Based on the series of novels by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who write under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey) and developed by the talented team of Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby (Children of Men, Iron Man), The Expanse has quickly become the new standard in TV sci-fi off the back of its diverse and exciting cast, impressive visuals and on-point, scientifically-backed writing.
The series balances its time between Earth, Mars, and “The Belt”, a circumstellar asteroid belt located in the region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and whose inhabitants mine precious minerals and goods for Earth and Mars. Using the case of a missing young a woman as a kick-off point, the first season explores and maps out the rocky, increasingly souring relationships between these three factions. Despite the massive distances between these groups of characters and the overall massive scope of the show, the character development and story arcs are tautly developed and focused.
“We wanted to ensure that the characters and stories were clear and concise. Hawk and I worked closely with [authors] Abraham and Franck to ensure that, from the outset, we were all on the same page and moving in the right direction,” co-creator/executive producer/writer Mark Fergus tells The Reel Word. “They have it all mapped out. Even with how massive the worlds and stories are, they know how every piece fits. We have a productive two-way working relationship with them and constantly negotiate about how best to portray certain plot points, so that’s very helpful and also quite rare in this industry.”
Clarity of vision is clearly something that Fergus values above all else. “The first thing I like to do when thinking about or hearing about a film or TV idea is ask, ‘What is the very last scene in the show/film?’ If that answer is unclear or isn’t good, then I can’t commit to it and I’ll instantly walk away.”
Fergus is energetic, modest, very relaxed and warm, and was quite open about the benefits and challenges he has found in translating source material from one medium (books) to another (television).
“I find translating an existing idea, especially one from another medium, to be truly invigorating. It provided us with certain ‘restrictions’, which helps to keep things on track. When it’s your own idea, your options are boundless and that can create issues with scoping and focus.”
When discussing the recruitment of its talented cast, Fergus first speaks of the evolving roles that he and co-writer Otsby experienced.
“As the seasons have progressed, we’ve received help from more specifically talented people behind the scenes, so we are more like overseers and writers now. But in the first season, we literally hired every single person, from the back-up “best boy” to Thomas Jane.”
As mentioned, The Expanse has a large vision, talented writers and is based off commended source material, however having critically acclaimed actors like Jane (Hung, The Mist) and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Saddam, House of Sand and Fog) certainly helps.
“We had to chase Thomas for quite a while, and he was like, ‘Look, man. I like the concept, but what is it?’ We had to keep fleshing out his character in ways that would make his character clear to him and appeal to him, all whilst staying faithful to the books. In the end, we used Taxi Driver as an example of the sort of character he’d play, and that drew him right in.”
Actor recruitment wasn’t always as elongated a task though. “I live down the road from Shohreh, and I was saying to Hawk, ‘Man, we need someone like Shohreh. Wouldn’t it be great if we got someone like her?’ He was like, ‘Just ask her.’ And so I did, she asked me to send her some more info, then shortly after she called and said, ‘Yeah, I’m in.’ I was so overjoyed and shocked.”
Hailing from a film background, this writing duo have enjoyed the substantial differences between the two mediums. “I love film, but it is so clipped, you have between 100 and 120 minutes to tell your tale, which means so many awesome ideas end up on the cutting room floor. It’s brutal, but it’s also exhilarating. With TV you can explore sub-plots and do heaps of cool stuff that is not necessarily tied to the main story arc, but is nonetheless interesting and useful to the viewers. I love this part about TV; no great idea is left on the shelf.”
As a fan of the show, I was keen to know if Fergus had a particular allegiance or soft spot for any of the three main factions. Inhabitants of “The Belt” (known as “Belters”) are treated as second-class citizens by both Earthlings and Martians, and have a sympathetic ear in the form of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), who, depending on your affiliation, are known as either a socio-political movement or a terrorist network. When pressed upon which faction he likes best, Fergus was immediate in his response. “I like ‘The Belters’ the most, and I expect that most people would find preference in them due to their intrigue. They are a new and as yet unstructured bunch of people.”
Fergus’ comment that ‘The Belters’ are an “as yet unstructured” people may provide a little clue as to one direction the show may move towards. Whilst the mystery and intrigue that surrounds The Expanse, with its massive scope, tight plotlines and quality cast, only grows, it is clear that there is plenty to look forward to. I for one am “belted” up and ready to roll.
The third season of The Expanse is currently in the works. Season one is now available on DVD & Blu-Ray thanks to Via Vision Entertainment.