Over the past 30 years, PaleyFest has held panel sessions and screenings that connect the worldwide community of television fans with the casts and creators of their favorite TV shows. One of the drama series celebrated this year was The CW hit Arrow, and Collider was there to get the scoop on what’s to come in the Season 1 finale and what’s in store for Season 2.
While there, we got the opportunity to speak with executive producers/writers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, along with actors Stephen Amell (aka The Arrow) and David Ramsey (who plays John Diggle). The actors shared their reactions when they heard what the Season 1 finale would entail and talked about what they’ve enjoyed about playing their characters, and the creative team gave some insight about where things are headed for the remainder of this season, how getting an early Season 2 renewal allowed them to get specific with the threads in the finale, that they’ve had 60% of the ideas for this season in their heads since the beginning, how much the big Arrow identity reveals have opened up the story, the biggest challenges in making this show, every week, and that they’re striving for a finale that both gives a sense of closure and also leaves you with enough cliffhangers and nuggets that you’re anxious for more. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are spoilers.
GREG BERLANTI: There’s a lot of similar things, in terms of where Oliver evolves on the island and where he evolves as a person, back here. We’ve always thought of the season arc of the show almost like an arc of a film. Act 1 was about setting those things up. Act 2 will end by Episode 17 or 18, and that’s where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. And then, Act 3 is about final duels and things coming to a head. We’ve never really played it safe, as a show. We take some risks, at the end of the year, just like we took risks in having an island storyline on the show, and things like that. We take risks with some of the characters’ storylines, that we hope pays off.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: It gets big and bigger. Episode 17 basically marks the third and final chapter of our saga, so from 17 to 23, we’re just on rails, going great guns to the season finale. Each episode will build on the episode prior to it, and it will get bigger and bigger, not just in terms of scope, but also emotionally. There will be a lot of big emotional things that happen, in the wake of Tommy discovering that Oliver is The Arrow. We’re going to start, in Episode 18, paying off all the mythology that we’ve been laying in since Episode 2. Big revelations will start coming at the audience, pretty fast and furiously, and that’s going to be the rocket fuel that just propels us to the end.
ANDREW KREISBERG: Both stories have a big bad and an arc for the season. What’s always exciting about the island is that we know, from the pilot, that Oliver survives the island. What’s interesting is that you don’t know what’s happened to anyone else. You don’t know what happens to Slade Wilson. You don’t know what happens to Shadow. You don’t know what happens to Yao Fei. You don’t know what happens to Fyers. So, watching how that’s all going to play out is really exciting. And then, in the present-day story, obviously there’s the plot with The Undertaking and what that’s going to entail, the ramifications of Tommy finding out Oliver’s secret, and how Roy Harper plays into things. We’ve thrown a lot of plates up in the air, but we have an idea about how to catch them all. We’re really excited because it feels like everything we’ve been doing has been this slow burn, building up to this big climax.
As actors, what was your reaction when you learned what the Season 1 finale would entail?
STEPHEN AMELL: I only know some overall vague details and some specifics. I said a four-letter curse word that starts with F!
DAVID RAMSEY: Episode 23 will be crazy! I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but it’s big! Some things are going to be answered that have been questions for the whole season. For all the times you went, “What is that? And what is that?,” you’ll get some of those answers. We’re not going to let Moira off the hook. She’s going to have some answering to do. Diggle wants some answers, too. So, you’re going to see big stuff happening. We’re on Episode 20, and it’s just ramping up. By the time we get to Episode 23, you’re not going to be able to wait for Season 2. It’s going to be great!
When did you find out that the show had been renewed, and did that affect how you approached the last few episodes?
KREISBERG: We were always hopeful that we’d get a second season. I think the biggest thing is that, once we really knew that we were having a second season, we could really start planning some of these things in earnest. We never thought of the show like, “Well, Season 1 and we’re done.” For us, after Episode 123, Episode 201 is the next one. It’s about how these things are going to play moving forward, and how we should advance the story. The only thing that finding out really did, aside from making us proud and excited and over-the-moon, was just allow us to start getting more specific. But, we’re really setting up the second season in these last seven episodes.
How many episodes did you have left to write, once you’d found out about Season 2?
KREISBERG: I think we had six episodes left. There’s a lot of stuff in there, and we’re really excited.
So much has happened during Season 1. How much did you know about, from the beginning, and how much has developed, along the way?
BERLANTI: I’d say that 60% of it we had ideas about, and 40% of it is very new. Even when you have ideas, it doesn’t mean you have the exact idea, the way it’s rendered, but you definitely have it in your head.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you?
BERLANTI: On a production level, I’d say how well everyone is able to execute what they’re able to execute with the action sequences. We pour weeks and weeks, sometimes, into 40 seconds of film. The other surprising thing is just how well, for us at least, and hopefully for the audience too, the concurrent island storyline has turned out. That was always a notion, and it was a notion that took a lot of explaining and talking about, at the beginning, to all the executives and everyone else involved with the show, and it’s paid off, in watching the duel evolution of this guy.
Once the actors were cast in their roles and you started to see who had chemistry together, which character relationships have you enjoyed the development and interaction of?
KREISBERG: You know, we had high hopes for Dig and Oliver, and David Ramsey and Stephen Amell have just created this fantastic relationship. Emily Bett Rickards, who plays Felicity, had a one-off guest spot that she’s turned into this fan favorite and writer favorite. Now, we can’t imagine the show without her. The other big surprise for us was Manu Bennett. I don’t think we necessarily saw the buddy movie aspect of the two of them on the island. I’m a huge fan of Spartacus, and you see him as Crixus every Friday night, stabbing people and gutting them. He’s a monster. But, he’s such a sweet guy, in real life, and he’s really funny. That Han Solo-Luke Skywalker thing on the island was really a surprise to us. We’ve really started writing towards that, and it’s made those flashback scenes even more fun and created a new dynamic that we hadn’t previously had there.
AMELL: It’s been really fun! I remember, when we finished the pilot, what I wanted, more than anything else, was to read the second episode. I wanted to know what happened. It’s not that that ever became lost, or anything, but when you get into the grind of the middle of the season and you’re exploring different things, maybe you’re not thinking about it the same way. Now, we’re on Episode 20. I just read Episode 21, and I can’t wait to read Episode 22 and 23. And now, I can’t wait to read Episode 1 of Season 2.
David, how much fun was it for you to get clued in on the Arrow identity and really become part of the action and story, in that way?
RAMSEY: It was great! When I first met with Andrew [Kreisberg] and Marc [Guggenheim], they told me, “In the first couple of episodes, you’re going to be the guy who learns the secret.” So, that was great. I knew that was coming. But, Diggle’s reaction to everybody else finding out, now that Felicity knows, Tommy knows and Oliver’s momma almost found out, is that, “It’s not just your life that you’re threatening. It’s my life!” So, I think Diggle definitely has something to say about how many people know.
How much have the big Arrow identity reveals really opened up the story for you?
GUGGENHEIM: They’ve opened up the story enormously. Our plan was always to have Diggle learn Oliver’s secret, and do that very soon, because you need someone for Oliver to relate to. Felicity was a surprise. The character of Felicity was really created as a one-off for Episode 3. We just needed a computer technician. But then, we were very lucky that we cast Emily Rickards, who just lit up the screen. We had so much fun writing for her that we just kept doing it. If you watch the show and saw all those bad excuses that Oliver gave, at some point, she had to discover the secret. Otherwise, it’s just strained credulity for the entire show. And with respect to Tommy learning, we were very sensitive that that might be a bridge too far, but hopefully we’re answering that problem by the way Tommy responds to the secret, which really is a big storyline in Episode 17 and beyond. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s very different from the way Felicity and Diggle have reacted. His reaction is probably the most realistic reaction. We’re very sensitive about not having the entire world discover his secret because then that devalues the entire secret. I would say that you’ll want to keep watching and keep seeing how the characters interact, but Tommy will show that not everyone who discovers Oliver’s secret is going to be happy about it or suddenly find themselves in the foundry working with him, side by side, at that computer station.
Stephen, what was the most shocking or surprising story reveal for you?
AMELL: It was definitely Episode 16. I did not see the reveal with Tommy coming, at all. I remember hearing about it from the director of that episode, Glen Winter. He was like, “You’re going to tell Tommy,” and I went, “What?!” That was really shocking!
RAMSEY: Well, I love the bromance between me and Oliver. That’s been great, since the beginning. I was surprised about how well the relationship worked with Felicity. It’s great! She brings a whole lot of levity to it. The way we all bounce off each other is fantastic. She brings some much-needed energy to the Arrow cave.
What are the biggest challenges in making this show, every week, and maintaining the production values on a TV budget?
BERLANTI: I’d say it’s very, very challenging. We have an incredible group of individuals there that do that. Everyone says, “Oh, we have the best team,” but really, we have the best team. From the D.P. to production design to the stunts, and all of that, they’re operating at a level that’s like when you get lucky at casting and everything comes together. We got lucky in that way too, for this show and the production on this show. We’re really proud of that, obviously.
KREISBERG: I literally don’t know how we do it, every week. We just saw a cut of Episode 18, and it looks bigger than the pilot, even though I know we shot it for a fraction of the pilot’s money. Our production team, led by J.P. Finn, who’s our producer up in Vancouver, are just magicians. We always joke that it’s sort of like Scotty on the Enterprise. We hand him a script and he says, “I can’t do it, Captain!,” and then somehow manages to do it, every time. We’re just blessed with the best crew in town. I know everybody says they’ve got the best crew, but the proof is that, if people knew how much money we had and what this show looks like, they’d go, “Oh, those guys really do have the best crew.”
Because of those budget restrictions, how often do the scripts have to change or adapt, once you know what you’re going to actually be able to do?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s a great question! We have an incredible crew. Our production team is amazing. They’re not just producing this on a TV budget, but a pretty small TV budget, by TV standards. We’re not one of the major networks and we have to be very cost conscious. They put every dollar on that screen. Andrew [Kreisberg] and I not only write the scripts, but we help produce them, and it always works best when we have a two-way conversation with the production office in Vancouver and we’re throwing ideas at them and they’re throwing ideas back at us. In Episode 16, which begins with that sequence on the heli-pad, we wanted to have a fight on a wing of a jet. Unfortunately, you can’t do that legally. You can’t actually have a fight on a wing of a plane. But production said, “You know, there’s this great heli-pad that overlooks the city and we can actually fly a helicopter in, on camera,” and we were like, “That’s better! Let’s do that!” Sometimes, even though we can’t do it as scripted, it forces everyone to come up with something that actually works even better. But, it’s always a push and pull. We’ll take money out of one thing to put it towards something else. We just have to be careful. But, it’s another form of creativity. J.P. Finn and Todd Pittson, who lead our production team in Vancouver, are amazing. They really are the best in the business. The show looks as good as it does because of them, and everyone behind the scenes who’s really, really stretching the boundaries of all forms of creativity to make this show what I think is the best looking show on network television.
When this season ends, will viewers have an idea of where you’ll be headed with Season 2?
BERLANTI: Absolutely! There will be a lot of questions. I’m not a fan of things being pure cliffhanger-y, personally. I think you want the sense of satisfaction and of, “Wow, I watched a storyline that really had a beginning, middle and end.” But within that, we’re setting up a lot of stuff for next year.
GUGGENHEIM: What we are doing is striving to have a finale that both gives you a sense of closure that you’ve finished a chapter, but at the same time, leaves you with enough little cliffhangers and nuggets that it makes you lean in and go, “God, I can’t wait to see Season 2!” And we’ve already started talking about Season 2 in the writers room. We have very clear ideas about what Oliver’s emotional arc for the season is going to be, and how the finale is going to affect him, both as Oliver Queen and as The Arrow. That’s really the big thing for us. The finale will be the end of a chapter, but you’ll look at Season 2 and go, “Oh, that all started because of the events of the finale.” The finale kicks everything off.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.