If you haven’t checked out the delightfully devilish series ‘The Booth at the End,’ the two seasons are now online at Hulu for your enjoyment. But in the meantime, here’s the rundown: a mysterious man, named The Man (played by Xander Berkeley) sits at the titular booth. Customers come, make sometimes impossible sounding requests of him, and he asks for things in return. Sometimes good things, sometimes strange things, sometimes very bad things. His only other stipulation? They come back and tell him his progress.
The series exists only in that one booth of the diner, and mostly happens in monologues and dialogue… But it also has a mythology, visual look, and unique characters all its own. Though the second season is over, we chatted with Berkeley – as well as series creator Christopher Kubasik about the enduring appeal of the series, and the chance for more.
First up was Kubasik, who chatted a bit about the genesis of the show. Not so surprisingly, it started out as a web series idea, a way to make a show on the cheap without sacrificing quality. But what he started to realize when tackling the project was that web series length was about the same as the length of a scene in pretty much any screenplay. “So in fact, the show was just a collection of scenes,” said Kubasik. “The reason I think it works as a twenty minute episode, or as scenes is that it’s just scene work… That works.”
Funnily enough it was out of this that Kubasik developed the original idea: two people sitting and talking in a diner. That’s right, he didn’t have The Man, or the deals, or any supernatural elements, it was just the idea of doing scene-work that started the process. “I needed a show that was just two people talking,” he continued. “How can I make that the most interesting thing I can think of?”
From there, he looked to shows like The Shield, and Breaking Bad – shows Kubasik said he felt have a “very aggressive structure” in terms of moving the plot forward – and tried to apply that to two people sitting in a booth.
And for those of you wondering how you make a bunch of scenes work as a twenty-two minute episode? You don’t. Kubasik actually wrote each season as a feature length script, with hard breaks to break it up into episodes. The reasoning, of course, was money.
“I talk to people who would say, ‘I’m doing a web series, I’m going to shoot the pilot,’” said Kubasik. “My attitude is, once you’ve written the script, and asked a crew, you should probably keep shooting. In two weeks, three weeks we sit down and shoot it, and then we have a couple of hours of content.”
Getting back to the story itself, Kubasik noted that in order to make two people sitting in a diner important, “The scale can be small, but the story needs to be big. That meant bringing in a nice, healthy dose of genre, and a sense of mystery.”
That led to coming up with The Man, inspired by the classic story, “Button, Button.” “What if I take the button, and turn it into a human being so you have to interact with it?” asked Kubasik. “That way, I get to have all kinds of stories, all kinds of rewards – not just a million dollars.”
The Man, though, needed a motivation, and for Kubasik, that was stories. To that end, he created the book The Man carries at all times, noting down people’s stories, and providing the engine for most of the conversation in the series.
By the way, in case you’re thinking “Booth at The End” sounds like it would make a great tabletop game, you’d be correct. “Somebody has done a game inspired by Booth at the End called “Crossroads,” said Kubasik. “And in many ways, The Booth is structured very much like a role playing game. There’s a guy who gives you something to do, and then you describe how you’re doing it, and then he pokes you with questions and makes things worse, and then you decide what you’re going to do next!”
As for a third season of the show, Kubasik said, “Those are the decisions I don’t get to make.” Having sold the show to Michael Eisner’s company, it now depends on how popular it is on Hulu… But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what would happen in further seasons. Lamenting the end of LOST, Kubasik said that he felt he had to have a plan going in. “I really respect viewers, and if they’re giving attention to something we’ve made, we owe them, and that means nailing down where we want to go with this thing,” said Kubasik. “I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know.”
Next up, we chatted with star Xander Berkeley. Kicking it off, we asked him what it was like to play a character who almost reacts more than he acts. “In many ways it’s a dream come true,” said Berkeley. “In many ways, it’s a grounding place to live as an actor, to just be in the moment, and be present for the person you’re meant to be listening to.”
He also noted that for him it was a fascinating process on set, as he was the consistent bit – and every other actor, they would come in for their, “One big day. It was an opportunity to be generous as an actor, to make them comfortable and feel at home.”
Moving on, we talked about the mythology a bit, with Berkeley mentioning that during the first season he was very into understanding who The Man is, and how he works; finally deciding it was his drive to understand humanity. Then in the second season, Berkeley said he felt The Man better understands humans, and was, “moving on in his research to emotion. What is this love thing that seems to drive them all so much?”
Asking what Berkeley might be tempted by, he immediately said, “You know it’s funny, I have not come up with a clever soundbite response! It’s only in the interview format that that’s come up, and you think it would be an obvious one! But I guess in the acting thing, everybody is scrambling. There’s such a short bit of time, so there wasn’t really time to banter and ruminate on those subjects. It was pretty much just trying to remember all the lines!”
We’ve mentioned this before, but The Man carries a book, and writes in it all the time. Turns out, that’s actually Berkeley taking notes and bits throughout, as well as speculating on what might becoming up in the future for his character, and others. “It’s a fun little exercise I had in my spare moments, to fill up that book with something, which would also help me feel like it was happening in the moment, rather than being pretended,” said Berkeley.
Continuing with the hard questions, we asked Berkeley about whether sitting around all day eating was a tough job or not. “It got a little insane,” said Berkeley. “I remember the first season being delighted by the fact that we could send out for chili if all of a sudden we’d say, “Hey, you want to eat chili in this scene? Yeah!” Then in the second season, I’d either get too full, or when you’re eating and filming you get optimistic in the master shot, and it’s not until you go in for the various medium shots and close ups that you are REALLY full, but you have to eat because it’s been established on that beat, on that line.”
Still, it wasn’t all the free food, it was about working with the other actors on set, and having the chance to just sit, and work. “For me, it was about living in the moment, and acting,” said Berkeley.
The Booth At The End is on Hulu now! You can check out the first episode of Season Two, below: