April 9, 2019
Love Death + Robots creator Tim Miller discusses the process of making an animated anthology for adults and pushing creative limits.
April 9, 2019
Love Death + Robots creator Tim Miller discusses the process of making an animated anthology for adults and pushing creative limits.
The anthology series is a love letter to animation and artistic flair.
April 2, 2019
Love, Death & Robots transcends genres. It doesn’t want to be categorized, or appeal to niche markets. Instead, the broad appeal of Netflix’s animated anthology series ensures that there’s something for everyone. (Read our Love, Death & Robots review.)
For Tim Miller, creator and executive producer on Love, Death & Robots, this approach was a key aspect of the series’ development. It’s a vow that the show retains, and sits perfectly with the punchy, unconnected stories that Love, Death & Robots has brought to a wider audience.
“It really was designed to be something for everyone,” Miller told IGN, “which means a pretty broad spectrum of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and fantastic fiction. I think I chose a few more sci-fi ones because that’s where I lean a little more heavily, but we tried very hard to balance it.”
That balance is what makes Love, Death & Robots a unique Netflix property. Taking inspiration from other anthologies, such as the iconic comic book series Heavy Metal, the show is a celebration of various short stories by acclaimed authors like Alastair Reynolds, Joe Lansdale, and John Scalzi.
Led by Miller’s own animation studio Blur, the production involved 13 studios and animators from nine countries. Tasked with bringing Miller’s handpicked stories – 16 pre-existing ones, and two original tales that were written for the series – to life, each studio’s drive and love for their craft is evident in the sheer diversity of animation styles and art forms on display.
How did you get involved in Love, Death + Robots?
Tim: This show has been my dream project for as long as I can remember, but the real story starts when I met David [Fincher] in 2005. I showed him a long list of projects I wanted to do, one of which was an adult animated anthology. He loved it. We originally developed it as a feature film, and we planned to animate the entire thing at Blur… but it never gained traction. But, when DEADPOOL came out, it became clear that there’s an audience for this kind of material. We seized the moment and decided to bring the adult anthology back as a series. Netflix was in. And now it’s so fucking cool to see how much people love this show and this kind of material, because it’s the stuff I grew up on.
Jed: Blur has been making game trailers and cinematics for a long time, always innovating new styles as far as our clients would let us. LOVE, DEATH AND ROBOTS presented us with an incredible opportunity to make stories without restraint, and to fold in amazing partners from around the world we had always admired.
Tim: Jed heavily campaigned to be on this project for years. Which was great because we knew he’d be enthusiastic and lead the charge at Blur.
Jed: The other studios were also enthusiastic to be a part of this anthology because, like Blur, they want to keep evolving and growing. They were all great, CG studios like Digic, Axis, Unit, and Platige. And because they bring different skills and perspectives, the show has something for everyone.
What was it like working with David Fincher, Jennifer Miller, and Josh Donen?
Tim: We have a history with all of them, so it was very easy and comfortable. David first came to Blur because he wanted to develop a game. Our studio is run by artists and he was immediately drawn to that aspect. Josh is David’s longtime collaborator and producer. We’ve known each other for over a decade and have always gotten along and enjoyed working together. Jennifer is the COO of Blur and runs the company, not to mention she’s my wife. Together, all of us had worked on ZODIAC, GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and many other projects. History builds trust, so when David and Josh left for MINDHUNTER, they knew that LOVE, DEATH AND ROBOTS was in good hands.
Dan Evans (The Ringer)
In an excerpt from the new book ‘Best. Movie. Year. Ever.,” David Fincher, Edward Norton, and the minds behind ‘Fight Club’ talk about the bare-knuckled, bloody battle to bring Chuck Palahniuk’s book to the big screen
Sometimes, during their breaks, the men who worked alongside Chuck Palahniuk would gather to talk about where their lives had gone wrong. It was the early nineties, and Palahniuk was employed at a Portland, Oregon, truck-manufacturing company called Freightliner. Many of his colleagues were well-educated, underutilized guys who felt out of sorts in the world—and they put the blame on the men who’d raised them. “Everybody griped about what skills their fathers hadn’t taught them,” says Palahniuk. “And they griped that their fathers were too busy establishing new relationships and new families all the time and had just written off their previous children.”
Palahniuk’s Freightliner duties included researching and writing up repair procedures—tasks that required him to keep a notebook with him at all times. At work, when no one was looking, he’d jot down ideas for a story he was working on. He’d continue writing whenever he could find the time: between loads at the laundromat or reps at the gym or while waiting for his unreliable 1985 Toyota pickup truck to be fixed at the auto shop. The result was a series of “small little snippets” about an unnamed auto company employee who’s so spiritually inert, so unsatisfied, that he finds himself attending various cancer support groups, just to unnumb himself. He soon succumbs to the atomic charisma of Tyler Durden, a mysterious figure whose name had been partly inspired by the 1960 Disney movie Toby Tyler. “I grew up in a town of six hundred people,” says the Washington-born Palahniuk, “and a kid in my second-grade class said he’d been the actor in that movie. Even though he looked nothing like him, I believed him. So ‘Tyler’ became synonymous with a lying trickster.”
After meeting Tyler Durden, Palahniuk’s narrator begins attending Fight Club, a guerrilla late-night gathering in which men voluntarily beat each other bloody. Fight Club comes with a set of fixed rules, the most important of which is that, no matter what, you do not talk about Fight Club. Many of the book’s brawlers are working-class guys with the same dispiriting jobs—mechanics, waiters, bartenders—held by some of Palahniuk’s friends. “My peers were conflict averse,” says Palahniuk. “They shied away from any confrontation or tension, and their lives were being lived in this very tepid way. I thought if there was some way to introduce them to conflict in a very structured, safe way, it would be a form of therapy—a way that they could discover a self beyond this frightened self.”
Palahniuk would bring work-in-progress chapters to writing classes and workshops around Portland, holding one successful early reading at a lesbian bookstore. “They wanted to know ‘Is there a women’s version of this?’ he says. “They just assumed Fight Clubs existed in the world and wanted to participate.” Palahniuk, then in his early thirties, had recently seen his first novel get rejected. “I was thinking ‘I’m never getting published, so I might as well just write something for the fun of it.’ It was that kind of freedom, but also that kind of anger, that went into Fight Club.” He’d wind up selling the book to publisher W. W. Norton for a mere $6,000.
Fight Club’s quiet 1996 release came just a few years after the arrival of the so-called men’s movement, in which dissatisfied dudes looking to reclaim their masculinity would gather for all-male retreats in the woods. They’d bang drums and lock arms in the hope of escaping what had become a “deep national malaise,” noted Newsweek. “What teenagers were to the 1960s, what women were to the 1970s, middle-aged men may well be to the 1990s: American culture’s sanctioned grievance carriers, diligently rolling their ball of pain from talk show to talk show.”
Palahniuk’s Fight Club characters, though, were younger and angrier than their aggrieved elders. A few primal scream sessions in the woods weren’t going to cut it. “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t,” Tyler says of his peers, adding “Don’t fuck with us.” It was one of many briskly written yet impactful mission statements in Palahniuk’s book, which earned positive reviews from a few major critics—the Washington Post called it “a volatile, brilliantly creepy satire”—as well as the author’s own father. “He loved it,” Palahniuk says. “Just like my boss thought I was writing about his boss, my dad thought I was writing about his dad. It was the first time we really connected. He’d go into these small-town bookstores, make sure it was there, and brag that it was his son’s book.”
Fight Club wasn’t an especially big performer in its original hardcover run, selling just under 5,000 copies. But before it even hit shelves, an early galley copy reached producers Ross Grayson Bell and Joshua Donen, the latter of whom had produced such films as Steven Soderbergh’s noir The Underneath. Bell was put off by some of the book’s violence, but as he read further, he arrived at Fight Club’s big revelation: the insomniac narrator, it turns out, really is Tyler Durden, and at night he’s been unknowingly leading the Fight Club army raiding liposuction clinics for human fat—first to turn into soap, and then to use for explosives. Eventually Tyler’s hordes of followers begin engaging in a series of increasingly violent acts. “You get to the twist, and it makes you reassess everything you’ve just read,” says Bell. “I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep that night.” Looking to make Fight Club his first produced feature, Bell hired a group of unknown actors to read the book aloud, slowly stripping it down and rearranging parts of its structure. He sent a recording of their efforts to Laura Ziskin, who’d produced Pretty Woman and was now heading Fox 2000, a division that focused on (relatively) midbudget films. According to Bell, after listening to his Fight Club reading during a fifty-minute drive to Santa Barbara, Ziskin hired him as one of Fight Club’s producers. “I didn’t know how to make a movie out of it,” said Ziskin, who optioned the book for $10,000. “But I thought someone might.”
Ziskin gave a copy of Palahniuk’s book to David O. Russell, who declined. “I read it, and I didn’t get it,” Russell says. “I obviously didn’t do a good job reading it.” There was one filmmaker, though, who definitely got Fight Club. He was the perfect match—a guy who viewed the world through the same slightly corroded View-Master as Palahniuk; who could attract desirable actors; who could make all of Fight Club’s bodily fluids splatter beautifully across the screen. And he wasn’t afraid of drawing a little blood himself.
Order Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster). On sale: April 16, 2019
David Fincher’s serpentine thriller exists in a dangerous, hermetic world of chicanery and artifice.
“…from any given body of fictional text, nothing necessarily follows, and anything plausibly may.”
—William H. Gass, “The Concept of Character in Fiction”
What is The Game?
“The eternal question,” an unnamed character intones, when he is asked this by its newest player, Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas), a middle-aged millionaire unaccustomed to befuddlement. Mainstream critics, who similarly dislike being perplexed, didn’t quite know what to make of the film when it premiered in 1997: responses were tepid and noncommittal, and, despite its $100 million box office draw, it has long been considered a minor work in David Fincher’s oeuvre, ensconced between the seminal Se7en (1995) and the belatedly-loved Fight Club (1999). It is a film that is at once subtle and silly, whose perfunctory reputation belies the virtuosic craftsmanship evident in every shot, and the careful, studious attention paid to diminutive, seemingly insignificant details. The serpentine thriller exists in a dangerous, hermetic world of chicanery and artifice, a solipsistic world of glass towers that glint like grand statements and businessmen with flatlined lips—men who have everything but understand nothing. Nicholas, a successful man in a gray suit, receives a surprise birthday visit from his cut-up brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Conrad, who wryly goes by the pseudonym “Seymour Butts,” gives Nicholas a special gift, a certificate for an enigmatic “game,” the rules of which are obtuse, and whose purpose is nebulous. What else do you get the man who has everything except something that he can’t understand? Conrad is, essentially, gifting Nicholas with confusion, something with which Nicholas, who lives a sealed-off life, is unfamiliar. The Game is run by a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS), whose logo is a Penrose triangle, an intangible object, though this fact goes unmentioned. (The film is replete with such keen minutiae.) Figuring out the object of The Game is the object of The Game, but luxuriating in the details of The Game is the purpose of Fincher’s film.
Joe Tuttle is well known amongst the fans of David Fincher’s Netflix show Mindhunter, for his role as FBI Agent Gregg Smith in both seasons 1 and 2. He has also appeared on other top-rated shows such as The Blacklist and Unforgettable. Joe and I had an in-depth conversation discussing his influences growing up, his career, and so much more.
JT: My secret weapon is my wife, she’s not an actress but she does have a writing background, so sometimes I think I can get caught up looking at these scripts as an actor like, ‘Oh this could be a really beautiful moment,’ but my wife is always about the writing, sort of, ‘Don’t forget these are human beings.’ It’s nice to have your moment as an actor, but don’t forget, are you really serving the story?
PC: And from speaking to many of the actors on Mindhunter that’s exactly what David Fincher wants when he shoots take after take of the same scene, for you not to play them out as an actor but to be, or react, as you would naturally in real life, and that really ties in to what your wife is saying.
JT: I think that’s part of it… I wish just for one day I could get in the head of David. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like him before; I probably won’t meet anyone like him again. He’s sort of brilliant at all these different things. I think that’s true he does a lot of takes for a lot of different reasons. One of them is certainly because it’s, ‘Okay let’s make the performances kind of finely crafted in a way, sort of uncrafted in a way. We don’t want to see the actor, we want to see a human being having the experience’.
PC: Yeah exactly!
JT: Also another reason David Fincher does a lot of takes is because I think he has a vision and he wants it to be exactly how he visualises it. It’s not always about the actor, sometimes it’s: we are slightly out of focus; it’s the wrong moment; actually I want to change one word, or the lightning is slightly different, or l want to frame up the camera in a different way, or I don’t like the coffee cup you are using, or that chair, we need to switch that out, or the background actors weren’t perfectly in sync. He notices everything, things that no one else would notice!
PC: In shooting numerous takes he wants the scenes to be the best of the best and to be fair it pays off doesn’t it.
JT: I think so. I don’t think David is making movies or TV shows for the 95%. I think people universally love his work and for good reason. He’s not making them for the 95%, he’s making them for that top 5, that top 2% even, who are going to notice these kinds of things. They are going to say, ‘That cup doesn’t make sense in this world. The lighting was a little bit off in that shot,’ or, ‘that background actor didn’t see his mark exactly.’ He’s making it for people like him, who are going to really notice that stuff. And when you do notice a glaring error or mistake, or something that doesn’t seem right, it takes you out of the story. I think he just wants a total immersive experience. He wants you, I presume, to be so involved that you almost forget, so that you really do feel like a fly on the wall, watching these people having these experiences.
PC: I have just interviewed Garry Pastore and his other job, when he’s not acting, is as a set dresser (leadman). He said he notices stuff like a blank wall behind a person which would clearly have a piece of art or a photograph on it in real life.
JT: The trouble with David is it means we notice that stuff now too; he’s sort of a force of nature; he raises everybody’s game. I’ve really noticed that about him – and not just with the actors, but the cinematographer, the technicians, the dolly grip, the sound folk – because he’s operating at such a high level you have rise to the occasion. I think that’s why people are drawn to working with him and will pass up other job opportunities, just to be able to work with David.
PC: I have arranged to have an interview with a guy called Dwayne Barr who operates the A camera dolly grip, because I’m just as interested to get his take on the technicalities of Mindhunter and Fincher, not just actors. I would love to talk to Erik Messerschmidt about cinematography.
JT: He’s a talented guy. It’s the first time in my working life as an actor I’ve been like ‘Wow!’ I wish my education had included more about cameras, editing and lighting. We touched on a lot of that stuff in acting school but wow, the technical aspects of making a TV show or film is frankly probably more important than some stuff we were taught. Just being able to ask the DP or the cinematographer why this, why now? Because I’ve had this work opportunity, I’ve started to notice.
Joe Tuttle (David Noles)
Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):
Ian Vertovec is Supervising Colorist at Light Iron, which he co-founded, a Panavision company specialized in dailies, digital intermediate, archival, and data services for projects originated on file-based motion cameras.