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Into the Badlands Q&A – Alfred Gough (Executive Producer/Showrunner/Co-Creator)

Co-creator and co-showrunner Alfred Gough talks about the world of Into the Badlands, the themes of Season 1 and his inspirations for the series.

Q: Can you set the stage for us as Into the Badlands begins?
A: Into the Badlands takes place in America 500 years in the future after an apocalyptic event. After it happened, there was a time of darkness and chaos. About 100 years ago, seven men rose up and put order to the chaos. They were the first Barons. Each Baron controls a territory and a resource. They’re part feudal lord, part Mob boss. There’s an uneasy alliance of these Barons. There are no guns in this world because they realized very early on that guns could be the great equalizer between them and the populace. So they assembled armies of martial arts warriors called Clippers, and that’s how they keep the peace and control their territories. And because everything old is new again, people looking for safety flocked to the Barons and became indentured servants to them in exchange for their security.

When we come into the world, we meet Sunny, who is the deadliest Clipper in the Badlands and works for the most powerful Baron, Quinn. And Sunny meets a boy named M.K. and saves his life. He discovers that M.K. has this dark secret that is connected to Sunny’s past. And that’s where we are when we come into the world.

Q: You were inventing a world from the ground up. Did you think about gender, racial and social dynamics? Did you want to rewrite the template of white guys in power?
A: That is something Miles and I wanted to do. It’s one reason we wanted to set the show far in the future, so that we could use the feudal dynamics of the past but not be beholden to those racial and social structures. So in the Badlands, there are male and female Barons and Barons of color. It’s not about the color of your skin or your gender, it’s about how well you can fight. I think this belief has always been integral to martial arts cinema, that women and men can be equally deadly.

Q: What are some of the primary themes for Season 1?
A: Fathers and sons. The awakening, spiritual and emotional, for all of the characters. There are themes of weakness and strength, because the Barons control everything. It’s the 1% versus the 99%. The Barons have a lot of power and this system has been in place for 100 years, but it’s starting to crack. And The Widow is the big disrupter in this world.

Q: How did you go about fulfilling your ambitions to bring authentic Hong Kong-style martial arts to TV? What was different about filming this series versus a typical American action series?
A: The first movies we wrote were Lethal Weapon 4 with Jet Li and Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Nights with Jackie Chan. They had full-time fight units, in addition to the first unit; that is how Hong Kong action films are put together. Most television shows are shot in eight days. When we went in to AMC, we said, “The first thing we’re going to tell you off the bat is we’re going to need a concurrent eight-day fight unit in order to achieve these Hong Kong-style martial arts fights.” Our fights are very intricately staged, choreographed and executed, and that requires time. It’s like doing a big dance number. Most American television action sequences are shot in a day and a half or two days at most, with a lot of quick cuts. With our show, you see the dancers dance. For the rain fight that’s in our first episode, that took about nine days to shoot so we could film all of the pieces and achieve a cinematic quality for the audience.

Going forward, we were introduced, through Stacey Sher, to Daniel Wu, who plays Sunny, and Stephen Fung. Daniel is American, but he moved to Hong Kong about 20 years ago and was discovered by Jackie Chan and became a movie star in China. He and Stephen met there and eventually became partners. They made several successful movies together, including the series called Tai Chi Hero. So, we all knew what needed to be done and how to execute these fights for Into the Badlands. And we built the show in a way that allowed us to be very ambitious while working within the confines of a television schedule.

Q: How do those ambitions play out as a process?
A: There’s an interesting jazz quality to Hong Kong martial arts. When Miles and I write the fight sequences, we do them in their entirety; we don’t just go, “and there’s a big fight.” These fights, again, they’re like musical number showstoppers and plot movers. We would then work with Stephen Fung and Master Dee Dee, who was our fight choreographer. So if you look at it like a song, you set the structure of the song and the major themes and the chords. Then you bring in your musicians – that is, your fight choreographers and stunt people – and they play with the notes once you’ve determined the location. They work with the variables that use the location to its maximum potential. So the process is as organic as it can be, but there’s a lot of thought and a lot of planning put into it, as well.

That’s been one of the challenges of the show and why, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s been attempted before. Because, how do you achieve this style of action and level of fighting that you want, which is cinematic, within a television show? And the fact that the network was willing to take this gamble was tremendous. We were all rolling the dice and are really happy with the results that we’ve seen.

Q: How does that translate into what the viewer sees?
A: Your average fight on television is 30 to 45 seconds. It might not seem like it, but really it’s that short. Here you’re going to see two- to three- minute fight sequences. They’ve been choreographed and filmed, and that’s the Hong Kong style. There are cuts in it, of course, but it’s not the sort of massive, quick cutting that you see in a lot of American action movies and television. With this show, you see the bodies in motion; you see the dancers dancing.

Click here for an interview with series co-creator Miles Millar.

Into the Badlands premieres Sunday, November 15 at 10/9c.

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