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Al Septien: A Look Back At Smallville
Candyman, Superman, Vampireman...

A quick glance at writer-producer-director Al Septien's resume includes stops along a lot of beloved genre projects, including the Candyman franchise, Mutant X and Andromeda. He even has a few acting credits on the list.

But what Septien and his professional partner Turi Meyer have had the most impact upon is genre shows on the CW -- currently they executive produce and write for The Vampire Diaries, but before that they spent five seasons on Smallville, producing some of the most fan-satisfying episodes and working alongside Geoff Johns to bring comic book geekery to a show that sometimes seemed like one about a guy who simply had powers like Superman's, instead of the incipient Superman himself.

To coincide with the holiday release of the massive complete 10-season Smallville DVD set, Septien was kind enough to answer a few questions, and after both of us wrestled with our spam folders a bit, we finally had an interview hammered out. So thank you, Al Septien, for taking the time...

DEREK MCCAW: If you can think back to Season 5, what drew you to Smallville, besides the prospect of writing work?

AL SEPTIEN: Frankly, Smallville was our (Turi Meyer and my) first television staff writing gig. We were excited to get any job... but we were thrilled it was Smallville. Turi's a big comic fan, I was a fan of the Superman TV show (George Reeves) and the Donner movies.  What could be better than writing for Superman?? That's what excited us the most.

The show was also very uplifting.  Up to that point we'd written a lot of horror movies that allowed us to delve into darker parts of ourselves, but writing for Smallville gave us a chance to deliver something that dealt with promise and hope and a brighter tomorrow.  This may sound corny, but it makes you feel good to be part of a show that has such a hopeful message.  

DEREK MCCAW: Despite the presence of superpowers, the first few years of the show seemed very reticent to give in to costumes and more superheroic elements. How did you feel about the shift (or evolution), and how did that change the way you approached writing on the show?

Remember when?...

AL SEPTIEN: I believe the show became more of a comic book as the years progressed.  In the early years, I think Smallville was more interested in the teen angst of Clark Kent.   But by the time we came on in Season 5, Clark had left school and was moving into the world of adulthood.  He still explored relationships and had angst about them, but he was dealing with problems in a more adult world.  He was growing closer and closer to being Superman.  It made sense that as he transformed into the iconic superhero, the world around him would transform too.  

I think every show (especially one that lasts 10 years on the air) has to transform and reinvent itself.  We know the story of Superman from the comics.  The story of Smallville was a prequel. But as the story progressed and as Clark became more and more "Superman" we had to introduce costumes and superheroic elements from the comics we all knew.  I think fans enjoyed the transformation of the series. I know I did. 

The transformation didn't really affect the "writing" except for the fact that tonally we were probably a little more comic booky.  But I think the change was incremental.  Even in the early days, Clark was dealing with some pretty comic-booky villains.

DEREK MCCAW: You also worked through two sets of show runners. Do you think that divided Smallville into two different tones, and what were the strengths of the two eras?

AL SEPTIEN: Actually, we worked under three sets of show runners (Al Gough and Miles Millar; Kelly Souders, Brian Petersen, Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer, then finally just Kelly and Brian).  I don't really think there were two different tones, per se.  I think the show merely evolved.

Although it may seem like the show of the later seasons (8, 9, 10) were more comic-booky, I think the groundwork was established in seasons 5, 6 and 7.  Remember JUSTICE came about in Season 6, the Phantom Zoners were also Season 6, Supergirl was Season 7.  All of these characters were a move into a more traditional Superman comic book world.  
In the midst of the Zodpocalypse....

I think the bigger shift came as a result of Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) leaving the show. It required us to find other villains for Clark to go up against.  It turns out that the biggest villains from the canon were characters like Doomsday, Darkseid and Zod.  These are all other-worldy characters.  

By definition, they moved the show towards a more fantastical tone.  But we always tried to ground the villains.  Hence the choice to make Doomsday Davis Bloome, or to make Zod powerless on Earth.  THat gave us the opportunity to deal with very real, human issues against a fantasy/comic book background.

DEREK MCCAW: Which characters did you like writing the best?

AL SEPTIEN: Loved and miss writing all of them, but my particular faves were Lois, Chloe, Lex and Lionel.  They had very distinct manners of speaking.  They were funny.  Or they turned a phrase in their own inimitable way.

DEREK MCCAW: With some of the cast comings and goings that were obviously beyond your control, were there any storylines that you found yourselves having to change midstream?

AL SEPTIEN: None that I can think of off hand.  We usually knew that a given cast member was leaving well ahead of time, so that we weren't forced to make last minute changes.  But I remember we did have to break two different finales a few seasons ago while actor negotiations were going on.  One actor was renegotiating his/her contract and we had to write two endings, one that would continue his/her story and one that ended it on the show.  

DEREK MCCAW: Are there any characters or aspects of the comics mythology that you wish had made its way into the show but didn’t?
A more comic-friendly world...
I waited for a Doctor Fate return...

AL SEPTIEN: Actually, I'm very happy with the way the show dove into the comic mythology, but always kept itself somewhat grounded in our world.  At the end of the day, we always tried to ground the show in its human emotions (even when those emoting were from another world).  But we gave ourselves the freedom to move into more comic friendly worlds and that was very freeing. Personally, I love the way we dealt with the world of Kandor.  Somehow we managed to ground and humanize a really out there concept.... IMHO : )  

DEREK MCCAW: Rumor has it that Bryan Q. Miller is working on a “Season 11” novel, and DC Comics has made plans for a comic book. if you were given the chance to create a story set in either medium, where would you take “Season 11?”

AL SEPTIEN: The rumors are true and I think it's GREAT!  Yay, Brian Q!!   I'm sure as an ardent comic book fan, excellent comic writer and even greater Superman geek, Brian will do an AMAZING job with the continuation.  

It's tough to think of Smallville moving on past Season 10 since Clark's now dressed as Superman.  It seems to me there's little to explore between the time that Smallville, the show, ended and the Donner movies began storywise.  

Personally, I'd jump in time and do something more like KINGDOM COME.  Explore Superman's life after he's had all the success.  That's a period we haven't seen on screen yet.  But again, I'm sure that Brian will have a way to make it awesome.

Derek McCaw

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