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'Black Mirror' creator: 'It used to be the future that was unpredictable...now it's the present'




Black Mirror executive producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones at Netflix 2016 Summer TCA at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, in Beverly Hills, CA.
Black Mirror executive producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones at Netflix 2016 Summer TCA at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, in Beverly Hills, CA.
Eric Charbonneau/Netflix

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You know you’re living in strange times when a science fiction show has become a touchstone for certain moments in real life. Such is the case with the Netflix series "Black Mirror."

The show's bizarre depiction of a world in the not-so-distant future reveals an often disturbing look at how technology may or may not be helping us navigate our social, political and emotional lives.

A scene from episode titled
A scene from episode titled "Nosedive" is season 3 of the Netflix series, "Black Mirror."
Photo credit: Netflix

"The more chaotic the world, the more sane our show looks," says Annabel Jones, executive producer of "Black Mirror." She and the series creator, Charlie Brooker, run the show.

The two were recently in Los Angeles and spoke with The Frame's host, John Horn. Ahead of the interview, we asked our Twitter followers if they had questions for Brooker, and Carolyn Vallejo simply wanted to know: "Are you okay?"

We offered her query to Brooker and here's what he said:

That's a question I ask myself on a minute-by-minute basis. Yeah, I think I am. I think I am. I think I'm fine, it's just that we live in a bewilderingly terrifying world. I'm a worrier, basically. And so one of the things I worry about is technology and its impact on our lives, but generally I love technology. I think I am probably a lighter soul than you might imagine from some of my output. 

It was a fair question to ask given that the material in "Black Mirror" can skew quite dark. After all, the very first episode of the first season, titled "The National Anthem," involves a fictional Prime Minister of England who is asked to fulfill a most unusual and sexually explicit ransom demand in order to free a kidnapped duchess. The trailer below will say more:

 

Brooker describes "The National Anthem" as a "very dark comedy" with "an impish sense of humor." He tells The Frame that fans of the show find it very divisive and will often tell their friends not to start with that one, lest it turn them off to the series as a whole.

That's not to say that the show is all doom and gloom. As Jones explains: "Within the 'Black Mirror' canon, there are some beautifully positive, tender love stories, some optimistic tales. So it's a healthy amount of skepticism and despair, but not always pessimistic."

Interview highlights:

On how the bizarre events of real life make it more challenging to surprise viewers:

Charlie Brooker: To take a step back from, obviously, the raw animal terror of existing in a world in which things are constantly shifting and changing, it does mean that it used to be the future that was unpredictable. And now it's the present that is extremely unpredictable. So as a storyteller, dealing with stories that are often set in the near future, that's I guess advantageous that people are now primed to expect literally anything to happen. It's also a challenge cause it's a sort of bar that you've gotta clear. The bar for what constitutes outrageous or bizarre is differently placed now than it was probably 10 minutes ago ... So it's a giddy time to be alive. We don't tend to look at the news, though. We don't tend to look at the news and think, What's the 'Black Mirror' take on that? We always approach it as a human story or as a sort of amusing what-if story and kind of work backwards from there. 

Annabel Jones: Often the stories are very small and very personal and about one person's journey, for want of a better word. So often you know you're taking an observation or a thought, or an exaggerated thought, and pursuing that.

On how making the show is like recording an album or curating a film festival:

Brooker: We are obviously aware when we're putting a season together that we want a good mix. It's kind of like putting together an album or curating a film festival, in that you want a mix of genres and tones. And we actually approach them like we're doing different genre pieces in a way. So [the episode] "Nosedive" is a sort of social comedy; "San Junipero" is a coming-of-age romance. And then we've also got episodes in there which are police procedural sort of mystery thrillers, and a war movie. So we kind of approach it like that so that we constantly, hopefully, leave you so you don't know what kind of room you're wandering into.

On what it's like to hear people say things like, I feel like I'm in a Black Mirror episode, to describe things going on in their own lives:

Brooker: It's both flattering and terrifying, because often what's happening in the show is not ideal for the people involved in the story. It's certainly gratifying that the show seems to have resonated with people enough that it's made enough of an impact on them, that they've remembered it in times of great distress (laughs). So in that respect, I always used to say things like, This is like "The Twilight Zone," isn't it?... So to become a kind of kind of despairing buzzword is good.

On whether a more chaotic world might actually be good for the success of "Black Mirror":

Brooker: I'd have to be really detached from my own existence to [think], Well, I see that Sweden has just been nuked, but on the plus side... You know, I'd have to be quite demented to think like that ... As long as people have sturdy broadband connections, that's the main thing. And have time to watch shows and aren't just out foraging for food and fighting radioactive scorpions in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, I think we're okay.

Jones: There are no spoilers there for season four.

To hear the full interview with Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, click the blue player above.



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