Like most large universities and colleges, Brigham Young University has its own television network. Unlike most universities and colleges, however, BYUtv is producing high quality content that no other educational institute is coming close to. One of BYUtv’s most recent shows is the science fiction series, Extinct. Wanting to learn more about this show, the creative minds behind this series – Aaron Johnston, Ryan Little, and Adam Abel – allowed me to interview the about their backgrounds and Extinct.
Nicholas Yanes: Before discussing Extinct, what are some stories you feel that every professional storyteller should read?
Aaron Johnston: There are so many different genres of stories, and so many different ways to tell them, that I question anyone who gives me list of stories that every writer must read. How could they possibly know which stories will have an influence on me or help me in my own storytelling?
It’s far more important that you simply read; that you dedicate time every day to read something. Sometimes poorly structured or poorly written stories provide far more meaningful instruction than well-crafted ones. So every storyteller should read constantly. Stephen King says at least an hour a day. I don’t always get that much daily reading in, but it’s a good goal.
Ryan Little: I think everyone should read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is a great Sci-fi story. I also think Stephen King’s book On Writing is a great read as well.
Yanes: Extinct is the second scripted series picked up by BYUtv. I have a Ph.D., so I have been in the academy for years, but I’ve never come across a university or college television station that is anywhere close to what BYUtv is doing. Could you take a moment to explain what BYUtv is like?
Aaron Johnston: I think BYUtv is the only such network of its kind nationally. It’s quite amazing. I fully applaud what they’re trying to accomplish with their content, which is to shed a little light and good onto the world. There is so much television that is corrosive and demeaning and vulgar and obscene. There is a market for that, obviously, or such shows wouldn’t exist. But I also think there is a market for smart, family-focused content as well that parents can watch with their kids without fearing the children will see or hear something they shouldn’t.
Working with BYUtv is unique for that reason. They have a clear stated mission. They want content that edifies while it entertains. It’s the kind of content I grew up on as our family watched Little House on the Prairie or The Wonderful World of Disney but which sadly is rare these days. We need more of it, and I’m thrilled that BYUtv saw value in Extinct.
Ryan Little: BYUtv is driven to share its mission statement with everyone, “To see the good in the world,” which is rare to see these days in Television. We just seem to programming that is darker and more edgy on most channels now. BYUtv wants to go in the opposite direction. To be unique in its programming and to fill a void that is getting increasing bigger.
Adam Abel: In my opinion BYUtv is a unique and innovative network because of their affiliation with a university, yet a desire to reach beyond a traditional alumni audience. It is exciting to be creating/producing content for BYUtv as they strive to have entertainment that attracts a nationwide and international audience.
Yanes: On this note, what are some of the opportunities associated with working with such a different type of television network?
Aaron Johnston: The biggest opportunity for me personally is that it allows me to create something that I can share with my kids. I made a decision early on in my novel-writing career that I would never write anything that I wouldn’t want my kids to read. BYUtv has allowed me to do the same with television.
Ryan Little: Being that BYUtv is a smaller network means you have less cooks in the kitchen and a little more freedom to make the show you want. And I appreciate the trust of the network to believe in our vision of the show and support us in our creative choices.
Adam Abel: We have really appreciated the space, creatively speaking, BYUTV has allowed us with Extinct. I imagine the space afforded us is much like the space the university provides their students. Such space leads to a better educational experience and in Extinct’s experience a better show. The trust they have demonstrated is refreshing.
Yanes: What was the inspiration behind Extinct?
Aaron Johnston: It started when Ryan Little came to me and expressed that he wanted to create a science-fiction independent feature. I knew Ryan from college, and I had followed his career ever since. He and Adam have produced several incredible films. I brought in Orson Scott Card, with whom I have collaborated with on a number of other projects, and we got to work. We knew we wanted to shoot in Utah, and we knew we wanted a small cast, so we asked ourselves, “What’s a situation that would require only a few people?” We came up with all kinds of scenarios, but this is the one that stuck. Later we jumped ship from feature film to television, altering the story along the way over and over again, but that’s how it began.
Ryan Little: Originally it was a film project and then through meetings it took a hard turn and became a TV series. I will let Adam and Aaron comment on this in more detail.
Yanes: What was it like being able to work with Orson Scott Card?
Aaron Johnston: I’ve been collaborating with Orson Scott Card for over fifteen years now. He is the smartest person I know. He has a deep understanding of science and history and human nature. He’s also my favorite author, and I’ve read nearly everything that he’s written. Just an incredibly gifted storyteller and a truly gracious and kind human being. I consider it a great honor to call him my collaborator and friend.
Ryan Little: Working with work Scott was very collaborative and engaging. He has so many ideas in his head at any given time. It is amazing to listen to him develop ideas. He truly is skilled in the art of building the world of that the story takes place in. I can clearly see what Aaron and Scott have worked so well together on the Ender’s Game book series together. They speak the same language when it comes to storytelling.
Adam Abel: Orson Scott Card is a SciFi legend. It has been an honor to associate with him. He and Aaron Johnston are gifted writers. Sitting at Scott’s kitchen table discussing the possibilities of Extinct is an experience I will never forget. I am thrilled he and Aaron have trusted us as partners in this endeavor.
Yanes: Were there any characters or storylines that took on a life of their own while filming Extinct?
Aaron Johnston: One of the exciting aspects of writing television is that you get to witness an actor bring his or her unique talent and perspective to the role. As a writer, you hear the lines of dialogue and scenes in your mind as you write them. But then you bring actors into the equation, and they add nuance and meaning and emotion to the scene that wasn’t there before but which greatly heightens everything. It’s fascinating to watch, and as a writer you gain an enormous respect for actors who can do that well and elevate your writing. You instinctively want to give them more to do and say because everything they do is so compelling. That happened many times on Extinct. Certain actors caught my attention, and their role in the show grew as a result.
Ryan Little: I am going to let Aaron take the lead on that question. I would say the character of Duncan (played by Jake Stormoen) came later in process and took us in some new directions with the overall story. It was great to see how Aaron weaved him into the original storyline.
Yanes: The first season of Extinct is scheduled to end in November, 2017. What have you learned from this season?
Aaron Johnston: Goodness. Where to begin. The biggest lessons I walked away with are these: (1) Surround yourself with smart, talented people and good things happen. (2) There is a market and need for family-friendly content. (3) Utah gets very cold in the winter time, and it’s wise to buy the best waterproof boots you can find.
Ryan Little: I have learned a lot. 1) It takes a village of very talented and dedicated artists to make a TV series. No one person can do this alone. 2) Making a TV series is like making five feature films all at once. Only a crazy person would want to do that. LOL 3) You have to learn to make decisions quickly and to stick to them. There is no time for uncertainty when it comes to this process. 4) There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen so you are not going to win every creative battle. So you need to learn when to pick your battles and when to just go with the flow. 5) Except the fact that you’re always three hours behind only ten minutes after you start your day. HAHAHA.
Yanes: If you get a second season, what are some areas of the show you want to improve on?
Aaron Johnston: I’ve thought long and hard about this. There is much that we can do to take the show to the next level. I won’t list all our weaknesses here, but suffice it to say that we know what they are, and we hope we get a chance to improve. If not, we’ve had an incredible experience, and we’re deeply grateful to all the fans who have supported us.
Ryan Little: Show off some more of the awesome landscape that Utah has to offer. There is so much production value in this beautiful state.
Yanes: When people finish watching Extinct, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Aaron Johnston: I hope they’ve been entertained. I hope they’ve empathized with what these characters have endured. I hope they’ve been reminded of how valuable and precious our time really is. I hope they feel a little more grateful for the good people they have in their life. I hope they’re not so hard on themselves or others. I hope they’re a touch more understanding and forgiving. That’s a lot to ask from a television show, I know, but a man can dream.
Ryan Little: To realize at the core of all that we have that being with our loved ones is the most important part of life.
Adam Abel: Ultimately I hope people are entertained. That is why I watch TV. I hope those who watch the show share their excitement for the world that Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston created with everyone they know. We want to be able to explore the world more in coming seasons.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you are all working on that people can look forward to?
Aaron Johnston: I’m currently writing book two in the Second Formic War series with Orson Scott Card. They’re prequel novels to Ender’s Game, which is one of my favorite novels of all time. If you loved, Ender’s Game, you check out the prequels: Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, Earth Awakens, The Swarm, and this book I’m writing now The Hive.
Ryan Little: There are always a handful of things floating around in various stages of development. Nothing is official yet. Right now just hoping for a season two of Extinct. The storyline line of the next season I think will really excite people.
Adam Abel: Go Films has two additional series in development. One is WWII themed and the other is Mad Max-ish. Our feature film endeavors will continue too. We love true stories that allow us to explore and see the humanity which exists in some of the most inhumane situations.