The Man in the High Castle may present an alternate history of the world after World War II, but the series is completely forward thinking. That’s because it was greenlit through Amazon’s pilot program, which allows users to view and provide feedback on new TV series instead of leaving it all up to network executives.
So what did showrunner Frank Spotnitz, who famously served as executive producer and writer for The X-Files, think about this more democratic TV process?
“At the time, I was very worried about it, to be honest,” Spotnitz said during a roundtable interview with several reporters at New York Comic Con Friday. “You know, usually you make a pilot and nobody sees it if they don’t like it. In this case, to have people vote is a little unnerving. But it actually was a great asset, because as I said, I got to think about why people responded to the show and then when we were gathering actors and crew to produce the series, we kind of had our pick because people had seen the show. They knew it was well-received, they liked it, and it was much, much easier than it normally would be to move forward.”
When it got the green light, The Man in the High Castle, which depicts life in the United States as if the Allied Powers had lost World War II and the East and West Coasts were occupied by Germany and Japan, respectively, was Amazon’s most-watched pilot since the series development program began, according to Deadline. Having The Man in the High Castle pilot released to the public also created the unique situation where all of those viewers could comment on the show before the rest of the series went into production.
“I have always been dumb enough to read everything online,” Spotnitz said. “In this case, actually, it wasn’t that helpful because most of [the comments] were so positive, but every once in a while, you read something, a question somebody has, a point somebody has and go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ I don’t think you want to write for those people, but it’s a tool. I’m a big believer in using tools wherever I can find them to help me tell the story.”
Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crane in the series, a young woman who gets swept up in the resistance movement when she receives a mysterious film reel before her sister’s death, said that this inclusiveness from Amazon was not limited to viewers.
“The level of freedom in making this project come to life, the collaboration and the constant creative exchange with everyone — Frank has been amazing — and all of us, that we have a voice, we have a say in the development of our characters,” Davalos said during a roundtable interview at New York Comic Con. “It’s been creatively one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of.”
That creative freedom didn’t just exist between Spotnitz and the actors but also between Spotnitz and Amazon, a dynamic that isn’t always achieved in the interactions between art and commerce.
“It’s more money than I’ve ever had to make a TV series, and then [Amazon also gave me] a lot of freedom. They interfere less,” Spotnitz said. “I never asked them about this, but I almost feel like it was a conscious decision on their part. Like, I’m sure they had more notes — I know they did — but they just didn’t give them. They just gave you, like, their main ones, and then they sort of trusted that you would figure out the rest, which I thought was incredibly brave, considering especially their investment in the show, and they’re a new service trying to make a name. They really put a lot of trust to deliver this, so if we screw it up, that’s on us.”
In creating The Man in the High Castle, Spotnitz said he also had to approach the new series differently than a regular network TV show because people can binge-watch it and not wait for a new episode to air the following week. However, the fact The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name actually seems to have helped shape Spotnitz’s approach to crafting the narrative of this TV show.
“I really do consider this a different form. I have nothing against the classic episodic form. I love it. Obviously, most of my career has been spent doing that. This is not that,” Spotnitz said. “It is like a 10-hour movie or a novel. I look at the storytelling novelistically, and I don’t feel the need to repeat situations or information. I just assume people are going to watch all 10 as one narrative.”
Though Davalos admitted she is new to the whole binge-watching phenomenon, she also, rather fittingly, found the experience similar to reading a book.
“I just started this new world of binging. I couldn’t wrap my head around it until recently, and now I understand that incredible impulse [of] there’s just one more,” Davalos said. “I think in today’s day and age, we’re reading novels, in a sense, by watching television in this way. So if you want to read a chapter or two or three or seven, you know, that’s up to you.”
New Trailer for The Man In The High Castle:
Life seems good for Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos). She is intelligent, has a loving family and great at martial arts. But things aren’t as perfect as they seem in the exclusive trailer for Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.
Her martial arts class is taught by the Japanese conquerors who rule part of America, and being part of the Nazi Youth is expected of young men in the U.S.
The series takes place in an alternate history of the U.S., imagining what would have happened if the Allied Powers lost World War II. The series takes place 17 years after that loss. The Nazis control the eastern United States, while Japan controls the Pacific Coast.
Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountains have become a neutral zone, where a group of U.S. resistance fighters battle for independence. They believe the key to their success lies in old war footage, which shows that the Allies actually won the war.
The drama is based on sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternate history novel.
The Man in the High Castle debuts Nov. 20 on Amazon Prime.
Coming off its first-ever wins at the Emmys, Amazon is now setting its sights on the Comic-Con crowd. The studio is set to make its New York Comic-Con debut this year with a panel for its alternative history drama The Man in the High Castle, from X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz.
Sponitz is set to appear on the panel alongside stars Alexa Davalos, Luke Kleintank, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joel De La Fuente and DJ Qualls on Friday, Oct. 9 at 4:15 at the Javits Center.
A new trailer will be screened, followed by a Q&A moderated by Mashable’s senior TV reporter, Sandra Gonzalez. Amazon is betting big on this series, based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. It’s set in 1962 and imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II.
The same weekend as Comic-Con, Amazon will also host an exclusive fan screening of the show’s pilot — available for viewing now — as well as its second episode. That screening is set for Saturday, Oct. 10 at 9 p.m. at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Ave) in New York City. Prior to the screening, Mashable will host a Q&A with the cast and Spotnitz.
The Man in the High Castle will debut its entire 10-episode first season on Amazon Prime Nov. 20.
A great man with a fedora, a whip and a resemblance to Harrison Ford once said, “Nazis. I hate these guys.”
Though the thought of them running America kinda freaks us out a scosh, the alternate-history drama The Man in the High Castle debuting Nov. 20 on Amazon’s streaming-video service is awfully provocative. Based on the Philip K. Dick 1962 novel, the series imagines what happened if America had lost World War II and our land was divvied up among the Axis powers, with Germany ruling New York City and the East Coast while Japan took West Coast locales such as San Francisco. Bay Area woman Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) comes into possession of a mysterious film reel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy — which contains strange (at least to her) footage that shows the Allies victorious and were created by someone known as “The Man in the High Castle” — and she takes it to the neutral Rocky Mountain States, where a resistance is forming to this new world order. There she runs into kind young New Yorker Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), though in this world, it’s pretty much hard to trust anybody.
With Man in the High Castle having a major presence beginning Thursday at New York Comic Con, Amazon commissioned comic-book artist Ted Naifeh to create three limited-edition prints based on the show — you can check them out exclusively below. There will only be 1,000 of each, and fans and attendees can get them at the Comixology Artist Alley at the Javits Center.
“I’m writing a very important book,” said sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick to his third wife before penning 1962’s The Man in the High Castle. In truth, Dick had no book. He didn’t even have an outline. So he turned to an unused idea about an alternate reality in which Germany and Japan won WWII and colonized the U.S.
To call High Castle complicated is like saying Caligula saw a few naked buttocks. Through five main characters (and a dozen more supporting), Dick ponders humanity, racism and superstition and poses big questions: Is what we perceive always real? Will knowing the truth free us from our perceptions?
While it may be the most acclaimed of the author’s 40-plus novels (and the only one to win sci-fi’s prestigious Hugo Award), it’s no shock that Amazon’s bold, 10-episode series is the book’s first adaptation. (Fox’s fall drama Minority Report is also based on Dick’s work.) “The subject matter is contentious. The plot is difficult to unpack,” points out star Rufus Sewell, who plays American under-Führer John Smith (a character new to Dick’s universe). “While the story is mind-boggling, it’s not a sci-fi extravaganza. It’s much more thoughtful than most crash-bang-wallop science fiction.”
Executive producers David W. Zucker (The Good Wife) and Isa Dick Hackett (the author’s daughter) began shopping around the novel a decade ago. Unable to find an American taker, they approached British filmmaker Ridley Scott, who had successfully turned Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into the seminal 1982 film Blade Runner. In October 2010, BBC announced a four-hour miniseries version with Scott at the helm. And then…nothing. So Zucker and Hackett approached X-Files writer-producer Frank Spotnitz about taking a crack. By February 2013, the project was on Syfy’s slate with Zucker, Hackett, Scott and Spotnitz all attached. Spotnitz had written the first two hours before Syfy chose to opt out.
Then ABC Studios drama chief Morgan Wandell headed to Amazon Studios in October 2013. Hunting for a smart sci-fi project, he called Spotnitz, whom he knew from the 2005 occult drama Night Stalker. “Morgan said, ‘Do you have any scripts you love that you’ve never been able to make?’” Spotnitz recalls. “I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’”
The first installment, which debuted on Amazon this past January, was the most-watched pilot in the site’s history, and the upcoming first season will be their most expensive endeavor. In High Castle’s realm, the Nazis rule the East Coast with a black-gloved fist, while the slightly softer Japanese govern the Western seaboard—with the Rocky Mountain states serving as a neutral zone. One episode could conceivably need at least three different backdrops, and while these sets do represent historical “periods” (the series begins in 1962), Nazi-run Manhattan and Japanese-occupied San Francisco don’t exactly have precedents. “We made all these decisions you wouldn’t normally think about,” Spotnitz says. “What phone utility would exist? What German influence would there be in the clothes? Would they wear hats?”
“It was a huge undertaking,” Wandell admits. “The Man in the High Castle takes a very big investment to do right. And I’m sure traditional networks were nervous about the more controversial aspects. We didn’t have those constraints.” The dicey bits—the subtle racism between characters, the Nazis who aren’t depicted as Satan’s spawns, the kind imperialists, the emotional trauma and the violence—all remain.
In the pilot, Juliana (Alexa Davalos), an American, left her timid live-in boyfriend, Frank (Rupert Evans), in San Francisco in order to bring a banned film depicting an Allied triumph to Canon City, Colorado, on behalf of her murdered sister, who was part of the Resistance. When Episode 2 picks up, Frank, who is secretly Jewish, is hauled off and tortured because of Juliana’s actions. It’s ugly and transformative—and gets worse. “What happens makes him realize he has to stand up and make hard choices,” Evans says. “He becomes a radical, almost an extremist.”
At the same time, Juliana grows closer to mysterious truck driver Joe (Luke Kleintank), who she doesn’t know is carrying the same film for the Resistance…and more. “There’s this unexplainable, kinetic, palpable energy between them,” Kleintank says. “Whether they know the meaning behind it or not, it draws them to each other.”
In San Francisco, SS officer Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) and Japanese minister Mr. Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) conspire to prevent the mass destruction that rises from the power vacuum caused by Hitler’s impending death. And on Long Island, Smith is having a lovely breakfast with his family. “It’s so casual,” Sewell says. “If I did the same scene wearing a pullover and slacks and comfortable pair of slippers rather than a Nazi uniform, it would have an entirely different feel. It’s At Home With the Smiths!”
For EW’s Fall TV Preview mega-issue, we covered a whopping 115 new and returning shows. To help you narrow down the field, here are six of your best bets courtesy EW critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen.
MELISSA MAERZ ON …
The Man in the High Castle (Amazon, Nov. 20)
Inspired by the classic Philip K. Dick novel, this high-concept drama imagines what would happen if the Nazis had built the bomb first and won World War II, leaving America split into the Greater Nazi Reich (in the East) and the Japanese Pacific States (in the West). The premise alone is rich with political intrigue, as Juliana (Alexa Davalos) and Joe (Luke Kleintank) carry out secret missions during the early 1960s that may or may not help the Resistance. When Juliana discovers newsreels that suggest the Allies really did win the war, leading to a massive cover-up, her search for a rebel hero known as the Man in the High Castle will leave viewers furiously trading conspiracy theories on Reddit. But the plot isn’t even the best part. It’s the evocative paranoid world that creator/executive producer Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) has built, cast in seasick greens and yellows, with swastikas, rising suns, and other propaganda hidden within billboards — and a creeping sense that you’ll never really know who or where the enemy is.
If you listen to us at all, you know that the fall television season that the big networks celebrate hasn’t given us much to celebrate in recent years. Midseason is where it’s at, people! But are we ready to take back every nasty thing we said about the fall after compiling this list of our Most Anticipated New Fall Series? Kind of!
Thanks to some great cable entries and a few solid-looking network offerings, these next few months look like they won’t be another fall full of lamenting another fall season. Space aliens, murderous slashers, and a kick-puncher are among our predictions for the best new shows this fall. So peruse the list and prepare yourself!
1. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
WHEN IT’S ON: The 10 episodes of Season 1 will all plop down on Amazon Instant Video on Friday, November 20.
WHO’S IN IT: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell, and Joel de la Fuente.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, this alternative history drama poses the question of what would happen if the Germans and Japanese won dubya-dubya-too. The answer: swastikas everywhere!
WHY WE’RE EXCITED ABOUT IT: Amazon released the pilot as part of its pilot program in early 2014, and we LOVED it. The idea of a new United States was terrifying and spectacularly recreated in the style of producer Ridley Scott’s best films (i.e. Blade Runner). If there’s a can’t-miss show out this fall, it’s this one.