Rainey Street in Austin, Texas is packed with hundreds of people. I push my way through the spectators, movie fans and internet savants that have gathered here for this year's SxSW festival. A look to the left where their attention is drawn — ahhh, they're yelling for a brief moment of attention from the cast of HBO's tech comedy Silicon Valley, who have been flown here for a fan Q&A.
I struggle on toward the man stacking wooden panels that have been set up on the neighboring lot. Bustling noise fills the air. Scientists in white protective suits and face masks hurry to their transportable labs. Hazard tape flutters in the wind. It feels like I could be stopped by military police at any instant.
The extras are all part of The CW's installation to market its new show Containment. Julie Plec, producer and writer of teenage megahits The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff The Originals, waits for me behind a barrier. Surrounded by hubbub, she is the only unfazed person, drinking a cold beer under the hot Texan sun. Her eyes are insanely awake and shining, appearing slightly amused by the excitement around her.
MP: In February, you tweeted, "This time of year, down to the last two scripts of the season, the stress of being overworked starts to give way to the panic of being free.“ How are you right now?
Julie Plec: At this exact moment I feel a little free. What's nice is that even though we still have a script or two to deliver, we're still not behind and so I can have a day like today where I come out to Austin and have a beer in the middle of the day and not feel guilty. But these days are rare. They're very rare.
MP: You came here to Austin to promote your latest show Containment. What is it about?
JP: Containment is about an outbreak of a virus that doctors can't identify, can't treat, and proves to be 100 percent deadly, and they very quickly need to make a decision about how to prevent it from spreading. So they make an extremely controversial decision to shut down a sort of square mile of this city and create a quarantine zone.
MP: What drew your attention to the material?
JP: This is a story about a situation that could happen to any of us, anywhere, any how, in any city, and anyone's life. It could happen tomorrow. It won't, I hope; but this is a story of what would happen when it does.
MP: In what way did the Ebola outbreak last year affect the development of "Containment"?
JP: This project was already underway when Ebola hit the media landscape and I had a moment of thinking, "I don't know how smart it is to pursue this." I never want to do anything that feels either exploitative or gratuitous or, even worse, just from the creative point of view, ripped from the headlines. That's not how I like to generate a story. It did begin enough of a conversation, and you could feel that sense of tension surrounding that fear that this could happen. Sometimes, the best entertainment comes out of a very visceral, primal fear. We felt like we could still do this and not feel like we're exploiting something.
MP: Nevertheless, the show sounds pretty bleak.
JP: You know, it's funny because I guess I'm immune after all these years of working in vampires and horror. To me it's no less or more bleak than life. Whether we're all potential victims of a terrible virus outbreak or just worried about Donald Trump being president, there's a definite problem to just surviving on a day-to-day basis. What's wonderful about this show is that it has all those great elements that can scare you and feed that panic and anxiety, but it's also got really strong relationships at its core.
MP: Is this the balance you try to strike in your stories? Connecting horror and violent elements with relationships and emotional storytelling?
JP: Absolutely. Containment is a love story in its own way, too, so it has a little bit for everybody. It's not going to just make you want to not get out of bed tomorrow. Everything I do has to really have a very powerful, emotional core.
MP: You've had big successes in storytelling. Do certain genres lean automatically toward such a balance in storytelling?
JP: What's so great about genres, specifically in the supernatural genre, although this is just one step short of that, is that you can do those things. You can explore those themes inside of an hour of television that people also find very riveting and tense and suspenseful. I love doing stuff like this.
MP: The show is on The CW network, just like your hit show "The Vampire Diaries." Who's the audience for "Containment" you hope to win over?
JP: My hope is that the audience is able to be pulled from all the different facets of The CW audience and also people who haven't yet tuned in to The CW, believing it to be the pretty superhero and the pretty vampire network. I have writers that come in now in their 40s and 50s who say, "Oh, my teenage daughter and I, that's how we bond. Thursday and Friday nights we watch your shows. That's our family time."
MP: Sounds great!
JP: I'm like, "That's some pretty bold family time," but it's a little sexy for family!
'Containment' premieres April 19 on The CW