This is why I love Supernatural. There’s so much more to this show than the entertaining and thrilling episodes we get each week. There are people behind the scenes that are never too busy to take time to share the love of their work with nosy interviewers like me. I was very fortunate recently to touch base with Sera Gamble, Senior Writer and Producer for Supernatural, who kindly answered via email my prodding questions about the show and even humored my strange curiosity about melon ballers to the eye socket (all done in fun).
All in all, I’m pleased. I could point out a lot of things I’d fix in my own episodes, but that’s true every season. I think when you add it all up, it was a fun, creative year. We ruined Christmas, and children, and fairy tales, and rabbit’s feet, and melon ballers; I consider that time well spent. And I’m glad we got to send Dean to hell. Anything less would have been lame.
In perfectly evil fashion, season three ends with Dean dead and suffering in Hell while a grieving Sam is left behind with this “bomb” inside of him. Eric Kripke has already teased us by revealing that Dean will “emerge to a different landscape”. Care to elaborate a bit more on that? How bad off is Dean? Will Sam’s abilities return in season four?
I can say that the world is different in part because Sam has had to go on without Dean. Sam’s abilities? Tune in and find out. I’m pushing for fewer spoilers this season. I know, I know, it’s a losing battle, everything ends up on the internet these days. If it were up to me we’d put out all fake sides. Out of love for the fans. Because we want you to be as excited by the reveals as we were in the writers’ room when we were figuring them out. We are seriously excited about this year’s arc. It might be my favorite of the series. Either I totally drank the koolaid or everybody’s had really good ideas this season.
Are you currently writing a specific episode for season four?
I’m writing the second episode. It brings back some favorite guest stars – I hope! My fingers are crossed that the actors are available. Otherwise I’m going to have to scramble and rewrite a LOT.
What was it like in the writer’s room, plotting out those final four episodes after coming back from the strike? Have the writers been able to continue that momentum into season four?
We looked at the big pile of story we had left to tell, and decided that some things could wait and some couldn’t. Dean’s contract couldn’t wait, so we focused on that; it had the most juice for both boys. Some of the other stuff that fell away can’t be recovered; but on the bright side, we have a lot of monsters lined up, because we had some cool ones we didn’t get to do.
The hiatus was short – for me, a little less than four weeks; Bob and Eric never left. So the momentum didn’t have much chance to drop. In between seasons, we picked up some new writers. I dig them.
There were some new writers in season three, particularly Jeremy Carver (loved “Mystery Spot”), while other favorites like Raelle Tucker and John Shiban left. I also heard there might one or more new writers for season four. What’s it like adjusting to new writers? Does the creative energy change much?
John Shiban actually stayed on as a consultant until this year – he just left to run his own show. Yes, Jeremy Carver is particularly awesome – on paper, and also in person. And yes, there are new additions this year. I imagine that by Season Four, it’s much more difficult for a new writer to jump into the culture of the show than for the show to get used to the new writer. I’m happy they’re here. They bring new perspectives and ideas we never would have thought of. That’s why an infusion of fresh blood is so important.
What happens when an idea is pitched? Who ultimately decides that it’s a go? How are the writing assignments determined?
We go around the room. People toss out three or four ideas each. We play with the most promising notions. Eric decides which ones go. The writing assignments are sometimes determined based on who pitched the idea, but there’s no guaranteed ownership. We figure out a rough order by pairing up the closed-ended stuff with bits of mythology, and then we assign episodes. It often comes down to scheduling, especially when time is tight.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I kept working all through the hiatus. I had other projects to work on. There have been hiatuses – hiati? – where I did a lot more chilling out. But I don’t mind skipping vacation when I am working on something I’m energized about. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel laborious. It feels like I won the lottery.
According to IMDB, you took on the role of Producer in season three. What exactly does a Writer/Producer do? How did your role change?
My job, first and foremost, is to write. That doesn’t change from year to year.
In TV, you get promoted for hanging in there (writers get fired a lot). You tend to get a new title each season. The titles sort of graduate you up a ladder. There’s no one definition for what each level does. But it’s safe to generalize that when you’ve got a fancy title, you’re expected to be able to write scripts, help other writers with theirs, and oversee other aspects of production.
When I started on Supernatural, my then-writing-partner and I were the lowest-level writers on the show. So, the writers above us did more producing – casting, meeting with directors and other department heads, post-production, etc. (Producing an episode of Supernatural is especially fun because it also involves being emailed a lot of pictures of things like prosthetic werewolf teeth and jars of maggots.) And an upper-level writer would be paired up with us to supervise and help with the story-breaking process. Three seasons later, I do all the production stuff listed above. There are new lower-level writers, and now I’m paired up with them to help out. The circle of life in action.
I adore your ability to write stories that drive fans into hours of mind bending character analysis, and this year was no exception with “The Kids Are Alright”, “Fresh Blood”, and “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” (which I know you co-wrote). Do you prefer character heavy stories, or something more like “Jus In Bello” where character tests come with some intense badass action? Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
I like both. In the end, it’s all about character either way. Just, with Supernatural, character scenes tend to unfold against a backdrop of blood spatter, monsters, and the constant threat of death by creepy little girl. Regardless of how action-packed or broody and moody the episode is, I’m always looking for ways to get an unexpected glimpse into Sam or Dean. The episode is full of guns and exorcisms, but when I think of “Jus In Bello,” I always think of that quiet scene between Dean and Henriksen. I like the moment when Dean admits he doesn’t actually think their side can win, and that the world’s gonna end bloody.
Loading up on inspiration is my second full-time job. I probably spend more money on books and music than anything else in my life. I’m constantly stuffing my head. Things spit back out in bafflingly random fashion. “Houses Of The Holy” was inspired by a poem I first read when I was 17. “The Kids Are Alright” was obviously influenced by those horrifying news stories of women drowning their own children.
How did you end up being tasked with writing such a creepy story like “Time on My Side”, and why do you love to torture Sam Winchester so much? A melon baller? Does Jared Padalecki cringe now every time he sees your name on a script?
Jared’s an exceptional physical actor. He’s good with physical comedy, he’s good with action, he’s good with getting his eyeballs scooped out. He rocks a crying scene, lord knows. The delicious thing about writing for the same actors for years is that you really do get to take advantage of what they do well. I could go on for a page about all the stuff Jensen (Ackles) aces too, of course. (Like: acting with kids, making B-minus lines hilarious, flipping all over the emotional spectrum in the course of a one-sided phone call.) As for whether Jared cringes when he sees my name on a script – I’ll have to ask him. But what am I going to do if he says yes – stop stabbing him and making him shoot his lovers? Unlikely.
As for how I got to write that episode… We’ve had Doc Benton in mind for several seasons. Classic case of waiting for the right moment to do the episode. We knew we had to tell a story about the time leading right up to the finale, where Sam tries some desperate plan to save Dean that doesn’t work. It seemed like a good time to roll out the immortality monster. I was excited to get to write it, because I come from a family of doctors. I’ve heard a lot over the years about the sordid and unsanitary history of surgery. I know the point of our show isn’t just to makeviewers lose their lunch, but since this particular episode was clearly going to be gory, I wanted us to really top ourselves and make it the goriest one yet.
Steven Williams is great, isn’t he? We’re talking about cooking something up for Rufus later this season.
I did a review for the season finale where many fans all over the world joined me in a “Damn You Kripke!” in support of that incredible episode and the season in general. Can you pass the message along to the big guy for us? Take that as a heartfelt compliment for your work as well. Thank you for giving us another great season, and we’re dying to see what’s next.
Sure – thanks! It’s going to be worth the wait.