By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/3/18 – The Facebook Watch executive panel was convened on Wednesday, July 25th at the 2018 TCA Summer Press Tours held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Present were Fidji Simo, Vice President of Product, and Ricky Van Veen, Head of Global Creative Strategy. Both were attending the TCA Press Tours for the first time.
“Facebook’s mission is to bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s happening in the world, and to share what matters most to them,” said Fidji Simo by way of introduction.
“Our process for deciding what to green light is to ask ourselves the question, ‘Would this series either not work or not be as good if it weren’t on Facebook?’ And that’s the fundamental litmus test that we use to figure out what shows to do,” said Ricky Van Veen concerning Facebook Watch content.
Facebook Watch is a platform that is open to all creators and publishers. Engaged communities are essential to the success of non-celebs who regularly post their own content.
There are in fact community standards for posts like this as well as original Facebook Watch content. According to Fidji Simo, these community standards are always evolving.
What does it take for an online platform to get serious with original content? “From my point of view, I think it takes a show that breaks through and becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist,” said Ricky Van Veen.
Fidji Simo added, “And also our breakouts may look different than what you would expect on other platforms, because we’re not going for big prestige TV drama. We are really going for shows that trigger conversation.”
Distribution of inaccurate or offensive Facebook Watch content can either be limited directly by the company or indirectly by messages to viewers. But Facebook Watch fully believes in freedom of speech for news shows. “We are really trying to offer programming that shows a range of the political spectrum when it comes to news,” said Fidji Simo.
Facebook Watch has a long-standing relationship with Hollywood and takes the company’s public profile very seriously. If the Zuckerberg team seems weak on clamping down on things like lies, this will obviously impact the fate of Facebook Watch.
The Facebook Watch show SACRED LIES was based upon a book by Stephanie Oakes that was in turn based upon the Grimm fairy tale “The Handless Maiden.” Ricky Van Veen thought that literary adaptations like this should already have an existing community around the original text given the platform’s focus upon conversation and community. It also helps if entertainers already have a big Facebook following to get the word out about new Facebook Watch projects.
THT had several questions to ask about SACRED LIES, one of the new television season’s biggest surprises that is taking its place next to much bigger-budget prestige dramas with well-established stars such as HBO’s SHARP OBJECTS. Please see this exclusive interview with Raelle Tucker Sacred Lies series creator:
1) How has this story been updated for the present day?
The show is set in present-day Montana. There are references from the Grimm fairy tale and fairy tale archetypes sprinkled throughout if you look for them!
The apple tree plays an important part in our story and the Grimm tale, and the “Angel” that guides the Grimm heroine has become Minnow’s cellmate in juvie. There are also “good witch,” “evil stepmother,” and “fairy godmother” characters.
But Minnow is a very modern protagonist. She’s not the typical fairy tale princess in any way. She’s complicated, dangerous, and fierce. Tonally, we wanted the show to be as grounded in reality as possible while still embracing everything we love about fairy tales – the adventure, the romance, the darkness and the morality tale at its center.
2) How was Elena Kampouris tapped to star on this show as Minnow Bly? She does have a look that is both ethereal and edgy!
We did a worldwide search to find Minnow! We looked at thousands of auditions from the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada and, of course, the USA. Who knew we would find her in New Jersey!
We were looking for an actress who was a “new face,” someone the world wasn’t so familiar with that it would take them out of the story. We also needed someone with the acting chops to be able to carry a series, not to mention play a double amputee – which Elena makes look easy, but is technically extremely challenging.
Elena physically looks like a fairy tale character, but beneath the surface she is an extremely serious and dedicated actor. She has an incredible work ethic and the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. She can say so much without words, which was hugely important since the character barely speaks during the first few episodes, but still needs to suck you in and make you relate to her unusual experience.
3) How does Minnow adjust to a life without hands?
Part of Minnow’s journey is learning to do just this. That is something the show explores both physically and emotionally.
Elena spent nearly four months with her hands taped up to take this same journey as an actor. On set she needed help to feed herself and use the bathroom until she learned to do these things without hands.
Elena worked with a physical disability specialist, Kristie Sita, who lost her hand at the same age as Minnow lost hers. Kristie worked with Minnow every day on how to portray an amputee accurately.
It was very important to all of us not to treat Minnow’s character as a victim. She is a survivor and there is a lot more to her than her disability. When you watch the show, within a few episodes you stop seeing her as a handless girl. We hope that is how our audience will come to see people out in the world as well.
4) Minnow’s Prophet never allowed her to mingle with non-whites. How will this thread be woven into the show?
Yes, the Prophet’s racism is something we explore on the series. We will see the tragic effect that kind of indoctrination has on Minnow in particular.
Without giving anything away, I can say that Minnow learns to question everything she has been taught, and the people she’s been taught to fear end up being the ones she can lean on the most.
5) What advice do the panelists have in general about choosing books to adapt for TV? What makes YA fantasy like SACRED LIES so popular these days?
I chose Stephanie Oakes’ novel because I felt the journey at the center of Minnow’s story was so universal. “No matter what happens to us, no matter what we are told, we all have the power to decide what we believe in. And who we want to become.”
But I had never seen that journey portrayed so clearly on screen, and I had never seen a character like Minnow anywhere! I think the most important thing in an adaptation is an emotional arc or message that people can connect with as well as originality.
There is so much content out there. How do you stand apart? How do you tell a story no one else is telling?
In terms of YA and its popularity, I think we have underestimated and talked down to young audiences for too long. They are smarter and more critical than people give them credit for.
They are capable of tackling darker, more emotionally complex stories than they are usually fed, especially on TV. I think they are hungry for the same kind of premium, high-quality shows that adults have been enjoying during this golden age of television.