We’re just about one month into this torturous summer hiatus of Arrow, but that doesn’t mean the teases for next season have stopped.
Executive producer Marc Guggenheim spoke to Paste Magazine about Arrow, including Team Arrow, the flashbacks, how much fan reactions impact the writers decisions and the organic relationship between Oliver and Felicity (Team Olicity!)
Paste: Is it challenging to balance the Island material with the main plotline without making the Island stuff seem like it’s filler?
Guggenheim: Always. The flashbacks are one of the hardest things to write on the show. They’re a challenge in a lot of respects. For one, we try to thematically relate them with what’s going on in present-day. At the same time, we have a story we’re trying to tell in the past. If the flashback story services only to relate to the theme of the present-day story, it really does seem like filler. The other thing that was challenging is that we have to produce the flashbacks within the eight or nine day shooting schedule of the rest of the episode. We have to figure out a story we can basically shoot in one day. So there’s that limitation.
At the same time, in the first season, we experimented with two episodes—episode seven [“Muse of Fire”] and eight [“Vendetta”]—where we thought, “Let’s see what the show looks like without the flashbacks.” We all felt like those episodes suffered from not having flashbacks. For better or for worse, they are part of the DNA of the show. I know some people think, “Oh, the flashbacks are filler,” or “I don’t need to see 24 episodes worth of flashbacks, you can do it every other episode,” but we found that it needs some kind of flashback component for it to feel like a full-fledged episode of Arrow.
Paste: Was the “Team Arrow” dynamic with Diggle and Felicity a plan from the start?
Guggenheim: Not at all. We always knew that Diggle would learn Oliver’s identity and become his ally. Felicity was a big surprise. She started off as a one-off character in episode three of the first season. As we were writing episode four, we were seeing such great dailies from Emily Bett Rickards, we thought, “Let’s put her in episodes four and five.” We had so much fun writing for her. Then the network kept saying, “We’re going to see her again, right?’ We were like, “Way ahead of you!” Eventually, you get to the point where she has to learn Oliver’s secret or she’s the biggest idiot in the world. So we brought her into the fold. I wish I could say this was our master plan from the start, but it really wasn’t. One of the things we always say about the show is that we need to have a plan, but we also need to give ourselves room to deviate from that plan. Part of that deviation is writing towards actors we’re responding to as producers, and writing to their strengths. You have to listen to the rhythms the show is hitting and push it towards what works.
Paste: How much do you listen to fans and how do you do so without allowing it to interfere with the creative process?
Guggenheim: It’s funny, I love Twitter. At the beginning, when we launched the show, the CW collected all the showrunners and told us all to go on Twitter. We didn’t know what that was. But we got accounts and started tweeting. I love it and it’s a great way to interact with the fans. On Arrow, we have some terrific fans. It’s helpful to get that “real time” feedback. The Internet has become a presence in the writers’ room and a helpful guide to what’s working and what’s not working. Stan Lee once said that the trick to writing to comic book readers—and I think this applies to all audiences—is that you don’t write what they want, but write what they need. That’s how I internalize things. If you wrote everything the fans were asking for, it would end up being a disaster. I use them as a barometer of success and failure. What are they curious about or not curious about? It’s fun in that regard.
Paste: You certainly baited and switched the Oliver/Felicity shippers in the finale.
Guggenheim: Yes! I knew it would be controversial and I knew we’d get a reaction. But that isn’t why we did it. Some people said, “You were throwing [the shippers] a bone.” But that wasn’t our intention. I think our audience members are really savvy. If you’re just throwing them a bone or offering fan service, they can sense the insincerity. For us, it’s just about what the right story is for these two characters. What will give us the most dramatic moments?
At the end of the day, we’re just trying to tell a compelling story. And that’s hard enough. We’re not trying to service any one group in particular. I’d like to think all our audience members—no matter what pair they’re shipping—they all want a good story. They all want to see a compelling hour of television. That is what we have to do first and foremost…I was watching the Twitter feed during the broadcast. Some people saw the twist coming and others were blindsided. When you have millions of people watching a show, there’s going to be a bunch of smart people watching and they’re going to be able to predict anything you can throw at them. My hope is that we may not surprise you in what we do, but hopefully we’re surprising you in how we do it.
Arrow returns with all-new episodes Wednesdays this fall.