The Ark showrunners Dean Devlin and Jonathan Glassner discussed with ComingSoon their upcoming show and the difficulties they had to overcome to make it happen. Devlin had the idea of making a show with people traveling through space for a new home, Glassner simply saw the potential of that story. Ahead of the series release on SyFy on February 1, the pair also discussed their most significant influences, having a woman in the leading role, and more.
“The Ark takes place 100 years in the future when planetary colonization missions have begun as a necessity to help secure the survival of the human race. The first of these missions on a spacecraft known as Ark One encounters a catastrophic event causing massive destruction and loss of life. With more than a year left to go before reaching their target planet, a lack of life-sustaining supplies and loss of leadership, the remaining crew must become the best versions of themselves to stay on course and survive.”
Tudor Leonte: Dean, where does the idea for The Ark come from?
Dean Devlin: “It was a conversation I had with a man named Michael Wright, who currently runs MGM+, but he used to run TNT when I did the original Leverage and the original Librarians. We were just having a discussion about TV shows we’d like to watch, and he was saying he missed the show about a diverse group of people who were in a contained spaceship on the way to an adventure. It just got me thinking about, if I got my opportunity to tell that show, how would I do it. I got more and more excited, I wrote this pilot, and luckily SyFy dug it and wanted to do it. I called and begged Jonathan Glassner to come on board and help me with it. We’ve just had a fantastic time making the show.
Jonathan, what is it that convinced you to join the project?
Jonathan Glassner: Well, it didn’t take much to convince me. I read the script and loved it, and saw 15 stories in front of me just instantly. Whenever a writer sees that they — at least I do, I jump on it.
What is it that both of you like about hav ing some people confined in a spaceship, moving towards a new home on a new planet?
Devlin: Well, I think it’s a pressure cooker. Whatever conflicts or personal dramas you would have in a normal show, it gets heightened because they’re all in this contained space. They can’t escape each other. I think what makes this one unique from other ones is that in the opening scene of the very first episode, all the leadership of the spaceship are killed in an accident. The people who are left, they weren’t supposed to be running this, they weren’t supposed to be in charge. They were supposed to be mentored by these great people who were gonna teach them how to be leaders. Suddenly, they have to be leaders today. That’s what makes this really unique, is that this is an opportunity to really watch the triumph of the human spirit about how we rise to the occasion when called upon.
Glassner: And how we don’t, how we don’t sometimes.
I’ve watched the first episodes and I’ve got some 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes, some Independence Day and Stargate vibes. I would like to hear your influences for this show.
Devlin: I think that the reality of doing science fiction today is you can’t ignore the giant’s shoulders you’re standing on. Some shows try to pretend like they’re the first show to ever do it, and we don’t even bother with that. We assume that you already know what a sleeper pod is, that you’ve seen Alien, Passengers, and the other shows that have had these things. I fell in love with science fiction when I was a little boy, and my mother was doing a guest star on the original Star Trek. She came home from set with one of the stunt men’s Phasers that she gave to me. That was like giving crack to an addict, that started my whole relationship and love with this. I would say the work of George Lucas, the work of Steven Spielberg, the work of James Cameron, all of that has been giant influences.
Glassner: Yeah, I would say the same thing. Probably, the biggest influence on me, probably what sent me down the path of being a science fiction writer was the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I grew up on. I love the way you can use science fiction to tell a story that’s actually going on today that would be too much of a political hot topic to actually do today and put it in the future and change it around and make it into a little fable, which is, I think, an important thing to do in science fiction.
I like the series as a psychological study of the fact that even in the future, even a hundred years from now, people won’t change. The behavior is the same as it was even thousands of years ago. What is it in human behavior that makes us repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
Glassner: Well, that’s a huge question. That’s like a question for scientists and philosophers. I think we have evolutionarily, we have tribalism in our genes, and I think that’s caused a lot of problems for us. I think it’s, who’s in charge, who’s the leader, who’s the alpha dog is a big part of our genetic makeup. Who’s the they that we have to be against is a big part of our genetic makeup. I just think it plays out in everything.
Devlin: Yet all these things propel us to be the best versions of ourselves. When I’ve talked to people who say, ‘Well, I don’t wanna be frightened,’ and I would always go, ‘Well, if you weren’t frightened, you’d walk in front of that bus and get run over.’ Our flaws fuel our virtues. I think that’s what makes great drama. It has always made great drama. This is a setting where all of that gets exacerbated.
Having a woman in charge of the spaceship in Lieutenant Sharon Garnet, how did you come up with this narrative solution, and how does it reflect our reality?
Devlin: Well, I don’t think it was a choice to say, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if it was a woman instead of a man?’ I think what we really looked at was just simply what are the differences of these characters. Only one of them is kind of inclined to fill any gap. In other words, Garnet can’t help herself. If she sees that there’s a job that needs to get done, she jumps in to do it without wondering if she should or shouldn’t. That’s just her character. When there was this vacuum in leadership, she didn’t do it because she wanted to be the leader. She just knew it needed to get done, and she knew how to do it. The other two, they hesitated, and by the time they realized they wanted that position, it was already filled.
It creates some interesting dynamics between her and her colleagues.
Devlin: Yeah, it does. But our hope is that clash has to do with the content of their character, not their sexual orientation or their gender.
No, for sure. We can say that the sci-fi genre has been very revolutionary as far as this goes. It’s not the first time we see a woman in leadership in a sci-fi contest, that’s for sure. It really shows us the potentiality of these narrative solutions.
Devlin: That’s right. I think it’s just fun to watch that dynamic between the three of them
Yeah, that’s true. Which was the trickiest part to write and then execute or shoot?
Devlin: I think the trickiest part is that John and I write these things as though we had $200 million in and all the time in the world to make it. And then we said, ‘Alright, we gotta get this done in eight days. Alright, how are we gonna do that?’ I think that the advantage that both Jonathan and I are both directors, we were able to kind of go into our bag of tricks and figure out every cheat we’ve ever done in any show we’ve ever done before, to try to make something look bigger when you had less time and resources. We used everything we’ve ever learned to try and make this fit our very ambitious ideas. I think that was the trickiest part.