Siren continues to captivate audiences worldwide with its unique take on mermaids as Ryn navigates wanting to live her life between both land and sea.
Siren Season 3 saw Ryn facing off against Tia in a battle for her daughter and her tribe’s future. Although the trio is no longer together romantically, they still work together to protect their town and the mermaids. The show just finished airing last week and fans are already clamouring for more. While there’s no news on Season 4 yet, I got a chance to speak to Co-Executive Producer and Director, Joe Menendez to talk about what goes into making the show, and Season 3. Here’s what he had to say!
Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. (Spoilers for Season 3 ahead!)
Remediality: What has the fan reception for the show been like for you?
Joe Menendez: Personally it’s been fantastic. For my entire career, I’ve always really enjoyed seeing anything I do from the fans’ perspective. I’m not an arthouse guy so I’ve never been that guy who makes films/television for me. The stuff that I enjoy doing is for the masses. What I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t please everybody. What you have to do as filmmakers is tell the story that you want to be told, and hope that the fans see it the way you see it. No decision was arbitrary. Generally speaking, the fan reaction has been really great. (They’re) Some of the nicest sweetest people from all walks of life, so it’s been terrific.
What is the process behind the scenes to craft a typical episode of ‘Siren’?
Ultimately we all work for Emily Whitesell – who is the showrunner – and Eric Wald who created Siren. It all starts in the writer’s room in West Los Angeles. They put it up on a whiteboard and they sort of ‘break’ the entire series. They can look at 10 episodes and look at an arc for an overall story. So they know by episode 3, we need to be here and by episode 6 we need to be here, so they can track where things are gonna go. And they do that for months.
Sometime after the writers start then people like me start, because now the earlier episodes are in outline or story form, or some of them are even in scripts and we can start the physical breakdown of the episodes. That’s where I step in with my team in Vancouver and we start to really lay out how we’re gonna do the show. We read the script and go “How are we gonna do this?”. I can draw my own storyboards, so I end up sketching out a lot of the stuff myself because it’s easy for me to lay it down on my iPad and show it to everybody. When the people in the trucks show up you know it’s time to start the show.
That answers another question I had about the storyboards because I’ve seen your stuff, it’s really good. At what point do you start drawing those? Is it when you get the overview or the final script?
Typically you want to wait for a script. The danger of using an outline is that it changes. In the finale – the final battle, I started drawing that one early during the outline. And the initial battle was wildly different to what has happened now. It went through a number of different versions. At one point we had mermaid ghosts appearing in the battle; which is kind of how we ended up on the Donna scene with Cami. And you sort of (have to) draw them all out and kind of look at it like “what do you think?”. Ultimately, it comes down to what’s the story that you’re telling? You don’t want to start introducing these elements that will make people go “Wait, what?” when what you want is for Ryn to kill Tia. That’s it.
So we went through this process of visualizing and designing before we had a script. It ends up helping focus on what is important. Frankly, it is a TV show and it’s a cable show, so there are budgetary concerns too. The initial discussions were massive, like 200 million dollar Avengers movie. Obviously, we’ve got our one hour of television so then you’ve really gotta design something that you can make. Not that you want to limit the storytelling, but you want to be able to tell the story as well as you can as opposed to spreading yourself too thin or biting off more than you can chew.
And the scene turned out great! The special effects were very well done.
I’m gonna post some stuff so that you can start seeing what the process is to those things because it was a long process to get to that. Luckily, because I’m the producing director on the show, we were able to plan this (scene) months before we officially started.
Freeform has displayed a commitment to diversity and inclusivity both on and off-camera. Shows like ‘Siren’ and ‘Motherland: Fort Salem’ have nearly as many women directing as there are men. What has that experience been like for you as Supervising Director?
For me, I look at it in two different ways. As a Latino, there’s the macro level where I’m excited about seeing the landscape evolving and changing. And Freeform is very good about being representative of what the United States looks like and what the world looks like. It’s people from all different walks of life right? So when I’m looking at what Freeform, and specifically our show, are doing from 30,000 feet it’s exciting. I mean I’ve been around long enough to have seen when this wasn’t happening, so I’ve seen the change. So that’s sort of one way that I look at it and I’m excited and I’m like oh my god this is amazing!
And then sort of the micro is ultimately we’ve got to make a show. The people that we hire are about making a show. We’ve had a number of women (and men) that have directed episodes; the crew is diverse. And what ends up happening is no one’s talking about, you know “Hey Joe, you as a latino…what would you do here?”. Or Bola, who as a black woman we never ask her “well you as a black woman…”. Ultimately, it all gets stripped away when you’re making the show. We’re all artists and it’s sort of the great equalizer. Because ultimately we’re not tapping into ethnicity to make the show. We’re tapping into our abilities as storytellers, which is what we’ve been fighting for, for a long time: that we can tell just as good a story as anybody else if given the opportunity.
What’s happening is that notion is now being proven correct. Because what I’m seeing on the micro is suddenly when you’re making the show it doesn’t matter where anybody’s from as long as they have great ideas and you’re creative and you’re quick and you’re good to work with because remember we’re on set with these people for 13-14 hours.
Frankly, we want to work with good people that we get along with. And what I find is there’s a point with every director – be it a woman, man, gay, Black, Latino or Asian – whatever it is, where we’re ultimately talking about ideas. We’re talking about story, we’re talking about characters, we’re talking about moments, we’re talking about how to craft something and so all the ethnicity stuff sort of falls away because we’re all equal and we’re all looking at how do we tell the story. It comes down to are you good at the job. And the beauty of the era that we’re in now and with Freeform is that we’re really now seeing that storytellers can come from anywhere.
In this season especially, it feels like the show’s universe has expanded so much. We have new mermaid tribes and we went way beyond the borders of Bristol Cove. What’s the process like to create those new environments?
Well you know we never went to Alaska [laughs]. We stayed in Vancouver the entire time. That entire set with the frozen lake and the cabin was all on a sound stage. And it was built in a computer, you know, the aeroplane never took off [laughs]. We actually loved going out of Bristol Cove and I think that should there be a season 4, we’re going to do that more. We don’t know yet but hopefully, we find out soon. For us, it just opens up the world. It was set up in Episode 2. There was that great sequence where Ryn talks about the different tribes from everywhere. The beauty is that there’s a widely untapped world that is still out there for us to tap into which can be explored in future seasons should we get the opportunity.
Speaking of Episode 7, Northern Exposure seems to be a fan favorite this season. There was a lot of positive reception to the introduction of these new mermaids and the idea of the transitioning mermaids, Robb and Yura. Whose idea was that, do you know? What was your initial reaction to hearing this plot?
Yeah, that would be Emily and Eric. You know there’s obviously a timely undertone to it, and there’s also a biological or marine component to it. Because there are species of marine life that do change sex. So you start there and you’re able to tell that story about transitioning that is timely in today’s world too. So we were all excited about being able to tell that story but specific to us and specific to mermaids.
I love that each tribe has its own distinct vibe and look. Are you involved in deciding what these mermaids will look like stylistically?
Yes. We get a lot of concept art from our art department. James Hazell is our Art Production Designer and he and his team, plus our visual effects team, will put together concept art based on ideas Emily and Eric and I pitch them. Then they go off and come back with a number of renditions of each mermaid and we select. When we saw the one for Tia’s tribe with the way that they looked with the collarbones and it was all jagged, it was almost immediate. What’s interesting about this concept art is that they almost never have hair so they always come back bald. We’re like “they’re all going to have hair right?” At one point, we were just like we should have a bald tribe and they’re all bald. So maybe that’ll happen one day who knows.
That would be hilarious! We also spend a lot more time underwater this season than we have previously, and the scenes involve much more than just swimming. We see them underwater talking and fighting. How difficult is it to shoot those scenes?
It’s very challenging. Everything that you do on land is slower so it takes double the time to do stuff in the water. We have a gigantic tank in Vancouver that we use. All the actors in the water have to get safety training, and they have to get PADI certified. A lot of them become Scuba certified; like Fola, Alex and Eline are Scuba certified. But Alex and Eline are also really good breath-hold people. I think Eline can hold her breath up to 3 minutes and continue to act and emote like she’s on land.
I’m usually on top and I have my monitor. I can talk to them through a microphone and there are speakers in the water so they can hear me when I speak to them, that’s how I give them direction. And then we have grids and things like that, that represent windows and doorways or a rock that they can swim through or swim past and interact with. They’re very complex sequences to shoot.
On average, how long does it take to shoot?
Not as long as we need. We’d love to have more time, but usually, it’s a whole day per episode just in the water. In the finale, we had two and a half days to do it and it still wasn’t enough [laughs]. And the more people we put in the shot the more complex it gets because each person has to have a safety diver just for them that’s just off-camera with a regulator. And that persons’ job is just to watch that one actor and if they go into distress or they start to panic they have to go in and grab them and put the oxygen in their mouths. Or bring them up to the surface should something happen.
The shot at the end of the finale when they’re all watching Tia sink into the chasm, I think we had four or 5 people for that shot and then I also had a number of people in the shot where they swim down to Ryn and they hand her a spear. Those are very complex shots because there’s action and they have to hit marks. And they can’t see anything because it’s dark. They don’t know where the marks are, so we have little lights that turn on and off so they know to swim to that one and stop when the light goes dim. It’s super complex stuff but we manage to pull it off every episode. It seems to get more complicated every time we do it.
Obviously, fans were upset about some things that happened this season. Particularly the splitting up of the trio. Many fans were left heartbroken when the throuple broke up. Why did the writers decide to take it in this direction?
There are a number of reasons. We always start with the story, we can’t just have it be a status quo. You want to tell stories and you want to challenge these characters. You want to do things that disrupt the world of these characters and then see how they react to it. So you know, the throuple got together in Season 2 and everything’s great! Then Season 3 starts and it’d be boring storytelling if you just start Season 3 and it’s like, “Oh, they’re just a happy throuple and everything’s okay.” So you gotta do something that disrupts it, and then decide whether or not you want them back together or whether or not you want them to split up, which is life.
Couples get together all the time and it looks like it’s love and unbreakable… and then people get divorced. So we liked the idea of exploring the throuple. They got together, and then they split up, and then the justification for it was Maddie couldn’t forgive that Ben essentially murdered someone. That seemed like enough to cause a rift and for Maddie to separate herself from the group, knowing that then she would then meet Robb and fall for him. We didn’t want to just have Maddie being on the outside, we gave Maddie her own story and her own romance.
I know that upset a lot of fans because they wanted to see the throuple stay together. But again, it wouldn’t have been an interesting story that just every time we see them it’s the three of them hugging and squeezing. Characters need to go through changes, and then maybe they come back to being together, but you know you’ve got to take characters on these journeys. And then for every fan that was upset that the throuple broke up, there were two that were happy that they did. So it goes back to what we were talking about that you can’t please everybody. When the throuple got together last season there were a lot of fans that went “Oh my God, this is fantastic!” and “We love it!” and then there were two or three fans that were like “Nope, we don’t like it.”
The fact is, we can’t make this decision to please this group because then this [other] group gets mad. So all you do is tell the story that you find interesting and then you put it out there. Then, like I said, some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it. So it flipped this season. The people that hated the throuple were happy like, “Great! Now Ben and Ryn are together!” because that’s all that they wanted. But we don’t shape our stories based on what fans want. We pay attention, and we’re listening but ultimately, the stories that are seen are stories that we find interesting and exciting. So, they’re not wrong to be upset, but stories evolve.
Many fans got the impression that even though Ben and Maddie broke up, Maddie and Ryn would still be a thing and she could also be with Robb. That would have been an interesting thing to do since that does happen in polyamorous relationships in real life. So when the Maddie/Ryn side of the relationship also disappeared after that people were like “Huh?”
The reason for that is there was a moment at the end of Season 2 where Ryn and Ben both decided to let Ian die. That created a bond between them that doesn’t exist with Maddie. They had a secret. They shared this darkness – this dark thing that they did together – and that bonded them almost in a perverse kind of way. Because you saw in Episode 8 when he was injecting the cells, it was like a druggie and his druggie girlfriend, you know? So it almost became a toxic relationship, in a weird way. That sequence was showing the level of the two of them really needing each other at that point.
And then obviously we saw that play out and they flushed the cells down the sink. Maddie rightfully got upset at Ben because he was destroying himself and mad at Ryn because she was letting it happen. But their fate was sealed when Ben and Ryn both decided to let Ian die and then kept it a secret. The poly relationship could never really exist [after that] because there was a lie. Now there’s a rift. Couples split up all the time because someone lies, and now I can’t trust you.
The trust Maddie had in Ryn and Ben was broken the moment that they didn’t tell her what happened. That’s why that relationship could never really be the same. Maddie and Ryn couldn’t be together and Maddie and Ben couldn’t be together because the trust was broken. She still loves them, clearly. But in the same way that when couples split up and they may still love the person but they don’t trust them anymore. That’s sort of what we were doing.
Was there a specific scene or character that was hard to shape during this season?
Maybe Ted. Because we had to make him not the villain but sort of the spoiler in a lot of ways. What we tried to do with Ted was show him to be a concerned parent. So, obviously, he comes off as being the bad guy, even though he’s not. Really what he is is a concerned father for his son. And by the way, Ted was right.
Ted knew that if Ben continued down this path that something was going to happen to him. Ted was 100% right to be concerned, [right] to be vocal and to be hard on Ben about it. But that was a tricky line [to tread] because you want Ted to be redeemed at the end. Like he could see that the hybrids are helping, but we also don’t want to disqualify the fact that Ted was right. Ben is gone. He knew something was gonna happen to his son because of this. Parents have an instinct about these kinds of things.
There are a few more Twitter questions for you. Is Tia really gone? Ryn has a bad history of checking on injured mermaids.
She’s dead. She’s dead, dead, dead.
Can we assume that the military has Hunter?
Yes, you can and you should assume that. For sure.
If there’s a Season 4 do you plan on exploring the ocean cleaning project with Maddie and Robb?
I haven’t heard anything specifically about that, but I would imagine yes. I haven’t heard anything saying that there won’t be. There are ideas for Season 4 that I’ve already heard, where it would go if it came back, but I would imagine that that stuff would be explored.
Are we ever going to get a blooper reel?
There are quite a bit. We actually have them. At all the wrap parties for the last three seasons, we play them for the cast and crew. Whether or not they’ll see the light of day, I have no idea, but we have them.
Who do we need to bribe to release them?
I don’t know… that’s a good question. I can ask, but they definitely exist.
Finally, the season finale feels like an ending and a beginning at the same time. I felt a certain sense of finality in that if this was the series finale, it could work, but also it opens the door for more. Was that intentional?
Yes. If there’s a Season 4, we obviously can’t ignore where we left off so the ending of Season 3 fully sets up potentially where things would go in Season 4 without a doubt. That’s all I can say. I know where Emily and Eric would want to take it, and it’s pretty cool, but we’ll see.