Five Days at Memorial Co-Creator Carlton Cuse About Designing a Disaster for Television

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Based on true events and adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalistic book Sherry FinkDrama series Five days into the anniversaryFrom the co-creators Carlton Kos And the John RidleyA glimpse of what happened at a New Orleans local hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina. After the horror of the storm came rising flood waters, blackouts and scorching heat, forcing those whose mission was to save lives to make untold decisions.

During this one-on-one interview with Collider, Executive Producer/Writer/Director Cuse talked about how the series developed, what made this story take place in 2005, something he felt needed to tell now, why Ridley was the perfect partner for this project, and a narrative structure stories over the course of the eight episodes, the biggest challenges in designing a disaster for a TV show, and being completely unsure of what his next project will be.

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Colider: Hurricane Katrina feels far enough away now, and there’s been enough hurricanes and other disasters since then that it seems easy to forget what’s next, at this point. What made you want to revisit all of that and tell this story now?

Carlton Cuse: Well, I thought I knew something about Hurricane Katrina, and then I read Sherry Fink’s book and realized I didn’t really know it. It was so amazing. I realized there was a lot going on in New Orleans that I wasn’t aware of. She spent six years working on this book. I interviewed more than 500 people. This was an amazing story that focused on those 2,000 people who were trapped in this hospital, but it was really a metaphor and a way of explaining what happened to the city in general. I thought it was just an incredible story, and it just stuck in my mind. She outdid two other producers and was finally able to get the rights, then immediately sent the material to John Ridley. I love teamwork, and I can’t imagine anyone doing better than that. Fortunately, John said yes, and so it was.


Related: Five Days In Memory review: Exploring systemic failure and human nature

You seem like someone who always has a fair amount of things going on at any given time. When you come across something like this, where you feel compelled to tell the story, is it exciting to find another story to tell, or is it hard to figure out how to reconcile it all?

Coz: The timing of this was very appropriate because I did the first two seasons Jack RyanAnd that was comprehensive. I backed out, so I had the time and shelf space available, and really threw myself into this one. At the same time, I was also working on lock and key, but I have an incredible show partner in Meredith Avril. Being able to do this show with Meredith gave me the flexibility and time to do so. I was also doing it with John Ridley, so I wasn’t taking the whole burden, creatively. In fact, I think the show is just as great as it is because of my collaboration with John, who is not only a brilliant writer and insightful filmmaker but also a humanitarian. We wrote all scripts together and didn’t have room. Then we show it to run and each loop is directed. We also recruited this awesome director, Wendey Stanzler, to direct three episodes. It was a great creative experience, but it was a very immersive one. I was so passionate about the story that I gave it as much time and attention it needed, to be as good as we could possibly make it. It just depended on how much I liked the story.


Did you know John Ridley, or was it just something in his work that you knew really made it fit?

Coz: I was a big fan of American crime. I believed American crime It was a great show and had such subtlety in how it was told, but also very emotional and such a rich show, on a character level. He just felt like the right man. The other motivating element was that we both had deals on Disney TV, so I knew if I could involve John, it would be easy and feasible for us to make a deal together to do that. Fortunately, John responded to the material and said yes, but I didn’t know him before. But we had an incredible cooperation. I just have the deepest respect for him. This was really the best part of the whole process.

He seems to be the perfect person to get involved in something like this, so I’m always curious about how this process went. You’ve previously talked about how much you love telling stories across genres, and this is a disastrous thriller, but there are so many layers and elements that make it not just that.

Cuz: I think it’s a multi-genre story. It’s a suspense disaster peppered with a drama about medical ethics, and in the back half, it’s kind of a legal thriller. There are definitely multi-genre elements in this. For John and I, trying to strike the right balance between the drama of medical ethics and the elements of disaster was a big part of our discussions and conversations. It was important to try to figure out how to balance these two elements.

How did you ultimately decide to make the first five episodes one day each, and then use the remaining episodes to investigate? How did it all crystallize?

Cos: We had such an amazing resource in Sherry Fink’s book, and that was the reason, in large part, to show it. Her book is this startlingly factual description, and it’s accurate in terms of the way I researched it. But while we were trying to adapt and dramatize it, we came up with the idea that the first five episodes should be the five days. The concept of five days included in the title was something really interesting to us. We wanted the audience to really feel what it was like to be in that hospital, and that’s something cinema can do better than book. As rich and detailed as Sherry’s book, when you put something on display, you can show the flood, you can show what it’s like to be in the dark in the hospital, you can try to feel the heat with the character’s sweat, and you can show the struggles to get things done under the most adverse circumstances can be imagined. We wanted viewers to experience what these characters were like. These characters, under the circumstances, had to make really difficult and ultimately untenable decisions. So, this was the first part.


And then we thought it would be really cool to change gears and get the second part with a separate exit. Wendy directed the last three episodes. The investigation introduces these two entirely new characters who can re-examine the story from comforting hindsight. In fact, this perspective of relief from hindsight was something we talked about a lot because one of the questions we hope viewers will ask themselves is, “Can we pass judgment on these characters by hindsight? Can we really understand what they went through?” There is a lens Certain you look at something, from a year away, that is different from what those characters were in and the circumstances they had to make those decisions under at the time. We hope the show will spark a lot of talk.

What are the biggest challenges in designing a disaster for a TV show, which the actors can work on? How hard is it to figure this out, and figure out how the audience experiences it, when you’re not outside all the time?

CUSE: It was quite a challenge. The hardest part was just figuring out how to technically implement. How do we show New Orleans when 80% of the city was under 10 feet of water and this hospital was flooded? How do we dramatize it? We ended up building a 4 million gallon water tank that was big enough to lift the boats into, and drive the boats up and down the street, getting in and out of the hospital. This real-life simulation was really important to the actors and made them feel like they were in it. This bridge that connects the two hospital wings, at the end of the experiment, is not really made through the visual effects. It was on a hub, and that thing was vibrating, and there were fans blowing and it was raining. like vera [Farmiga] Walking that nurse across that bridge, she was literally experiencing what it was like to be on that bridge that could collapse at any moment.


I think the actors appreciated the opportunity to feel immersed in the environment that shaped their decision making. To the point where we could do it, we did. And then we had to do a lot of really complicated technical things to implement things like the helipad and make it feel the stakes. We obviously couldn’t go to New Orleans and shoot at the real helipad. What’s great about filmmaking is that you have these narrative challenges, when you’re working on scenarios, to try and figure out the best way to dramatize these events. And then you start working, and as a director, you’re like, “Well, how do we make that technical, so that it really feels authentic?”

with lock and key It’s almost over and that’s a whole story I told, what does this transitional period look like in terms of figuring out the next step? Are you already focused on the next show? Do you know what to do?

Coz: It’s a very perceptive question. This is the first time since then Bates Hotel, who was in his early “teens” so I don’t know what the next project will be after that. I really put my heart and soul into both shows. I feel sad lock and key It ends, after season three, although I think having a full 28-episode storyline would be a good party, and I feel like Meredith has come up with a way to tell the story really well, across 28 episodes. This show is eight episodes long, and that’s what it is. Perhaps the reason Scott Rudin didn’t make it as a feature was because it didn’t really fit as a two-hour feature. I ended up being lucky that the book eventually became available and I was able to do it as a mini-series. We’re developing a bunch of stuff, but what’s next? I’m not quite sure, it will come from the same place where I find a story stuck in my mind, I have to put it on screen.


Does it come from reading something that just sticks to you, or is there stuff in a drawer or in a file somewhere, that you always come back to, to try and find a new way to work on whatever it is?

Coz: I don’t have a lot of drawer projects. I’ve been fortunate to have made a lot of things that I really wanted to make. I work with a woman, Emma Foreman, and we have a bunch of projects that we’re developing, and they’re just stories that got me excited, for one reason or another. These are leaking and hopefully they will be made. There are a few things. They’re in different stages of development and I’m excited about them, but there’s nothing ready for me to tell you. Like anything else, my decision on what to do next is really just an emotionally driven thing. I get something stuck in my head and then it’s really about trying to implement it at a level that someone would want to achieve and convincing someone to do it. All of these things require someone to give you a lot of money and their trust. This is just the process of making things happen in Hollywood.

It seems like a lot of the projects you do, and even with this, are big stories told in a very small, intimate and personal way. A lot of your stories seem to come from a bigger idea, but there’s also a real human connection to it.

Cos: I think people end up watching TV because of the characters, and every show is about a family of characters. Whether this family is a real family, as in lock and keyor the kind of family put together, of medical professionals trying to survive a crisis Five days into the anniversary, that’s what the audience relates to. In the end, you have to delve into personal matters. An intensely personal good narration is innately universal, and this is where I always try to be a storyteller.

Five days into the anniversary Available to stream on Apple TV +.

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