Friday, February 13, 2015

Behind the Scenes of “Bosch”

(Editor’s note: Below, The Rap Sheet’s chief British correspondent, Ali Karim, welcomes the brand-new streaming-TV series Bosch, and recalls his experiences with that program’s creator, author Michael Connelly, in Los Angeles during last year’s Bouchercon.)

Michael Connelly and Ali Karim at Red Studios.

The first time I interviewed American journalist-turned-crime novelist Michael Connelly was back in 2002, shortly after I’d joined Mike Stotter as his assistant editor at Shots. I had by then discovered Connelly’s work, thanks to his 1996 novel, The Poet. But I was still getting to know his troubled Los Angeles police detective, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. That’s an apt moniker for a fictional protagonist who surveys the world with a cynical and cautious eye, always aware of the downside and dangers of the human condition--not unlike the surreal, 15th-century Dutch painter who shares his name.

In any case, I recall fondly my initial grilling of Connelly. He was in the company of Gaby Young, from Orion Publishing, and had traveled to the (now long-gone) Borders in Oxford, England, to launch City of Bones, his eighth Bosch novel. We sat in an office there and taped our exchange. I was very nervous about the encounter, fumbling with my tape machine, but Connelly put me at ease.

Looking back after all these years, with the knowledge that Bosch--the new 10-episode Amazon Prime series based on Connelly’s books--is set to be released today, Friday, February 13, I must smile at my introduction to that feature. It reads, in part:
He informed us that he has now decided to return back to writing books exclusively, after a brief dabbling in U.S. television, which he found filled him with frustration. In the acknowledgements of A Darkness More Than Night [2001] he even thanks writers Gerald Petievich (To Live & Die in L.A.) and Robert Crais for their excellent career advice (which he ignored) on avoiding working for U.S. TV.
(Enjoy that entire Shots interview with Connelly by clicking here.)

Since 2002, I’ve bumped into Michael Connelly several times and had the chance to interview him again more than once. We talked together in 2004, for instance, when his newest book was The Narrows, and then in 2007, when he was promoting his serialized novel, The Overlook (which you can read here, courtesy of The New York Times). And he met up with the whole Shots team at CrimeFest in 2009, while he was flogging a non-Bosch novel, The Scarecrow.

Then came last year’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California.

Prior to my departing London for Los Angeles last November, my old friend Larry Gandle, a Florida radiation oncologist and assistant editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, e-mailed me to suggest that he and I--along with my trusty traveling companions, Roger “R.J.” Ellory and Mike Stotter--spend some “real time” together while we were all in Southern California. (Bouchercon is always such an intense event, there’s never free time enough to spend with the people you know and like.) I agreed, and let him know that Roger, Mike, and I would reach Long Beach a day ahead of most convention-goers. We had planned to hire a car and visit Los Angeles, maybe have a few laughs along the way, but Larry told me he’d already scheduled a car rental; why not head off into the neon-painted wilds of L.A. together?

So the morning after we reached Long Beach, the four of us squeezed into Larry’s little red vehicle and headed north toward the City of Angels. Naturally, we traversed Hollywood Boulevard, and got out to walk past Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and glance down at the sidewalk stars making up the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame. I am rarely surprised by the surreal coincidences life offers, but during our stroll I noticed a bloke working on the pavement, installing a new star. As I approached, I had to grab my camera and take a photo, because I’d seen the name “Matthew McConaughey” staring back at me from the pavement. The bloke making the star smiled at me. I just muttered “True Detective” as I snapped my shot. The bloke looked up from his work and said, “Yes, loved True Detective, but he was great in that other film, The Lincoln Lawyer.” I agreed, smiling as I added, “written by Michael Connelly.” The workman looked puzzled. “It was a book?” he said, and I nodded my head. He went on to grumble, “I don’t read books,” after which I moved quickly onward.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch (with martinis) down the street at Musso & Frank Grill, a famous old L.A. restaurant once frequented by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and also featured in the Harry Bosch novels. Then it was off for a spin along Mulholland Drive, from there onto Woodrow Wilson Drive, where Larry pointed out the house that serves as Bosch’s fictional home. And as we snaked through the area we spotted a residence with a Union Jack flag flapping in the wind. Thanks to Google, we soon discovered it was the L.A. abode of British soccer player, and now film actor, Vinnie Jones--who, incidentally, lives right next door to director Quentin Tarantino. “Bloody tourists,” Larry groused, smiling at his car’s British passengers.

As we headed back down the Hollywood Hills, Larry’s cell phone rang. Michael Connelly was on the other end, asking whether he’d arrived in Long Beach yet. Larry said he had, and that he was currently sightseeing with the three of us. Connelly, in his typical deadpan manner, remarked, “Why don’t you guys drop by Red Studios?” Seems he wanted to show us around the Bosch film set. Excitedly, we scribbled down the Hollywood address, checked that we were all carrying proper identification to get us through the studio security gate, and then Larry hit the accelerator.

(Left) Entrance to Red Studios

After clearing security at Red Studios, we were greeted by Terrill Lee Lankford--“Lee,” as he prefers to be addressed--a filmmaker and one of the writers on Bosch, as well as a tremendous author in his own right (Earthquake Weather, Blonde Lightning). Mike Connelly joined us presently, and we headed off to their writing studio, which resembled my image of a proper L.A. private eye’s office, complete with heavy Venetian blinds, spot lamps, and coat rack. We chatted for a while about how the Bosch TV series came to be, Connelly explaining that he’d long ago thought about producing a 90-minute Bosch film, but concluded that such a format makes it difficult for a writer or filmmaker to retain anything but the essence of whatever the source material is. The debut of such TV dramas as True Detective, The Killing, American Horror Story, and Breaking Bad convinced him that the small-screen, episodic format would better accommodate his style of storytelling. Connelly says he’s been quite pleased with Amazon Studios backing Bosch, allowing him to maintain a strong link between the Harry Bosch you know from his novels and the detective Bosch actor Titus Welliver (Big Apple, The Good Wife, Lost, etc.) brings to life in the new streaming series.

As we strolled around the Bosch set, we were staggered by the level of detail and authenticity given to the “LAPD Hollywood Station” in which the actors perform. We met an ex-LAPD officer who acted as technical consultant, and he indicated that at times he felt as if he were right back at work. It was easy to understand why producing a TV series such as Bosch is so costly and time-consuming, with many skilled technicians involved in bringing Connelly’s work to the screen.

Here are a couple of exclusive clips to illustrate the filming process:



Stopping to have coffee with actor Jamie Hector, who worked on The Wire and now plays Jerry Edgar, Harry Bosch’s partner, I found myself tongue-tied and overwhelmed by the whole Hollywood experience. At that moment, from the corner of my eye, I saw Titus Welliver appear on the set. He seemed preoccupied, in a trance-like state, walking and mumbling, and I whispered to Larry Gandle, “He’s getting into character.” In response, Larry said, “No shit, Sherlock!” As Titus went through his moves, I spotted what looked like a child’s skeleton resting on a gurney, and drew Connelly’s attention to it. “That’s not real, Ali,” he assured me. I must have looked a little worried.

Connelly explained that the new Bosch series combines elements from his 1994 novel, The Concrete Blonde, but the spine of those 10 episodes (please pardon the pun) is based on City of Bones. Then he smiled and said to me, “If you remember, it was on the launch of City of Bones that we first met.” I have to admit that finding myself on a film set in L.A., watching an adaptation of City of Bones, the first book I interviewed Connelly about, was more than a tad weird.

But my daydreaming was suddenly upset by the approach of Titus Welliver, who’d wandered over to our little group. Connelly introduced us all: “Titus, these guys are very old friends of mine.” As we shook hands, Welliver noticed our English accents and said, “Hands across the ocean.” I laughed and replied, doing my best Bob Hoskins impersonation, “The Long Good Friday,” to which he responded with a laugh, “You know your movies, man.”

Later, I shared a smoke with Titus outside the studio, the two of us (despite my own best efforts) being inveterate tobacco users. We talked some more about films, and he was very amused by my anecdote concerning the use of a Hoskins impersonation to escape personal injury, which comes from an encounter Roger Ellory and I had during Bouchercon in Baltimore back in 2008.

As this surreally enjoyable day was finally winding to a close, Mike Connelly took Roger, Mike Stotter, Larry, and I out for dinner at an eatery not from Red Studios. Over wine and desert I quizzed the author about the task he faced in casting Harry Bosch for the small screen. Connelly explained that finding the right actor to portray Bosch had been difficult, as they needed someone who could command the stage in minimalist fashion (i.e., have an expressive persona). Welliver was ultimately deemed the perfect fit, though I’d always imagined Bosch as being chunkier or bulkier, not so svelte as Welliver. When I told Connelly that, he smiled and said, “Funny you mention that. Just after we cast Titus as Bosch, I did get a call from James Gandolfini [of The Sopranos fame], who said he was a huge fan of the Harry Bosch novels.” He told Connelly, “Yes, I know I’m a little heavy, but believe me, I could be a great Harry Bosch.” Connelly looked at me with a bit of sadness as he said, “Though we cast Titus, I was flattered by the call from Tony Soprano. But either way, I very was saddened to hear of his passing [in 2013].” It’s fitting at least that crime-fiction enthusiast Gandolfini’s last, posthumous role was in The Drop, a movie based on Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue.”

Titus Welliver and Jamie Hector star in Bosch.

After dinner, we thanked Michael Connelly for a most excellent afternoon, and drove back to our Bouchercon hotel in Long Beach. The bar there was packed, and many of its inhabitants clapped as we took our seats--it seems they’d been following our adventures in Hollywood via my obsessive Facebook postings. Even my wife, who is rarely excited by my adventures in crime and thriller fiction, was checking Facebook to see what I was up to in California. When I called home the next morning, she exclaimed, “How the hell did you end up in Hollywood with the actor from The Good Wife?”

Mimicking Michael Connnelly’s self-deprecating manner, I replied, “It’s a long story, but basically, I’m a lucky bloke.” And as we talked, I heard this song in my head.

* * *

Now accelerate forward three months. I’m back in England again, when Connelly calls me up out of the blue. He has arranged for Mike Stotter and me to preview the opening four episodes of Bosch. This is prior to the author’s arrival in London last week, accompanied by Titus Welliver, for a press screening of that series’ first episode and a question-and-answer session.

By the time Connelly and Welliver reach the British capital, they’re keen to hear our thoughts on the new show, and they delight in our excitement at what we have seen. It’s my humble opinion that Bosch is the cure for the anxiety True Detective fans have experienced since the end of that program’s initial season. Bosch offers polished production values and a main title sequence that beautifully combines jazz with stunning visuals of Los Angeles. The writing is fast-paced, but scenes still rely on Welliver’s expressive visage and thoughtful interpretation of Harry Bosch. The series’ story arc starts with elements of The Concrete Blonde, as our hero finds himself under the scrutiny of LAPD Internal Affairs detectives, following the shooting of a sexual predator. The supporting cast members are quite remarkable, with the young Jamie Hector being a perfect foil for the world-weary Bosch. Mimi Rogers, with her wholly disingenuous smile, is outstanding as a nasty lawyer who’s gunning for Bosch. As for the cinematography … well, let me say that the crystal-clear HD digital filming is slicker than one of Bosch’s bullets.

As the episodes progress, their story weaves into the plot we know from City of Bones. As Connelly told us over dinner in L.A., he needed a narrative thread that would allow the series to introduce Bosch’s background, both his military history (which for the TV show is updated to the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, and the tunnels of Southeast Asia in the novels are updated to the desert caves in Tora Bora) and his fractured and abusive childhood. City of Bones’ plot places Bosch’s life into perspective, as he hunts the murderer of a child, one who was badly abused--just as Bosch had been, following his mother’s murder when Harry was 12 years old. Thus, our eponymous sleuth finds the case particularly personal, which allows Connelly, Lankford and Co. to slowly “show,” rather than “tell” Bosch’s back story. What I find especially stimulating about Bosch are the little gems that pepper its narrative--references to other books, for instance, such as the 2003 Bosch novel Lost Light. I noticed that novelist George Pelecanos (who worked previously on The Wire) is among the writers on Episode 4 (“Fugazi”), and there is an amusing reference to “shoedog,” as well as an in-joke inserted by Connelly himself.

I actually watched the pilot/first episode of Bosch last year, when it premiered on Amazon Prime and viewers were asked to determine the show’s future. But I’d heard it had been re-edited, and so I watched all of the first four episodes back to back. My conclusion? Bosch is exceptional and deep, like True Detective, and utterly compelling, with Welliver doing a splendid job of filling Harry Bosch’s shoes. To say much more would only spoil the many surprises coming this weekend as Bosch’s inaugural season rolls out.

After the recent press screening in London, Amazon hosted a Q&A session with Connelly and Welliver, which I recorded for Rap Sheet readers in four sections:

Amazon’s plan is to release all 10 episodes of Bosch, beginning today, the day before Valentine’s Day--a perfect gift for crime-fiction fans. They’ll be available through Amazon Prime Instant Video in the USA, the UK, and Germany. Learn more about the Instant Video service here. And you can sign up for an Amazon Prime free 30-day trial period here. In Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway, you can watch via HBO Nordic; weekly episodes will begin on February 14. In Canada, stream via CraveTV; all 10 episodes will be available on February 14. In New Zealand, watch via Sky Television--the debut date not yet determined. In Italy, watch via Eagle Pictures; again, the start date is still to be determined. In Germany, you will be able to also stream a dubbed version of the show via Amazon Prime Instant Video, beginning in June. More updates for other countries are yet to come. More information is available here.

READ MORE:Bosch, Amazon Prime’s New Crime Series,” by Neil Genzlinger (The New York Times); “Amazon’s Bosch Brings a Beloved Pulp Hero to the Screen,” by Noel Murray (A.V. Club); “Bosch Starts Today!” by Craig Sisterson (Crime Watch).

1 comment:

Kiwicraig said...

Terrific, comprehensive article Ali. It was a pleasure to hang out at the London premiere with you, the Shots team, Michael, and Titus. My weekend viewing is already locked in. A Bosch binge-watch. The only downside? We'll have to wait a while for season two!