back with a new movie. This summer he will be promoting his latest project, “Last I Heard.” The film stars Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Renee Props, Paul Ben-Victor, Stephen Bauer and Chazz Palminteri.

David was kind enough to answer some of my questions I had on his latest film and who was his inspiration to become a director.

Art Eddy: You have a new feature film out that you wrote and produced called “Last I Heard.” Tell me a bit about the film.

David Rodriguez: Although “Last I Heard” is a small slice of life from a Queens, NY neighborhood, it also acts as a bit of social commentary addressing the ‘old school’ person’s mentality and how they would deal with a progressive society. The film touches on a few different issues but at its core, it’s about an old Italian gangster ‘Mr. Joe,’ played by Paul Sorvino, who’s trying to live the same life he lived after serving 20 plus years in federal prison. All along, he’s dealing with one blow after another, ultimately reverting back to who he really is and doing so at the ultimate price.

AE: How did you come up with the concept of the film?

DR: I was watching a TV doc on the making of “Jack Falcone” who was an undercover federal agent who infiltrated the Gambino crime family in NY. While doing so, he mentioned this gangster who had served 8 years in prison. Apparently, this older Mafioso was attempting to reclaim all of his previous rackets and the word that stuck with me when he described this man was ‘pitiful.’ I feel it’s fair to say that our main character, ‘Mr. Joe,’ has moments of appearing pitiful although he is a character you’ll grow to understand and maybe even start to sympathize with and love.

AE: In the film there are great actors like Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Renee Props, Paul Ben-Victor, Stephen Bauer and Chazz Palminteri. Tell me about working with a cast like this?

DR: What can I say, it was truly amazing. I’d find myself smiling from time to time, taking it all in. I had actors on set that were in some of the greatest films ever, “Goodfellas,” “A Bronx Tale,” “Scarface,” “Cop Land,” “Get Shorty,” and “True Romance.”

Their stories were amazing and the collective experience with this cast was something most directors dream of. I’m pretty firm on set and they all knew what I wanted, however, because we all knew each other so well, we created a very nurturing environment that allowed us to grow on set and everyone brought their ‘A-game.’ It was because of my actors that we made it look so effortless.

AE: You will be going to film festivals to showcase your film this summer. Do you enjoy these fests when you are promoting your film or is there pressure in hopes the audience will dig the film?

DR: Well, the first stop is the Seattle International Film Festival where we’re world premiering in competition. It’s a huge top tier fest so we’re excited to be a part of it. We’re also excited that we’re premiering and screening during the closing weekend.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and excited, but ultimately we have to trust the work we do and I feel really good about this film. It was a blessed project as Sorvino said once. Everyone really showed up, cast and crew alike. I hope people dig it, but that’s all out of my hands now. I feel good.

AE: You also co-wrote and directed the acclaimed feature film, “American Bully.” Tell me about the process of shooting that film?

DR: “American Bully” was a challenge on so many levels. We shot in Louisiana with producers who really were never on the same page as my cinematographer John Barr, the actors and myself. I didn’t know what the budget was when we started or how it was being spent. The weather was uncooperative in Louisiana at the time.

Ultimately, we were forced to make the best film we could in spite of all the challenges we had and I guess we pulled it off. It was a lesson for me throughout the process that every single person up and down the line needs to be on the same page in order to have success. That all said, I’m incredibly proud of that film and it’s very near and dear to my heart.

AE: What made you get into the career of producing and directing films?

DR: I’ve wanted to be in show business since I was 6 or 7 years old. At the time, my family lived in the Bronx and my oldest sister Janet would take me to all the big summer films at a theater on Fordham Road. I saw “Jaws,” “Rocky,” and “Star Wars” and it was a transformative part of my life, but growing up in a blue collar family wasn’t necessarily conducive to a creative mind. I got lost in those films, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I decided to go for it and attempt to direct. A few bad bouts with the 9 to 5 suburban life forced me to do what I always dreamed of doing. It was the scariest and best decision I ever made.

AE: Did any directors inspire you as you were looking to get into the entertainment industry?

DR: Fortunately, at the time that I decided to direct for food, one of the cable channels had a program where once a week or so they would feature a new director and that director would tell their story of how they got into directing and all that they learned throughout their careers. The show featured Ridley and Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Cameron Crowe, and Martin Scorsese and so on. It was like having an ‘A-list’ faculty of directors in my own personal film school. That said, if I had to pick one director whose body of work is most inspiring, I couldn’t. There are two, Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh.

AE: Your focus is of course on “Last I Heard,” but do you have any other projects that you are thinking about starting?

DR: Of course! I wrote a New York based cable TV pilot recently that I’d love to direct and see happen as a series. I also have my eye on a few smaller projects at the studio level that I’d love to pitch, and I have some of my own scripts that I’d like to see happen. I really don’t know what’s going to happen as a result of “Last I Heard,” but I’m being patient and open to all opportunities.

AE: Who would you love to work with in your next project?

DR: As I’m sure you know, the climate of the business is ever evolving, so I’d like to work with actors that will help me get whatever I do next green-lit and financed. That said, if it was all over tomorrow, I’d be happy knowing that I worked with the most amazing cast ever in “Last I Heard” and they set the bar pretty high. It’ll be tough to top that experience.