Sanctuary’s Damian Kindler – Creative Spirit

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Sanctuary creator, executive producer and writer Damian Kindler. Photo courtesy of Damian Kindler

Last fall, The Syfy Channel added a new face to their stable of strong heroic female characters, Dr. Helen Magnus of Sanctuary. As head of a global network of facilities, or Sanctuaries, she as well as her daughter Ashley, techie Henry Foss, and forensic psychiatrist Will Zimmerman, risk their lives to protect humankind from creatures called “Abnormals” and vice versa. Created by Damian Kindler and executive producer with Martin Wood and Amanda Tapping (Magnus), the series made the jump in October 2008 from web-based to the small screen. Season one was a hit, and earlier this year, Kindler was back on the show’s Vancouver set with the cast and crew to start production on year two, which began airing back in October. As with the first season, the prep process was an involved one.

“Alan McCullough [series co-executive producer], Sara Cooper [consulting producer], James Thorpe [creative consultant], who came to us a bit later on, and I spent last Christmas as well as this past January and February developing story ideas and inching towards Bethlehem if you will. And sure enough it all eventually came together,” says Kindler, taking a break in-between production meetings.

“So we went forth and came up with this big two-part second season opener, End of Nights. We’re very proud of the episode and the performances in it are amazing. Our story opens six weeks into Helen Magnus’ search for her daughter Ashley [Emilie Ullerup], and it’s quite revealing about the way the Sanctuary works in a larger sense. You actually get to see other Sanctuaries around the world because there’s a global threat that’s made very real. We’re also made privy to how the Cabal plays its hand, which affects our heroes in a bad way. Essentially, it’s a giant kind of worldwide James Bond-ish, action-packed chess match between Magnus and the bad guys. There are some really cool human moments and Martin Wood just directed the hell out of it in a very short time.

“At the end of part two, people who are interested as well as invested in the show are going to be blown away because things careen into this incredible shock. Look, this sounds like I’m playing up the PR spin on the show, but we’ve literally pulled our heads up from the rabbit hole recently, looked around and said, ‘The first four or five episodes we’ve done are terrific.’ Season two is rolling out in such a smooth and heightened way, and the network has been incredibly generous with their feedback and saying how there has been a quantum leap in the way Sanctuary feels and in the entire creative process.

“The episodes are ramped up, revealing and really good character stories with cool monster beats. I think the show has definitely hit a very important stride right out of the gate in season two, and I don’t say that because it was all part of the plan. I thought we’d just continue on, but there was something about the wind at our backs when we sailed into season two that was extremely confident. We had been given this chance to come back and do this all over again. It was such an amazing life-changing experience doing the first season and everyone was so excited about doing a second season that they’ve brought their A+ game to the table.”

Last season, Kindler and his fellow writers established Sanctuary‘s main characters, and this year they will be building upon those foundations with some big twists and turns to come. “This season really is about the characters,” notes Kindler. “In season one we played through the growing global threat and shift in power. It was all very Lord of the Rings-like. This time around, though, I felt that we really needed to get to know not just our characters individually, but how they work as a group and how they like or don’t like one another.

“There are changes that happen to our heroes in the first three episodes this year that are profoundly dramatic. I mean, at the end of the season opener Ashley is killed – she dies saving her mother. During the final moments of End of Nights: Part 2, Magnus watches as Ashley is blown up and the screen then goes black. So viewers are left with this very harsh vision and they subsequently need some sort of ‘let down,’ which comes in Eulogy. One of my favorite episodes this year, it’s written by Sara Cooper and has Magnus and Will [Robin Dunne] playing out the possibility that Ashley could have survived, but in the end, coming to the realization that she is, in fact, gone.

“When I initially showed the ending of this episode to a few people there wasn’t a dry eye, and there are two reasons for that. One being that there’s an actual memorial service for Ashley, and then there’s a little bit of a ghostly visit where Magnus has a vision of her daughter and they say goodbye. Also, there was a woman named Nora O’Brien who worked for both Syfy and NBC and who died suddenly. She was very close friends with a lot of us here at Sanctuary, so Martin, Amanda and I came up with the idea of dedicating a story to her this season, and we all agreed that Eulogy would be the perfect one.

“This is one of those episodes where I believe Sanctuary is at its finest because it deals with the characters in such a human way. The thing is, it’s cool to have a very structured plot, a clever plot twist or high-concept idea, but if it doesn’t service the characters, then it’s not going to feel like a Sanctuary. It’s going to feel like a CSI only with monsters. There are moments in this story between Will and Magnus where you expect things to get overwrought, but, instead, they become quite realistic. Eulogy also features a really neat hunt for an escaped Abnormal. So it’s fun, too, and it serves to sort of reset the series if you will.

“I’ve just written an episode called Next Tuesday where Magnus and Will are stuck in the central well of a decommissioned oil rig. They’ve been trying to transport a sea monster to the Sanctuary, but their helicopter becomes tangled up in the guide wires hanging above the well and this creature escapes. And to make matters worse, there’s a second monster, too. We shot the episode on this cool set where we got to spend some time with Magnus and Will. I wanted to give you a chance to watch these two people bickering about their lives. Yes, there’s a monster and how are our heroes going to get out of there, but more important is the question of what happens when you spend 30 or 40 minutes of almost real time with your two leads talking to each other as people. Our goal was to have an ongoing personal conflict between Magnus and Will and watch that get resolved while being sure we told a cool monster story.”

As if Ashley’s death is not enough to deal with, the dynamic between our characters is further turned upside-down in season two of Sanctuary with the introduction of a new character, con artist Kate Freelander (Agam Darshi). “I’m going to totally mea culpa here and say that every show runner is like, ‘I want a Han Solo on my series,’ and that was our idea with Kate,” admits Kindler. “There are obvious ways you can go with a character like this. You can make her tough, but there was something cool about making Kate a bit like Ferris Bueller, where she’s working for the bad guys because that’s who’s paying her. Deep down, though, she’s really a hero who has sort of been in denial and hiding for a while. All she needed was to find someone who she could trust.

“Kate Freelander is an opportunistic freelance operative who has been working for the Cabal as well as other people. She knows about Abnormals, is very good at what she does, and crosses paths with our gang in part one of End of Nights when she kind of mucks things up for our heroes. Basically we’re trying to get to an Abornmal before the Cabal does, but Kate spirits him way before we can do that. There’s a big car chase – they used my car, by the way, and drove the heck out of it – where Kate is eventually caught and interrogated by Magnus. There’s a very kind of gripping scene where Helen is pretty out of control when it comes to dealing with her. Kate manages to escape, but she eventually ends up at the Sanctuary, a bit out of an attraction for what they are doing, but mainly out of desperation because the Cabal has put a hit out on her.

“She’s somewhat reluctant at first to help Magnus, but slowly becomes more cooperative,” continues the executive producer. “Kate is sort of the person in the middle and you can’t quite trust her. She’s an opportunist who has a very selfish way of working, but she’s changing. Kate is inspired by our heroes, but she has a different style, and that’s important when it comes to our storytelling. She thinks outside the box. Where we might take a very scientific, academic or particularly structured approach to a problem, she’ll be like, ‘Why not just call this guy. He has what we need. Who cares where it came from.’ Kate gets stuff done, and I like that because it shakes up some of the pomp and circumstance of our story, making it a bit more streetwise and fun as well.

“We had auditioned Agam Darshi for roles in the past and had always been impressed with her work. She’s a great actress who brings a lighter, edgy, interesting, mischievous tone to a lot of the stories that we’re doing. At any given moment, Kate could potentially steal something for money and then turn around to Magnus and the others and say, ‘But I never saw it.’ Again, though, she slowly begins to realize the value of the work that the Sanctuary team does.”

Kindler chuckles when asked to talk about some of the more memorable episodes from season two of Sanctuary. “More memorable than hanging a real helicopter over a pool of water?” he asks with a smile. “Well, our season opener has something like 400 VFX [visual effects] shots, and Eulogy is beautifully done and well-directed. Episode four, Hero, is, I think, the first openly amusing episode of Sanctuary that we’ve ever done. Anyone who is a fan of comic book heroes will love this one. I’m guessing it will be a fan favorite; I know it’s one of ours this year and it guest-stars Chris Gauthier [Vincent] from Eureka, who is a wonderful actor. It has some really good monsters in it as well as some funny, rather poignant beats, and overall is just a good, back to basics fun romp.

“Episode five [Pavor Nocturnus] is an unbelievably unique experience. It’s what looks like an alternate future gone to hell. Magnus wakes up in the Sanctuary and it has literally been abandoned for years and years, and the outside world is in such disarray. The story is dark and strange and has elements in it that are very disturbing. There’s an interrogation/torture scene that some people will watch through their fingers. Fragments is a neat episode, too. It’s a strong Henry [Ryan Robbins] story that was directed by Steve Adelson, who did Instinct last year.

“The episode we’re currently filming [early June], Veritas, which was written by Alan McCullough, is wonderful and Amanda is directing it so well. She’s an incredible director, and that’s beyond just delivering cool visuals and amazing performances. Production-wise, Amanda is bringing this story in under-budget and early, which is very difficult to do on our limited budget.

“Like I said, I’m so happy with how things are going this season. Again, the show has found its groove, and it really had to because it’s been paired with Stargate Universe. So Sanctuary can’t sort of just keep bubbling its way upward. It had to find its legs and run, so the pressure is on for season two, and so far so good.”

Launching Sanctuary‘s original two-our pilot on the Internet was a huge accomplishment for everyone involved with the show, and then bringing it to TV was yet another major creative hurdle surmounted. It has proven to be a great deal of work, but you will not hear anyone complaining.

“We’re all exactly where we want to be, doing exactly what we want with exactly the people we want to be doing it with,” says Kindler. “As sugary sweet as that sounds, though, the truth is there’s nothing better than appreciating what you have. It’s been such an amazing, crazy train ride getting her, and there were so many moments where it should have gone off the rails and crashed into the river, but it didn’t.

“Every time there’s a problem, like, oh, boy, here’s another late night at the office, or, here’s another weekend I have to spend writing, or whatever, you realize what enormously high class ‘problems’ these are. This is what we want to do. We don’t have any big plans for global domination…yet,” jokes the executive producer, “but if the series could just keep building upon its fan base that would be great. That’s all we ask.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, photo is courtesy of Damian Kindler, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

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One Response to “Sanctuary’s Damian Kindler – Creative Spirit”

  1. MDobbs Says:

    I’m wondering how he can consider season 2 a success when the replacement of Ashley with Kate has led to a loss of nearly a quarter of their viewers.

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