Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SDCC 2017 Exclusive: Marc Guggenheim Talks Olicity, Arrow’s Explosive Finale, and More! [Contributor: Jen]

(Jen and Marc at SDCC)

Buckle up, fans! Marc Guggenheim gave an exclusive interview to Just About Write at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this week. We walked the convention floor, talked about what's in store for Arrow's sixth season and reflected on season five.


Fans of Olicity have been clamoring for a wedding for several seasons now. But Oliver and Felicity ended their engagement in season four, and spent most of season five apart. They rekindled their romance shortly before the season finale. Unfortunately, Felicity was trapped on Lian Yu with the rest of the team when it exploded. Guggenheim wouldn't confirm whether Felicity survived, let alone confirm an impending wedding between her and Oliver. Despite being amused by tales of Stephen Amell strongly hinting at a wedding at a Heroes and Villains Fan Fest in Nashville this past July, Marc was coy about any set wedding plans. We will just have to tune in to find out!

(Stay tuned below because he gave me some more Olicity insight.)

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The looming question on fans' minds is, “Who survived?” After the explosion on Lian Yu in the season five finale, it seems that everyone's fate is up in the air. Marc admits that season six is the hardest season to talk about. He compared it to The Walking Dead's problem last year. Currently, they are shooting the 6x02 and writing 6x04. The writers are breaking 6x05 and 6x06, which will be a two-parter, and they are already starting to talk about the crossover.

In terms of survival status, Marc confirmed that Dinah Drake survives because “we're not going to kill three Canaries in a row.” Marc said we've only glimpsed what Julianna Harkvay is capable of as an actor and this will be her break-out year. There is an intended love interest for Dinah Drake, but Marc would not confirm who it is.

As they enter their sixth season, Marc said it's a struggle to find new ways to surprise people. “I'll give you an example,” he says. “In season six, we obviously know the island blew up and everyone was on it. Everyone is just thinking about who lives or dies. There's other stuff that comes with that.” When offered injuries or PTSD as examples, Marc mysteriously replied: “Or all sorts of interesting things.”

Marc's goal when writing the show is to try and defy expectations by giving a twist to the expected. He said one of his favorite quotes is from Stan Lee, who says: “Give people what they need. Not what they want.” Marc then added, “If you give people what they want, they are not surprised and they get bored very quickly. There's something actually very unsatisfying getting everything that you want as a viewer.”


Oliver and William are two of the few characters confirmed alive, so I asked Marc how Oliver is handling being a father. Marc answered, “We have noticed that becoming a father [in real life] has really changed [Stephen's] performance. We always say we write toward what we're seeing in dailies. And [also] Jack, who plays William, is really really good.”

Another confirmed survivor is Black Siren, played by Katie Cassidy. She previously played Laurel Lance who was killed off in season four. Black Siren is Laurel Lance's evil doppelganger from Earth-2. Marc said he confirmed Black Siren's survival because, “We wouldn't bring Katie back just to kill her again.”

But in case you were wondering, Cassidy's return does not mean a revival of the love triangle between Laurel Lance, Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak though. Marc said a love triangle does not remotely interest him. He agreed they settled who Oliver's great love is in season two, and it is Felicity.

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Since season six is so difficult to tease, we shifted our conversation into talking about season five. The Olicity break-up was controversial and left many fans unhappy and angry. I asked Marc if they accomplished what they set out to do with Olicity in this season.

He said, “You know what? I do [think so]. I feel really good about 5x20. Every season I have the things I like and things I wish we did better. I was pretty honest in season four that I didn't love how we handled their break-up. For me, the way we handled their break-up [is that] they didn't have an adult conversation. So we went into season five [and] it was like we need[ed] to figure out a way for them to have that adult conversation and deal with their issues. I was pretty happy with the way that turned out.” Marc continued, “Stephen and Emily were terrific in the episode ["Underneath"]. Wendy Stanzler directed the hell out of it.”

He discussed how difficult it is for a director to come in and direct a bottle episode. As many people know, bottle episodes are typically a way for television shows to lower their production costs. “The really good directors like Wendy embrace the creative challenge of, 'Well how do I get that production value while still operating with less resources?'”

I then asked Marc how he felt about the length of time it took Olicity to get to where they were in "Underneath."

He said, “Here's the thing that I was interested in doing as a writer. I haven't really seen this on television — I'm sure it's been done on television, but I haven't necessarily seen it. I like the idea [that] you have a couple, they are engaged to be married, they break up and they are still in each others' lives. In this case, they are working together. I hadn't seen that and the ins and outs of that [on television]. I thought that was really interesting. As a writer, I am always gravitating toward and attracted to stories I haven't seen, but still reflect a real life dynamic. There are plenty of people who break up and, for whatever reason — be it kids, work, mutual friends, whatever it — they have to be in each others' lives. And that's hard. That's an interesting dynamic.”

I asked Marc how he felt about some of the fans' reactions to season five, specifically the frustration and anger with regards to Oliver and Felicity's storyline.

“You know, that's a good question actually. It was hard at the beginning of the year. I think over the course of this past season I developed a different perspective on reactions to the show. If I'm thinking about it, it was probably more the reaction to season four that had me go, 'I need to not take this personally.' This is the story we are telling. I believe in this story we are telling otherwise we wouldn't be telling it. Some people are going to like it and some are not going to like it.”

I asked him, “When you say that they changed your mind, was it how you guys broke them up? Was it the storyline? Because I felt like the William storyline was kind of a holdover from the Laurel days. That would have worked great if [Laurel] was still be the love interest, but with Felicity it didn't feel quite as true to them.”

Marc replied, “I think for me it was purely [that] I wish we had taken the time to devolve [the Olicity] relationship in a more organic way. I've said this before, but we went into season four with certain tent poles and we were too diligent in terms of hitting them. As a result, very key emotional moves were rushed and felt abrupt. That I own,” he explained.


I asked Marc if Felicity's dark arc was planned for season four. He said that it was always planned for season five. The writers discovered as they explored the Helix arc that it was “a great way to address the 4x15 of it all.”

Marc continued, “We realized, 'Oh wait a second — this darker storyline means she's walking in Oliver's shoes and that's going to give her a new perspective on him.' Once we sort of realized that, it all fit together.” I added that I felt like Oliver learned what it's like being left out of the decision-making process and not being in control of someone's choices. Marc answered with an emphatic yes.

“I always say that Oliver is a total hypocrite, ” he said. “A lot of the show survives and is successful [because of ] all the hypocritical choices Oliver makes. That said, I will say this about season six: I think the events of season five have really changed him and he's a much more evolved character in [the upcoming season].”

I asked if we'll be seeing Oliver more centered and Marc said that, “season five was all about letting go of the past, learning from the past and the previous tens years. So the emotional stories that we are telling in season six are of a very different quality.” Now, Oliver will be giving advice instead of getting it.

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Arrow has an array of complex and interesting female characters. When asked what defines a strong female character Marc answered, “That's a good question. I'll be honest. I find answering questions along these lines — as a straight white man — is flirting with disaster. I will say that as the father of two daughters and the husband of a very strong and successful woman, I really kind of approach it as: I don't think of it as a strong female character. I approach it as a strong character.” While he obviously understands the difference between a man and a woman, when it comes to writing there's no differentiation.

He discussed Felicity as an example of a strong female character. “Felicity as a character has really grown and evolved over the years. When we first met her, she was easily distracted and a little neurotic. I think she's grown tougher over the years by virtue of what they [on Team Arrow] do.” I added that Oliver has grown a little softer as a result, and Marc replied, “Yes, definitely. I think they've [Oliver and Felicity] had a good effect on each other. She humanizes him and she's gotten more of a sense of self.”

“A confidence?” I clarified. Marc said, “Yes. Also, I think it's a maturity thing. When we first met Felicity, she was five years younger. That's a big difference in anyone's life... hopefully.”

He continued, “I think with all the female characters on the show they are all strong, but in very different ways. Sara Lance is super strong, but very different from Felicity. Felicity is light and Sara has an incredible darkness in her, but they are both really strong women. Nyssa is incredibly strong, but she has a different form of darkness than Sara's. I actually think Nyssa and Sara's darknesses compliment each other in a really complex and interesting way.”

I immediately asked if Nyssa would guest on Legends of Tomorrow. Marc answered, “I always want to get Nyssa with Sara because I ship them very hard. But that said, we really want to explore some new romantic territory for Sara this year. Any time you can get Caity and Katrina on screen together it's gold, but at the same time...”

“Katrina is hard to get a hold of,” I offered.

Marc agreed, “Yes, she is hard to get a hold of, especially since she has the new Crackle show. Katrina is amazing. She's always gonna work. What's nice about Legends is that we have time travel. We've had her on the show before, and we'd love to have her again. It's always a question about finding the right opportunity with the right story.”


Season five concluded Oliver Queen's five-year flashback story and I asked Marc if they felt more freedom in the writers room now that they don't have to serve the flashbacks.

“Yeah, it's such a sigh of relief. Those flashbacks were hard. They were hard from a writing perspective. They were hard from a production perspective. It really was like doing one and a half shows. And also some of our favorite episodes have been the ones where we did the non-serialized flashbacks.”

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There were a lot of new characters in season five, and Marc revealed the initial plan for rebuilding Team Arrow changed because of the quality of the actors.

“The original plan with the newbies was very different,” he explained. “The original plan was that we were going to cycle a whole bunch of newbies throughout the season. And then [we'd] keep whoever popped.” Marc explained that, much to their surprise, each new cast member was great. They didn't want to get rid of anybody.

Marc cited the relationship between Wild Dog and Detective Lance as one of the season's great surprises. “We really do write to the dailies and we were seeing this great stuff between Rick and Paul. We thought, 'Let's write more of that!' We were joking by the end of the season that we had the makings for a spin-off. Like an Odd Couple-type of comedy.”

Marc also promised more mixing of character dynamics in season six.

Marc did agree that the beginning of season five focused heavily on the new characters. But once they were set up, they moved into a B-storyline capacity and Arrow returned their focus to the main characters: Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle.


Like every season, Arrow continues to try new things. The format for season six may be slightly different than previous seasons. “I will say I think 6B will be very different from 6A,” Marc said. “I don't know if this plan will come to fruition, but we really shaping season six as A, B, and C. It's really three big movements. We always go into it with a plan. Sometimes we stick to it to a fault.”

Marc acknowledged that sometimes Arrow is going to try new things and they will not work. However, they always go into it with the best of intentions. “There is a huge temptation to be like 'Oh it's season six.' There's also a huge temptation to say, 'It's 23 episodes. They are not all going to be good.' We still try to make every episode good.”

What are you most looking forward to in Arrow's upcoming season? Sound off in the comments below!


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