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White Collar Creator/Writer Jeff Eastin Talks About the Season Finale

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White Collar — one of the hottest new shows on television (not just on cable, people, but in all TV-dom) — is about to sign off with an amazing twist to its season finale.

While those of us who love White Collar (and I never miss an episode!) can watch repeats via DVR or USA Networks White Collar website, this is one episode you don't want to miss live because you will want to see it again (and again) — not only because of Neal's (Matt Bomer) blue eyes, but because you will miss stuff in the first viewing.

At a recent round-table interview with White Collar creator and writer Jeff Eastin, we all got to ask questions — for a full hour! There's a lot of info here.The podcast has the full interview. The transcript featured here is an excerpt. You can find the entire interview transcript on my blog.

Moderator: First question come from Kenn Gold. Please go ahead.

Kenn: Hi, Jeff. Thanks a lot for the time today to talk to us here.

Jeff: Oh, no problem. Happy to do it.

Kenn: I just wanted to say this has become one of my favorite shows on TV, and something I very much looking forward to. So my first question here was about season two. And we heard the good news, I guess in December, that season two got picked up. But I just wondered if you could maybe talk a little bit about planning for that, what you might do different, and are we going to get a major cliffhanger leading into that?

Jeff: Yes. We have a pretty major cliffhanger coming up here in two weeks. And what we've done in season two is really… we are right into it now. The writers' group has been going about two weeks now and most of that time we've been just working on the mythology moving forward into season two. What I did, really, was look and say what we thought we really did right in season one and just try to duplicate that.

Luckily, I was sort of surprised, but most new shows, there's usually a few shows you're sort of not happy with and I've got to say, I mean, just amazing cast, amazing crew. We had some really good directors this year and we got really lucky. I can't really think of any show in season one that I wasn't happy with. I mean, I have got my favorites. But even the ones that are my least favorite I still think came out pretty good. So I'm pretty happy about that. We have been dealing pretty specifically with Tiffani's pregnancy. That's something we are really trying to deal with in season two.

We have decided not to bring it up on the show. So working around that has been a real challenge and very interesting, but kind of fun to find out technologically what you can do in terms of green screen and things like that to be able to work around that. So those are the challenges we've got going into season two.

But for the most part, the way I am looking at the show right now is it ain't broke and we are not going to try to change anything majorly in season two in terms of dynamic. For me, the show is really about Peter and Neal and that's where the focus is going to stay, supported by Elizabeth and Mozzie, and that's really where we want to keep it going into season two.

Kenn: Okay, great. Thanks. And as a follow-up, one of the things that I think was probably the most amazing things I've read was how when you're coming up with this concept, you had never been to New York and you did your research with Google Streets. I was kind of wondering how in hindsight did that work out, and is New York different than you thought it would be?

Jeff: That is true. Yes, I had not been to New York. New York was a very obvious choice if you're going to do a world of white collar crime. And Manhattan, you really can't beat it. I mean, it is the perfect city for the show. And the one problem that I had was that I had not been there. So I am a computer geek anyway, and I think Google Maps' Street View when it had first came out, I thought it was pretty amazing, and once I started poking around on it, in Manhattan, it was really nice. I mean, you could stroll down the street. I could plan out Neal and Peter's movements and actually walk through them. That was really helpful just in terms of sort of orienting myself geographically.

What really shocked me about New York, I have to say, are the people. Being from Colorado originally and then from L.A., there was sort of a perception that people from New York can be very cold and sort of distant. I was really surprised that that was the exact opposite of what I found. I found that people there were incredibly nice, incredibly warm.

I have to say that Central Park was probably the biggest surprise I had. I spent some of the most peaceful moments in my life I have spent just sort of strolling through Central Park. And that is from a guy who grew up in a very small town in Colorado. So that was probably the biggest shock is that there were these places of solitude in New York that you could find. It wasn't the big hustle bustle capital that I was expecting. It does have those elements, but there are also these wonderfully tranquil moments that really surprised me.

Moderator: Sheldon Wiebe, Eclipsemagazine.com. Please go ahead.

Sheldon: Now, you have often said in interviews that Nate (sic) and Peter are the smartest guys in the room. And over the course of the season, we have seen them go up against some pretty clever criminals, but really the only one who kind of seems like a match for them has been Keller, which makes me wonder since Fowler is somehow connected to the whole case scenario. Clearly, he's not the guy pulling the strings. So when are we going to learn more about the mastermind behind that and how is that going to play into future episodes?

Jeff: Yes. The big bad, as we call him, who ultimately will be the guy that Fowler reports to. We'll learn a lot more about him in season two. Our season two and – knock wood – our season three mythology really deals with that and we spend some time exploring Fowler's back story, which is actually kind of interesting stuff. Glad to hear. I don't know if that was you saying you like Keller, but that he was formidable, which I was very happy to hear. We liked Keller quite a bit, and actually the bad guy, Wilkes, who is coming up in next week's episode of "Front Man" is pretty formidable also.

Just as a side note, people have asked in "Free Fall," which is our finale where Neal had bailed out of a judge's chambers and ended up in the front page of the newspaper, whether there were going to be ramifications. And yes, Keller is one of those ramifications. Wilkes is somebody from Neal's past, which is that sort of by exposing himself, Neal sort of comes out of the shadows slightly, and that's attracted some of the people from his own life.

So two of the bad guys, Fowler will return and we'll find out a little bit more about who is pulling his strings and why, which I think is actually a pretty interesting story.

Sheldon: Great. As a follow-up, when you're writing a show that has so many characters, I mean, when you put your four main characters in a room, they are the four smartest people, period. How hard is it to maintain a level of excellence writing for that kind of a cast?

Jeff: It can be difficult. What we have done is we have really broken it down to each person has their own sort of specialty. Peter's specialty is usually sort of the puzzle solving, putting the pieces together that an FBI agent would be good at. And Neal, I always look at Neal as somebody who can sort of look at the problem from outside the box and approach it in a way that most people wouldn't think to. Mozzie adds his own expertise, which usually that sort of that street level guy who knows the way that criminals do it. And Elizabeth has a certain amount of emotional intelligence that we try to play off of. She's going to see things from a human perspective that a lot of times Peter won't see or Neal won't see.

So it can definitely be difficult, but I have to say that at times, we put all four of them in a room has been some of my favorite scenes. In "Bad Judgment" for example, when Elizabeth finally meets Mozzie. Mozzie walking in and debugging their house is one of my favorite sequences so far, I think, in the series.

Sheldon: That was also one of my favorites. Thanks very much.

Moderator: We have a question from Jim Halterman with JimHalterman.com. Please go ahead.

Jim: I wanted to know since the first season has done so well with the viewers and the ratings and everything, does that take the pressure off or does it actually add more pressure for you to kind of keep the momentum going for season two?

Jeff: I would say both. It is a different kind of pressure. There is a certain pressure you feel when the ratings are sliding and every week they go down. That is not a good pressure. It is sort of usually a debate whether you are going to work on the show or start sending out resumes. And the pressure we are under right now I much prefer. It is really the pressure to keep the show going the way it has been going. To keep people happy. As a lot of you probably know, I have spent a lot of time on Twitter lately.

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: And the one thing I like about it is it really connects you to people that watch the show. I mean, you get to see what people like and don't like. But just by putting a face on it like that, it really does, I think, increase the pressure to do it right. I mean, there's several people, I don't actually know them by name. I sort of know them by the handle or their Twitter icon. But there's definitely a sense that we're doing the show for them. And it's very gratifying.

I mean, for example, this last week's episode, the actual production of it was very difficult. We ran into a lot of problems just in terms of logistics and all sorts of stuff. The episode was really very difficult to put together and for all of us on the production side, it was very tough. And we usually watch the Twitter feeds coming in. We're on the west coast. And we'll start watching the feeds come in from the east coast starting around 7 o'clock out here.

And when you see people reacting, people who you know are fans of the show saying, "oh, I really liked Keller" or "that was a great scene," it's a really good feeling because we feel like we've done something right and kept the people who like the show happy. And at the end of the day, that's really all we have. It's people liking the show, telling their friends to watch the show. And that's how we survive.

I mean, a lot of shows go a season. A lot of shows die in season two. And what we're trying to do now is just keep building on the momentum we have got and do our best to really make a show that's going to keep people who really do like the show happy and try to bring some new people on board.

Jim: And what surprised you the most about filming the first season? Was there something you weren't expecting that kind of popped up, either in the filming or in the story breaks or anything like that?

Jeff: I think, in a vague sort of way, I would say it was the reaction to the show. You never know. You go in expecting certain things. You do the best job you can and then you just put it out there. I would say, I expected Tim and Matt to really pop. I mean, the whole show was really designed for those two guys to pop.

I think I was surprised by Matt Bomer's star quality. I mean, we always had our fingers crossed, but the reaction to Bomer was pretty shocking to me regardless. I mean, having traveled out to New York several times and seeing his picture up everywhere was kind of neat. But then seeing the reaction to it was even better.

From a story standpoint, I think probably the most refreshing thing that happened was we've been making a real effort to try to make an intelligent show, to do a show that tries to stay smart. I mean, we may not always succeed, but at least that's our goal. And I wasn't quite sure how that would be accepted. I mean, we have a lot of chess games. We quote Dostoevsky, things like that. I didn't know how things like that would be accepted. Last week's episode, which dealt a lot with sort of the nuance of wine… again, in an MTV world, I wasn't sure if people were going to like it. And the fact that people do, the fact that people seem to really be buying into that and enjoying it, where a lot of shows rely really heavily on action, we obviously don't.

We don't rely much on girls in bathing suits and we haven't done that. And it was refreshing to really not have to and to not be pressured to because people have really reacted well to the more intellectual pursuits that we've done on the show. That's been really nice.

Moderator:
Our next question comes from Isis Fernandez with Character Playground. Please go ahead.

Isis: It was interesting you were talking about Twitter. One of my followers actually just tweeted yesterday that he just discovered your show. And I tweeted him and said hey, I'm actually talking to Jeff Eastin tomorrow. And he's like oh, that's awesome. And you may get a new follower on your Twitter feed. Just letting you know.

Jeff: I'll keep an eye out.

Isis: Earlier, we had a chance to talk with Tim and Matt, and they were talking about their characters. They talked about Peter and Neal having a growing relationship, and they were learning to trust each other. And I kind of wanted to get your opinion if you saw it that way and what do you think the dynamics of the characters will evolve to?

Jeff: Again, going into season two, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t adjust too much. But again we kind of keep what’s working. And too, there's a growing trust between the guys. What we’ve really moved away from is Peter is not afraid currently that Neal's going to pack his bags and run. We've definitely advanced the relationship to that not being a big concern. In the first few episodes, it was always is this guy going to dash. In the pilot even, when he says cut his anklet, Peter was pretty sure he'd run.

At this point in the episodes we've done, when Neal, if he cuts his anklet, Peter's pretty sure he's sticking around. So that doesn't really affect the trust between the guys. What does still factor in is Kate, the fact that Neal still has secrets on that side, and Peter has a few of his own. And that's where the trust issues between the guys will still play and will continue to play into season two, the issues revolving around her, around that relationship. I think Elizabeth had a line. If I recall, it might have been flipping the coin, where she says there's only reason Neal will ever lie to you. And he says Kate. And that again, is going to be something we really factor in in terms of the trust going forward.

As far as the relationship between the guys, I think the actual growing relationship between Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer is factoring in. And you see it on the screen. You see it between takes. The guys just really like each other. And I think that's what's factoring in with Neal and Peter that these guys are spending time in the office together and they're getting to really like each other. They like each other as human beings. There will always be the trust issues, the moments when Neal steps out of the room and Peter may look at him sideways or tell Jones to run a fingerprint on somebody. But it's two guys who can go out and have a beer together. They really, really enjoy each other. That will be the relationship we're evolving. The trust issues will always be there. But it's two guys who just really, really enjoy each other's company. We're moving that forward.

Isis: Okay. My follow-up question. Take us into the writers' room for a minute. When you're thinking about the crimes, how they're committed, how they're going to be solved to each episode, how do you guys do it? Do you sit around and kind of like draw things out on a board? Do you act them out? Like what do you guys do?

Jeff: Yes. For anybody that is following. You've probably seen us put up a couple of the white boards. So you probably know I'm not much of an artist. Yes, we do sort of all of the above. Usually, what we start with … there's a process we’re doing right now. We'll start with an idea. Usually, from me it can really come from anywhere. I mean, we scour some of the Google feeds in terms of what white collar crimes are happening.

We have Tom Barden who's our FBI consultant. He'll mention some interesting crimes to us in certain cases. For example, going back to "Bad Judgment," which ultimately ended up being one of my favorite episodes. That one started out really with us saying what's the most boring crime we could possibly do? Let's see if we can do it. Well, in that case, it was mortgage fraud. So that one was a little bit of a challenge, partly because that particular episode had what's supposed to have been a bank heist and we were crashing into various things, not the least of which was a production problem, getting into a particular bank at that time.

And so the last minute we just kind of swung it around and said okay, we need a new idea. And literally, that was it. It was my desire. I just said, I know — what's the most boring crime we got? And we thought about it for about two seconds and I just said mortgage frauds. All right. Let's come up with a mortgage fraud crime and try to make it interesting. And then off that, the way I like to do it is I do what I call, if anybody remembers the old Mad magazine's Scenes We'd Like to See.

That's what I'll do. I usually start off with, and just start throwing things at the board and say okay, in this episode I'd really like to see a scene like…  I happen to know in that particular episode that I wanted to see the upside down signature thing that we did. I really wanted to see that. I had a desire to see Peter blackmailed or the threat of blackmail. And we knew going in that we really wanted to have Elizabeth meet Mozzie in some context. And so usually, on the white board, I'll just put those things up. It's like we'll say, at some point Mozzie meets Elizabeth. Peter gets blackmailed and Neal does an upside down signature. And then we'll just try to start weaving those together. And throwing out scenarios, trying to figure out how can we get that? What's a good reason for Elizabeth to meet Mozzie? And we'll riff on that for a few hours. They can meet this way. They can meet that way.

In this case, it was … usually, all the character work where we'll say well, Peter's not going to be particularly happy about introducing them. So maybe Mozzie sneaks into the house. And then we'll bang our head against that for a while. And ultimately in that particular episode, we came up with the idea that Mozzie came in to sort of bug sweep the house for them, which led us backwards to saying ah, well, who bugged the house? Fowler. So we had a pretty good Fowler episode.

So it's really what's great about the writers' room is if anybody is following the White Collar writers, we have put up some pictures there. We've got a pool table. We've got couches. It's a lot like hanging out with a bunch of your friends. It's like a coffeehouse. And just riffing. Which is great. They pay us fairly well to do it, which is kind of nice. We've got a really good group of people.

And again, they come from everywhere. I mean, for example, "Free Fall" started and I really didn't have much idea what I was going to do for the mid-season. I knew where it was going to end up. I knew the scene with Peter and Kate in the room. That’s about all I knew. Everything else came from my desire. I had this bizarre idea that Neal should buy a bakery and that Peter didn't know why. And that was really the genesis of that particular episode, that if we do nothing else other than, hey, wouldn't it be neat if Neal bought a bakery? Why? Because Peter would be like why'd the hell this guy buy a bakery? So a lot of times the best ideas I think we come up with are the ones that are usually the most unexpected or the most random.

But that's pretty much the process. There really is no direct line ever from start to finish. But once we get on a line, we just break it down and get to a point where it all makes sense and we usually track it through or walk it through and say let's walk through the story from Peter's point of view and now Neal's point of view and now Elizabeth's. Now the bad guys'. And just hopefully, make sure we've covered all the motivations. If you walk away from the episode having watched it and it felt right or it felt good, it's usually because we did our job right and didn’t have any weird motivations.

Usually, what ruins an episode for somebody viewing it is saying wait a minute — I don't think Peter would do that. Or wait, that doesn't make any sense. Neal's not that dumb. Or something like that. So that's sort of the process, I guess, in a nutshell.


Take a good look at these videos!! This should give you a good insight into the cliffhanger that's coming at you courtesy of Jeff Eastin and his staff of writers.

Season finale trailers:

 

Play the Game: Win A New Car Playing Chasing the Shadow

Follow the show on Facebook and Twitter.

Now it's time for a White Collar finale party. I am ready!

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