Roswell High: Educating Aliens – from the UK’s TVzone

Thanks to Froglet for scanning and sending this in!

ROSWELL HIGH: EDUCATING ALIENS by Joe Nazzaro

from “TVZone” issue #125, pp. 30 and 32 (from UK) ?date

transcribed by MyrnaLynne [Katims and Nutter talk about Roswell]

A trio of unearthly teens search for answers about their past, in the brand new series

Aliens are not only among us, they’re also our classmates. That’s the premise of “Roswell High,” the new SF/drama about three other-worldly teenagers who are marooned on Earth after their ship crash-lands. The series, which debuted on US television last autumn (under the shorter title, Roswell), was a critical and ratings success for the fledgling WB Network and quickly made household names of its young stars.

The project came about as a television project due largely to Jonathan Frakes and producing partner Lisa J. Olin, who helped secure the rights to the series of “Roswell High” young adult novels. Twentieth Century Fox then enlisted writer/producer Jason (My So-Called Life) Katims to create the pilot script, with Frakes slated to direct. When re-shoots on “Star Trek: Insurrection” precluded Frakes’ involvement behind the camera, David (The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond) Nutter was brought in to direct.

“We definitely had people from very different backgrounds,” notes Katims. “My stuff had always been relationship-driven and David Nutter of course has a huge amount of experience in the genre as does Jonathan Frakes. David and I were very much in synch about what we wanted this pilot to be, and I think the thing we needed to do was make it believable. While it was important that we had a lot of humour in the show and didn’t take ourselves too seriously, what was even more important is that we made it believable every step of the way, that we believed in these characters and this story.”

“Jason and I really hit it off,” recalls Nutter, who’d recently finished work on the teen chiller, “Disturbing Behavior.” “He wrote the first draft and then we got together and started making it better and better and I think we created a really good team as far as the pilot was concerned. What was interesting to me was the three aliens in the show have their feet on the ground and everything else around them keeps twirling and spinning, so it was a little different than a lot of television shows.”

Crash Start

The story of “Roswell High” begins back in 1947, when an alien ship crash-lands in New Mexico, killing all but three of its passengers, who were in suspended animation during the accident. The series continues in the present day with the now-teenage aliens trying to blend in as normal humans, until an unexpected twist of fate forces one of them to reveal his strange powers.

With Katims’ pilot script written, the producers began the long and arduous task of casting the series, looking at countless young US and Canadian actors before arriving at their final choices. The roles of stranded alien teens Max, Michael and Isabel were given to Jason Behr, Brendan Fehr and Katherine Heigl, while Max’s love interest Liz Parker would be played by Shiri Appleby. Also joining the cast were Majandra Delfino as Liz’s best friend Maria; Nick Wechsler as Kyle Valenti, the Sheriff’s son and Liz’s former boyfriend; and Colin Hanks as Alex, the last of their little group to discover the aliens’ secret. Finally, Nutter brought in veteran character actor William Sadler to play Sheriff Valenti, who’s desperately trying to discover the strange conspiracy taking place in his town.

As Katims explains, “Someone who read the pilot script said the link between all the characters is they’re all outsiders. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. All the characters are outsiders: the aliens for obvious reasons, and Liz, just the fact that she writers her diary and is so thoughtful, and the same thing is true about the sheriff. He’s on his own quest, and he doesn’t trust the other authorities, or the government, so he’s also an outsider. I’m very happy that as we go on with the show, we get to explore his character, and make him more and more complex.”

New and Nice

Working with a group of relatively inexperienced actors on a new series can often be a difficult process for a director, but Nutter found his young cast a pleasure to work with. “I think you have to be able to create an atmosphere for these actors that they can get out and stretch themselves and learn to do what they do so well. My job is to give them the confidence to go for it, and also, knowing how to form that in some respects

“Orson Welles once said that a director’s job is two things: Louder and softer, and bigger and smaller, and in many respects, those are the simplistic sensibilities that sometimes work with younger people. It’s not always about the method and, ‘Your emotional state at this given point is -‘ which I think is a lot of bullshit. If I’m able to create an atmosphere for them where they feel they can stretch and do their thing, then it’s my job to do that, but number one, you’ve got to cast the right people to do that of course. If you don’t have the right people to begin with, then all the directing in the world isn’t going to save you.”

Although each episode of “Roswell High” is largely self-contained, the producers have also created a long term arc for the series, which includes a fourth alien who will be revealed by the end of Season One. There’s also the question of if the three aliens are actually humanoid in nature or just disguised in human form. “That’s something that we will address,” hints Katims, “and as we watch, we’ll get more and more information and hints about that’ it’s part of the long-term mythology.

“One of the things that is so rich about the show is that idea of discovery, that they don’t know why they’re here or how they got here. It gives the audience an opportunity to discover it with them, which is a much more dramatic way of doing it than just doing it through exposition.”

As “Roswell High” makes its way to British tv, its creators hope the show’s appeal will be a universal one. “My biggest goal is to keep it smart,” claims Nutter. “I’m very aware that the audience for shows like “The X-Files” are the kind of audience that if they like the show, they’ll embrace it, and they’re the best fan base of all time. If they see they’re being taken advantage of or taken for granted as far as their intelligence, they’ll turn on you, so I think they deserve a lot better.”

“The thing is, this show is a lot of fun to watch,” adds Katims. “There’s a lot of humour, and it’s very engaging. If you turn the show on and watch it for an act or two, you can get engaged very easily, and even though we’re doing a lot of serialized stuff with their quest, I think every episode stands on its own, so you don’t need to have seen every episodes leading up to it. More than anything, that’s what I would say. The cast is charming, there’s a lot of humour, it moves fast, there’s really great music, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”

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