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Bright Falls director Phillip Van explains how to create a fictional town

Since last week's release of the first two episodes of "Bright Falls," the six-part prequel to Alan Wake, we've been feverishly wondering how a live action video game tie-in could be so ... non-abysmal. To find the cause of this phenomenon, we went straight to the source: the series' co-writer and director, Phillip Van.

Check out our interview with Van just past the jump to learn about the thematic inspirations and environmental tribulations that went into the creation of "Bright Falls."


How did you come to be the co-writer and director of "Bright Falls?"

I got the boards for the idea from Agency 215, which was sent to the company that represents me, Little Minx, and I pitched my director's treatment on it. I gave it my own spin based on an outline I put together. We really saw eye-to-eye on everything, and had a really similar conceptual idea for everything, and that was how the process began. I added some things to the concept that I thought were helpful. I'm from Oregon, and I was able to include a photo series and a bunch of footage that I shot, some of which made it into the final cut -- wide establishing shots, things like that. It just gave a greater sense of my vision for things.

Where was the series filmed?

It was shot mostly in Oregon and Washington. Mostly I'd say in Oregon, but a mix of a lot of different locales. We shot at a lake called Battleground in Washington, and places called Zigzag and Welches in Oregon, a lot of it was on a highway called 26 East up to Mount Hood, which is where we shot Hartman's Lodge, which was Timberline Lodge, which is this creepy lodge where they shot exteriors for the Shining.

Had you heard much about the game at that point? When did you actually start production on "Bright Falls?"

I want to say, February? I don't know the exact date. We shot the whole series in a week in February. I had heard of the game beforehand, it's been on the docket for a while. I heard about it pretty early, then it went away for a while, and then I heard about it again and got the proposal on it, and was really excited, and it kind of proceeded from there.

It was a great shoot, but also a difficult one in a lot of ways. There were a lot of challenges, mostly ones posed by the weather. During that time of year it can be pretty unpredictable in the Northwest. We had something like seven feet of snow on the day we were on the mountain. It shortened some of our production vehicles -- you name it, rain, sleet, hail. We were also shooting nights, often. It got pretty hard dealing with all the different elements.

How much cooperation did you get from Remedy, and the writing staff of the actual game?

Well, from the beginning, for the initial boards for the idea and the outline that the agency came up with, they've been functioning as a kind of -- I don't want to say the wrong thing and define the relationship wrong, but they've been involved with each step of the conceptualizing and development, and production of the idea. In other words, they've had access to all of the work we've been doing and we've had to clear each step of the idea with them, just to make sure the series fits into the fiction of the game. Obviously, we're dealing a few game characters which we cast for and built into "Bright Falls," and that had to work with Alan Wake.

Have you gotten your hands on the full version of the game? Did you call back to that while you were writing the script?

No, when we were writing the script, the full version of the game wasn't out yet. We definitely got big portions of the game, and were able to see all the elements of Bright Falls which Remedy had created. I haven't played a fully functional version of the game yet, but I'm really excited to, especially after this whole process.

Would you say "Bright Falls" is a self-contained story?

I think "Bright Falls," as a series, works as a fully conceived story, but I don't think that it's a close-ended story. I think it's definitely designed from the get-go to be a prequel to the game, and is a start of the world that the game characters are born into. I think that people who watch all six episodes will have a satisfying experience, but I definitely think that experience will be enhanced and added to by playing the game, by going and seeing how the prequel relates to the game, by seeing how these things increase their meaning as related to the game.

There are loose ends within the series alone that you won't be able to tie without playing the game. And I think when you do tie them, after completing the game, you'll be able to see what meaning they had in the series in a much clearer fashion.

On the flip side, how valuable will the series be to people who play the game? What information about the game's characters or setting will be revealed in the series?

I guess it depends on what stage of the game and story you're in. I think as you play the game and work through it, and learn things about Bright Falls and the characters in it, you'll start to realize how the series has set things up and tied them into the fiction. It's hard to say more without getting into spoilers, but I definitely think the two are designed to interact and tell parts of the same story. They shed light on parts of the world of Bright Falls and how it works as a fictional reality. I think they enhance each other.

What other films or TV shows did you draw inspiration from while writing and directing "Bright Falls?" I know Microsoft has made a few allusions to "Twin Peaks" being one of the inspirations for the game. Did you turn to that at all while designing the series?

Yeah, you know, one of the reasons I had an interest in it is that a lot of the influences for the game are influences of my own, and influences of the series. Twin Peaks, and the work of Lynch, and the work of a few other key filmmakers and TV series all kind of played into and informed our ideas about "Bright Falls."

What we really wanted to do was create something distinct -- something inspired by these influences, but wasn't completely derivative. We wanted to create a series that could stand on its own and be completely unique, and have a personality and character of its own. The series is a story, but it's also designed to create Bright Falls as a character, and a character that has a lot of its own peculiarities and motives. That, we felt, was a unique concept and wanted to do it justice and write original content based on it.

How have you felt about the reader's reaction to the first two episodes?

I love the fans of Wake, and the reactions that I've read have been really encouraging. What I really love to see, and have seen already is the in-depth thought on details of the series. We really try to design everything to mean something. There's not a lot that we placed in the series incidentally.

I think the way I've seen Wake fans reading into the series is really encouraging, and totally in line with the kind of investigation that we were hoping for when we concieved it. It's awesome to see. It's really reassuring, and it reminds me that these are some of the greatest fans out there. You can't get a better fan base than a video game fan base. They investigate everything and read into every detail, and it's awesome.

A few members of that fan base are already crying out for a full-length film adaptation of Alan Wake, would you have any interest in doing something like that? Or something else set in the Bright Falls universe?

That sounds awesome! Yeah, I don't know. It sounds amazing. If anything like that were in development, that would be incredible. I guess we have to wait and see -- I'm still just really looking forward to playing the game. I want that immersive experience of playing it as it was intended, now that it's ready to roll out, rather than just a demo or something.

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