Motive producer Dennis Heaton’s supernatural success with The Order


Dennis Heaton explains his journey from Motive to The Order.

Dennis Heaton is the creator of the Netflix horror series The Order, but before that he spent years working on one of Canada’s best TV crime dramas, Motive. And while they’re completely different shows on the surface, creatively he discovered some similarities between the two.

Precinct TV connected with Dennis to talk about how his tenure as showrunner and executive producer on Motive influenced his work on The Order, the connections between the two series, and how The Order has evolved now that its second season recently premiered on Netflix.

Learn more about both shows below, and if you somehow missed Motive, you can get all four seasons now on Amazon Video.

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Precinct TV: How did you come up with The Order originally? What did you hit on that felt like it would be different?

Dennis Heaton: The genesis of the idea came out of a conversation I had with Chris Regina, where we were just talking about horror movies and what we loved and what we didn’t love. We were talking about werewolves and werewolf mythology, and we both had this love of werewolves as a monster, but this desire to see a different kind of base mythology for how werewolves come about.

It was during that conversation I went, “I think I’ve got something. Let me write it up and send it to you.”  [The idea] was kind of like, “Let’s treat werewolves as a magical being instead of this kind of more viral infection kind of thing and take it from there.”

PTV: We know you for Motive, but you’ve done a couple of genre projects over your career. So was the TV crime drama an exception, or have you always tried to balance the two?

DH: Horror has always been the raison d’etre of why I got into filmmaking in the first place. When I was in high school, I wanted to do special effects makeup. I wanted to be like Rick Baker. It wasn’t until I got into college and university that I started to see that writing, which was always a hobby, was something that could actually be a career someday.

In terms of the preference of genre, I think being a writer that lives in Vancouver, I had to develop a bit of a generalist ability. If you go and look at my IMDb page, there’s documentaries, there’s cartoons, there’s comedy, there’s drama, and definitely police procedural is something that I love to write as well. If I had to list them, number one on the list would be horror. Number two would be crime drama, because to me, it’s a form of horror.

You’re just dealing with the “most dangerous of all monsters is man” kind of thing. You don’t get to do as much monster makeup, but you still get to do a certain level of gore.

But no matter what genre I worked in, I always managed to insert a little horror. There’s an episode of an animated series I wrote, Being Ian, where Ian and his friends get locked in their school on a snow day and Ian, driven mad with hunger, considers cannibalism to survive.

PTV: What set Motive apart from other TV crime dramas was that it broke the format. It was not a straightforward procedural. Did that help you as a storyteller on The Order, just because you were already getting to think outside the box?

DH: Motive had such a complex narrative structure that I’m still taking lessons from that show and applying them to the material that I work on now.  Something as basic as the proper use of flashbacks—you have to ensure that narratively the flashback is pushing the story forward, even though chronologically you’re going back in time.

Also, I learned a lot about characterization writing Motive, and how to create if not sympathy for the villain, at least empathy for the villain. I think all of those elements still come into play in my writing today.

PTV: TV crime drama fans have a major reason to check out The Order because there’s some crossover between the two shows in terms of talent. Was that something you sought out or it just happened organically?

DH: I think a lot of that comes out of the relationships you build over years in the industry. Kristin [Lehman] directed episodes three and four in season 1, and nine and 10 in season 2. Kristin and I developed a very strong friendship working four seasons on Motive. It was on Motive that she directed her first hour of television.

Then when I worked on Ghost Wars with Simon Barry, we brought Kristin on to direct and to play a part in that. And with The Order I just wanted Kristin to be on the roster for directors. The same with Mathias Herndl, who was our director of photography on Motive. He started directing TV on that show. You want to find new people to work with, but you also want to bring on your friend who you know are going to get the job done and you’re definitely going to have a few laughs over dinner.

PTV: So for Motive fans who have not yet seen The Order, is there anything you feel they need to know or are particularly excited for them to discover?

DH: I think what I love the most about the show is just how much we use comedy. I don’t think people expected season 1 to have as much of a comedic tone as it had. I think for some of the audience that was a pleasant surprise, and for others maybe not so much. Obviously everybody has their own taste when it comes to what they love about their genre storytelling. If people like their horror fantasy with a liberal sprinkling of comedy, I think they’ll enjoy the show.

I’m always up for talking about the myriad of influences that go into the show. Like I’ve said, I’m a big fan of horror, and in a lot of ways, The Order lets me rummage through those different inspirations. There’s a lot of Lovecraftian touches in the show, and a lot of Cronenbergian body horror ,and pretty much every two-parter has some kind of horror inspiration, whether it’s a specific sub-genre or movie. For example, one of the big influences for the Son Of Prometheus was Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and the “hive mind” mentality and then [we] put a “magic world” spin on it.

PTV: The two-part story structure is something we see a lot in British TV crime dramas, but not necessarily in American shows, including horror series. Why did you choose that for The Order?

DH: Part of it was the creative idea of treating these like five movies. Instead of doing 10 one-hour episodes, if you do it as a movie, you get to spend more time in the single story. There’s also a technical practicality because we do a process called block shooting, where we’ll shoot two episodes at the same time. So why not make it a two-hour story to encompass the events that we want to see happen? Then we’re maximixing locations, we’re maximizing cast.

It allows us to spend time with characters. If I’m going to bring a guest character into a story, it’s more fun to give that character time over two episodes for us to get to know them, to establish that character and really get to be with them in a way that you don’t often get in just a one-hour plot.

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The Order season 1 and season 2 are both streaming now on Netflix. All four seasons of Motive are available to stream on Amazon Video.