Interview: SAMUEL BAUM Creator & Executive Producer of LIE TO ME

Lie To Me

One of the shows I am most looking forward to (especially after watching its promo) this Midseason 2009 is Fox’s new series, LIE TO ME, starring Tim Roth and premiering on Wednesday, January 21st at 9:00 pm.

I was lucky enough to take part of a conference call with Lie To Me creator and executive producer, Samuel Baum. And after hearing more about what the show was going to be like, I can barely contain my excitement for what seems to be a really, really great show. Could it be the next hit? I’ll have to see the pilot to decide, but so far I’m very optimistic.

Here is what Samuel Baum had to say:

Samuel Baum: Hello, everyone. So I thought I would just give you a quick snapshot of the show before diving into any questions that you guys have. So I would start by saying that “Lie To Me” is a drama series about the science of lying. It focuses on a team of deception experts who have a private agency that’s contracted by law enforcement, every government agency, corporations and private individuals when they’ve hit a roadblock in their search for the truth. So they work on the most difficult cases where there’s a web of lies that needs to be untangled.
The science, which you’ll see in the show, this science of deception detection is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman who is the world’s leading deception expert. And Paul has contracted himself with the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security and pretty much every government agency to consult in deception-related fields.
So let’s begin to questions.

What was your first reaction when you heard the time slot you guys got?

Samuel Baum: It’s incredibly exciting. I feel like this is a show that has interest for a wide, wide audience because it’s about something that affects our every day life, which is lying. The average person statistically tells three lies per ten minutes of conversation is what the research shows. And so it’s such an integral part of every day life for everyone, but the issue of lying and the science of emotion of learning to recognize how do people in your life really feel and really think that it’s very exciting to have the possibility of reaching a broad audience.

FOX had a certain amount of success with “Moment of Truth.” How are you going to tip-toe around the idea that presumably your main character is going to be one of those people who would tell you that a polygraph test is basically bunk.

Samuel Baum: I mean, the thing about the polygraph is that it’s very reliable at telling you if someone is anxious, but what it’s not telling you is why that person is anxious. And the real reason why, there’s a strong psychological mystery at the heart of every episode is that determining if someone is lying is just the beginning of our story. The real question is why is someone lying? Is someone lying because they committed the crime they’re being accused of? Is someone lying to protect someone else? Is there a secret that’s unrelated to the crime that they’re so ashamed of that will come out if they tell the truth that they’re forced to lie? So the human element of our team of deception experts creates a whole other level from just simply a machine that tells you if someone is feeling an increase in emotion, which is what the polygraph does.

How much research did you and your writers delve into with Dr. Paul Ekman and Albert Morabian, the people who studied microexpression and body language, especially facial expressions?

Samuel Baum: So Dr. Ekman is the scientific consultant for the show and he’ll be with us all year. I’ve spent close to a year with Paul now. The amazing thing about Paul’s work, it focuses on four areas, which you’ll learn about in the show, which is the study of the human face, the body, the voice and speech. And just focusing on the face for a moment, the remarkable thing about this work is that we all show emotion the same way. There are seven basic emotions of anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, we show them all identically, whether you’re a suburban housewife in the OC or you’re a Saudi sheik in Saudi Arabia. So it’s a universal phenomenon, the science, and that’s why I feel it can really reach a broad audience.

Does Tim Roth’s character get into layered voice analysis and real nitty-gritty elements of the science of this in the series?

Samuel Baum: Yes. You will see voice stress analysis in addition to speech analysis and analysis of body movements, body language and the work of recognizing facial expressions, microexpressions. And that leads me to one other thing that’s quite extraordinary is that Paul has proven that in as little as two hours of studying microexpressions, which are these little expressions that flash when we’re trying to hide an emotion, in as little as two hours of training someone can learn to recognize these hidden emotions. So, one of the exciting things about the show is that people who watch “Lie To Me” will actually learn not only to recognize when people are lying to them, but will recognize when people in their lives are hiding emotion in some way. So you can imagine what it would be like to have a heightened sense of when someone is secretly sexually attracted to you or secretly jealous, and literally the truth is written on all our faces. It’s there to see if you’re quick enough and perceptive enough to catch these microexpressions, which one can be trained in as little as two hours to recognize. And he’s proven that in his work with the TSA.

You have Alec Hammond on your crew as one of your keys. Was it his work in “Donnie Darko” that caught your eye? Did you have a decision in hiring him?

Samuel Baum: Absolutely. His work was fantastic in “Donnie Darko.” We have a set that is unlike any design you will have seen. It’s a set that really highlights the human face and body movements because it’s so stark and high key in the look of the show. He came to the show, I met him through Robert Schwentke, our director, who’s the director of “Flight Plan” and the “Time Traveler’s Wife.” He did a fantastic job with the pilot. And in particular, one of the things you’ll see is you’ll see the world through Dr. Cal Lightman, Tim Roth’s character’s eyes. And so you will get to see microexpressions in real time and the subtle body language movements that betray emotion.

This character has and his abilities are pretty interesting, how did it play out in the series with everybody around him, in his life? Knowing someone with those abilities would get really annoying.

Samuel Baum: I think there are two answers to that. First, imagine what it would be like to go through your life knowing when anyone was being dishonest with you, from your wife or your husband to your children to your colleagues at work. It is a terrible curse and a great blessing. Dr. Lightman is continuously in this situation of TMI, of just too much information, because he can read what you are feeling and often what you are thinking at any time. So obviously, yes, he’s a very unwelcome dinner guest in many circles.
It’s also a very bizarre place to work, because the entire team is adept at reading facial expressions, microexpressions, which are the, again, the leakage of hidden emotion of what you’re actually feeling. And so you have to be very careful about what you project in this office place, because people know when you’re lying, in terms of as simple a question as “How are you?” if you said fine and you’re not fine, they’ll know.

How did the project come about? How did you get familiar with Paul Ekman and how did the whole project get off the ground?

Samuel Baum: Well, I’d been doing a lot of writing about lying, lies in family life, lies in political life, and I started to do some research into the science of lying and I very quickly came across Paul’s work. I was just completely fascinated about all aspects of it, from lying in gender and learning about the differences between what men lie about versus what women lie about, you know, which is that men, the most common lies are lies of self-aggrandizement, trying to make themselves seem better than we are as opposed to women who the most common lie is a lie of social lubrication, of trying to make others feel okay. Starting there and then getting really into the deception work, I was just completely fascinated by the idea that you could tell if someone was lying just by looking at them without their saying a word.

Another piece of the show is that you’re going to see footage of real people, recognizable people, famous people lying and we will point out the specific behavioral queues that are the sign of lying. So you will see an unnamed politician who I won’t give away who we know has had affairs and you will watch him giving a statement in which he says that he has been in love with the same woman for his entire life. And then you will see the body language queue, which is called a one-sided shoulder shrug, which is a squelched shoulder shrug, that says that I have absolutely no confidence in what I just said and I was lying. So you’ll actually get to see that this is not supernatural, this is not made up. This is actually based in the most cutting edged, scientific research that’s used by the Pentagon to keep our nation safe.

As far as getting Tim Roth involved, he does everything so well, whether it’s very dramatic or something more comedic. What’s the tone of the series kind of utilizing some of that with him? Is it more of a serious show or is there humor mixed in?

Samuel Baum: I would say that the story lines certainly have a dramatic and an emotional quality to them. The mysteries that we tell are psychological mysteries, where we ask the question: why is that person showing this emotion? Why does someone who is told they’re about to be rescued from the edge of calamity suddenly show more fear than before they were told they were going to be saved? So the mysteries are psychological and emotional. I’d say this is not a show where the reason why someone is lying is because they robbed the bank. This is not a show about the search for a criminal, it’s about the search for human truth. So they’ll definitely be emotional and dramatic, but there’s also a huge amount of comedy.

Obviously, it’s incredibly difficult going through life knowing whenever someone is lying to you. It’s awkward when you know that you’re the fifth best sex your wife has ever had. That’s the too much information area. So there will certainly be a large amount of comedy in the show. It comes from the every day lies that we all suffer from, you know, the guy who steals your parking space and lies to you, to the hot dog guy when you ask if the hot dogs are fresh who lies to you and says, “Oh, of course they are.” I mean, everywhere he goes he sees the truth. And so it lends itself to comedy.

How involved is Lightman and group in the actual nuts and bolts of the investigation? Are they actively hunting bad guys or are they more of an adjunct working alongside the police?

Samuel Baum: They’re actually investigating on the cases. Frequently they work with the police, but they will tend to focus on cases where there isn’t physical evidence that can tell you what happened. So they’re really the most difficult cases to crack because there are only people to talk to as opposed to physical evidence and DNA and those sort of things that you would see on a traditional crime show.

Are there recurring roles for law enforcement people or do we see different teams all the time?

Samuel Baum: There may be like the deputy chief of police who recurs or a particular person at the FBI who occurs, but it’s such a wide range of cases that you’re going to see in the show, it will be like a little movie every week in the sense of one week you’ll be in the world of the Secret Service and then the next week you’ll be in the world of the military and then the week after that you’ll be in the world of the DEA and then you may be in a public high school dealing with a homicide of a senior in high school, so it’s a really wide range of cases. And that’s what’s exciting is that unlike a law show or a medical show or pure cop show where you’re locked into telling legal stories, doctor stories, cop stories every week, with this the range of cases is as wide as there are lies. Obviously there’s an unlimited number of stories because there’s an unlimited number of lies.

You were saying that you hung around with Paul for a while and you researched this a lot. Do you find that you can spot people doing it now all the time?

Samuel Baum: Yes, it’s an incredibly profound skill and it comes quite quickly, actually. One of the programs that Paul started is the SPOT Program, which is the screening by observational techniques program that the PSA uses in major airports now. What the SPOT program does is it has people who are scanning for microexpressions, looking for a microexpression of fear and anxiety of someone who’s planning to do something criminal at the airport or on one of the planes. And in as little as two hours of training, you can train these behavioral detection officers to spot microexpressions. So, yes, there a lot of things that I see now that I was blind to before, and basically my agents will only deal with me on the phone now because they can’t lie anymore.

For people in Hollywood, would that be a handicap for you once they find out?

Samuel Baum: Exactly. They’ll never go to lunch with you. It’s awkward.

Do you try to curtail your lying now?

Samuel Baum: I think I’m much more aware, I’m much more aware if I am lying or not revealing the full truth and that’s another important piece of the show, which is the stories we’re going to tell are going to frequently create situations where there’s a big cost not only to lying, but where there’s a real cost to telling the truth. We don’t live in a world where honesty is always the best policy. As grownups, we’ve all come to realize that there are times when lying is the right thing to do when there isn’t another option. That’s the territory that the show is going to explore is really asking the question: when is lying the right thing to do?

In your research, how well does their expertise hold up in court?

Samuel Baum: It’s similar to the issues that the polygraph faces in that the polygraph is not admissible in court unless the defendant agrees to take the polygraph and agrees that it will be introduced as evidence in court. And so there’s been pretty limited number of times when someone like Paul is actually testifying in a court case because there’s such deep skepticism about it being 100% certain. However, Paul and his colleagues, Dr. Ekman and his colleagues, have been asked to consult on so many headline investigations, famous investigations, of murders and kidnappings that are in the papers every day. And he has more cases that comes his way than he knows what to do with.

How did Tim Roth actually get involved with the project?

Samuel Baum: Well, he had initially passed on the project, because he had said he would not, I don’t know whether he had read the script or not, but he was not interested in television. Then we went to lunch over a year ago, the two of us, and he laid out all the reasons why he was not going to do television and then I told him all about Paul’s work and about the show, and I think together with Brian Grazer and the team at Imagine he suddenly got bitten by the bug of this science and started to do some research and see both the extraordinary power of this science and what it does when you learn to recognize what other people are feeling and often what they’re thinking all around you. And then I think he became interested in playing a character who would have to deal with this highly unusual condition of knowing what other people are feeling and often thinking all around him.

Once you guys actually started filming, was he excited, was he happy he did it? Was he surprised at how much work it is? What was his reaction to actually being on the treadmill of a series?

Samuel Baum: He’s incredibly excited about it. I know he’s dived head first into all of the research for the show and I know that he’s particularly interested as a father in the implacability of this research to kids. Children, as a father of, I believe, three, he is very interested in why kids lie, which is a whole area of research that Dr. Ekman has written about.