The long awaited book ‘The Essential Supernatural: On The Road with Sam and Dean Winchester’ has finally been released by Insight Editions to serve as the ultimate visual guide for the critically acclaimed series. The coffee-table-book offers a comprehensive look into the previous seven seasons of the fantasy horror drama show, which stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. The guide also offers a glimpse into the second half of the current eight season, which returns on January 16, 2013, with the episode ‘Torn and Frayed.’
‘The Essential Supernatural: On The Road with Sam and Dean Winchester,’ which was written by Nicolas Knight, also features extensive cast and crew interviews, candid behind-the-scenes photos, revelatory production art and collectible pullout elements, including postcards, stickers, photos, and a map that details the cross-country adventures of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester.
Eric Kripke, the award-winning writer, director, producer and creator of ‘Supernatural,’ which premiered in 2005, wrote the foreword for the book. He generously took the time recently to discuss ‘The Essential Supernatural: On The Road with Sam and Dean Winchester’ and the series over the phone. Among other things, he spoke about he became involved with the book, how working on the guide brought back memories from previous seasons and how the crew keeps track of the mythology listed in the book.
Question (Q): How did this all come about, and how did you get involved with it? Was it your idea being that you did the foreword to the book?
Eric Kripke (EK): I wish it was my idea, but it was not. We have been publishing a lot of ‘Supernatural’ guides over the years, and it is something really for the fans. It is to really give them a behind-the-scenes look of how the show is made. The writer has been great with doing those over the years.
It has been nice to have a real guide and history of the show for the fans and, frankly, for the people who are making it. It helps to remind us what the hell we been doing over the years. (laughs) ‘The Essential Supernatural Guide’ is the next step up from what we been doing at this point. It really makes an all-inclusive collection of everything ‘Supernatural,’ and it’s done with a tender loving care for the graphics and production design. It’s a really stunning guide of what ‘Supernatural’ has been. We are all really excited about it.
So when they ask you to do the foreword–of course I immediately signed on. ‘Supernatural’ will always be my first child, and I am just incredibly proud of it. It is a job that everyone has worked so hard on over the years.
Q: How was it for you to kind of look back on the show, and did it give you a little perspective?
EK: Now that I’m really out of the daily grind, stress and anxiety of ‘Supernatural,’ I’m watching it and it’s in such good hands with Jeremy Carver and Bob Singer. It affords me the opportunity to really look back as to what the experience was when we really began way back in 2005. I would say that I look back emotionally, very much like you would look back at old photos of your friends and family. I look back with nostalgia and I really look back with pride. I think we created something really special.
I think we had the right mix of writers, producers and studio and network that really allowed us to get away with things that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get away with again. I didn’t quite realize how much creative freedom we had – how special it was – until I left. That we were able to tell stories about God and whether or not there is one and the Devil and faith and really touching on some major issues all in the guise of this little genre show.
We really touched on some issues and it was very satisfying for me. There were some very bizarre episodes we got away with and having a character named Eric Kripke getting blown away with a shotgun. I’m really fond of it.
Q: You mentioned the Erik Kripke character, but which major character on the show has the most you in it?
EK: Chuck! Chuck has always been my surrogate in the show. He’s a writer with really low self-esteem and spends a lot of time working in his pajamas. I want to be Dean, but I’m much more like Chuck.
Q: Was there somewhere you wanted to take the show from the very beginning? Did you go in knowing that this would be the ultimate destination?
EK: I had a storyline in the back of my head when we began. This sort of five year plan that I had walking in that did eventually escalate into facing the Devil and facing the Apocalypse. But tonally I think I started out with much more B-movie aspirations and really was a fan of horror movies. I probably would have been happy with just a gory show that was part ‘Evil Dead’ and part ‘American Werewolf in London.’
Bob Singer, who is a much classier writer than me, was very interested in putting character first. He said ‘you have some really interesting characters here with some really rich history and we’d be remiss to not really explore that.’ We did it and we found those episodes were so much better than the ones that were straight horror movies.
As creators, we would watch the series improve exponentially the more we focused on the characters (by the middle of the first season). By the time we hit the second season, my mandate to the writers was ‘we’re putting characters first and monsters second.’ The deeper we go with the characters the more we discover that you could tell stories about religion and free will and destiny and what happens when you’re doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and vice versa. I think it’s one of the reasons it’s stuck around so long. The fans realized that it was asking questions in a way that very few shows on television are.
Q: The characters have to overcome many obstacles between them; why do you think that is so appealing?
EK: I think the answer is simple actually. I think it is that conflict is the basis of good drama, and there is more storyline in play when there is more static between them and they don’t entirely trust each other and they’re hiding things from each other. Then you can just unveil things throughout the season and get some strong punches. I always felt even when I was running the show that when they were in agreement all the time-it was never as interesting as when there was something real to have conflict over.
It was a stressful position to be in to have one brother that was chosen by angels and one that was chosen by Lucifer that was in the same family. The semantic of the show has always been that families overcome everything. And if the show ever had one message, it was that nothing is more important than the bonds of family and it’s more important than even the bonds of Heaven and Hell. So we give them lots of obstacles, but I believe at the end of the day that Sam and Dean will always come together. In the world view and my own personal view there is no stronger force than family.
Q: When you looked at the book or had a chance to look at it, did it bring back any memories of filming the show?
EK: The short answer is yes. There is so much incredible artwork, and some of my favorite photos in the book are conceptual artwork. Not necessarily the stuff that made it into the show, but just stuff put together of what the creatures would look like. That really brought me back because while we were producing the show and having arguments about what Bloody Mary should look like and what’s our inspiration for the Wendigo, the artwork that is in the book is really honestly the photos and images that we would have those debates over. It is very, very honest and genuine in terms of what went into producing this show and the material that we used to end up creating the show. That was very exciting.
But beyond that, there are several awkward photos of me directing throughout the book and that brings back memories. There is no harder job than directing an episode of TV, and ‘Supernatural’ is one of the hardest shows that anyone has ever directed, with those long hours.
When we were figuring out how to do the scene where we kill Ruby and Lucifer rises. We are on the beautiful church set and for some stupid reason I chose that particular time in my life to try to go on a diet. I thought that it was wise that I was working 16 hours a day that I should seriously limit my caloric intake. I got so dizzy on set that I thought I was going to pass out. That just always strikes me as funny that there is no way to demonstrate leadership to your crew than to faint in front of them. (laughs) I left my director chair and went to my trailer to try and get my head back and then spent the rest of the shoot eating Doritos.
Q: Jensen Ackles has directed several episodes of the show since Season 6. How did that come about, and would you be interested in seeing him direct more episodes in the future?
EK: He’s directed a few episodes in Seasons 6, 7 and 8. He just asked, and he has always been incredibly smart. He hangs out on set, watching the directors, talking to the DPs (Directors of Photography), asking them about their lens choice and lighting set-ups. It was very clear that he was very interested in how they do what they do. So we decided to give him a shot at doing one.
Q: In the book there is a massive list of weapons, monsters, angels, and demons. Is there a book and does someone keep track of that? Do you keep a record of the mythology of the show?
EK: It is really challenging, but that job goes to our writers’ assistant, who at this moment is Jenny Cline, but it has been several writers over the years as well as our script coordinator. One of the coordinators compiled the Bible, I guess it would be the Satanic Bible, of all the different monsters and creatures. It is remarkably hard to keep it all straight.
Not just the monsters themselves but almost every particular creature has its own set of rules. Those rules have to be consistent. The show has been able to run as long as it has because of the complexity of the universe that we have traveled and created. We have had so much time to explore so many corners of it and have those creatures that we have had. It has been really exciting to see that history unfold and it feels like it’s our very own universe.
Q: The mythology and lore are so true to the preexisting mythologies that have been told since the beginning of time. Has a myth pitch every changed the course of a season or changed any of the directions in your ongoing characters?
EK: Yeah, I am not sure I can name any specific instances. Every so often you want to map out your plot mythology but never so specifically that you can’t let a story surprise you. You want to allow the type of action of the writer’s room so that you have the ability to take a left turn.
The biggest one in our world is I had a storyline plot mapped out that always involved Sam and Dean meeting demons and climbing up that ladder to eventually fighting Lucifer. I really hadn’t considered Angels, for example, to the point where people would pitch me Angel episodes and I would say no to them. Then in between Season 3 and Season 4, we were all talking about it, and I realized we were missing another side of the coin.
We introduced Cass as a season opener in Season 4 and that idea of introducing Angels become such a huge part of the show but was not initially part of the plan. It came about through a discussion that there was a missing piece and obviously changed the course of the show. If you want to go where you are going, then you need a plan where the audience feels that it is going somewhere. In the same respect, you don’t want put it down so tight that you can’t be surprised.
We were just grabbing mythology from every religion and source. We looked at the Book of Revelations in Season 5 quite a bit. We took the time to look at the Book of Revelations and some of the aspects came out of that and we sort of pushed that into our Supernatural storyline. I like to think that we are grabbing from everywhere and that we have a very expansive worldview in which every world religion, every mythology, and every legend is all true.
Q: Is there any mythology that you would have loved to get into the show that you didn’t get to?
EK: I am trying to think if there was ever a story that we didn’t get to do. I think I accomplished everything I set out to do in terms of the story I wanted to tell. The only thing that springs to mind is that right before the writers’ strike is when I was pitched Ghostfacers. The writer came up with a guitar and wanted to pitch a reality show and said here is the theme song and then he played it. I was so excited; then 48 hours later they called the writers’ strike and I was so scared for a lot of reasons–you didn’t know if the show was going to come back, didn’t know if you’d get the ratings, and didn’t know if we’d work on any more episodes that season. Everything was so up in the air, and I remember feeling at that point like I really hope we get back to work this year if for no other reason than to make Ghostfacers.
Q: How much longer do you think we have and how much longer did you envision the series going on?
EK: I made the mistake very early in my career on ‘Supernatural’ that I had a plan that ended the show after five years. Bob and Sera (Gamble) had a very difficult task of rebooting the storyline and we learned our lesson from that point forward to not make that same mistake again. We could create a more durable mythology and keep going if we wanted.
I know Jared and Jenson are on board and our feeling is that we are happy to keep the show going as long as the network will have us. We are in a nice position for design to keep going and keep exploring as long as the episodes are good and keep making different stories.
Q: Have you been following the current season and how do you feel about where Jeremy Carver is taking it?
EK: I have been following it and I think he is doing great. I am really pleased with Jeremy overall. I was pleased with the job Sera did and very proud of what Jeremy is doing. To follow along with the showrunner from Episode 1, which is Bob Singer–he really provides amazing continuity and is the unsung hero of the whole show. He deserves more credit than he gets in terms of the show from the very beginning. It is fun to watch them. It is like watching your child go off to college. I check in with advice whenever they will listen and am really proud of how Jeremy and Bob are growing the show and how the show itself has grown.