From Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Homeland), the USA Network international murder mystery DIG, is a 10-episode event series set in Jerusalem, Norway and New Mexico, that delves into the Holy Land’s darkest secrets. When Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs), an FBI agent recently stationed in Jerusalem, sets out on a mission to solve the murder of a young American, he realizes that he has uncovered an ancient international conspiracy that threatens to change the course of human history. The show also stars Anne Heche, David Costabile, Lauren Ambrose, Alison Sudol, Ori Pfeffer, Richard E. Grant, Regina Taylor and Omar Metwally.
During this interview to discuss the show with press, executive producer Tim Kring talked about how he came to be working on DIG with Gideon Raff, basing this is real-life conspiracies, the production challenges of telling three separate stories in three different locations, the experience of shooting in Jerusalem, relocating the shoot to Croatia and New Mexico, putting this cast together, and what future seasons might look like.
TIM KRING: We shared an agent, and we got introduced to one another. We had both been fans of each other’s work, and we really hit it off. So, Gideon had the core idea of wanting to do a murder mystery set in what is his home town of Jerusalem, centered on archaeological dig sites that are going on all over the city. We decided that we wouldn’t try to sell this idea for development, but that we would just write it ourselves and not go through the development process on it, for any particular network’s need. So, we started working together. Once we wrote the pilot, we went out on the open market and ended up at USA, for all kinds of reasons, but not the least of which was the guarantee of doing the whole series. That’s a big thing, to be able to not just make a pilot, but to get picked up. The ability to be writing towards something that was actually going to be a whole series was a really big lure for us. USA presented us with that opportunity, and we jumped at it.
Since this comes from real-life conspiracies, how did you first learn about these things, or has it been something that’s interested you, for a long time?
KRING: Well, we had this idea about a murder mystery set in the old city of Jerusalem that uncovers a deep conspiracy, and has all kinds of biblical prophecies and end of days ideas. All you have to do is do a little bit of research and a floodgate of material comes your way. So, it was really a matter of scratching the surface of that and opening up those doors. We had a researcher that we worked with on the ground in Israel, and Gideon [Raff] and I did three trips to Israel, where we did research and uncovered all sorts of very interesting, real-life prophecies. People are still, to this day, very interested in seeing those prophecies come about, and various organizations and churches are dedicated to seeing that some of these prophecies actually come true.
KRING: The stories were boarded together, for the most part. At the very beginning, close to a year ago, we shot the snowy stuff set in Northern Norway, in Northern Canada. That was a separate production. The stories start to slowly come together. We were in both Croatia and Israel, as well as New Mexico. We shot scenes that take place in Israel, in New Mexico and Croatia, and we shot scenes that take place in Croatia, in Croatia. Wherever we were, through the magic of production design and filmmaking, we were able to create these different locations. So, the stories actually didn’t have to be boarded completely separately.
What captured you, both visually and emotionally, about shooting in Jerusalem?
KRING: There’s just the visual of being in Jerusalem. When we first went on a research trip together, everything changed for me, just with the actual feel of being in a city that’s 3,000 years old and where history is everywhere. We were filming in places that literally have not only not been filmed in, but the public has not been allowed to go into. And so, when you are walking on stones that people have been walking on continuously, for 3,000 years, it’s amazing. I’ve shot most of my shows in Los Angeles, and everything was fake and production designed and computer generated to look like somewhere else. To actually be able to point the camera in a direction and have everything be authentic was really just amazing. And to be in a city like Jerusalem, where you feel not only that history, but the tension and the collision of these major religions that are all stacked on top of one another and all within a half-mile of one another, all of the things that we had been speculating on in the script, suddenly became very, very real. We immersed ourselves very much into the history of the place and went to all of these archaeological digs and met with various consultants. It’s one of those things where I think back and can’t remember not knowing about these things because they’re really very much in the front of my mind now.
KRING: A lot of the exteriors for Jerusalem, places in Croatia can double beautifully for. It’s amazing with these smaller, older cobblestone and walled cities, if you put the camera in the right place and you production design it a certain way, how much it doubled for Jerusalem. I really defy the audience to tell when we are shooting in one or the other. And we already had a storyline set in New Mexico. While we were in Israel, we were actually struggling with how to film it in Israel, trying to find the iconic imagery that we always associate with the American Southwest, especially when you get out of the desert environment of cafes, motels, diners and gas stations. Those kinds of things were really giving us a lot of trouble in Israel, so that is one of the benefits of having to move. And we built sets in Albuquerque that we were building in Jerusalem. Piecing it all together, it actually worked out very, very well.
How long did the move delay production?
KRING: I think we were close to a two-month delay, between when we were going to start shooting in Israel, and when we started again in Croatia.
Heroes, Touch and DIG all have this sense of everyone across the globe being interconnected and, even though the stories seem separate, they all come together. What draws you to that central theme, in so many of projects?
KRING: First of all, I’m interested in how small the world really is, and this notion that what happens in one place affects someone else. We’re seeing that in our own lives, much more with a global economy and climate change. We can instantly feel it now. So, that’s a theme that I’m interested in. But I also really enjoy the pastiche storytelling of watching separate stories slowly collide with one another. The audience gets to participate in trying to guess and decipher how one story will connect with another. And with the 10-episode arc that we have on this, it works out really well when you introduce these stories in separate places, and then watch them come together. By the end, it’s all one big story, but you’ve earned it by your participation as an audience, in trying to figure out how they’re going to come together.
How did you put this cast together?
KRING: We ended up with a really fabulous cast, and it was one of those casting processes that was painless. Sometimes they’re very difficult. Casting can really be hard. Jason Isaacs was our first choice. We had met him while we were writing the script, on spec. We had met him at an event and, just coincidentally, we cornered him and talked to him a little bit about the project. Unfortunately, he was on a show called Awake, at the time, so it wasn’t a possibility. From that moment on, we were writing it for a Jason Isaacs type, and we kept thinking of him. And then, sure enough, by the time we finally set up the project and got it going, Jason was available. How often does that actually happen, that the guy that you have in mind when you’re writing the words on paper is actually the guy you end up casting? Then, with Anne Heche, Lauren Ambrose, David Costabile and Regina Taylor, it just all fell into place.
The most exciting part of the casting process was casting out of Israel, which was a really unique process, mainly done remotely from California, looking at casting tapes. The depth of talent in Israel is just spectacular. I was very excited by it because when you cast in LA, you tend to see a lot of the same faces on lists for various parts. But with the casting in Israel, sometimes there were four or five people, that you could just flip a coin and choose from, that would have been all terrific. And seeing all of these fabulous faces that the American audiences are just not used to seeing is really exciting. I think that’s going to add to the unique look and feel of the show. We were able to cast some of the best actors in all of Israel, who are actually huge stars there.
With so many people binge-watching shows these days, is that something that you take into account when you’re figuring out how to tell the story?
KRING: My last real serialized show was Heroes, and we very much made it a week-to-week viewing experience. The cliffhanger became a big weapon in our arsenal, to try to get you over six more days of waiting for the show to come back. That’s a very high bar to set for yourself, to have a cliffhanger that keeps the people interested. Everybody who has had a show for years has heard the same statistic about how even the most loyal viewers of a show would only watch one out of three episodes. As someone who made television, I always found that hard to believe because you want to believe people who love your show are watching every episode, but statistically it was true that people who considered themselves the most loyal viewers were only watching one out of three.
Nowadays, I think the most loyal viewers are actually watching every episode, and because they’re watching every episode, you can spoon feed a little less than you used to do. Making a serialized show before, we were always asked to explain things, in the next episode, that the viewers may have missed, if they were just joining in now. Now, because of the ability to find all that information, and to watch the show when you want to watch it, and to find that information online with various fan sites, and people that do recaps and talk about the show, the audience has a much greater ability to stay caught up on a show. I think it has changed the way people are making these serialized shows. They can be much more seamless, from episode to episode, which I think is a very good thing. Obviously, it’s designed to watch, week to week, on television, but it’s also designed to watch in the way that people are watching shows, however they decide to do that.
Are you thinking about what mysteries you might pursue in the future, for further seasons?
KRING: This was always written as a one-off, and designed to be a limited series. But that being said, we also knew, in the back of our minds, that an FBI agent stationed in the consulate of a foreign country, who investigates crimes against and by American citizens on foreign soil, is a pretty compelling premise for a franchise. So, we thought about it more as a franchise than as a series. In other words, if it comes back, then it comes back with a whole new case, a whole new idea to explore, and a whole new setting. When this started, we were taking advantage of the country of Israel, which really rolled out the red carpet for us. There is a real possibility here to shoot in a really fabulous, exotic location.
DIG premieres on USA on March 5th.