Exhibition Consulting and Analysis
Of all the great pieces that were published yesterday to honor the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, we tip our hats to The Hollywood Reporter and writer Ryan Parker for the scoop of the day. One part of Star Wars lore involves a certain Stormtrooper hitting their head on a blast door as he and his comrades move about the Death Star looking for R2-D2 and C-3PO. This is the moment you're looking for:
Ever since then, for some 40 years, Star Wars fanatics have wondered why on Earth George Lucas and his creative team allowed that to make it to the final cut. Surely they had other takes they could have used. Surely they hadn't all missed the fact that in this heightened moment of the film, this goofball Stormtrooper bonked himself on the head. It was such an obvious, hilarious gaffe that its inclusion in the final cut seemed either deliberate or insane. How could this have happened!?!?
Well, THR's Ryan Parker tracked down the gentleman who played that Stroomtrooper, and he's got a story to tell. In fact, his story is so charming, so honest, it actually makes the blooper even better, and makes its inclusion wonderful. We suggest you read the full story, but for a quick snippet, see here:
"On the second day of filming, I developed an upset stomach. By midmorning I had paid three to four visits to the loo/bathroom. Having re-dressed myself and returned to the set, I felt the need to rush back to the gents' toilets, but I was placed in [the] shot. On about the fourth take, as I shuffled along, I felt my stomach rumbling, and "bang," I hit my head! As I wasn't moving too fast, it was more of a scuffed bash, so it didn't hurt, but as no one shouted "cut," I thought the shot wasn't wide enough for me to be in frame."
British sci-fi series Black Mirror reflects with chilling plausibility myriad ways in which technology brings out the worst in human behavior -- one freestanding episode at a time. Creator Charlie Brooker and producer Annabel Jones, in Los Angeles on a break from shooting the fourth season of their Netflix limited series, say they hate repeating themselves and love the anthology format. "It's lunacy but by doing each episode as a one-off 50-minute film, we're able to take an idea and blow it up within that one episode and not have to worry about creating an arc that sustains for multiple seasons," Jones explains. "In that way, it's very liberating. You can be more idea-driven."
And ideas are one thing Black Mirror master mind Brooker never seems to run short of. "I've got a short attention span and I get bored easily so career-wise, I've always ping-ponged from one thing to another," says Brooker, who worked in the '90s as a cartoonist and video game reviewer. In 2000, he launched TVGoHome featuring his wickedly funny synopses of imaginary reality TV shows. The site led to a TV column for the Guardian newspaper and writing gigs on actual TV shows. Brooker says, "When we came up with the idea for Black Mirror, I remembered how the BBC used to do weird one-off movies where you'd go to school the next day and say 'Did you see that thing on TV last night about this crazy society where everyone's been turned into a vegetable?' I missed the kind of one-off things you'd see in old repeats of The Twilight Zone because I've always been interested in the exploration of wild ideas. So yeah, it's a terrifying challenge to basically make each episode from scratch, but that also means Black Mirror never gets boring for me."
Three seasons in, Black Mirror remains fresh in part because most of its stories feature ordinary people with ordinary flaws who get sucked into extraordinarily awful circumstances by smart phones, social media, virtual reality implants and other 21st century technologies. Even at its most twisted, Black Mirror has routinely anticipated real world scenarios with uncanny specificity. The show's inaugural 2011 episode "The National Anthem," for example, shocked viewers with its seemingly outlandish story of a British prime minister forced to fornicate on live television with a pig. A few months later, a biography alleged that UK prime minister David Cameron once had sexual relations with a pig at as part of an Oxford University hazing ritual.
Season 3 episode "Hated In The Nation" imagined attacks by remote-controlled drone bees just a few weeks before Japanese scientists announced the development of similar "Autonomous Drone Insects."
And Brooker's earlier series Nathan Barley showcased the "WASP T-12" smart phone two years before Apple introduced its I Phone. "Our main character carries around this thing you can open up like a little book and he was obsessed with all the things his phone could do," Brooker says. "At the time, the criticism we got for the show was 'I don't know what the fuck this is! Who is this guy? Is he from the future?' So it is quite eerie that a lot of things we've done on our shows seem to then come true, but when we come up with stories we're not necessarily looking at the world of tech and thinking 'What's next?' We're thinking about human stories and trying to work out funny or harrowing situations accordingly."
Anatomy of a Sci-Fi Twist
To illustrate the point, Brooker breaks down the creative process behind Season 3's "San Junipero," ostensibly set in 1987 and centered on a time-traveling romance between two women. "I was thinking of two different things at once. One, I wanted to do a 'Black Mirror' episode set in the past, so how we do that? And separately, we were trying to come up a story idea revolving around the after life, and death, and virtual environments. Those two thoughts came together after I saw this documentary about nostalgia therapy for old people suffering from dementia, where they literally re-decorate a room so it looks like the 1940s. When you put the old people in there, they seem completely rejuvenated."
L-r: Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis in 'San Junipero.' Courtesy Netflix
From there, Brooker and his team brainstormed the rest of the story by asking, and answering, a cascade of questions. "What if you have this world in which people can jack into a virtual version of the past that feels real? What if people used this world to have a good time and re-live a consequence-free version of their youth? And if two people met and fell in love, what happens then? Originally it was a heterosexual couple, but then you think 'Wouldn't it be more interesting if you have two women who meet, because in 1987 gay marriage wasn't a thing.' So you go through all these stages of 'what if, what if, what if,' all piled on top of each other and you end up with an episode of Black Mirror."
Twists and Spirals
In "San Junipero" and other Season 3 episodes including the pharmaceutically-modified soldier story "Men Against Fire," Black Mirror jolts viewers with unexpected twists that add depth to the madness unfolding on screen. Brooker points out, "Black Mirror didn't really have that many twists until we did 'White Bear' in the second season, which has a massive twist at the end. It's a blessing and a curse because once you've done that, the audience might anticipate a twist every time, but it isn't always going to be there."
Case in point: Season 3 opener "Nose Dive" follows a woman (Dallas Howard) so desperate to be "liked" on her social media profile that she becomes a blood-soaked maniac crashing the wedding of a "friend" she barely knows. "It's just a downward spiral to hell," Brooker laughs. "Rather than being an episode with a twist, that's our other default setting: the downward spiral to hell." Jones cuts in. "The challenge for us is to not just be that show with twists and not to just be bleak. Because then it becomes a little predictable."
Technology: Not the Villain
Black Mirror masterfully satirizes technology's potential for wreaking havoc on human behavior through connectivity, software and devices, but Brooker observes, "In our show, technology is not usually the villain. It's human weakness, which technology amplifies because it allows people to wield immense, almost magical power they might be poorly equipped to handle." Jones adds, "Black Mirror does sometimes question the power that we're ceding to these technologies which we so happily allow into our lives." She cites Season 3's grim "Shut Up and Dance" episode in which a pornography-consuming teenager robs a bank to avoid exposure by a hacker who took control of the boys computer-embedded camera. "What happens when hackers take over your lap top? We see how vulnerable this poor little boy becomes, and yet people all the time are sort of unwittingly handing over all this power."
For Season 4, Brooker and Jones intend to keep the surprises coming, recently filming in Iceland to introduce a radical shift in locations. But they won't even attempt to riff on the currently surreal state of American politics. "That's a fool's errand because everything's changing so fast," Brooker says. Still, one thing is certain: There will be technology. Brooker says, "In our new stories, we're probably pushing the new technology even farther, but it's always going to be in the background. 'Black Mirror' is about the people. As for Black Mirror's predictive powers, Brooker says he's already spotted fictitious plot twists mirrored in real life. He says, "I remember saying when we started our new season 'I don't know if any of this stuff will come true' but just the other day, I read something where it looks like Hitachi or somebody is already doing something that we're doing a show about. So, we shall see."
Featured image: Charlie Booker and Annabel Jones.
Rumoured to be the most expensive television show ever produced, the first series of Netflix’s lush period drama The Crown delves deep behind the palace doors into the events around Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. Director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot), chats to The Credits about how the idea for The Crown came about, diverting from the truth, why season two is ‘so f*cking interesting’ and why he doesn’t think the Queen should watch the show.
Congratulations on the success of The Crown. I thoroughly enjoyed it- along with everyone else. Actually, I accidentally introduced my mother to binge watching via The Crown. She's 69 and I set her up with a Netflix account and I came back six hours later and she was still watching it.
No, really? That's funny.
I guess that was the idea really, wasn't it? To attract a different demographic to the Netflix model.
Yeah, I think that was part of Netflix's motivation. I can't speak for Netflix but if I was Netflix, I'd try to get the older folks interested, even if the technology's a little bit challenging for them.
Oh she figured it out, don't worry. She started complaining about having to wait ten seconds for the next episode to load.
So, tell me a little bit about how the idea for the show came about. It was born from your work with writer Peter Morgan on the play The Audience. What was the original idea that you started to flesh out?
Well, for a TV show it was just a continuation, really, of our interests in the Queen and her sisters, which started on the stage. When we finished the play, Peter and I both thought, well there's probably more in this because we've got further to go on this journey. It's interesting her relationships with 12 prime ministers [during her reign]. Originally, we were going to focus much more on her relationships with the prime ministers but once we started getting into the subject matter, we got fascinated with the family and the huge problems, the tensions and the pressures on this family that we never destined to be the royal family. She wasn’t born to be queen. It was the great scar, the abdication of 1936, and then the terrible consequence of the early death of her father. All of these subjects, you know we have a very young queen, very inexperienced queen: a young woman with a very ancient prime minister.
John Lithgow is Winston Churchill in The Crown. Courtesy Netflix.
She really is thrust into this role isn’t she?
Yes, you have an inexperienced woman becoming queen far too early, in many senses, and it puts incredible strain upon her marriage. A complicated family anyway, and then this woman growing into her role over the years and finding her way and then becoming the most famous woman in the world. But also the most visible woman and the most invisible woman at the same time. It was endlessly fascinating. We all think we know them. We've all been brought up with them but actually we don't know them at all.
Claire Foy is Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. Courtesy Netflix.
You're obviously a fan of history, is the royal family something that you are particularly interested in? How do you think showing what’s happening during this period of her life serves as a refection on what's happening today?
No, I am particularly interested in the royal family. I'm fascinated with the history of post-war and the post-war story generally and seeing it through this prism is endlessly fascinating but again it's the issue of a family you think you know but actually you don't know at all. We're very well serviced by a brilliant team of researchers. We tend to know everything. Every scene that you see that we depict, we tend to know if it happened, when it happened. If we do divert from the truth, we tend to know what we're making up and what we're not making up. It is existentially a projection.
You are imagining a lot of conversations that happened. What is the trick to making them feel authentic?
Well, you have to follow your own instincts really. That what you think is true. I mean it's not a documentary. We're not pretending to give an accurate portrait of the Queen. This version happens to be our version of the Queen. So, you’re treating your version of the Queen, whether it's actually accurate for her or not. I don't know but what's interesting is however much you want to criticise or challenge them, it's quite hard to undermine her because you tend to be fascinated by this extraordinary character and her steadfastness and her commitment to service still feels pretty incredible.
L-r: Director Stephen Daldry and Matt Smith. Courtesy Netflix.
I read somewhere that you said that you hoped that the Queen herself wouldn’t actually watch the show.
Yeah, I mean maybe she has, maybe she hasn't. I've got no idea but if somebody said they're going to make up a version of my life I don't think I’d like to watch that.
You are dealing with a lot of narrative strands. There are lots of avenues that you can go down telling this story. How did you streamline that? How did you decide what to keep and what to cut out?
Well, you know it's an amazing, multi-faceted story. We could spend 40 hours telling the first season, which was 10 hours. There's so many different strands to the story. In the end, the choice actually has to be with Peter Morgan, the writer. So really we can suggest areas to him and, like you say, things that I'm interested in but in the end a lot of it’s what Peter finds fascinating. The great joy of long-form drama is that you have got the time and the space to explore narratives and characters that aren’t just about royal family situations, like the fog in episode four. The episode uses the great London fogs of the 1950s as a backdrop to what happens to Churchill and the secretary, which is a made up story.
You signed up to see this story through to the present day. Is it something that you and Peter excited about, telling that story all the way through? Is there a particular period that you really keen to get your hands on?
I think that at the moment Peter feels that it's a huge mountain to climb.
Ha. So he’s ready to give up?
Yeah, and do something else. But the story continues to yield and continues to excite and give, so I suspect we will carry on. The thing that interests me with the royal family is that they're not always popular. The Queen's popularity at the moment is very high but that’s not always been the case. There have been real highs and lows and the family's come under incredible pressure along the way. So it's not necessarily an easy journey that they've been on.
You do have to some nasty stuff coming up! Can you tell me a bit more about season two?
There's some nasty stuff coming up. The disintegration of Princess Margaret as she starts going through her different marriages and the pain of that I think is quite awful. We spent a lot of the second season talking again about their marriage and the complications of that marriage and not knowing whether it's going to continue or not, even though that we know that it will continue. It's so f*cking interesting that when you're watching you're going, ‘Oh my God, is this marriage going to fall apart?’ Then, it's surely this huge, you've still got this problem it goes right the way through season one and then season two is this rogue uncle in Paris who abdicated but who still keeps popping up and you can't stop that now. It keeps occurring. There's a big section of season two where the problems of the Duke reappear once again and that's another big problem for this family. Plus, again you've got the ‘60s coming in. You've got a whole new world order and the end of- if you like- deference. At the end of deference is quite a hard thing for the whole country to come to terms with.
Vanessa Kirby is Princess Margaret. Courtesy Netflix.
Obviously the success of the show hinges quite a lot on choosing the right cast. How did you decide on Claire Foy for Queen Elizabeth? She does a wonderful job. Was that a long process or did you know she was the one early on?
No, I didn't know that actually. I'd seen her in shows but I didn't know her personally. It came down to a couple of actresses but we knew Claire from her work. As soon as she started screen testing, it was her pretty quickly. She's amazing and then as soon as we put her in the same room as Matt Smith, it was [obvious].
You’re a busy man with a lot of other projects going on. What's up next for you? I understand that you're taking on Wicked the movie as well?
Yeah, but I'm doing a couple of plays in London at the Young Vic Theatre first of all. Then we’ve got season three of The Crown to worry about and Wicked, if it comes in. Then a new film for Working Title [the story of Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini who saved a dinghy of refugees]. So, it's busy. There's always a lot to do. Just see all the cars backed up at the end of the day.
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