Ron Howard on using hybrid storytelling in the National Geographic series “Mars”

Over the past 40 years, Oscar-winning director Ron Howard has helmed massive blockbusters, including “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and most recently “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” But when Howard wanted to do a series about the first human mission to Mars, he couldn’t figure out whether it should be a scripted story or a documentary. So he and his partner Brian Grazer decided to make it both.

The critically acclaimed National Geographic series “Mars,” which debuts its second season next Monday, combines scripted elements and visual effects with documentary-style interviews.

“We started interviewing a lot of great experts and, first of all, they were fascinating, including Elon Musk who would give us access to do research at SpaceX. … So then the thought was, ‘Let’s do a documentary about what everybody is doing go to Mars,'” Howard told “CBS This Morning.”

“It was a total experiment. We learned so much in season one. I was proud of season one,” Howard said. “But season two — we have so much more confidence about the storytelling style and I think it really shows.”

Season 1 focused on what it took to get to Mars, which meant the experts were really driving their narrative, Howard said. In Season 2 as a community begins to form on the planet, the storytelling leans more heavily on fiction.  

“It’s this clash now between science and industry,” Howard said of the new season. “Because now it’s time to mine Mars, at least one group feels that that’s vitally important. So the reality is that in the second season we knew what we were looking for, we knew what the stories were.”

Even the documentary parts, Howard assured, are cinematic in their own way.

“This is not just all talking heads. … I think cinematic is kind of the word that we keep applying to the series because we want to make sure that it is like a movie, that it transports you.”

Season 2 of “Mars” premieres Monday, Nov. 12 on National Geographic 

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