During a recent set visit on the set of Psych, various other media outlets and I were able to interview Saladin Patterson and Gordon Mark. Saladin Patterson is one of the writers for Psych. And Gordon Mark is a producer on the show. We were able to visit them in the production office and sit down and discuss what happens behind the scenes.
We heard that you were just on the phone with the network. What kind of feedback does the network give you about the episodes?
Saladin Patterson: This is being recorded, right? [kidding]… Very sizeable notes. These were notes about an episode that James Roday and I are co-writing and he’s directing. It’s going to be our Christmas episode. And it was Jeff Wachtel just chiming in with character notes, things about how the characters are represented. The network cares a lot about protecting the images and the characters that we’ve grown to love so that the fans feel like they’re still part of the family, and things like that. So those are mainly the types of notes he had.
As the show has grown on, Gus has become more of an equal partner for Shawn. Dulé said that he thinks it was planned all along. Is that the case?
Saladin Patterson: You know, it’s probably a combination of things. This is season five, so we want to explore more and more stories, and see our characters in more in different situations. So because of that we tend to think, okay, what haven’t we seen in terms of for each individual character, and what haven’t we seen in terms of between the characters? So some of that’s just for every show you’re normally going to look for more things to play.
A lot of it also is as we’ve grown with the show, and as James and Dulé also bring so much to the table with their own personal chemistry, we’ve all seen the Gus character evolve more and more. And we all are playing more to Dulé’s strengths as an actor, you know, his ability to bring more to the table.
But also, as we get to know more and more about the character, funny things come up and we say, “Hey, that’s kind of a funny thing for the Gus character, and we should run with it – explore this.” Specifically, though, like the tap-dancing, that’s again something where we have access to a phenomenal dancer in Dulé, and we’ve been looking for a while to kind of showcase those skills. So it’s a combination of a lot of things.
How many episodes per season do the writers take a lead on?
Saladin Patterson: It varies season to season, varies per writer. We do a total of 16 episodes a season as a show. Each individual writer will write about two or three or those. We have about six writers, seven if you count Steve [Franks], the show runner. And it kind of depends on how things fall into place. Some writers will get maybe one or two more so that it all balances out. But we roughly at least try to get two each.
There seems to be a lot more co-writing this year.
Saladin Patterson: A lot more co-writing this year. A lot of that is just efficiency. Scripts can come out faster when writers co-write, and we can also split duties a little more. Like Steve [Franks] directs episodes, so he has to come up here so we can co-write some to kind of stay ahead. But it also depends on the actual ideas that come through, and who gets paired up for what sort of stories.
Do you find working on a 16 episode season easier than what used to be the standard of a 20-22 episode season, or more challenging?
Saladin Patterson: No, no, it’s easier, because, you know, you aren’t kind of wracking your brain. I mean, coming up with 24 different stories each year is hard. It really is. It’s a challenge that’s one of the good and bad things about network television to tell you the truth. I won’t say it’s necessarily easier or better writing, because we’re only doing 16 episodes, but we still squeeze into a shorter time period too.
But I think for the overall longevity of the show, and keeping an audience interested throughout, and keeping them entertained, I think a shorter season has benefits, definitely. But I won’t go as far as saying it’s really easier, because we’re still trying to come up with a certain number of episodes in a certain amount of time.
Gordon Mark: It’s certainly easier for production and for the actors. Because James and Dulé are in…
Saladin Patterson: Every scene.
Gordon Mark: Every scene, every day. I think, you know, Dulé may have an afternoon off in this entire season, and James probably not. And that’s why we do four episodes, and then we take a one-week episode hiatus to give them a chance – particularly the actors, and a little bit for the writers to catch up. For the crew and the actors to recover a little bit.
Saladin Patterson: But in our first two seasons that were no hiatuses, right?
Gordon Mark: But we had a three-week hiatus when I started this season.
Saladin Patterson: The second season, okay, so then the amount of work that they have to do consistently, and then especially when there’s just that one hiatus, it’s really, really taxing.
Gordon Mark: And James writes and directs and acts. I don’t know how he does it.
Saladin Patterson: I know.
Gordon Mark: I mean, seriously.
Saladin Patterson: Which our whole crew, and again, it’s a little easier now, but those first couple seasons you guys were just always trying to keep things contained, and worried about budgets, and not having any breaks. You know, it’s kind of…
Gordon Mark: It’s still the same.
James Roday told us his wish list for guest stars that they would like to have on the show, such as Val Kilmer. When you’re working on the scripts, do you picture certain actors to fill those roles as you’re working? Or does that come later?
Saladin Patterson: Well, you know, in the writers room we have a white board that is dedicated to actors that have expressed interest in the show, and also actors that we hope would express interest in the show. So it’s always in the back of our minds. And that actually boils down to each writer approaches generating a story differently. We definitely have some writers, including Steve himself, who will probably keep in mind, you know, I want to create a role that would be for this guest star, or to bring this guest star back.
For instance, the episode he’s getting ready to come up and direct is a sequel to one they did last year with Kerry Ellis, right? So, at the end that’s one where he wanted to bring a character back. But oftentimes we just try to come up with something that really works on paper. Like, for instance, I just did an episode with another writer – Kell Cahoon, and we just came up with a really funny character that we liked. And we were able to cast Sean McBride and it fit perfectly. But the character came first, and then we tried to figure out who would really, really make the character come to life. So it’s kind of – it’s a chicken and egg type thing.
What are your favorite type of scenes, or episodes to write?
Saladin Patterson: Shawn’s a great character, you know. And I tend to like the scenes or situations we put Shawn in where he can be as close to Bugs Bunny as possible. Outrageous things, popping up here, really causing mayhem, really is a good foil to where there’d be Lassiter or someone else who really can’t understand why this person is allowed to do the things they do.
But at the same time, just like Bugs Bunny, always had a plan. And there was always a method to the madness. And at the end you could always see, “Oh, now I see why he was doing that,” you know. So those are my favorite ones to write. Those are actually pretty difficult to actually write well, because sometimes he just comes off like a nut. But, you know, we’re always trying to make it something a part of his genius.
Is there anything that’s off the table for the characters?
Saladin Patterson: Off the table like not allowed? Yes, apparently, Steve Franks will not allow us to do a robot episode. But we found that out. And I’m trying to think of anything else that would be off the table.
Where did the Yin Yang killer idea come from?
Saladin Patterson: I got to say it came from the dark recesses of the minds of Andy Berman and James Roday…
Yeah. They conceived it on their own. James – he’s a big fan of the horror genre, so it’s definitely in his wheelhouse. Andy Berman is great with this character. So they just came up with the most twisted being they could kind of.
So will we be surprised and satisfied with the way the story arc ends?
Saladin Patterson: Well, when you guys find out that Henry is the Yang killer it’s going to be shocking. [kidding] No, it should be cool.
What are the biggest challenges and tricks of making Vancouver look like Santa Barbara year after year.
Gordon Mark: Well, the weather doesn’t help to start with. And we do spend a lot of time with a five-ton truck full of flowers, and trees, and things. And figuring out where – when we scout where we’re going to put them. And mostly they take just flower stems and throw them in a laurel bush in the distant background so there’s blotch of fuchsia on the green. And we try and avoid shooting the mountains and stuff past the clouds. But we have grown into shooting the hills around Vancouver, or cutting them off at the top of the frame. Whenever we can we get a patch of water in.
Saladin Patterson: Yeah. And you know me, I give Gordon locations, and… a lot of credit, because in all honesty, we don’t really think about that until it’s too late. We’re like, Shawn goes to a volcano. You know, we just – Gordon?
Gordon Mark: We used to call – we don’t even call anymore. We just think, “Oh well, okay.”
Have there been any story ideas you’ve come up with that when you pitched were shot down, but really wish you could have done?
Saladin Patterson: I do think Shawn saying that robot killed someone would be a great story. But that would never happen. And I’m also holding on to an idea of someone getting struck by lightning and Shawn saying it was murder. So we’ll see if that can come to fruition.
The summer finale of Psych airs Wednesday, Sept 8 at 10/9c on USA Network.
Check out http://usanetwork.com/series/psych
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