USA Network & Jeff Eastin Partner Up for NEW Series Graceland Summer 2013.
USA Network is definitely a game changer with all the new shows and how it’s willing to walk that fine line of challenging and unique content particularly in television. I was able to participate in a round-table discussion with Jeff Eastin, creator/writer/producer of White Collar. Turns out Jeff has another show hitting USA Network in Summer 2013 entitled Graceland. In light of the content of the round-table conference call, I have curated out only things about Graceland so that you can get the scoop on this very interesting series that is based on a true story.
Sneak peek of USA Network’s new series Graceland, from White Collar creator Jeff Eastin. The drama follows a group of agents from the DEA, FBI and U.S. Customs that all live together in an undercover beach house in Southern California.
Here’s the transcript of the Q & A with Jeff Eastin about GRACELAND!
And our first question comes from the line of Jamie Steinberg with Starry Constellation Magazine.
Jamie Steinberg: Hi, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Jeff Eastin: Hi, you too.
Jamie Steinberg: I was wondering, how much darker is Graceland going to be than White Collar?
Jeff Eastin: I can say a fair amount. You know, USA has really been pushing the boundaries a little bit lately. I mean, considerably darker than White Collar, and I would say we’re probably about the same – you know the same distance away from (Susan), you know in even darker directions. So, you know it’s – we just keep kind of pushing that boundary a little bit.
At the same time, trying to keep the blue sky motif that USA has really popularized, and you know I think it’ll be real interesting to see if, you know the same people that like White Collar will like Graceland. I mean, from the testing it looks like they will.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Stevie Wilson with LA-Story.com.
Stevie Wilson: Hi, Jeff. How you doing today?
Jeff Eastin: Good. How are you?
Stevie Wilson: I’m good. I’m good….. And then Graceland, what – how did that really come about? I mean, how did – what made you sit down and think, “I’ve got to create this.”
Jeff Eastin: You know, I’d – CAA, my agent, said – had hooked me up with a guy who had really – he was a real guy who’d run one of these houses and, you know it is a true story. And, you know it’s like there were these seized drug lord beach houses and they decided, you know it’s hard to get kids to – or, I’m sorry, it’s very hard to get kids to L.A. because, you know if you want fun and sun and you’re a new undercover agent just out of any of the Federal Agencies, they usually go to Florida because it’s cheaper.
So, what they did is they said, “Well, let’s take some of these, you know drug mansions and we’ll make them sort of a big flop house for these new undercover agents.” And one of the guys who’d been in charge in one of the first ones had brought that story to CAA and they introduced me to them. This guy named (John Marcello). And I met with him and, you know he kind of explained how the real house worked. And from there I just said, “This story’s too good not to tell.”
Stevie Wilson: Got it. Got it. And do you – is – it’s already cast and being filmed?
Jeff Eastin: Oh, yeah. We already shot the pilot and, you know now we’re into the series. We start shooting in about eight weeks. And yeah, it will air sometime next summer.
Stevie Wilson: Super. Can you tell us who’s in it?
Jeff Eastin: Yeah, Daniel Sunjata from Rescue Me, Aaron Tveit, who was last seen playing Frank Abagnale, Jr. on Broadway. He has very limited TV, but, you know really fantastic actor. Vanessa Ferlito, who’s done a lot features, including, you know Tarantino’s (Dead Even) – no, what was her movie she did for Tarantino? Oh, Death Proof, sorry. Manny Montana, who had a smaller part in Chicago Code. And Brandon Jay McLaren, who is a Canadian actor and he’s done a few things recently. I’m trying to think of the last one he did. I’m trying to think, it was Harper’s Island.
Man: The Killing.
Jeff Eastin: The Killing. Thank you. Sorry. And, you know Joe and Jay Stern from The Shield, and that pretty much rounds out our cast there. And yeah, I mean it came together really amazingly. I mean, Daniel was sort of surprised too. I mean, he wasn’t at all like what I was picturing, but you know he’s the lead character in there and just really, you know just blew us all away in the lead.
Stevie Wilson: Wow. Cool. Cool.
Jeff Eastin: Yeah.
Stevie Wilson: Thank you.
Operator: And our next question is coming from the line of Jeanne Adams with Celeb Dirty Laundry.
Jeanne Adams: Hi.
Jeff Eastin: Hello.
Jeanne Adams: I wanted to say that you’re fortunately very busy right now, so I just thought I’d ask how different is your life now that you’re writing for two series instead of just one, and how are you managing that schedule?
Jeff Eastin: It’s been very, very busy. Let’s see, I’m not – I don’t – how do I want to say? It’s like originally we’d overlapped the shows about two weeks. I sort of started Graceland writer’s room, you know during the finale of White Collar, which was kind of crazy, and – it’s something I hope to never have to experience again. But, now that White Collar is wrapped up I’m just working on Graceland. It’s eased back quite a bit.
So, you know other than just, you know really not taking a break, it’s been pretty easy. You know, I’m – I’ll see what happens, you know next year if we have to overlap on the backside of things, but so far so good. You know, I realize if Graceland is successful, you know I may never have a break for at least probably the next three or four years. And, you know that’s a little intimidating.
Jeanne Adams: Oh, okay, great. Well, thanks so much.
Jeff Eastin: Thank you.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Reg Seeton with Deadbolt.com.
Reg Seeton: Hi, Jeff. Thanks for taking the call.
Jeff Eastin: Sure.
Reg Seeton: With Graceland, since the network wanted to go darker with the series, while also appealing to a younger generation, what do you think that says about what audiences are willing to accept on TV these days?
Jeff Eastin: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know if it says they’ll accept more things. White Collar, in a weird way, became a family show without – really without my wanting it to be a family show. I mean, I started it out just, you know I wanted to try to do something that was smart and, you know we tried to kind of, you know keep the dialogue and, you know keep the subject matter, you know again smart. You know, going after, you know paintings and quoting famous people; that kind of thing.
And we haven’t really changed that, and I was surprised how many people came and said, “You know, I love your show. I love to watch it with the kids.” And, you know we’ve done, you know fairly well in the demos these days, but you know I think just in terms of USA’s pursuit, you know the younger demo, you know you take things, I don’t even know if I’d call it a darker direction, it’s much – I think it’s maybe a more provocative direction.
I mean, the fact that, you know the guys on suits will smoke pot I think probably just appeals a little bit more to a younger demo. And it’s things like that that we sort of push Graceland in that direction, not necessarily that they’re (unintelligible) or smoking pot, but just the fact that, you know we deal with some issues that, you know maybe you wouldn’t want your, you know, 12-year old kid watching.
And, you know I think that’s probably always been the case. I think, you know if you went back to the 70s, if you went back, you know to the 80s and 90s you’d find that, you know younger people are watch – you know will watch stuff that’s a little more provocative than more wholesome. So, I don’t know if says much about changing patterns or anything like that, more than just the fact that, you know kids – you know young people like things a little more titillating.
Reg Seeton: Well, when researching the various agencies did you find there was a natural rivalry between the DEA, FBI, and Customs, or are they receptive to working together?
Jeff Eastin: Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen anything on the – I don’t think they really said anything on the pilot yet, but yeah, in reality, you know definitely there’s quite a bit of a rivalry. And I think what really appealed to me about this story was this is a case, again, a real house where they took undercovers from Customs, DEA, FBI and, you know shoved them all into one house. And they started to, you know almost emerge together into one like hybrid agency, and all these people were undercover.
So, what you ended up with is a situation where, you know had this house and the only place these people could be themselves was inside the house, because you were with people of your own kind, because if you stepped out the door they were lying to their neighbors, they were, you know telling people they were ski instructors or trust fund kids and, you know they stepped inside those walls of that house and they could be themselves. They stepped outside they were living a lie.
And it’s the pressure – you know sort of the pressure (unintelligible) environment that that created is really what, you know drew me to the piece. And unlike, you know other agencies who you might have a rivalry between, you know, let’s say DEA and Customs, it didn’t really exist within the house because it was one of those where, you know it’d be – you know on Saturday somebody’s like, “Hey, I’m going to go do a buy/bust at the airport. Anybody want to go?” And one of the FBI guys is like, “Yeah, sure. I’ve got nothing to do. I’ll go.”
So, it was probably the one place you didn’t have those rivalries exist, but what you had in place of that is you had these real human rivalries where you get pissed off because, you know it’s like it was your turn to clean the bathrooms today and you didn’t do it. So, that really took precedence over it and you had a lot of people – you know the house was good idea and it’s – there’s still a lot of it that still exists, but it’s like, you know just the pressure there to exist in such a tight confine with people in real high pressure jobs. You know, a lot of – there was a lot of burnout. You know, the people lasted about two years on average there just because they couldn’t take the pressure of really, you know having no real life outside of the, you know eight folks inside the house.
Reg Seeton: Great, looking forward to it. Thanks very much.
Operator: And our next question is coming from the line of Ryan Schwartz with The VoiceofTV.com.
Ryan Schwartz: Great. And what have you learned from your work on White Collar that you’ll bring with you to Graceland, or that you’ll leave behind?
Jeff Eastin: Oh, it’s an interesting question. I think, you know what I’ve done that I think has been really helpful since, you know we’re – you know this is really our – the first big week we’ve had working – or actually our second big week working on Graceland since, like I said, I was overlapping with White Collar and I couldn’t do a great deal of work of Graceland on those days when I was trying to finish the finale of White Collar.
I held over a few of my White Collar writers with me, Joe Henderson and Dan Shattuck and Matt Negrete and Jim Campolongno came over with me to Graceland. They’re coming over for various times. You know, some guys are coming over for just a few weeks, some are coming for, you know like over a month and a half, but the idea that I really wanted was I wanted to start in a room where – you know where they knew me, knew what I did. Stuff like that, and that’s really helped because, you know in addition to them we’ve got, you know about seven new writers who I’ve never worked with. And so far the mix has really helped and really worked well.
You know, probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned to take over with me is – what do I want to say? Sometimes I’m like too nice of a guy and when the room’s working on an idea that I don’t particularly like, I think I’ve learned to just, you know ignore people’s feelings and just say, “No, it’s not. You guys, look, we either need to start over or fix it,” which at the end of the day I think the writers actually appreciate. So, they’re not – they feel – I think at this point they feel pretty good that if I say I like it, I really liked it. That’s probably been the biggest thing.
But in terms of, you know just the practicality of production, is probably the thing – biggest thing I brought with me, and that’s just, you know these things where in White Collar we’ll bite off a lot sometimes and, you know like we’ve learned pretty quickly in White Collar, for example. You know, with the budget we have we don’t do action particularly well. Like, you know we traded action for New York really.
I mean, if you look at Burn Notice –that show does action very well. You know, they’re shooting down in Florida, which works great for them, but if we’d had wanted to really make White Collar an action show we would have probably shot in Toronto and – which is – would be a lot cheaper than shooting in New York.
We chose New York, which means we don’t – we – the money we put on screen is, you know for those beautiful vistas you get in New York, and that means we have a lot less money to blow things up, et cetera, which means we don’t – you know if we say we’re going to blow something up it – you know I’ll just say that I don’t think our action (sequences), you know despite maybe last week’s Renny Harlin episode of the boxing, I think a lot of our action sequences have fallen short.
So, I think it’s just bringing that sort of budgetary awareness into Graceland that’s been the most helpful, which is Graceland we know we want to do some heavy action. So knowing that, you know we’ve put resources there, but it means you just have to pull them out some place out. It means, you know we’re probably not going to be doing a lot of helicopter beauty shots. We do a little bit of surfing in the pilot and we probably, you know won’t do a great deal of surfing during the series on Graceland, because we’d rather spend the money, you know in that case, you know shooting things and doing things like that.
So, you know I think just being aware of what your budget is and not trying to do, you know like a Michael Bay car chase when you – you know when you got the budget of like a, you know a Toyota commercial. So, that’s one of the things that I think that, you know hopefully will be appreciated on screen.
Ryan Schwartz: Great. Well, I look forward to seeing the pilot. Thank you for your time.
Jeff Eastin: Thank you.
Operator: Our next question is coming from the line of Diane Morasco with Morasco Media.
Diane Morasco: Good afternoon, Jeff. How are you today?
Jeff Eastin: Good. How are you?
Diane Morasco: Now, Jeff, what has been the most intuitive (unintelligible) you’ve learned about yourself since launching White Collar, and creating Graceland?
Jeff Eastin: Probably, let’s see, about myself, huh? Probably the fact that – you know I can probably – I’m a little shocked that I can, I guess sort of do as much as I can. You know, coming into this I was very worried that I would just, you know breakdown. My other big worry was that I couldn’t separate the two stories in my head.
There’s the famous story about James Cameron. I don’t know if it’s true or not. It’s one of those things that sounds true where he’d been hired to write Terminator and Aliens at the same time. And, you know for anybody that’s tried to do two things at once like that as a writer, it’s a tough task. And, you know the myth says that he set up two computers, one on one side of the house, one on the other side of the house and we’d work half the day on, you know Aliens, and then he’d literally go to the other side of the house with the other computer and work the rest of the day on Terminator.
And, you know like I said, even if it’s not true it probably should be true, because that’s sort of where I fell down to like, you know at the end of White Collar we’re thinking in that White Collar mode, which in a lot of ways is sort of the opposite of the Graceland mode. I mean, White Collar is, you know we try to, you know sort of be, you know a very high end show, very white collared show, and I think Graceland is more of a blue collared show. It’s more – you know it’s probably edgier. It exists probably in a – White Collar exists in a little bit of a hyper-reality, and I think Graceland is more grounded.
And trying to kind of keep those two things going at the same time is probably the biggest worry I had. It’s like would I be able to write, you know, Briggs character, the – Daniel Sunjata’s character, would I be able to write him, and not turn him into a version of Peter or Neal? And so far so good on that, so that’s probably the thing that I’ve learned the most is that I’ve got ability to at least keep those things separated.
Diane Morasco: What do you want viewers to take away from the pilot of Graceland and describe Graceland in three words?
Jeff Eastin: Oh, this is – well, let’s see, take away from the pilot, I would say, you know I’m hoping they take away a sense that, you know it’s a really fun world, you know it’s a very unique world, and it’s really, you know kind of looking at, you know sort of the cop genre in a really kind of a totally different way.
Three words, boy that would be hard. I would say – you know I would say, you know exciting, fun, and intriguing.
Diane Morasco: Thank you so much. I wish you the best of luck, Jeff, again.
Jeff Eastin: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Operator: And our next question is coming from the line of Christiane Elin with SciFi Vision..
Christiane Elin: Hi, Jeff, nice to talk to you today.
Jeff Eastin: Thank you.
Christiane Elin: I wanted to speak a little bit about like Graceland and the characters. It seems like White Collar they have, you know a big back story and I would think that Graceland, from reading about it, it seems that there could be a lot of elements where there’s quite the backstory of how all those – the different agents got to where they were at, thrown into the house.
Jeff Eastin: Right.
Christiane Elin: But especially the main character, so how much will we see of that in like the first season?
Jeff Eastin: For Brigg’s, quite a bit. I mean, it really is sort of the, you know what happened in Briggs, why Mike is there investigating him. I guess I’m not really giving away anything here, but that really becomes the thrust in Season 1. It’s just those details.
Christiane Elin: And one of the characters is described as like kind of into the pranks and stuff that – so will there be – there will be like a comedic element to the stories?
Jeff Eastin: Especially, you know again, it was like the role as written was really – I designed it more for sort of a Patrick Swayze-type. I mean, there was a definite nod towards Point Break there. And, you know Daniel Sunjata had called me early saying he was interested in the role, and the truth was I couldn’t really picture him there.
You know, he’s sort of the antitheses of a young Patrick Swayze, you know that – he’s a very good actor, but you know just his look and demeanor and stuff was not kind of the – that – (zindou) surfer guy that I was wanting. And then, he came into the network test and really just blew everybody away. I mean, it’s like honestly he did it and he walked out. And Jeff Wachtel, you know the Head of USA came – just turned to me, I turned to the whole group and just said, “Well, I guess that was easy.” And, you know that was pretty much it.
So, one of the things I did is I had to go back and really, you know re-write the pilot a little bit for Daniel’s voice. He’s much more charming, much funnier than I would have ever expected, and that was a really nice, you know unexpected twist. And again, you know in these testing things, you know from what I’ve been told from USA they have, you know two shows that have tested the highest, one of – the top one being White Collar, and then a point below that was – you know was Graceland. And as far as the characters goes it was – the top character was Neal Caffrey and the second (unintelligible) was Paul Briggs, played by Daniel.
So, you know he just really kind of – just kind of brought this amazing charm and gravitas and just – you know just everything that I can imagine to this character, which is really dimensionalized Brigg’s, you know well-beyond what I had in the script.
And then, you know we had Manny Montana who, you know just as a human being is just an amazingly cool kid. He’s just really good. Again, he’d – he had a smaller part in Chicago Code, so you know him and – you know taking him and Jay Stern, I realized I just kind of keep pilfering Shawn Ryan’s old shows. But, considering how much I liked him, I guess that’s fair.
But yeah, I – Manny’s character, he plays Johnny Turturro, and he’s kind of the jokester in the bunch anyway. But, I think between Briggs and Turturro, yeah, there’s quite a bit of practical joking and quite a bit of a laughing, you know quite a bit of hazing that goes on in the pilot that is pretty good stuff, I think.
Christiane Elin: Fantastic. Thank you so much for answering the questions today.
Jeff Eastin: Thanks.
Jeff Eastin: Thank you guys.
Now that you have all the scoop direct from Jeff Eastin and a taste of the trailer, this is going to be one great series!
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