Robbie Thompson is widely considered by Supernatural fans to be one of its most creative, talented writers. From 2011 to 2016 (season 7 through 11), Robbie wrote 18 episodes, including the series’ milestone 200th episode (“Fan Fiction” 10.05), and co-produced a total of 94 hours of the series. His beloved characters and imaginative plots forever changed the course of Supernatural's storyline.  After penning one of Supernatural’s most pivotal episodes (“Don’t Call Me Shurley” 11.20), Robbie left Supernatural to join the Marvel universe as a writer of science fiction comic books.

I had the distinct honor of sitting with Robbie at his Marvel signing table during the 2019 Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2).  We talked about writing for Supernatural, the creative decisions that went into his many outstanding episodes, and the twists and turns of his career. The interview, which had been planned to last approximately an hour, ended up extending over two full days at C2E2, then continued months later at San Diego Comic-Con. Our conversation was casual, fluid and candid, as Robbie shared his thoughts between signing collectibles and posing for fan photos. If things really do happen for a reason, this turned out to be the most fortuitous timing possible for us to be together (at least for me). When the interview began, we were blissfully ignorant that Friday, March 22, would be the day that changed everything for the Supernatural family.

For reference, the following were Robbie’s Supernatural episodes, roughly categorized as either standalone (also referred to as “monster of the week”) or myth arc stories:

         Standalone Episodes        

            Myth Arc Episodes        

7.12 “Time After Time”

7.06 “Slash Fiction”

8.04 “Bitten”

7.20 “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo”

8.11 “LARP and the Real Girl”                        

8.17 “Goodbye Stranger”

8.20 “Pac-Man Fever”

9.11 “First Born”

9.04 “Slumber Party”

9.18 “Meta Fiction”

10.05 “Fan Fiction”

10.18 “Book of the Damned”

10.11 “No Place Like Home”

10.20 “Angel Heart”

11.04 “Baby”

11.11 “Into the Mystic”

11.16 “Safe House”

11.20 “Don’t Call Me Shurley”


I hope you enjoy this peek inside the brilliant writing mind of Robbie Thompson, and the inner workings of creating Supernatural's magic.       

                                                

A Supernatural Memoir from B. G.'s Canteen - Part 1 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Early in his fourth year on staff, Robbie wrote Supernatural's 200th episode, "Fan Fiction". He is one of only three Supernatural writers who have been trusted to write a milestone story.  Since Supernatural's hugely publicized 300th episode, "Lebanon" aired approximately a month before our interview (original airdate February 7, 2019), we started our discussion talking about what it's like to write an episode which is so closely scrutinized by the media and fans.  

"Write for an audience of one..." 

 Milestone Episodes 

Nightsky: This is the only question I am going to ask you about Supernatural's current seasons [i.e. after you left the writing staff].

Robbie: Ok.

Nightsky: 300 [Supernatural’s 300th episode, “Lebanon” 14.13]. Did you see it?

Robbie: Yes. It was terrific; I thought it was fantastic. I’ve written one of those milestone episodes and I think they’re really, really hard. I thought they did a great job. What you want to do is give what the fans want. For my money, even just seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the promos - I mean, I was done at that! They could have just run that promo for 52 minutes!

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It was so great to see those actors get to play those moments in and out of whatever context you want to say it’s in. It was just - it was really exciting to see.

Nightsky: It was beautiful.

Robbie: I thought it was beautiful. That’s the exact right word. It was beautiful.

Nightsky: Because you wrote the 200th [“Fan Fiction” 10.15], did you see anything in the 300th that was a different perspective - something that you wouldn’t have been able to do 100 episodes earlier?

Robbie: I don’t know. I would say yes just because so much has transpired in those 100 episodes. At the same time, whether it was episode 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 or 600, seeing the Winchester family - I think that context, no matter where you are [in the series] - is pretty amazing. So, I don’t know. That’s a great question, but I don’t know if I can successfully answer that in full context. I definitely think that waiting longer makes [Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s return] a richer experience because I don’t know a fan who didn’t want to see that.

I mean, even when Mom came back it was like, “Holy sh*t!” It’s such a strange combination of relief and dread on a show like Supernatural when a character comes back, because you’re like, “Oh God, are they gonna die again?” You know? But I remember I was leaving [the show] the year that Mom came back and I was so jealous of all the writers who got to write that character, and in the context that they brought her back too, which [was] really interesting - to see her boys grown up and to see them become not necessarily what she wanted for them. An interesting dynamic with John as well - to see his perspective on the kids and where they are. Again, to just see them as a family.

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I’m not a fanfiction writer—I’ve never delved into that—but that’s the fanfiction I would want to write. Just to see them as a family. I’m a big fan of The Twilight Zone, and What If comics from Marvel, or Elseworlds from DC, where you’re seeing an alternate reality, [so] to see them all together, no matter what the circumstances, I just thought was really special.

Nightsky: (teasing) You are a fanfiction writer. You’re a professional fanfiction writer.

Robbie: Yes...yeah. Someone pointed [that] out to me. I was like, “Oh, I’m not a fanfiction writer” but they [said], “You wrote the Wizard of Oz episode of Supernatural, which is an interpretation of that story.” I guess I just mean I’ve never written Supernatural fanfiction in the medium that it is usually written. Does that make sense?

Nightsky: Yes.

Robbie: I just did it on the show.

Nightsky: Yes. You got to define the canon and everyone else interprets the canon.

Robbie: I guess it’s all fanfiction in the end.

Nightsky: It is.

Robbie: I guess I meant since I’ve never written anything on - what’s it called? AO3? - or whatever it is. That’s the stuff that I would’ve wanted to write. What would they have been like as a family? Not “what if they hadn’t been hunters” but “what would they work like as a family?” My favorite stuff is the family dynamics, and the absence of that has been what’s defined Sam and Dean for so long. Then the families that they’ve made as a result of that absence has really helped define the show. So, to see the original, nuclear, organic family back together?  If you love that show, it’s just hard not to get choked up looking at the images. I know some people were like, “I wish I didn’t know” [the spoiler that Jeffrey Dean would be in the 300th]. I think that’s a hard secret to keep, especially with this fandom. Those guys go on a plane ride anywhere and everybody seems to know. So, I thought it was smart that they just embraced it. “We’re bringing him back. The Winchester family is going to be coming back.” I thought it was special.

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Nightsky: Did you notice that the conversation that John, i.e. Jeffrey Dean, had with Dean was almost the exact same conversation that the hallucination of John had with Sam in “Baby”?

Robbie: It’s funny. I’m seeing it now that you mention it! But I didn’t actually notice that. I guess I was just kind of caught up in the moment, you know what I mean? It’s funny - watching the show, especially, no longer working on it, it’s kind of fun. I just watch the show. You know?

Nightsky: To enjoy it.

Robbie: To enjoy it. It’s kind of refreshing because I watched every [Supernatural episode] before I wrote the show—everything there was at the time, and then I saw, or was a part of, everything that came after for about five years. So, I used to say when I left the show, “Oh, I’m excited to see Supernatural again.” It’s not that I didn’t love the time that I was on it or love the episodes that I was fortunate enough to work on, just, it’s different when you work on them. It’s different from the audience anticipation standpoint; you’re not necessarily in the audience’s seat, if that makes sense. You’re not viewing it with fresh eyes.

Nightsky: Was writing “Fan Fiction” [the 200th episode] a different experience for you than writing any of the episodes that came before or after?

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Robbie: Yes and no. “Fan Fiction” was the type of episode that I wrote - and I got to do maybe one of these each year - where I would finish it and the feeling was, “Oh, sh*t. Does this work?” It was scary. It was scary writing a found-footage episode ["Bitten"]. It was scary writing an episode that just took place in the car ["Baby"]. It was scary writing a Wizard of Oz episode ["Slumber Party" and "No Place Like Home"]. Any episode where I was like, “Is this gonna work” [was scary].

The things that I loved about Supernatural as a fan—watching all the episodes before I wrote my first one—was how much the show, especially episodes that were written by [Eric] Kripke or Ben [Edlund] or Jeremy [Carver] or Sera [Gamble], really pushed how far the show could go, almost to the point of breaking it sometimes. As a writer, that’s really exciting, especially when you’re on a show for so long, to keep it kind of fresh. But also I was like, “God, this show is really robust and strong.” These characters are so well drawn, and this fan base is so in tune with how these characters work within the framework of the show that you could really push it.

Definitely, “Fan Fiction” was probably one of the scariest because we were definitely talking directly to the audience, and a lot of people don’t like that. There were certainly plenty of people who tweeted at me that they did not like the episode at all. There are still some people that will tweet at me that they don’t like the episode at all. That’s fine. I mean, I knew going in that you can’t please everybody. It’s not my intention to try. It was an attempt to try to just talk to the fans and say, that at least from my perspective, “I see you. I love you. And I love this show too.” That was the hope. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t scary. It was definitely scary.

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To answer your question— it was different, but usually once a year there’d be an episode [that I’d think], “Oh sh*t, did I just break the show? Did I ruin Christmas? Is this gonna fall on me?” There were certainly episodes afterwards where people did say, “Hey, you ruined the show.” But, I’m so grateful that I got to work on the show and to work for fans that appreciate—and tolerate—taking risks. Most shows don’t do it. Especially when shows have been on this long. It’s just usually like, “Ah, it’s the same thing.”

Nightsky: They get into a formula.

Robbie: Yeah, they get into a formula. It’s not that Supernatural doesn’t have formulaic aspects, but Jeremy and Bob [Singer] and Sera, they always were willing to say, “Hey, that’s a risky episode. That’s gonna be hard. Do you have a story?” I think I pitched the car episode before and it was like, “Hey, that’s cool, but what’s the story?” Then [when] I had a better story for it, they were like, “Ok, let’s take a swing.”

Nightsky: Now it’s works.

Robbie: That’s really on Bob and Jeremy, and then Bob and Sera before that, and then obviously Kripke before them [Bob and Jeremy were Supernatural’s showrunners for seasons 8-11; Bob and Sera for season 6 and 7; Kripke for seasons 1-5]. They were willing to take risks that most shows don’t. It was pretty early on that they find the Supernatural books and Chuck Shurley and talk about fandom ships ["The Monster at the End of This Book" 4.18]. That’s dangerous territory for some shows. I know that there were people who were put off by that. I respect their opinions and I don’t mean to slight them at all, but I think it’s pretty cool that the show is willing to take those risks.

Nightsky: Well, that’s part of what makes it such an intelligent show, though, too.

Robbie: Yeah.

Nightsky: Because it isn’t just formulaic, they…

Robbie: …they take risks! Especially on a twenty-three episode order. You gotta really take some shots, take some swings, and be bold.

 


I next asked Robbie to explain more about the writing process that goes into creating Supernatural episodes. After talking a bit to ascertain how much fans understand about Supernatural’s script writing process and where Robbie should begin in explaining the black box of show writing, Robbie described the  communication, timing and directives that guide its writers. 

"A lot of remarkable music was created in this space."

Crafting Supernatural's Episodic Seasons



Nightsky: I want to switch gears and talk about the writers’ room. 

Robbie: We [the writing staff] would meet at the beginning of the year and the bosses would say, “Here’s what we’re doing for the year. Think of some episodes within that.” Then we would pitch on those episodes. You could pitch an episodic one, like a stand-alone or monster of the week, or you could pitch something into the myth arc (as you kids like to say). Then they would go off and talk about it, and they would come back and say, “OK, you’re writing this one, and you’re writing this one, and you’re writing this one.”

We would all write simultaneously, i.e. we would all be writing basically at the same time, like I’d be writing episode 4, you’d be writing episode 5, and they would be at different stages. Then I would read your outline, so that would inform [my work]. So you just had to do your homework. Writing simultaneously is a little misleading, but we were at different stages of the writing at the same time, in chunks, if that makes sense. Everyone was always working. That’s why I think it was such a well run show.

Nightsky: So you all pitched at the same time, the whole season?

Robbie: No. We would break it into chunks. They would say, “Here is episode 13, here’s our pivot (we would call it a pivot point), and here’s where we’re ending.” Within the course of that, in a 23 [episode] order, there are 6-8 myth arc episodes, then the rest [are] standalones. They [the standalone episodes] would have what I called the “kissing scenes”, i.e. kissing the plot goodbye. At the beginning of the episode, they’d be like “wow, the leviathans! Anyways, no leads there but I’ve got this other case over here that’s thematically relevant to what we’re talking about.” Then at the end of the episode you’d kiss back into it: “maybe this is something to do with leviathans", or "I got a lead on whatever.” So that’s kind of how you had to think about it.

So I would oftentimes, early on, try to pitch a stand-alone because I knew that was my best shot to get a weird one by the goalie. By my second year, I was like, “Found footage from the perspective of the monsters… maybe??” and they were like, “Cool! Work it out nerd!” So you would go out and cobble together a basic idea of the structure. You’d pitch that back. They would approve it. You’d write an arena (is what it was called), then you’d write an outline, then you’d write a script. These are all happening sort of simultaneously. It was up to Bob and Jeremy, or Bob and Sera, to step in and say, “Ok, this is going here, this is going here, this is going here, this is going here” - those little “thread scenes” or those little “kissing scenes” as I called them [tied everything together]. But I don’t know how they do it now. It may be different.

Nightsky: As you know, I write a review called “Threads” in which I analyze the dialogue of every script. I find themes that run across a season, tying together the episodes. It’s not myth arc; it’s something that relates to it.  ["Thread" examples] could be ‘fire’, ‘water’, ‘secrets’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘deals’. This year’s [examples include] ‘leaving’ and ‘stopping’. They are words that keep coming up [in the script]. I pick those out and we talk about them. They’re always there. Was there any time that the showrunners said to the writers, “When you have word choices, make sure you try and get the word ‘deal’  [as an example] in there because that’s going to be important in episodes nineteen through twenty-three?”

Robbie: Again, I can’t speak to the current content of the show and how they do it, but I wouldn’t say specific word choices.  Typically at the beginning of the year, Bob and Jeremy, or Bob and Sera, would say, “This season is about ‘blank’” - a larger, thematic statement. The way I would describe it is: as a writer, it’s your job to treat that ‘whatever-this-season-is-about-blank’ as your North Star. That is where you set your sail for every single episode. I think the natural occurrence is that if we’re all heading in that direction, we’re all going to end up with some of the same terminology and some of the same word choices. But I wouldn’t say that it’s something that’s done that deliberately. I think it’s something that kind of comes [naturally] as again we’re all headed in that direction. If we’re all headed to ‘Aisle H’, which is miles away from us [a reference to where we were sitting in Artist Alley at C2E2], I’m going to say, “H” and you’re going to say, “H. I’ll meet you at H” or “I’ll meet you in the aisle.” So I think it happens a little bit more organically.

But at the same time, the thing that’s amazing about analysis of the show, especially of a show you’ve worked on, is that I don’t know that you’re necessarily wrong in terms of finding that pattern because we’re all scratching that itch. We may not know that itch was on our elbow, but as a viewer, you could watch and be like, “Oh, everyone’s scratching their elbow! Isn’t that weird?” or “What does that mean?” We might [not] necessarily know that that’d be the spot, but because we’re all circling the same thematic stuff, we end up hitting the same spot. If that makes sense?

Nightsky: Interesting. Yes, it does.

Robbie: So I wouldn’t say that it’s an exact word choice. Again, I can’t speak to how the show is done now, but definitely Bob and Sera, and then Bob and Jeremy, would come in and say, “Here’s the theme” or “Here’s the vibe of the season. This is what Sam and Dean and Cas and the rest of the gang are really either building toward or dealing with in this season.” Sometimes it was plot-specific. Obviously we would end shows, or seasons, on a cliffhanger, so sometimes it was, “Oh, we’re reacting to X. This is what it’s like for them to not have any allies [for example].”

I remember in season 7, one of the things we were circling was this notion of “What would it be like if Sam and Dean had to go off of their own grid, because they’re already off the grid as it is. What would happen if they had to ditch Baby and ditch all the names and all the tricks that they know? What would that look like?” Part of it was that we wanted them to be alone, we wanted them to be isolated, so it was really much more about the guys versus the world - the classic paradigm. So that’s another example.

I ended up writing an episode, my first episode, [“Slash Fiction” 7.06] where I had to box up Baby—the car—and I was like, “Ah, sh*t.” It was like I was literally killing a character on the show. I had to put [the brothers] in a sh**ty, non-descript car (we called it the “POS”- the “piece-of-sh*t”).

SF271

I just remember being like, “Oh, God, this is my first episode and I’m literally killing one of the best characters on the show.” But, I knew she was coming back. Again, this is what I mean. Early on they [the showrunners] were like, “We’re going to have this big hero moment where the tarp gets ripped off the car and it’s ‘Oh, sh*t! Baby is back!’” 

   7.23 1142 Baby hidden   Impala003
                                                                                                 7.23 " Survival of the Fittest" saw Baby's return


It’s a hero moment. So, that’s just one small example of [us] all trying to address that notion of, “what would it be like if the boys were isolated and on their own?”  I think, as a result, we end up hitting some of the things you were talking about.

Nightsky: It’s even more fascinating actually, then. Did you ever get any directives from the network when they had a goal, such as “Try to include more teenagers because we want a younger demographic.”

Robbie: No. Again, this is only from my perspective, I can’t speak for the “powers that be” but no. Both the studio and the network—Warner Brothers and CW—could not have been more supportive of the show. They, I think, have a pretty fundamental understanding of why the show works. I mean, you see it every year. Pedowitcz will say, “When the boys don’t want to do the show anymore, we won’t do the show anymore.” I think they could not have been more supportive. I’ve gotten this question in various iterations where people ask me about interference and stuff like that. Honestly, we got two sets of notes: from the studio and then from the network, and usually almost in concert on the same day because we were all on the same page, [i.e.] we knew what the show was, especially when I joined, in season 7. If we didn’t know what the show was at that point, that’s on us [the writers/showrunners], not on them [the studio/network]. But no, I don’t ever remember, personally, any directive of, “Oh, cast this person or hit this demo.” Supernatural is a show that has hit its numbers pretty consistently for years, which is astonishing, and is a testament to both the talent behind the show and the fans. So, no, not in my experience.




After discussing the writing process for the whole team, I next wanted to talk about how Robbie specifically approaches creating his stories. Rather than focus on each of his episodes individually, I looked at them altogether, as an 18-episode microcosm of the Supernatural storyline, to try to understand what makes them distinctive and apart from other writers' collective works. 

"Details are what make a story great."

Signature Elements in Robbie's Episodes
(aka Robbie’s Writing Master Class Continued*)



Nightsky: I binge watched most of your eighteen episodes to prepare for today.

Robbie: Right on! I’ve seen some of them {teasing}.  

Nightsky: In doing that, I saw certain style elements….

Robbie: Interesting...

Nightsky: …that you would use very well. There were a number of them.

Robbie: I’m scared. And excited!

Nightsky: I want to go through them with you. The first [storytelling device you effectively used was] history, or time travel.

Time Travel

TAT168

“Time After Time” (7.12) was set in 1944.

TAT140

“LARP and the Real Girl” (8.11) went back to medieval times.

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“Pac-Man Fever” (8.20) went to 1951.

8.20 0076 1951 newspaper

“Slumber Party” (9.04) was 1935.

9.04 0053 1935MoL

Lastly, “Safe House” (11.16) was “a handful of years ago” with Bobbie and Rufus.

Robbie: We had to cheat on that one.

Nightsky: Right! What attracted you to using time? How did you get it to work so well for you?

Robbie: The question is about time travel and why I was drawn to time travel? I’m going to be really honest with you, and this is why your analysis is probably better than the reason I’m going to tell you. Time travel is appealing to me for two reasons. The first reason is, practically speaking, time travel is sometimes the only way to have access to characters, especially on a show like Supernatural where they’re dead.

I, for example, love Rufus. I just love that character, and I always wanted to do a Rufus and Bobby centered episode. I love Grumpy Old Men; I think it was such a fun way to play around with maybe what Sam and Dean would be like if they made it fifty years into this business. Also, Bobby and Rufus lasted a long time, and that’s not something that usually happens for these kind of characters.

So, the number one reason is it allows me access to characters, but the real reason is it allows me to put cast members into period-specific clothing. I’ll just admit it - I think it’s great to see Sam and/or Dean in medieval costumes.

811SAMANDDEANCHARGE
This is one of those things where it’s a little bit more behind the scenes. Originally, in “Time After Time” my pitch was, “Let’s send both the boys back.” Bob and Phil Sgriccia, who’s a producing director (who’s just brilliant), was like, “Hey, we can’t afford to spend forty minutes of the show [in an alternate time period], so one of them can go back.” So it was like, “Dean has the more era-appropriate haircut, so I guess it’s Dean.” So we sent Dean back in time. Look, Jensen Ackles looks good in a suit. I’m not going to lie to you.

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Nightsky: No denying!

Robbie: There’s no denying! Same thing in “Pac-Man Fever.” Originally, the video game was in outer space; it was a space episode, a space video game. But we couldn’t quite figure out the logistics, and I was like, “Well, I bet you he looks good in a uniform” and I was right! People did not seem to mind!

8.20 0092 Dean Uniform
So some of it is also just getting out of the aesthetic of the show. Anything that kind of lets you mix it up, make it look a little different, make it look a little weird, or really hot, in that case.

Nightsky: …keeps it interesting.

Robbie: From a practical standpoint, it was to get access to characters, but from a personal standpoint it was just to make those hot guys even hotter.

Nightsky: Much appreciated! So you’re not a history buff?

Robbie: I’m really not. I had a great history teacher in high school; he made history great because he just told stories. They weren’t just like, “Here’s a list of facts” because history is our story.

Nightsky: …put it in context.

Robbie: Yeah, in context.  So, yeah, I’m not a history buff. I love history, but I’m not. I’m sure I’ll hit that age when all men seem to become obsessed with World War II; I’ll get there eventually. But no, it was just to get them in a hot uniform. Sorry! {so not sorry!}

 

Living Spaces

Nightsky: Ok, second style element…

Robbie: Second thing…

Nightsky: You like to explore living in a place. You talked about that a little bit in another interview. You like to explore people’s living spaces.5 So, “Pac-Man Fever”…

Robbie: Yes.

Nightsky: You went into the firing range in the bunker.

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Robbie: That’s right.

Nightsky: In “Slumber Party” you did the 1951 computer room, 

Promo004    9.04 0453 Computer Room
and the garage.

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And thank you very much for Sam’s room.

PackedBackPackCrop SPN 0556    9.04 0565 Sams Room

Robbie: That’s right! {smiling, fondly remembering that little gift to fandom}

Nightsky: Those [rooms] have never been revisited.

Robbie: Really?

Nightsky: No. Those are the only times we got to see many of those rooms in the show.

Robbie: Well, I’ll tell you why. The garage was not something we built. It was something that we found. Russ [Hamilton, the show’s location manager] did an amazing job; found a really great location, but it was tough to shoot in and those cars are expensive. So, if you’re gonna see the garage, it’s gonna have to be for a special occasion. The firing range we built as a set, but it wasn’t part of the whole package.

Nightsky: …the permanent set?

Robbie: Yeah. Same with the computer room. I don’t know why, I’m pretty sure Sam’s room is still—

Nightsky: We’ve been in Sam’s room.

Robbie: Yeah. So Sam’s room I think might be a redressed Dean’s room, I don’t know. But, yeah, I’m interested in the mundane aspect of our characters’ lives. I like the stuff that you don’t see. Specifically with Sam’s room, [that] was something thematic. We wanted to talk about, finally, the notion of him even putting down any roots was hard. I was like, “Well, we haven’t shown it so why don’t we make a big deal about it and show it and talk about it.

I think sometimes in a show, the absence of something takes on a larger meaning… sometimes. Then sometimes it’s just about, “Well, where do they …?” Because, like, you’ve got to maintain guns. Where do they do that? Wouldn’t the Men of Letters have that? The garage was also just sort of candy. I was like, “This would be something fun for the boys, especially Dean. Oh, we gotta get him on this motorcycle at some point, because that would be just—let’s be honest—it would be really hot; it would be really cool.” But, I’m just interested in [this] stuff.

Again you come onto a show in season 7, and you watch all the episodes, you’ve seen the show - many iterations of it. To me it was about when you come onto a show as a new writer, your job is to say, “Ok, what’s the new, fresh thing that you can try to find?” Sometimes for me it was, “Well, some of these moments between moments are what I enjoy the most. Like, I love, I loved—and I wrote a whole episode of it—of just them driving. The two of them in a car on a little poor man’s process. It’s just them on a stage. I would watch ten hours of that.

Nightsky: Well, “Baby” (11.04) was the next one. Because you had Sam say, “I am home.” You were basically exploring another living space for them; a security.

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Robbie: I think what’s interesting about them is that they are a family. Traditionally, families have a home base but they don’t. The house they grew up in would probably not have good memories. If I saw what they saw as a kid, I wouldn’t want to go back there. They do, but I was just trying to find “What was that thing that might allow them to be home?”

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So yeah, I liked exploring the mundane or what really just showed how relatable they are as characters. That’s why Sam’s little keepsake box of sh*t throughout the years - I was like, “he would keep that.” We all have that thing, no matter how nomadic we are, we all have that one little box. That was also a way to eventually try to get the Samulet back too.

I mentioned it before with “Slash Fiction” - boxing up Baby was tough. I used to joke like this, but it’s true:  I think she’s one of the best characters on the show. She’s one of the few things that’s always been there for the boys, like always - and she’s represented different things, like when Dean has been working on the car and whatnot, working through his issues. It’s a great piece of iconography in the show. I really wanted to write a love letter to that character, but also to show that, no matter where they go, they’re home. Because they have this thing that’s hard to understand; this life that’s hard to understand. The only person that’s witnessed almost all of it is the car.

Nightsky: …is Baby.

Robbie: …and whoever’s watching from above. But that car has always been there for them. I thought it was important to recognize her.  I didn’t have a favorite episode—I get asked that question a lot—but that was hands down the most fun I had writing the show. I would’ve written a thousand hours of an episode like “Baby.”

Nightsky: We would’ve watched it too.

Robbie: Jared actually said at one point, “Oh, we should do one of these like every year.” I thought it was a good idea; a different sort of take on it. I hope they do revisit it because —it was a challenge to shoot, it looks easy, but it was really hard. Tom Wright did an amazing job.

Nightsky: But the boys had the most fun shooting it…

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Robbie: Oh Yeah!

Nightsky: …because it was unusual for them as well.

Robbie: They’re also driving the car for real in certain scenes. Jensen learned that J-turn stunt at lunch.  He actually nailed it on the first take but the car stalled. He was so mad; you could tell he was pissed. Then the second take he nailed it and then I think they did a third for safety. That’s not an easy stunt to do, and he nails it. Absolutely nails it.

Nightsky: There’s no end to his talent. 

Robbie: He’s the best.


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Nightsky: {wanting to linger here to talk endlessly about Jensen and Jared’s talents, but moving on, because we still have a lot of episodes to talk about!} “Don’t Call Me Shurley” (11.20) …

Robbie: Yes!

Nightsky: You were exploring the space that God would be comfortable in. The whole jazz club…

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Robbie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nightsky: Because I was watching these back-to-back, and didn’t have any other distractions of what was happening in that season, I saw that you went from where Sam and Dean were most comfortable to where God would be most comfortable.

Robbie: Yeah.

Nightsky: What made you put it in the jazz club?

Robbie: Well, it’s based on a real club. It’s like a folk music club. I can’t remember the name of it. They all kind of blur together at this point! But, it came from a very practical standpoint because I wanted...  Early on, there was something about music and God, and music as the language of God, that really spoke to me. I had been watching the movie Amadeus and there’s a lot [in the movie] about music being the language of God. I don’t have a musical bone in my body. I wrote lyrics for the 200th episode, but I didn’t write the music. That’s all Chris [Lennertz] and Jay [Gruska]. Music really fascinates me because it hits you in a way that nothing else does. Whether there are lyrics or not, you can hear a certain series of notes and get completely melted, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.”

Then I also obviously knew that Rob in real life is a musician. Early on in the process, I was like, “I really want him to sing a song by way of making a decision clear to Metatron.”

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So that decision kind of necessitated where would be the most practical place for him to have this experience, but also something we could build, and live in, because there’s some stunt work that’s done there too that was complicated. So, that bar came to life that way. It started from a practical standpoint and then went from there.

Nightsky: You were using location as an extension of the characters – more than just “let’s put the characters in a forest some place, or a haunted house somewhere…”

Robbie: Yes. Absolutely. We had a couple of location changes in that [episode]. So, we did the club because he talks about music being “one of the few things that I sort of like about humanity.” Then he goes out to nature at one point and that was, again, an important location.

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People thought that was green screen but it’s not. It’s a real place in Vancouver. But it was important to show him in nature and what he felt had been sort of lost through humanity. Not blaming them, but pointing out, “Here’s some stuff you got right, here’s some stuff you got wrong. Maybe it’s all just a wash in the end?” So, yeah, it was important to show that. I think the location and the fact that he created it down to the detail [meant] he wasn’t being passive lightly, if that makes sense. So it was a very woeful choice. Yeah, he’s God and can snap his fingers or whatever, but there was a choice being made there - a choice to stand down that was important to explore.


The exploration of Robbie's episodes and creative writing style continues in Part 2 of this exclusive interview! Still to come, the five remaining elements that weave together to create Robbie's signature style, and being with Robbie when we heard the announcement that rocked the SPNFamily's world! 

Until then, please add your comments and questions below!

 References

"Don't Call Me Shurley" quotes confirmed with Springfield! Springfield!:

     "Write for an audience of one." and "Details are what a story great." - Metatron's advise to Chuck on writing, "Don't Call Me Shurley" 11.20
      "A lot of remarkable music was created in this space." - Chuck, "Don't Call Me Shurley" 11.20
      B.G.'s Canteen was the setting of Metatron's conversation witch Chuck - "Don't Call Me Shurley" 11.20

An immense thank you to Chelsea for the initial transcription of this interview! 
Miscellaneous show details researched on Supernatural Wiki


Learn more about Robbie Thompson and his tips on writing: 
*Robbie was the keynote speaker at a conference at DePaul University in Chicago, Il, in 2015. During a multi-hour presentation, Robbie gave what amounted to a "master class" in writing.  Alice Jester and Nightsky reported on his lecture: DePaul Part 1Part 2Part 3   

In 2016, Robbie answered fans' questions about the show, his episodes and Supernatural's characters during an hour-long panel at Chicago's C2E2 convention. Nightsky was there, and published a complete, illustrated transcript of the panel: C2E2 2016 Part 1, and Part 2    

Also in 2016, Percysowner created a short summary of Robbie's early years at Marvel. Included is a video interview of him on his Silk and related Marvel work.  

In 2013, Farawayeyes compiled a comprehensive profile of Robbie's television and graphic arts writing career to that point. Included is a short interview with Robbie about his first few episodes on Supernatural. Robbie Thompson Profile: Part 1Part 2Part 3