Screen Rant interviews Limetown creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie about bringing their hit podcast to television, working with Jessica Biel, and why Facebook Watch is the right home for their unsettling mystery series. The pair is set to give their addictive podcast of the same name a second life in a new medium, when the series premieres on the social media giant’s fledgling streaming TV platform. It will be a dramatic change of pace for both Akers and Bronkie, as well as for fans of the podcast, for whom the story unfolded almost as a cleverly orchestrated radio play.
Now, those who found the original podcast to be an addictive piece of genre fiction will have the chance to experience it all again, while those who originally missed out will get to see how the mystery of hundreds of missing people in the fictional Limetown unfolds as a weekly serialized television series starring Biel and Stanley Tucci. It’s perhaps the biggest new show to hit Facebook Watch since the premiere of Sorry For Your Loss, and the unsettling mystery at its core is a perfect way to spend the days leading up to Halloween.
In a recent interview, Akers and Bronkie spoke with Screen Rant about the process and challenges of adapting Limetown from a podcast to a weekly television series. They also discussed the casting of Jessica Biel and why telling their story on Facebook Watch is the right way for them to go. Read the full interview with Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie below:
Tell me about the process of taking Limetown from a podcast to a television series. What sort of challenges did you guys find in telling the story in a new medium?
Zack: What's interesting is that Skip and I met at film school. And so, we sort of became friends through our love of film specifically, and also television, but film. That's where our brains kind of always were. But when we were able to do the podcast, it sort of presented itself as 'We can do storytelling in this medium.' It's interesting, but we can take what we are familiar with and bring it to this space. So when we had the opportunity and the chance to adapt it to television, it was actually almost a relief in a weird way. It was the natural thing for us, to tell stories in that medium.
The other thing was writing the podcast actually. That part of the adaptation was pretty natural and flowed. I mean, not to say that it was easy, it's hard as any writing ever is, but the adaptation process itself was actually something that clicked early on for us. The hard part was cracking the character of Lia (Jessica Biel) because, in the podcast, she's very curated. She's the one who's crafting the story. So everything that you hear from Lia is intentional and she edited it that way, and she wants you to hear and know certain things about her, and not know certain things about her.
So for the TV show we had to get behind that to see who this character was. And because she's such an interesting character, the question that Skip and I kept asking is, 'What kind of journalist puts story over safety of sources?' Someone who knowingly will put people at risk to follow the story. What kind of journalist does that? What kind of person does that, and what kind of hold does that take on someone? And what about their life led them to make that choice?
And that was where we spent a lot of time in the adaptation process that didn't exist in the podcast. And a lot of that, too, was when Jessica Biel came on, and through her thoughts and how passionate she was, and how much she got under the skin of the character, and what she brought to the table that elevated it in a really interesting way. The longest and probably the most painful process was finding Lia but ultimately it is what makes the show work in my mind. It made the show better going through that process.
Skip: The only thing I'd add, beyond developing the character of Lia that I think was super essential for us when we were doing the adaptation, was trying to maintain the tone. The very specific tone that was captured in the podcast. We worked really hard to bring that to the television show. And what's interesting about it is, I think if you've listened to the podcast, you know that Limetown itself has sort of this off-kilter, very vulnerable, quiet, almost hair-raising tone. And a lot of that comes from the medium itself. That comes from the fact that when you're listening to it, you're listening to it probably on headphones. It feels like it's coming from within your own head and there's this solitude and vulnerability there and an intimacy to that.
And that's one of the great things about podcasting and radio drama, is that intimacy. And I think, in doing the TV show, we really worked hard to figure out great ways to bring that solitude and that vulnerability and that very specific Limetown tone to the show. And I think [the viewer] can see those moments where we tried to find that tone. Some of the best advice we ever got when starting this process was to make sure that [our] TV show masters a very specific tone because that's what ultimately the audience will walk away with. They'll walk away with that tone, and that's what makes your show memorable in a world where there are a thousand other original series right now, and it's what makes your show true to itself.
You also had to create a visual component and a visual style for the series. How did that come about? I know the series filmed in Vancouver, so was there any effort to use that landscape to inform the story or to create the visual style for the show?
Zack: I just want to first say that the visual style should 100% fall at the feet of our director and DP who are Rebecca Thomas and Julie Kirkwood. They shot and directed all 10 episodes. So that consistency in that look is the credit to them and their understanding of the story. And of course, Skip and I weighed in as much as we could, but I would be uncomfortable saying that it was us who found that visual language for the show because they definitely are the ones who are took it to that next level. To answer your question specifically, it's a show that as the season progresses, takes place in more and more different locations. So I would say that we shot Vancouver to look like a lot of different places. We use pretty much every look that Vancouver has to offer, and there're a lot of beautiful looks there.
Skip: Some of that also comes right down to the actual sets that were built. We were told it's fairly standard in television that 70% of your show is shot on standing sets and 30% would be on location, and Limetown was the inverse of that because of how big the world and how much Lia travels. And so 70% of the time we were off in different locations, and whether that's exterior or all over Vancouver, and only 30% of the time are we on a standing set. And just to echo what Zack said, what made the production so exceptional is that we crossboarded the entire season, which used to be quite rare.
I know that's happening a little bit more often in TV, but it's still a beast to do and it's really, really hard on the director and the lead because they have to kind of keep track of the emotional status of the characters coming in and out of every single scene. And on any given day we can be shooting across six different episodes from the season. But what you get out of it, and the real reason to do it, is you get that consistent vision of a single director. And that's really so exciting that we had Becca and Julie on all 10 episodes.
Tell me about casting Jessica Biel in the lead. I feel like the audiences and critics sort of stood up and really took notice of her after her performance in The Sinner. To what degree do you think Limetown is able to capitalize off that critical response and allow her to push her performance forward?
Zack: It was one of the things that Skip and I thought was a joke early on, that Jessica Biel would be interested in joining our show at all. It's one of the things that was sort of floated and I was like, 'Yeah, all right, whatever. Sure, she can be in the show.' And then when it became more and more real, it was like, 'Oh, wow, she really wants to do this.' And like you said, coming off The Sinner where she was amazing, it made us feel really... I don't know what the word is, maybe confident but also scared, that she chose us after something like that. She comes off that and she has the opportunity to do anything, and she wanted to do Limetown and that meant a lot to us.
It was sort of a dream. Skip can talk to our first conversation with her, like how quickly she understood the story, but just sort of working with her in this and seeing how passionate she is, and how intelligent she is and how deeply she gets into these characters, and how she challenges everything that you put in front of her, which is really valuable as writers. When you have someone who really interrogates every single line and thought that you put before them. Because again, it's sort of like if it passes her test then that means something. And she brought that to every stage of production and it was really, really valuable. And I've been saying this recently where I tried to imagine the show without her, like if we hadn't had her involved in the process and it really scares me because I don't know what the show would be without her.
Skip: I truly agree with all of that, I think that the moment she came onto the show, she legitimized what we were doing and we were so incredibly thankful and grateful that it actually worked out. We've always talked about how during production every now and then, they're rare, but you'd have a stop everything moment and the moment where it became a possibility that Jessica would be in the show was one of those stop everything moments. Shut down the writer's room for a second, shut down the pre-production and the preparation work there. What do we need to do to make this happen, and put all of our resources, the entire company's resources into making this happen. So it's just incredible that it did. And, as Zack said, she changed the show for the better.
Guide me through what your experience working with Facebook has been like? What's the process of bringing this series to life, and why do you think Facebook Watch is the right place for Limetown?
Zack: Well, there are a few different answers for this, but one of the ones that most immediately affected the actual content of the show was that Facebook was the network that wanted to do it as a half-hour drama. We had originally conceived the adaptation as an hour-long drama, and that was how we pitched it. So when we heard this, that that was what was interesting to them, I can tell you that I think both of us were a little apprehensive. It wasn't what we traditionally thought of when you think of prestige TV, which is what we are aspiring to make. And I can tell you that, at least from my perspective, I couldn't have been more wrong. I ended up loving our drama.
And by the end of it I'm like, 'Oh, this is where things are going, and for good reason.' It's more unpredictable. I think you actually have a lot more freedom within it to tell more unstructured stories. And it's something new for an audience. And to me, it's fulfilling the promise of what we thought of when we thought television was going to move over to a streaming network where it could be a little bit more playful and just a little bit different. And then it ended up being mostly just hour-long dramas again. And now I actually think we're breaking conventions, and so that was really exciting about Facebook.
Skip: Yeah, and I also think it's one of the things that... We were making the podcast, we actually got a lot of people to reach out to us that were saying how grateful they were for free content, because they literally couldn't afford other forms of entertainment, with everything that was going on in their lives and how much of a relief it was to have something to sort of take them out of their lives, some creative escape. And so, Facebook being free and available to everyone was actually really important to us. That was a really important point for us, that anyone can watch the show and that was just really appealing. And not to mention the fact that because of the platform, everyone can form a conversation around it and keep talking and then watching at the same time, and all of those things that come with the Facebook platform also suit our mystery show very well.
Limetown premieres with the first two episodes on Tuesday, October 15 @1pm on Facebook Watch.