Carlton Cuse Talks Origins of COLONY, World War II Influence, and Tone

     May 21, 2015


If you haven’t heard of Carlton Cuse, you almost certainly have watched a show or film that he’s been crucially involved in. For most viewers, his name is synonymous with J.J. AbramsLost, where he served as both a regular writer and producer, and he’s recently been one of the major creative forces behind both Bates Motel and A&E’s recent English remake of The Returned. Most recently, he penned the script for San Andreas, Brad Peyton‘s upcoming disaster film which stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino, but these projects are hardly the only thing on Cuse’s radar right now.

Cuse is producing The Strain Season 2, which bows July 12th, but more importantly, he’s prepping Colony, a brand new science fiction series for USA. Steve got a chance to sit down with Cuse recently to discuss a number of projects, including San Andreas and his television work, and he teased a bit about the details of Colony‘s premise. He was especially open about talking about how Colony was conceived as a metaphor for France during the Nazi occupation, and how that helped him and the production team develop the drama for the science fiction series. Here’s what he had to say about the origins in Colony and the series’ roots in World War II:

carlton-cuse-colonyI think there might be an initial assumption that it’s an alien invasion show but it’s not that at all. The metaphor for Colony is Paris during World War II. So, Ryan Condal, who I created the project with, and I looked at all these great photographs of Paris during the Nazi occupation. You see women in fur coats sitting at sidewalk cafes, drinking espressos while Nazi stormtroopers are marching by, and that incongruity really fascinated us. We wanted to explore this idea: Could you come up with a modern context for this? So, in our story, Los Angeles is under occupation from a mysterious force, but we don’t really deal with who the occupiers are. They’ve installed a proxy human government and the show’s really about occupation. It’s much closer to us installing a proxy government in Afghanistan with Karzai, or Iraq. Pretty much every country on the planet has either been a colonizer or a colony. How do the dynamics of that kind of society work when you have one super-empowered group of people and one colonized group of people? And how do they interact? And I think North Korea, Cuba – there are many examples of repressive societies where people have to adopt elaborate strategies to survive and that just felt like really dramatic territory if we could put that in a contemporary American context.

That’s certainly a more thematically ambitious concept than the first rumblings of Colony suggested. The way Cuse discusses the premise suggests that the series will be more interested in exploring an invented world than getting hung up on the plot or the origins of who is controlling America in Cuse’s universe. He also gave a quick update on the show’s pre-production:

We’re about halfway through writing. We’re doing ten episodes, first order, and we’re about halfway through that process right now, and we start shooting in July.

carlton-cuse-colonyThere’s no set release date for Colony yet, but it’s set up at USA and is a sign of the network’s increasingly aggressive bidding for original programming with more substance than their previous series, many of which prize low stakes above all else. Cuse went on to talk about how Colony is unique in tone and how it will fit in with USA’s more adventurous taste in pick-ups as of recent, suggesting that they want a chance at competing with headliners like AMC and FX:

I’m not sure what exactly I would compare it to. I would say that I think the needle is moving at USA. I think that they’re trying different things. I think Mr. Robot is an example of an ambitious, complicated, and compelling idea that is not blue skies in the same way as Suits or Burn Notice. We have a slight blue sky element in our show, in the sense that it’s not a dystopic future. There’s palm trees and sunny skies, although there are huge metallic walls that kind cordon off Los Angeles. So, there’s weirdly parts of our story that are aspirational. You can get on a bus in West Hollywood and get to Westwood in six minutes, but at the same time, it’s a very dangerous place to live.

Consider me sold!

If you missed what Cuse told us about The Strain season 2, click here to check it out. Look for more with Cuse soon.