This past summer, when I had time to investigate upcoming shows for this season, I happened upon a show that captured my attention–Time After Time. At that point, not much was written about it, but I discovered that one of the directors and executive producers was a man by the name of Marcos Siega. He quickly agreed to an interview (they were in the throes of filming at that point). Due to my crazy schedule, I had to postpone the posting of this fantastic piece until now, but seeing how the premiere of his new show is tonight (March 5th), it seems like a perfect time to understand a bit more about one of the men who is behind this remarkably intriguing show.
RH: Why did you choose to pursue a career in the television industry?
MS: My real desire was to pursue a career as a director, not necessarily just in television. I was in a band in the early ’90’s. Directing was what I’d always wanted to do, but I couldn’t afford to go to film school. The transition for me was when MTV was just starting to get pretty big. Music videos were getting a lot of attention. The very first thing I directed was a music video for a friend’s band, and that honestly started my career. I directed music videos throughout the ’90’s. In the late ’90’s, I did a couple of videos for a band called Wink 182, and those were pretty big hits that played a lot on TV. It was a period of time when your name went on MTV as director, so that started to get a lot of attention for me. I was also directing commercials at the time.
My first television gig was a television series called Fastlane on Fox. It starred Tiffani Thiessen and Peter Facinelli and was on for one season. I got into TV early on before TV was the big move to make as a director. Now everyone wants to direct television ’cause there’s so many great shows. I got into it early so I was able to transition from music videos to commercials to television shows. And also in there–it jumps all over the place ’cause I also directed three movies. In fact, I had already done some television before I directed my first film.
Since you weren’t able to go to film school, were you just learning on the job or were people mentoring you?
I would say it was a little bit of everything. I became a production assistant here in New York and started working on any production that I could. It was what I wanted to do. When I started directing music videos, you go out and surround yourself with like-minded people. So I learned a lot by just doing. I didn’t have any formal training, but when you’re doing it and you’re figuring it out on your own, I think in some ways, you learn faster and you learn more ’cause you’re forced into it. I have done all sorts of things. I have been a cinematographer, an editor, and a producer. I got my hands dirty with having to do a little bit of everything on the music videos I was directing ’cause they were not big budgets. I couldn’t hire a ton of people to do the work. So that was my learning experience. I also had a real love for theater, and as a director, you lean into the visuals of directing. There are directors who are known as “actor’s directors,” and I think I fall somewhere in between ’cause I really love storytelling and I had a real appreciation for filmmakers and directors who could adapt something to the stage and make you feel something by watching something in person without artificially doing it and without all the gloss of what I was doing in the music video world.
As far as film school goes, I have a lot of my friends who went to film school, and I certainly don’t knock it. Sometimes I wish I would have gone to film school. I think what you get out of it is the history. I’m not trained in the classics. I’m still learning about the filmmakers that a lot of my peers learned about in school. I’m constantly finding new inspiration or being able to pull from my predecessors in the industry when I discover them. And I think that’s something you get in film school–that film history that I never got. I got the practical experience. I got to do things that maybe kids who went to film school didn’t do ’cause they were in film school and weren’t able to go out and just shoot. And that’s what I was doing. So they both have their benefits.
Yes, I think if you ask ten different people what a producer does, if they’re not in the industry, they have a hard time pinpointing what they do. Within the industry, it depends on what kind of producer you are, and I’m a creative producer. I’m not the guy who’s dealing with the money. In television, a line producer deals with the budgets, and I’m on more the side of the storytelling and making sure that the stories work as well as protecting the script. I’m producing from a creative standpoint, not a financial standpoint. I do have a lot of producing credits, but they are more in line with my directing rather than being the guy who is raising money or dealing with budgets.
I tried to look at what your more major works were, and it looks like maybe Dexter was one you did a lot more work on. Am I right?
Yeah, probably as far as something culturally hitting the masses. The funny thing about Dexter is I was already a working director, and I watched season one of Dexter as a fan. I just happened to turn on Showtime one day, they had a new show, and I got hooked on it. I called my agent at the time and said, “This is a show I’d really like to do.” He called me back and said they had their directors in place and it would be a longshot, but I really pushed him to set up a meeting with the showrunner. I said, “Even if I don’t get an opportunity to direct this season, I really enjoy the show. I think it’s smart and well-done and is very much in my wheelhouse, so just get me the meeting.” He did, and I’m gonna say it’s seventy percent being persistent and me saying I’m not going to take “no” for an answer. But you also need the agent; you need the access.
They set up a meeting, and they told me before I went in, “Look, they’re going to take this meeting, but they’re already booked up. It’s just kind of a general meeting.” I went in, and part of it’s luck too, you know. I got there, and I was meant to meet with one writer, the head writer, but the other executive producer, who had been out of town, happened to be in town, and I got an audience with all of them–the three people who made decisions on the show. I guess I just impressed them in the room, and they had had one director fall out for season two, and it was for episode two. So they said, “Why don’t you come and do one?” which I was over the moon about. I guess they were really happy, and they asked me to come back that same season to do another episode. And the next thing you know, I was doing the season premiere for season three, and I had done nine episodes. From the time I did my first one, there were eighteen episodes, and I did nine of them. And that’s when I got asked by Kevin Williamson to do The Vampire Diaries pilot. I left Dexter to do that. So that’s how I established my relationship with Kevin Williamson. He and I partnered up on The Following and now we’re partnered up on this new series I’m doing for ABC, Time After Time.
It is called a mid-season show (beginning March 5th). We’re doing twelve episodes. We are getting introduced around the time all these other mid-season shows are premiering. I think it’s a good place for us to be because it’s a really big, fun adventure–there’s adventure, there’s romance, there’s suspense, and I think we check all the boxes, and I think this has elements of what we do best. It’s very serialized. It’s not an episodic show. I hate to say that you can’t miss an episode because people don’t always like to hear that, but I think the way we are doing this is a better way to tell the story. It’s heavily serialized, but it is a lot of fun. It has this great tone where we’ll have suspense that we’ve done in the past with The Following. But it also has romance and some comedy and levity to it. We are dealing with “fish out of water” in time travel. I think the biggest misconception with the show is that people think it’s a time travel show, but we’re really only gonna time travel maybe four times throughout the season in these twelve episodes.
This is very character-driven. Take The Vampire Diaries, for instance. When you break it down and take away the vampires, they’re character stories. The Vampire Diaries at its heart was a love triangle between two brothers and the one girl they’re in love with. The Following, a very dark show–we got criticized a lot for the violence in that show–the fans, the people who really appreciate the show could see that at its heart, it was the same thing. There was an epic love story in there. And that’s really at the root of all our stories. In this, Time After Time is very much the same. It’s character-driven.
The thing about this project is that it’s based on a novel and a movie of the same title. The movie was made in the ’70’s and was written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, and the novel was written by Karl Alexander. It’s based on existing material, and we took the movie idea and you ask yourself, “What if instead of ending where the movie ends, we give it life after?” It’s been fun doing that because you get to take these characters and tell a new story with them. But we did have a foundation to work from and that was the movie. And the movie has a lot of fans. People who love this movie might be concerned that this is a remake. You’re going to get people saying, “Why do it? Why should you do it?” I don’t see this as a remake because we’re taking an idea and turning it on its head and making it a series as opposed to a remake of say MacGyver or one of the other ones out there like that.
I think people will be fondly surprised. It’s about H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper. These are both historical figures. Nobody knew who Jack the Ripper really was, and H.G. Wells is considered the father of science fiction. He wrote The Time Machine and War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. He was a brilliant guy, and we get to explore these characters in a way you haven’t seen before. The conceit of our series outside what I think is an epic love story is that each season will be present day adventures that this guy goes on that inspired one of his novels. What he goes through in season one is the adventures that inspire The Island of Doctor Moreau. It’s real mettle because we’re dealing with actual historical figures and things that they actually did. We’re inventing and sort of seeing how they came up with it. It’s a lot of fun.
You mentioned the films you had done. I understand that Pretty Persuasion is a special one. Why do you think that is the case?
Pretty Persuasion was a true labor of love that I made for under two million dollars. I invested my own money, my friends gave money, and the rest was raised by a lot of leg work by me and my producing partners. It’s an incredibly polarizing film (a lot of people really hated it and lot of people really loved it). I don’t think I have ever heard a down-the-middle review.
Most importantly, I feel the film really represented me and where my head was as a filmmaker at the time. I acknowledge that it’s a slow movie with an off-kilter tone, but it was all my intention, and I am incredibly proud of it. We got into Sundance and sold the film to Samuel Goldwyn. From this film, I got my next film called Chaos Theory (Staring Ryan Reynolds and Emily Mortimer). Another film that I am incredibly proud of.
Have you done any writing?
Not on any of the shows I’ve worked on. I have written and worked on my own screenplay. There’s a movie I want to make, but one of the things I recognized early in my career was that I think I’m a great storyteller, but I’m not a great writer. The fun thing about television is you go into a writer’s room, and you get to be part of the process. Collaboration is great. You pitch an idea and the hardest part is the voice. And Kevin…I don’t think anybody writes it better than Kevin. There’s a lot of great writers. Like Allen Ball, who I worked with on True Blood. These are writers with a voice. You know when they write something…these characters, they pop off the page. They all have a voice; that’s the thing about writers. I think I’m really good with stories and ideas, but I know my limitations. I’m always working on it, but I feel like my career is as a director. That’s where my strong suits are.
Any other upcoming projects you can mention?
It has just been announced that I am directing the pilot for Fox’s new drama pilot The Passage. It has been described as “a character-driven government conspiracy,” but it does become a post-apocalyptic story with vampires. More information will be upcoming in the near future.
That’s a good question. Every once in awhile, I’m asked to come into an extension class at UCLA. And I don’t think there’s just one avenue you can take. There’s a million different ways that a person can take to have gotten to this position. You can write and direct. You can just direct. I think the thing I’ve looked at that is the most common thread is TO DO. I find that we’re a culture of people who want and don’t do, and I look around and see all the people around me who are successful–and myself included in terms of where I am in my career. When I’ve wanted to do something, I’ve been willing to fail. If you want to direct, direct something. Even if it’s bad. It’s a learning experience.
I think we live in a society now where we judge so quickly, and if it’s not good, people think, “Oh, you’re not good.” I directed a lot of music videos, and I don’t have any regrets. Some of them are not very good, but I learned on every single one that I was shooting. My advice would be that if that’s what you want to do in your life, just do it. Writers need to write. Directors need to direct. Actors need to act. And you can’t be afraid to fail. This is an industry where you have to have tough skin. If you have a career in medicine, and whatever profession you choose in the medical career, you’re going to be good at what you do hopefully, and at the end of the day, you have a task and you accomplish it, or if you have a specialty, you do it. But very rarely does anyone stand up and write about the diagnosis you just made or the treatment you just gave somebody. In the entertainment industry, everything you do, a thousand people write about it all of a sudden. And everyone has an opinion. You have to have very tough skin. It’s really easy for people to say, “I don’t read reviews. I don’t like all the criticism.” But you’re human, and it’s hard no to. There’s no way you set out to fail. And when I’m giving advice to anyone coming into it, I’m like, “Look, don’t be afraid of that. And don’t do it for somebody else. Don’t do it because you want somebody else to think it’s cool . You gotta do it because you love it.” And that’s what helps you through all that criticism.
The thing that impresses me most about Marcos is how much he has learned on the job. I value education–I really do. But as he mentions in his advice to prospective entrants into this entertainment universe, there is not merely one way to accomplish your dreams. Marcos’ pragmatic outlook and willingness to get in and do the work has made him a successful and a much-sought-after director. He doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk. That counsel that he gave is exactly what he wakes up and does every day of his life. I highly respect him for the decisions he has made and the fact that he sees what he wants and acts on it. Furthermore, his admonition about criticism is something that all of us could take to heart no matter where we are in this life. In recent times, it seems that the current climate has fostered an entire brood of “armchair critics,” and sometimes that keeps us from taking the necessary risks to achieve our goals and dreams. I can attest to the fact that what he recommends works as I have been following his advice as an entertainment journalist, and I plan to remind myself of his words on as many occasions as necessary. Although directors and producers often fade into the background of the entertainment industry, I know for a fact that a dynamic director can make or break a project, and there is no doubt that Marcos takes his role very seriously and immerses himself fully in whatever project comes his way. I would invite everyone to tune into ABC tonight (March 5) and watch the premiere of the highly-anticipated Time After Time and judge for yourself if it is as thrilling as Marcos claims it is (he’s already convinced me). Additionally, I invite you to follow both Marcos and the show at the links below so that you don’t miss a moment of the show nor Marcos’ remarkable journey as a director. I plan to be there every step of the way!