By Valerie Milano
Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/22/18 – Paramount discussed the launch of their new cable network and true crime series WACO at a panel convened on Monday, January 15th, 2018 at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Kevin Kay introduced Keith Cox, President of Development and Production for Paramount Network, TV Land, and CMT; talents Taylor Kitsch, Paul Sparks, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Benoist, Julia Garner, and Rory Culkin; Gary Noesner, the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator; David Thibodeau, a Branch Davidian member and survivor of the Waco tragedy; and John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, executive producers for WACO.
The all new Paramount Network was scheduled to launch a mere 72 hours after the panel! “While other cable networks are shutting down, we’re being given the chance to bring a new one to life. I have to say, it’s the chance of a lifetime for myself and the team,” said Kevin Kay.
Before taking questions, Kevin Kay assured the audience that The Weinstein Company had no creative input on WACO or YELLOWSTONE and would not have a credit listed for either series. “At Paramount Network and for all of Viacom, we place the safety and well-being of our employees, our freelancers, our crews, and our talent first. We’re proud of the women and men who have made the brave choices to share their stories of harassment and abuse,” Kay concluded.
And back to WACO! The Waco siege took place 25 years ago in 1993 as a standoff between the FBI, ATF, and David Koresh’s spiritual sect, the Branch Davidians. Canadian-born actor Taylor Kitsch portrays David Koresh in this six-part scripted series.
The Dowdles said that they had come into this project researching something totally unrelated. Then they read the books by David Thibodeau and Gary Noesner about Waco and became interested in the plight of the Branch Davidian members. “It’s pretty easy to have a lot of empathy on both sides,” Drew Dowdle concluded.
When asked what had been the appeal of joining the Branch Davidians, David Thibodeau said that he had come to LA to be a drummer in a band and met David Koresh and Steve Schneider at the Guitar Center. Koresh and Schneider gave him their card with some Scriptures on the back and said that they were trying to get a band together. Thibodeau thought that their trans-Christian insights into Scripture from Genesis to Revelation actually sounded very interesting and later gave the two a call.
The same questioner said, “Revelation ends with disaster. Did you think, when you were in Waco, that this would end in disaster, or did you always think it would be settled somehow?”
David replied, “To me, it’s about your outlook.” He thought that Koresh could have been reasoned with during the siege and noted that during the course of the 51 days there had been a news conference every day with members of the press calling the Branch Davidians a cult and demonizing them.
“There’s a quote that I love from Senator Henry Clay in the 1800s,” said Thibodeau. “Clay said, ‘The devices of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim and denounces it, exciting the public hatred so it can conceal its own abuses and encroachments.'”
“To me, that’s what’s happened here. It’s just that simple,” Thibodeau concluded. “David wasn’t perfect. The FBI weren’t perfect, but the FBI did control the media. . . .They controlled how the nation thought about what happened at Waco, to the point where the people inside were forgotten about and they were just crazy cult leaders that deserved what they got.”
Women were in the majority in the Waco compound. Andrea Riseborough said that Judy Schneider Koresh had been a “dynamic woman” in a polygamous marriage who remained “incredibly relatable.”
Melissa Benoist and Julia Garner play sisters in the WACO series. Speaking of the other women on set, Julia said, “We all had our own little gang, I guess!”
Many of David Koresh’s wives were very young. Koresh’s relations with them may have constituted statutory rape and even child abuse.
However, the children on the Waco compound were later found to be very well brought up and well fed. The WACO producers said that they had needed to put aside all judgments in bringing this controversial story to the screen.
Taylor Kitsch said it had been a difficult learning process playing David Koresh in Waco. “One of the first questions you ask is, ‘Why?'”
Koresh had an almost magnetic hold over his followers in the Waco compound. He was very smart and manipulative and gave them “that incredible sense of purpose that I think we all search for every day,” according to Kitsch.
Next, Gary Noesner spoke about hostage negotiator training. “The first thing we teach is self-control,” Noesner said.
Koresh often said one thing and did another, but a negotiator expects this and doesn’t overreact to it. Unfortunately, others at the Waco siege did overreact and that is one reason the situation blew up. Hostage negotiators know that you need to stay calm and take the time to build relationships.
The cast of WACO built their own little community on set and tried to keep things light to help them handle the heavy material. In Episode 6 their characters were dying every day and this obviously had an emotional impact.
The last questioner asked David Thibodeau whether his perspective on Waco had changed over the course of the 25 years since the tragedy. Thibodeau said he might have learned to see things a little more broadly.
“I think everyone is going to have to face their maker, even David Koresh,” concluded David Thibodeau, his former follower. Then Kevin Kay thanked Team Waco and concluded the panel.