Seeking the Truth: Hugh Howey’s Trilogy Turned into SILO Streaming Series
Based on the bestselling trilogy of novels by Hugh Howey, SILO is set in the future where a community of 10,000 people survives in a giant silo hundreds of stories deep underground. The society is governed by a strict set of rules and to disobey is death… we talked with Howey about bringing this story to the screen, his emotional experience on the set, the amazing cast and why he was happy to be wrong!
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: I have to tell you that I sat down and prepped for our conversation watching the first episode of Silo — and five episodes in — I was like, “I have to go to sleep.” It is so good. I love the unique environment and the characters. Talk to me about developing this. I understand it was your book series first, so talk to me about how you even came up with the idea and created this world.
Hugh Howey: It started with the wall screen, for me. And it was just going to be a short story. It was never meant to be a full novel. And this was 11 or 12 years ago. I was just fascinated by how much we were getting our view of the world through our screens, which you and I are doing right now. But getting our news, getting our opinions, seeing our friends’ and family’s lives through screens. And it’s filtered and it’s often bad news and social media might be falsely positive views of the world. But I just realized that we weren’t seeing things as they really are, but through these filters.
And so I wondered, how bad could this be? That’s the sci-fi, the way we work is we see something in the news and we’re like, “How can we make this worse?” And then we write a story around that. So my way of making it worse was to put everybody underground and to have this terrible view of the outside world. And for me, the human spirit is the belief that we can fix things, make things better. And I created this world where if you talk like that, you’re considered a threat and you’re sent out to die.
RM: It’s fascinating the characters that you’ve developed. And I was reading through some of your bio, and it seems like Juliette, the main character, might have a little bit of you in her with her love for machines and so forth. Talk about developing that character.
HH: Yeah. I mean, she’s the most popular character I’ve ever written in over 20 plus novels. And I think people are drawn to her because everybody wants to see, there’s a part of her that we all hope to have, this indomitable spirit, this curiosity on how things work, this belief that things can be repaired first with machines and later with people. So yeah, there’s a lot of my ambitions. I’m probably more like Lukas or there’s a character later in the book, Solo, who’s really quirky and interesting. But I would like to be like Juliette because I think she’s pretty outstanding.
RM: I love that at the core it’s this search for truth. I feel like that’s such a amazing topic right now just in the world that it seems like absolute truths are no longer allowed. It’s all fluid, whatever is my truth or your truth. I mean, it’s just such an interesting time to have a conversation about truth. I mean, obviously you wrote this a decade ago knowing that it could potentially come here. Talk to me a little bit just about truth in the world.
HH: I think truth does exist. I think whether or not we can find it or write it down is a different conversation, but I believe there’s an objective moral truth out there. I don’t know that we’ll ever reach it, but the way the world gets better is we move towards it. And so getting there is not really the point, it’s just getting closer to it than we were in the past. And I think if we look at a timeline of human history, we’re getting closer and closer to some objective moral truth. And we’re finding it by fighting with each other and arguing with each other and pulling in every direction at once. But I think that communal force is moving us in a very positive direction overall.
RM: Your book series, it gets adapted into Silo, which we’re going to see on AppleTV+, which is super exciting. Talk to me about what that process looks like. I understand you were able to be pretty hands-on and in the writer’s room. What did that mean to you?
HH: Yeah, hands on literally. The first time I showed up on set, they were building the steps, which if you watch the show you’ll know that they’re central, literally, to the story, and figuratively. And these guys were pushing plywood through bandsaws and hammering these steps in place. And I just add on a hard hat and a high vis jacket so I blended in with everybody. And I just started helping and put a few of the steps in. And so my involvement was as carpenter and also as Executive Producer and in the writer’s room — it’s been a thrill. I just love working with creative people. And as a writer, we often have to work alone. It’s not till we get into the editing process or working on cover art that we get to allow people into our story.
But there were hundreds of people working on building this from props and set design and costume and hair and makeup, and then the actors and the painters. Everyone had a role to play. And for me, first, it was a thrill to have people want to do this, but there was a lot of guilt involved. The first time I came on to the set and saw how many people were working because of me, I was a little apologetic. I was like, “I am so sorry to create all this fuss. If I’d have known, I probably wouldn’t have written this short story, putting everybody to work like this.”
RM: The flip side, you’re providing them all the opportunity to tell this great story in a different way. So you said you kind of helped build, but then when it finally came to fruition, did you get an opportunity to just have just a one-on-one with the set and say, “Wow, this is the land I created?”
HH: Yeah, very emotional for me. I knew it was going to have some effect, and I kind of wanted to preserve that because you don’t get to go back to that, for it just to be a story in your mind to walking in and seeing the set, which was massive. I’ve been on other sets. I’ve never seen anything this big before. And people who worked on this show, people who were on Game of Thrones and other big shows said they’ve never worked on a set this big. And so I recorded me walking out and seeing it for the first time. And I haven’t been able to share any of this stuff because everything’s under wraps until the show. But I would love to share that at some point so you can just see me get really, I tear up and I just am so full of awe and gratitude. I can’t believe what they built, and that it all started with this really simple story.
RM: I love that you had the wherewithal to say, “Let’s do more with this moment and just take it in myself.” So I look forward to seeing that video. The cast is fantastic. It’s diverse, they’re amazing. They’re able to make me connect with all of them, even the ones I’m not sure if I should trust or I shouldn’t trust. Talk to me about the casting process and then finally seeing these characters come into place. Does it feel like how you envisioned it?
HH: It’s so much better than I envisioned it. When I first wrote these books and things were really taking off, fans started dreaming about casting this and seeing it on the bigger small screen. We thought it was going to be a film at one point. So people were like, “Well, who do you imagine?” And they were throwing out all these famous people. And I was like, “Look, even if this gets made, which it will never get made, there are not going to be movie stars in this. It’s just going to be people you never heard of. Slow your roll.”
And since then, TV has become prestige and it’s where a lot of actors want to be. So the fact that we have David [Oyelowo] and Rashida [Jones] and Rebecca [Ferguson] and Tim [Robbins], how do we have these award-winning, top-notch superstars all on our TV show? The world has just changed. And so I look like a fool now because I told all these readers, “Stop dreaming. You’re never going to get a cast like this.” And then when we announced the cast, they were all like, “We told you so.” And I’m like, “Okay, I have no idea what I’m talking about.”
RM: The one time you were okay with being completely wrong about your work or anything.
HH: I love being wrong because I’m always keeping my expectations really low. And that way, when I’m wrong, I’m happy.
RM: So one of the other things that I had read is that you really enjoy sailing. Are you in the middle or did you get that chance to sail around the world?
HH: I did. I was a boat captain before I became a writer. So I lived on a boat while I was in school, dropped out of college, and sailed off to the islands and started working on boats and did that for 10 years. But my dream was always to get on a catamaran and take off around the world. And after I had a lot of success with the books and needed to go fill up with new stories, I built a catamaran in South Africa and took off around the world and spent five years just traveling. And it was incredible, amazing adventure. And I hope to do another trip around here soon with my wife.
RM: Are you the type of person that pulls from personal experience and lets that bleed into your work? Or do you see from others and then manipulate it? I love that you had said you were looking at current times with screens for this story. Where does that inspiration come from?
HH: Totally. I think not only do you write what you know, you write best what you know best, the deep emotional experiences in your life for what you need to draw on when you are trying to create drama in your fiction. So in a bad way, one of the most impactful things of my life was being right at ground zero when 9/11 happened. And the trauma of that day is something that I processed through fiction. So in almost every one of my stories, there’s some element of 9/11 in those stories. There’s some element of a very complex relationship I have with my father in every story. And it took writing a dozen novels to see those patterns and realize, oh, you keep going back to the same kind of source. And it gets hidden in these characters and plots so that only maybe myself and people who know me really well can see that. But for sure in my sailing and in my near death experiences on boats and my heart breaks and my deep loves, those are the things that I write about.
RM: I love that because that’s where the real complexity allows you to connect with characters because you’re able to see nuances of it, of yourself and others in it as well. Let’s just end on the themes of heroism and leadership and the importance of what that looks like within storytelling so that we all can have that hope, and kind of to rise to an occasion.
HH: I love that you used the word hope there because that, to me, that’s one of my favorite words. And I dedicate, whenever I write in a book, sign it for a reader or a friend or fan, I always write dare to hope in there. That, to me, is leadership. I think it’s the courage to stay optimistic no matter what’s happening. We have to fight to make the world a better place, and we can’t become cynics as we do that. And the heroes in this story are people who look at that wall screen and everyone else sees something that you should give up on. And our heroes are the people who think, “No, there’s a better world out there.” And those are the people that I want to surround myself with. That’s the kind of person I want to be. It’s the kind of people I think we should vote for and rally behind. Otherwise, what are we doing? Let’s dare to hope and let’s try to make the world a better place.
RM: I love that. Hugh, thank you so much for taking the time today. I cannot wait for audiences to get an opportunity to see this.
HH: Thank you, and have fun watching the next five episodes. Get some sleep.