'Fringe' secrets revealed: 'September's Notebook' authors discuss making the ultimate companion book

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Image Credit: Fox

Fringe wrapped its five-year foray into the far-out realms of science and dangerous dimensions of the human heart back in January. (Sniffle.) But today, exec producer J.H. Wyman, who oversaw the Bad Robot drama’s swan song season, tweeted out a touching post-script for fans: A drawing of a white tulip.

More than just an allusion to several Fringe episodes (including our pick for best ever), the image — which is meant to be printed out — has additional significance to anyone who has purchased September’s Notebook, a uniquely designed, detail-rich tome that summarizes the saga and digs deep into the show’s mythology by re-telling the epic (parallel universes, multiple timelines, and all) through the perspective of near omniscient, always Fedora’d, bald-headed Observer September. (Except for those years when he was Hairy Donald.) (Another time.) (Or read the book!)

The last pages include a replica of the envelope that Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) received from his father Walter (John Noble) in the last scene of the last episode — except that unlike Peter’s envelope, which contained the white tulip drawing, the book’s envelope is empty. With Wyman’s print-and-save tweet, your copy of September’s Notebook is now complete.

September’s Notebook presents itself as the very same notebook that was seen in September/Donald’s (Michael Cerveris) possession in the season 5 episode “The Boy Must Live.” It’s an extraordinary companion that sets new standards for the whole “officially licensed guides to [your favorite show here]” category of tie-in books, as it feels like part of show made manifest. (“In-world storytelling” is the term the Hollywood folks have invented for this sort of thing.)

September’s Notebook was written by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry, whose The Lost Encyclopedia holds a special place on this reporter’s shelf. The authors worked on their Fringe opus over the course of the show’s fourth and fifth seasons. They got generous help from the producers (most notably showrunner Wyman and associate producer Noreen O’Toole) and the production’s Vancouver BC-based art and prop departments. EW recently spoke with Bennett and Terry about getting the chance playing in the world of the show, what it was like to be behind the scenes during the last season, and the discoveries that delighted and surprised them the most.

On the origins of September’s Notebook
TARA BENNETT:
It was 2011. We had an extra Lost Encyclopedia, and I sent it off to [Wyman and former Lost writer and longtime Fringe exec producer Jeff Pinkner, who left the show after the fifth season] and thanked Jeff for his help with everything that we’d done with him in the past. I also said, “If you ever think about doing something for Fringe….” I got a call back from their assistants about two, three weeks later saying that they were interested — and they wanted to get working on it immediately. We talked about doing a “case file” approach, but that felt so boring, so pedestrian for Fringe. Eventually, Paul and I pitched the idea of doing a book from an Observer’s point of view. Jeff and Joel said yes. We started working on it in earnest by November 2011.

On the process…
PAUL TERRY:
Bad Robot sent us a drive that was 85 gigs worth of material. We basically fell over. You plug that sucker in and it was full of completely mind-blowing material, as far as the quality and the exclusivity of it. But the sheer amount was just staggering! Tara and I were Skyping and going, ‘It’s going to take a good couple of months to go through this and basically make the most of it!’  We didn’t want to miss a single sketch of something that was buried beneath 79 sub-folders! So we had to excavate that drive completely.
BENNETT: I went out to Vancouver and said, “We want everything!” It’s an in-world book, and we wanted to treat everything they had almost like it was evidence — what September would pick up. So I told them, “All of those things that in the background of a shot that you spent two days designing but viewers saw only for a millisecond? This is the opportunity to show it off!” It was so exciting to see every department kind of light up and go, “Wait. You want to do what?!” That’s where that 85 gigs came from. For the rest of season 4 into season 5 and all the way up until November 2012, which is when we locked the book, they were still sending me material. The book obviously wouldn’t be as special if they hadn’t provided all of that material.

On geeking out on the research while trying to work…
TERRY:
It was a daily conversation. We were sending stuff to each other back and forth going, “Oh my god, check this out — it’s early concept art of an Observer! Concept art from the ‘Brown Betty’ episode!” There was so much of this, we had to stop ourselves and go, “Okay, hang on — how do we actually use this stuff?”
BENNETT: The thing that initially got us buzzed was when we hit this pocket of “Red Universe” material — all of the propaganda stuff that they had used on the walls, all of the literature that they created about “ambering” — all the things that you just never got to see in the kind of detail that we’ve been able to either reproduce or use. When I was in Vancouver they took me to the prop warehouse. I was a kid in a candy store of Fringe stuff. Holding the Martin Luther King money is in my hand, looking at all of the individual images that young Olivia had created when she was doing the Cortexiphan trials with Walter as a kid–
TERRY: And then we remembered we had to had to make it work for the book if it could work at all. If we said it once, we said it a thousand times: “We only have 192 pages.”

On whether they were allowed to add to Fringe mythology for the sake of fleshing out the book…
TERRY:
We were in the writers’ office last fall, when they were working on the episode where we hear bout the original 12 Observers that went back in time to monitor historical events. They were supposed to be scientists, they were supposed to be named after a certain month, they were each supposed to have a specific assignment. But the show hadn’t named all of them, hadn’t talked about all of them, and would never do so. So we were talking with Noreen, asking her how should we handle that, and soon we were spitballing ideas with [Wyman] and he just goes, “Yeah, let’s do that! Go!”
BENNETT: So we were able to give them their names and assignments and Joel approved them. [In general,] whenever we could augment or add something that didn’t make it into a cut of an episode or didn’t make it into a visual, they allowed us to put that into the copy. So there will be a lot of little extra, tiny details about, say, the victims of some of the Fringe events. But it was always with their approval. Unfortunately, one of the big challenges was that Joel was writing the show as the only EP this year, so he didn’t have as much time. In some instances, we probably could’ve added even more canon things if Joel had some time to think about it, because he was super enthusiastic about trying to give fans as much as possible.

NEXT: September’s Notebook makes its TV debut, plus what was left out (and why)…


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