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Exclusive Interview with Hank Steinberg - Creator and Executive Producer of "THE LAST SHIP"

The following interview is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our author reviews and interviews by clicking on the Books category link (and in this case Television as well).  This is the second interview with Hank Steinberg.  The first one is located here (August 2014)

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The Last Ship

Creator and Executive Producer Hank Steinberg
Sundays at 9 PM EST

The Last Ship is an action-packed and explosive TV Show created by the producing team of Michael Bay and Hank Steinberg.  It is based on the novel by William Brinkley of the same name, in which a nuclear war destroys much of civilization with the only survivors being those on board this one ship. The TV series modernized the novel’s storyline yet kept the central idea of the lone ship. The first season aired on TNT last year where the episodes had the crew of the naval destroyer the USS Nathan James assigned to find a cure for a pandemic virus that wiped out most of the world’s population.  This year the plotline had Commander Tom Chandler (played by Eric Dane), the XO Mike Slattery (played by Adam Baldwin) and those on the ship trying to find a way to save humanity from the brink of extinction.  Below is an interview for with Hank Steinberg who also created the hit TV Show Without A Trace.

Elise Cooper:  Did you film on a real Navy Ship?

Hank Steinberg: We film the exterior scenes on a real ship in San Diego.  The Navy has graciously coordinated with us and allows us access to ships in port.  Active destroyers are usually in port half of the year so we try to find a ship and work around their schedule.  For the interior scenes on the ship we use the sets built in Los Angeles.  We use visual effects to show the ship as moving, when they are supposed to be out to sea. 

EC: Did you use a model of a destroyer or what we see on the Universal tour, the pond they created?

HS:  No.  We have a special effects person who makes it appear like the ship is moving in the ocean.  I don’t know much about technology so we get the experts to help.  The computerized technology today is amazing on how real everything looks.  It would have been very difficult to make this show fifteen years ago because of the financial achievability.  The visual effects can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months to finish, depending on how complicated they are.  Then there are a few weeks of editing.

EC:  What about experts, any military?

HS:  Yes.  There are many military advisors on the set who are former Navy, including a few writers. They tell us how to do the action stuff.  We also have people from the Navy who arrange things logistically from being able to film on the ship to providing help with the dialogue, the way people move, and how they act.  We want to be as realistic as possible. We want to make the characters professional and realistic so we consult on how things look, sound, and work.

EC:  Do you have scientific experts?

HS:  We have several including microbiologists and those specializing in kinetics.  Some come to the set to make sure we have the correct props and equipment.  They work with Rhona, Dr. Rachel Scott, to teach her how to use the equipment.  We wanted to make everything scientifically grounded even though what is being accomplished is somewhat more advanced than what has been done.  For us it must be in the realm of plausibility.  The scientists help us formulate how our ideas could happen, making sure the science is actually correct. 

EC:  This season it seems the plots are based on a Holocaust comparison with white supremists. True?

HS:  We did not speak of Nazism so much but I could see why the comparisons would come up.  I don’t think Ramsey thinks of himself specifically as Hitler, but

Chandler does comment about a ‘master race.’  The Immunes led by the Ramsey Brothers seek biological purity instead of racial purity, but do have a sense of their own superiority as inheritors of the race.  There is a sense of primitive tribalism as a result of the breakdown of civilization.

EC:  What about the episode with the children found on an Island. Did you base it on the Lost Boys from Peter Pan?

HS:  No.  We were thinking more of Lord Of The Flies.  We wanted to explore what happens to children when they must survive on their own.  We always wanted to do a story on children survivors without any adults.

EC:  The characters this season have more gray areas than last.  Please explain.

HS:  As the series develops you always want to explore deeper and deeper with the characters.  We put them in different situations to show who these people really are, to show their different sides.  It is interesting to watch how these people deal with impossible circumstances and find the strength and courage within themselves.  For me, I am interested in the ongoing struggle and how they evolve without making them too old-fashioned because we do give them flaws.  The main characters are trying to do the right thing and are up against incredible odds.

EC:  A lot of fans were upset with Commander Chandler for his reaction to Rachel after she killed someone.  Why did he not support her?

HS:  The Commander believes in a moral authority and military discipline.  Rachel violated this code as well as his trust by doing it behind his back, lying to him, and allowing rumors on the ship to run rampant. With the President on the ship there would have been blow back on him as well as the Commander because some of the crew thought they condoned it. 

EC:  But she killed evil so what is wrong with that?

HS:  We are a country that is based on rules of law.  As the population is starting to create a new society they need to make sure someone is put on trial for their wrong deeds.  I know a lot of people were upset with Chandler because Rachel did something that was clearly what they would have done.  Yet, she acted emotionally and did not think about the other consequences.  There is a saying about values: when you only stick to them when they are convenient, then they are not values.  The fact that people were arguing about the Commander’s toughness on Rachel is exactly what we wanted to achieve.

EC:  Why did you decide to kill off certain well-regarded characters?

HS:  It is based on the direction the story is going.  The Israeli soldier, Lt. Ravit Bivas, (Inbar Lavi) bid farewell after getting mortally wounded. When she said the Shema prayer it was very emotional to me because I am Jewish.  We wanted to make it inherently tragic with her.  It was a dramatic inevitability based on her frustrated ideology.

EC:  How do you come up with the antagonists?

HS:  That is the biggest and most important question for the series.  What defines the whole story is the challenges these villains present to the heroes.  We try to create very interesting ones that are fresh and make sure never to cannibalize from previous stories.

EC:  What do you want the viewers to get out of the storyline for The Last Ship?

HS: The same thing I want viewers to get out of anything I have ever written.  I want them to feel for the characters, feel that they are part of a situation, and to feel connected as the story moves along since we live somewhat vicariously through the characters. I want people to think about what would I do, and how would I react in that situation.  Sitting on their couch but feeling as if they are there.