USA Network's new drama Falling Water asks, "What if our dreams didn't just belong to us? What if they were like tiles in a mosaic, and we can only see the full picture if we take a step back and see everybody's dream? And what if you can leave your dream and travel to the tile next door?" Pretty out of the box, right? No one knew how to market it at the time, and so it was left on a the proverbial shelf for several years. Thankfully, television has evolved in the last 10 years where audiences are ready to step into the world of dreams.
It all started with a couple drinks
Writer and executive producer Blake Masters first thought of the idea in 2006 with friend and fellow writer, the late Henry Brommel. As many a crazy idea is born thanks to alcohol, so too was the concept behind Falling Water. The idea of shared dreams and walking into someone else’s first came to Masters and Brommel during Masters’ bachelor dinner. Both of their mothers were Jungian therapists, and so the theory of collective unconsciousness had already been ingrained in them. They thought it was a cool idea, but didn’t get around to actually writing it until the infamous Writers’ Strike began in 2008.
"We didn't have anything to do; we were bored,” said Masters at a New York Comic Con panel Saturday morning. “So we said ‘Let's do the weirdest, craziest thing we can ever think of.’ We sat down and wrote this pilot, and it was weird and crazy, and our agent said he loved it, but said 'I have no idea what to do with it.' Nobody did until [Gale Anne Hurd] came along."
Unfortunately, Brommel passed away before they would begin producing the show. Masters shelved their pilot for a year before revisiting and eventually partnering with USA.
“The one thing that we have explored in very limited fashion is our dreams, and we spend one-twelfth of our lives dreaming,” said executive producer Hurd, who was also at the NYCC panel. “I love the idea that dreams are not only profound for us, but what would happen if someone could hack them? We thought we were making fantasy/science fiction, but we found that what Henry and Blake envisioned is actually possible.”
Turns out, controlling your dreams might be possible after all
The show's consultant, Moran Cerf, is a former computer hacker turned neuroscientist. He can literally hack into people’s dreams, but not in the way you think. He does so by recording sounds that your brain makes when it thinks about of certain things while you’re dreaming. This helps scientists map the brain’s responses and translate them into images.
“The tools are very similar,” Cerf explained in an interview, relating what a hacker does with a PC to what he does with a brain as a neuroscientist. “You get streams of data from a black box. You can call it a brain; you can call it a CPU. What you don’t have is access to the underlying mechanism. So you have infer, statistically, what is going on. The type of thinking that hackers have is ‘Okay, if it works like this, what if I break this and change that? What’s going to work then? In many ways, it lends itself well with neuroscience -- you learn a lot from taking extreme cases that don’t work well.”
So think of Falling Water as a little bit Inception mixed with some Mr. Robot and a dash of Carl Jung to taste!
At its core, Falling Water is about three compelling characters
Amidst all the science and metaphysics, Falling Water is about the lives of three characters -- Tess, Taka, and Burton -- first and foremost. Each one has a deep and emotional emptiness in their respective lives that somehow draws them together. Tess (Lizzie Brocheré from American Horror Story: Asylum) is missing a son who, by all accounts, has never existed. Taka (Will Yun Lee) has been trying to connect with his catatonic mother for years. Burton (David Ajala) is deeply in love with a woman he’s no longer sure actually exists in the world. All three have some ability to look into each other’s dreams, seemingly bridged by the presence of a mysterious child.
“[Dreaming] is a situation where our brains are less constrained,” Cerf told USA Network. “Our guards are down, so it goes into creative realms that we don’t experience normally, we see new things that we don’t normally see because there are no barriers.”
Cerf goes on to say that if we manage to let other people into our dreams, and vice versa, that the other person’s emotional and mental guards would (theoretically) be lowered as well. It’s very much the same concept as letting someone in emotionally when you’re in a close relationship, but on a much deeper level. This is the type of journey our characters will be thrust upon, some more so than others.
“For Tess,” said Lizzie Brocheré in an interview, “She’s more comfortable in the dream world. She’s a lot more open, a lot more curious… she’s less armored, less guarded. When she’s in the real world, she doesn’t trust much; she’s a little more paranoid.”
This is a journey with a beginning, a middle, and an end
“We try to treat the audience with a level of intelligence. This is not a ‘hold your laundry’ show, and we’re proud of that,” Masters told USA. There’s a kind of connectivity embedded within the show that not only strings together the lives of the show’s characters, but also allows the viewers themselves to follow along in such a way that feels more involved if they pay attention.
As for the show’s foreseeable future, Masters plans to go for as long as USA and the viewers will have them.
“One of the thing that defines the show is that you will have all the answers by the end of the season. We have no interest in stringing you along. We love the idea of this world where human beings can cross over from their dreaming lives and into their waking lives so much that we think that’s enough to keep things interesting. We can create new stories from that.
“Our goal is to create a world where dreaming and waking live side by side almost as equally and dramatically and interesting places. So each season we can do a set of new stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
As for the series’ “big bad,” Masters chose the ambiguous route in terms of whom our leads will find themselves in conflict with: “There are people who have bad intent, but they think they’re heroes. There are people who have good intent but do bad things. There are people with goals, but no single ‘big bad.’ When your ‘villains’ have a lot of humanity and you can understand their logic, I think they’re way more interesting. And when you’re heroes are capable of negative actions they’re way more interesting… Everyone has a certain humanity.”