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August 27, 2012 2PM EST

Q&A with Alan Ball

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  • Q

    Thanks to Alan Ball for joining us today. What would you say is more stressful, the beginning or end of a season of True Blood?

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    Alan Ball says:

    Definitely the end of a season. By the time episode 12 rolls around, everyone is fried.

  • Q

    There are many story arcs within the show this season. Which one would you say you enjoyed the most in creating and why?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    My two favorites were the coup d'etat of the authority by vampire fundamentalists and the Obama-mask wearing anti-supe hate group.

  • Q

    What inspired you to create True Blood (besides the novels)?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    It's hard to say there was anything besides the novels. When I read the novels, they were so entertaining. I couldn't wait for the next one. The way the chapters ended in cliffhangers, I would end up reading late into the night and somewhere in the third or fourth novel I just felt like this is a TV show.

  • Q

    When writing for film, do you follow any specific industry paradigms for structure? Is there a specific structure you follow for TV?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I am a little suspicious of industry paradigms. I feel like so many movies and TV shows feel so familiar because of over-reliance on these paradigms. We just try to keep it moving and keep it interesting and fun and to spread the story around among our characters so that everybody gets at least one really great episode per season. Also, if a scene is longer than three pages, it better be for a good reason.

  • Q

    True Blood's trademarks are the cliffhangers. Have you ever written one NOT knowing what would happen next?

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    Alan Ball says:

    Sometimes at the very end of the season, we're not sure what's going to happen next. But in the context of the season, we know what the next episode is going to be. When Sookie went with Claudine, we didn't know what was going to happen. We had to wait until the writers started breaking the next season to figure it out.

  • Q

    I really love the opening sequence, it's phenomenal! and has become one of the most memorable things about True Blood. Was that something you shot especially for the show?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    There is some archival footage and some footage we shoot specifically for the sequence and some footage we shot to resemble archival footage that would not clear. The main titles were designed by a company called Digital Kitchen in Seattle (the same company that created the six feet under main titles). We gave them Jace Everett's great song "bad things" and they went from there.

  • Q

    How does your writing process for 'genre' television differ from, say, Six Feet Under, if at all?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    There's certainly more sex and violence... But fundamentally it doesn't differ at all because ultimately it's all about the characters. True Blood differs from Six Feet Under in that there are way more characters and plot-lines, but fundamentally it's still about the characters and their emotions.

  • Q

    Would you consider adding outtakes and bloopers to the DVD of this season?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I would have no problem with that. Ultimately it's HBO's call.

  • Q

    7 years after the final episode of Six Feet Under, do you still enjoy watching it as if it was your first time?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    No, I don't really watch it. I've sort of moved on. I was very proud of that but I don't think I've seen it since it aired.

  • Q

    If you could be any "supernatural species" (supe) what would it be?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Shifter. It would be the most interesting because you get to be so many different creatures.

  • Q

    How do you think your vision for the show has changed since it first began?

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    Alan Ball says:

    It's definitely gotten bigger. But I think that's the nature of the fact that the show is ongoing and once it opens up and larger things start to happen, you can't go back. It's also become more of a metaphor for things we see going on in the world without being too on the nose or opinionated about those things in and of themselves.

  • Q

    What was your inspiration in creating characters such as Jessica on the show?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    We wanted to see a vampire from the point of being made, and we also like the idea of a teenage vampire. We knew that for Bill, the most ambivalent of vampires (at that point in season 1, at least), the very worst punishment for staking Longshadow would be to have to make a vampire, as his own making had been so tragic for him, losing his human life and family.

  • Q

    What is your favorite part about the creative process of making True Blood?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I love casting and I love working with writers - the collaboration that takes place for each episode. And I love editing. And I also love scoring.

  • Q

    Whose character development have you enjoyed the most?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I really enjoyed Bill because he's always struggled with being what he is. I've really enjoyed Jason because I think he has really struggled to find meaning in his life over these last couple of seasons, and he's really hit a wall with being the "hot guy," and that's not really doing anything for him. I've enjoyed Pam and how earlier she was mostly comic relief but now she's developed her own story with her own emotional landscape. And I think that's really interesting, because she's such a guarded character.

  • Q

    I was happy to see Peter Macdissi in True Blood. Are you open to working with any other of the Six Feet Under cast members in the future?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Absolutely

  • Q

    Which season of True Blood has been your personal favorite so far, and why?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    That's hard to answer. I really enjoyed season 2, because I felt like that was when the show really became a phenomenon and I loved all of the Maryann Dionysis cult stuff and the Fellowship of the Sun stuff. And then I really enjoyed this last season and the undermining of the Authority by the fundamentalists. I thought it was a really fun thing for our characters to be involved in and really interesting and complicated.

  • Q

    What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I would say try to tell stories that you care about as opposed to stories that you think will sell.

  • Q

    Your creative vision is the reason I watch TB. I'm very excited to see what's next for you. So what's your next project following TB?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I am one of the executive producers of a new Cinemax show called Banshee that will start to air in 2013. My company has several other projects in development at HBO, both series and movies. And I have three screenplays at various stages in development, hoping that one or all of them will get made.

  • Q

    How is it that vampires are always shown of as the greatest sex symbols?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    They're immortal, they're sort of bad, they live at night, they're incredibly powerful. And the whole idea of biting and feeding on another person is a metaphor for sex. However, I'm sure there are people out there who think that Alcide is hotter than any vampire... so I think that's a subjective thing.

  • Q

    I know you are stepping down as showrunner, but will you write any episodes for S6?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    That remains to be seen.

  • Q

    Mr. Ball - I am winning a battle with cancer. True Blood is my escape. i find strength in every episode. How are you preparing Mark Hudis for his new role? Thank you and all those involved in True Blood for providing my escape. Would you send me some "V?" JK

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I don't need to prepare Mark, he knows what he's doing, he's run shows before, he's been a writer-producer on this show for 2 seasons and has written and produced some really excellent episodes. I'm just asking him and the writing staff to keep making True Blood... True Blood! And I truly wish V was real because I think I could use some of it!

  • Q

    With Six Feet Under, who was your favorite character to write?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    David and Ruth. David because his journey was something I could really identify with. And Ruth because I just felt that she was such a great character, the way she was played by Frances Conroy. Not to say I didn't enjoy writing for all the other characters, because I did.

  • Q

    Are there any particular scenes you like to watch in the show? Who's your favourite character from True Blood and why?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Even after five years, i still enjoy just about every single scene of every single episode. Watching the finale last night, I really liked the fly POV, Maurella giving birth, Rosalyn's death, and Bill tricking Salome out of Lilith's blood. I love all the characters deeply, but the most fun for me to write are Jason, Lafayette and Russell Edgington, they each have such a distinctive voice.

  • Q

    Are there any practical jokers on set? If so, who and what was the best prank thus far?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I'm not sure there are any, everyone takes their work pretty seriously.

  • Q

    How do you choose the music you put in each episode

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Each writer puts their own choices for music, in terms of songs playing on the radio or something like that, in their script. And then when the director puts together the first cut of the episode, they'll use those songs or pick other songs, and then our music supervisor Gary Calamar comes in and will provide us with several alternates for each song that's been used as a temp and we'll pick the one that sounds best. Sometimes the one we like the most is way too expensive to clear, so we'll try to find an alternate that sounds as good. So it's a real collaboration.

  • Q

    Will we see more of Hoyt or is his storyline over?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Hoyt is not dead, he may return, he may need to return for some reason or other. That remains to be seen. But he's clearly still alive. And on our show, characters who remain alive and disappear do tend to come back at some point. Even the dead ones, for that matter.

  • Q

    what is your favourite tv series beside yours?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Breaking Bad. I just think it's so genius and it's such a dark story that manages to be hilarious and grim at the same time. I think it's done so incredibly well. Actually, it might be between Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.

  • Q

    if you were a vampire, you would be sanguinista or mainstream?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Mainstream. I think the Sanguinistas are crazy and fueled by religious fundamentalism, and I think they're very shortsighted and not very smart in terms of what their agenda is. I would be a secular vampire.

  • Q

    What do you feel is the greatest risk you've taken with the show/story so far?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Probably delving so deeply into vampire religion and the fine line between fundamentalism and insanity.

  • Q

    In your opinion, which was more difficult to deal, the realism of Six feet under or the fiction of True blood?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I think telling a good, compelling story and keeping it based in characters is never easy. But the production aspects of True Blood are more difficult. It takes more days to film an episode of True Blood, there are so many special effects and so many things that have to be storyboarded and shot in pieces and put together, so the production aspect is a lot more difficult than Six Feet Under. But in terms of just writing the story, they're about the same.

  • Q

    would you ever consider doing an episode as a musical episode in mostly all song?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    No, that's been done. It feels derivative. And I don't understand how I could make sense of everybody just singing all of a sudden.

  • Q

    Have you gotten any backlash for tackling religious fundamentalism in TB?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I'm sure we have, I just don't pay attention to that stuff.

  • Q

    Do have plans for making a movie soon?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I have some screenplays that I'm trying to set up, but it's very difficult to get a movie off the ground in this current environment. But I'm stepping back from TV for a while because the grind is too much and I'm too old. I would rather work on some smaller, self-contained things like some smaller, independent movies. Supposedly, What's the Matter with Margie is going to come together to shoot in January. it's something I wrote, but I will not be directing it.

  • Q

    Any chance we'll see more gay or hetero-flexible characters in future seasons of True Blood?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I'm not running things anymore, but I would imagine there would be because we've never had a problem with that.

  • Q

    Six feet under dealt with death and so did American Beauty. On TB Vamps are dead, but live forever. How do u see your theme continue here?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I think after five years of Six Feet Under, I got a little tired of staring into the abyss, and one of the things that appealed to me about Charlaine's books was the idea that death is present, but when there are creatures that can transcend it, it loses some of its sting. And I wanted to have fun for a while. And what I'm writing now is less about mortality specifically, and more about people at various stages in their lives.

  • Q

    In all 5 seasons, what has been the most exciting and/or challenging scene to film?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    It's hard to say exactly which single scene, but I know the orgy scenes with Maryann in the woods were hard. When Sam, as a fly, goes into Rosalyn's mouth and makes her explode... Eric and Nora taking out the majority of the Authority guards... Certainly the very end of season 2, Maryann's wedding was pretty difficult. I'm sure I'm missing others. Last season, when Marnie and the witches were holed up in MoonGoddess and the vampires were outside and Pam shot a bazooka at the wall of energy, and everything that was going on inside, that was very difficult.

  • Q

    Your favourite character trait of Eric is?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    His dry sense of humor.

  • Q

    What has/have been your favourite locations to shoot in throughout the seasons?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I love the Fellowship of the Sun church, and I always love Merlotte's. It's such a great set and it looks so great on screen. I loved the vampire Authority, even though that was a set on stage, it wasn't a location. The exterior of Russell's house in Louisiana was really beautiful. I didn't go down for that shoot, but I thought that was just gorgeous. All of our standing sets are really fantastic, and that's because of our Production Designer Suzuki Ingerslev and our Art Director Cat Smith.

  • Q

    What is your favourite Six Feet Under beginning death?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I really liked the guy who left the gas on and we thought he was going to die, but it ended up being a disgruntled office worker who shot up his office. I really liked the porn star who got electrocuted in her bathtub. John Billingsley (who plays Mike Spencer on True Blood) gets killed with a skillet, that was a great opener.

  • Q

    Do you have an idea of how the show is going to end?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    I know that there are some things we talked about in the room last year, so I do have an idea. But I don't know that's going to be what will actually happen.

  • Q

    Thank you to Alan Ball for participating in today’s Q&A, and for giving the fans an amazing Season 5 finale last night. Any parting words?

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    A
    Alan Ball says:

    Keep watching. I know I'm going to!

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