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Alex Garland Leaves Nothing Behind

The writer-director of ‘Annihilation’ talks about his new movie, adapting the unadaptable, and how he doesn’t understand why studios give him money

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Some movies hum at a different frequency. The writer-director Alex Garland makes movies that titter, skip, and eventually roar in a way that is vastly different from other modern science fiction. His debut, 2015’s precise and economical Ex Machina, was an exploration of artificial intelligence that became a surprise hit and Oscar winner. His latest, Annihilation, is an adaptation of the novelist Jeff VanderMeer’s bestselling book, though Garland takes some fascinating liberties with the story. Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, and Tessa Thompson star as explorers and scientists on a mission to explore a colorful, spectral disturbance called “The Shimmer” that is engorging a mass of land in the American South. The closer they get to the Shimmer, the more horrifying it becomes.

On the latest episode of my podcast, The Big Picture, Garland and I talked recently about the making of this unusual and masterful movie, his early days as a novelist and screenwriter of movies like 28 Days Later… and Sunshine, and a lot more. Here is an edited version of that conversation.


After Ex Machina, and the success of that movie, did you have a sense of the kind of film you wanted to do next?

No, not really. But I do think that I always react against the thing I just did. Before Ex Machina was a film called Dredd, which is a kind of drug-fueled, ultraviolent psychotic movie, very different than Ex Machina. And then before Dredd was Never Let Me Go, which is a small, sad, and contained literary adaptation. So there’s always a sense of trying to avoid what you just did, and move against what you just did. But past that, not really.

Did that extend to when you were writing the novels? Were you always trying to do something that was completely different from the last thing?

I think that’s always been the case, yeah. Yeah, definitely, actually. The first film I ever wrote was 28 Days Later…, and that was a reaction against the book I’d just written, and also, in a funny way, the film adaptation of The Beach, which was a book I’d written — the first book I’d written. Which I thought was soft in some respects, and I wanted more aggression and some more punk attitude in it. So it started all the way back then with 28 Days Later…, as a reaction against that. So it’s not necessarily a reaction against something because it’s bad, it’s a reaction against it because that’s just the place you’ve been, and you get bored.

Did you have control over that, as a screenwriter?

Yeah, partly I think because I came from novel writing. So I just didn’t buy into the whole idea that the screenwriter is being dominated in that respect, because the act of writing is similar, I suppose. You’re coming up with story and themes and characters and, you know, what the characters are doing and why they’re doing it. And so I felt a sort of sense of — I don’t know — not exactly ownership, but responsibility, or something like that. So I was always very involved in those films, all the way through. And actually, by the way, in reality, I think that’s less uncommon than it’s perceived to be. I think we present films in a certain kind of way, but if you lift the lid and look underneath at how the film is made, I think it’s actually more common.

So how does Annihilation come in?

Well, I think because Annihilation is this weird, metaphysical hallucinogenic atmosphere piece, in a funny kind of way. It’s less rigorous. It is actually rigorous, but it’s less overtly rigorous.

Right, it’s not as practical.

Yeah, and Ex Machina is like a little Swiss watch–type film. It’s all cogs and gears and ticking parts.

When did you read the book?

I read it in postproduction of Ex Machina. It was in galley form. One of the producers of Ex Machina had bought it, Scott Rudin, and he sent it to me, and he said, “You should check this out.” And I was still in the edit of Ex Machina. And I read it and immediately I was really struck by it. It’s really an original book, and it’s very atmospheric. And I just said, “Yeah, I’m in.” I had to struggle about it, how to think [about] how to adapt it. But I had a couple of conversations with Jeff [VanderMeer], and actually I just launched into it. And I started writing it pretty promptly.

Was there anything that you did on Ex Machina that you didn’t want to repeat?

No, I think process is dictated by the project. So, say in a case like Ex Machina … in a way it’s crass talking in these terms, but there’s a practical truth to it. Ex Machina is a $15 million film, with a six-week shoot, with a very small cast and a single location. It’s four people in one house. And that actually makes it quite manageable. And the weird thing is that we had more time and more resources with Ex Machina than we did with Annihilation, which notionally has a bigger budget, but the budget is what, I don’t know, two and a half times the size of Ex Machina’s. But we’re trying to do something which is six or seven times more complex, in terms of the scale of the cast and the number of locations and the VFX requirements. So on a day-to-day level, the reality of making Annihilation was much more guerrilla filmmaking, by comparison, than Ex Machina was.

Annihilation
Paramount Pictures

Did you know you wanted the scope of your next film to be bigger, regardless?

No, I don’t think in those terms. Just write the thing that grabs you, the thing you’re obsessed with, just do it. And then figure out how to make it. You come up with the idea and then you figure out how to do it. And then an enormous amount of how to do it becomes what the film is, in a weird way.

What obsessed you in this story?

Well, in Jeff’s book, it was the atmosphere. I found that reading the book was a weirdly similar experience to having a dream, and there was something — 

That’s how he wrote it, right? Isn’t that the origin story, where he was dreaming it and he woke up and he went downstairs and he started to write?

That could be, I’d not heard that before. That could be the case. And so initially it was that, it was the book, which I thought was just original and provocative. And separate to that, I had another set of preoccupations. Always the films I work on have got some obsession or another that gets jammed into it. And particularly in the case of Annihilation, it was really about self-destruction. It was about the ways in which people are self-destructive, the hidden ways and the obvious ways, and why it is that all of us are, in some way, self-destructive. I just found it a weird thing. And I don’t know you, you assure me this is the first time we’ve met, although for some reason I think we have met before, but anyway — 

[Laughs] I hope that’s true, and I’ve forgotten.

Whether we’ve met or not, I don’t know you, but I am pretty sure that you are self-destructive in some ways, in some parts.

More than you know, Alex.

Well, exactly. Right? And vice versa. And when you stop to think about it, that’s odd. It’s just an odd thing to observe. And I mean, obviously some people will self-destruct and it’s very obvious. They’re addicted to heroin, or alcohol, or they’re recidivists, or something, and you can see it and it’s straightforward. But then you meet people who are very together, and they seem very comfortable in their own skin, and they’re very self-possessed and they’ve got a great job and everything. It’s like they know the secret of life.

Are you describing me now?

This is you.

OK, great.

And then I get to know you, and I discover that there’s fissures and cracks, and in between the fissures and cracks is really weird behavior. Where you’re like, dismantling an old friendship with a childhood friend — you’re nodding, because that’s exactly what you’re doing.

That may be me.

Yeah, right. [Laughs] And it’s weird. We do these meaningless acts of self-destruction. So anyway, that became the fixation of the movie.

When you talked to Jeff about the book, and you say, “Oh, this is something that compels me about it,” are you guys in agreement, or is it OK if you have a different interpretation?

Um … I hope we’re OK. Jeff was very generous about it. I said to Jeff, “I don’t know how to do a faithful adaptation of your book. I just literally don’t know how to do it. And if what you need is a faithful adaptation, then you will need someone else, because I’m not the guy who’s going to be able to do that.” And Jeff was really generous and relaxed, and in a way gave me the permission that I needed to make this rather weird adaptation of his really beautiful book. And yeah, you’d probably have to ask him. I think so.

I thought that the changes that you made were fascinating and worked really well. When I read the novel, I couldn’t understand how it would be a film, so it’s fascinating to me that Scott [Rudin] thought of it as a film, and that you immediately responded to it. When you make changes like that, especially as a person who has been adapted and knows what that process is like — 

— and knows that it can suck.

Exactly. How do you explain some of those things to an author? Do you even feel like you have to, or do you just go off and do your thing?

No, I try to explain it. Not in terms of the specifics of the changes, because I think that’s … you can only really demonstrate that with the changes themselves. You can’t say, I’m gonna do this and this and this. … What I did was I just wrote it and I showed it to Jeff and said, ‘Look, this is what I came up with.’ But as much as possible, I try to be transparent about intention and process. I just try to be straightforward, and I think the key way to get around creatively complicated things is primarily honesty.

You described the shooting as obviously a little bit more difficult because you had this huge scope and this story and more actors and you’re outside for much of the film.

Just on a technical level it was more difficult, yeah.

Did you have a sense that it would be that much of a challenge when you started making the film?

Yeah, because I’ve been doing this 20 years now and I know if I write “INT. Podcast Room, Day” and it’s this room here …

“Delightful conversation,” that’s all you have to write.

Exactly, and then say to the actors, “Get on with it, see you later.” Shooting the scene in many ways is going to be straightforward. You can find some interesting angles, but basically we’re gonna end up with some conventional stuff like a wide [shot] and a couple of singles and some mids, and there’ll be some sort of familiar grammar to it. And conversely if you say, “EXT. Swamp, Mutant Bear, Day,” except it’s not day, it’s psychedelic twilight, then things are gonna be tricky.

So you have to literally invent a different consciousness, a different reality.

Yeah. I think it all flowed from Jeff’s book, really. But there was a lot of requirement for unexpected imagery that would be beautiful and maybe disturbing often at the same time, and it didn’t give us too many safe spaces to retire to. If you’re doing a political thriller that has a car chase in it, there’s some familiar grammar that you can latch onto, and then you can find a great stunt supervisor and mess with the grammar and subvert it, but you’re on, in some respects, familiar territory. Roads, cars, speed, hand-brake turns, whatever it is.

There’s no grammar for mutant bears, though.

There’s probably some, if you hunt around. But yeah, basically.

Did you reference films before you started working on this? Did you have some things you looked back on?

Yeah, but it’s all very untrustworthy.

Why do you say that?

Because when people say, “What are your references?” or “What are your influences?,” it’s often a rationalization and it’s usually just a list of stuff you like, rather than the actual influences. And so much, much later, somebody says, “You know, this scene sort of reminds me of X,” and suddenly you think, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true, that is where it comes from, it is an influence of that thing.” And the real influences tend to be more unconscious than conscious. But, you know, while we were making it, there was a bunch of films we’d talk about. Stalker, Apocalypse Now, Southern Comfort, which provided various reference points. But the real reference points were probably a bit more obscured.

How did you go about designing the actual look of some of this stuff? Because we are entering essentially a new world. The Shimmer, which is a huge part of the story, needs to be visually executed; it’s not just an idea in a book anymore.

Well, the true answer to that is that I write a script and then I distribute the script amongst the collective of people I work with, some of whom I’ve worked with for two decades, including, crucially, with regard to that question, the production design team. And then what happens is a rolling conversation where a bunch of people are saying, what about this, what about that. Rob [Hardy], the DOP, started trying some things to do with forcing certain kinds of lens flares to create prismatic effects. Andrew [Whitehurst], the VFX supervisor, started looking at how light can be diffused through different things and how that could be created. And likewise, the production design team and [Michelle] Day, who’s one of my most important but most hidden allies. … She’s someone who, I’m always getting credit for her work, but [she’s] very, very visual, works in production design, and found beautiful images like a jet plane where the water droplets in the vapor trail were diffusing the light and creating strange rainbow effects. And that collective of people who are all working together but are also all autonomous start an organic evolution, which is via a large interdepartmental conversation, that ends up being the film.

Have you personally thrown yourself headlong into some of the more technical aspects of filmmaking? Because I think people hear, “Well, he was a novelist and then he was screenwriter for many years.” Obviously you were on sets, but making a film like this is quite complex. So do you feel like you have a grasp of how every single element works?

No. I have a grasp of how the key elements that I am really concerned with work. You’re in a difficult position, say, with visual effects or with music if you don’t understand some of the mechanics of how it’s created. … There may be two solutions to a VFX problem, and if you have some understanding of the processes involved, you’ll understand why the VFX team is leaning toward one version and not the other. In the case of music, understanding how the stems can be separated out or you can use them to feather in a bit of music or whatever it happens to be … all of that is very useful. But it’s not to take away from the primacy of the department that is doing that thing, it’s more just to be able to have a meaningful conversation with them. I see the process as being like a parallax view of a mountain range. As you shift your perspective, some peaks recede or grow in importance or shrink into the distance, rather than a simple pyramid structure, a monolith pyramid structure. I don’t want to sound like me knowing a little bit of technical knowledge is taking away from the departments. The departments are basically autonomous but involved in a conversation which we’re all sharing.

This is masterful leadership, though.

It’s the absence of leadership, I think. In some ways, maybe because I’m 47 and because punk arrived at a certain time in my life or something like that, some notion of anarchy has located itself …

You’re dubious of the authority of the auteur.

I’m dubious of authority full-stop. I don’t like pyramid structures anywhere. I find them irritating. The key thing is that there is a notion of anarchy, which is like, not chaos, but actually something slightly more collegiate and …

An organized lack of order.

A benign lack of order, a friendly one. Where you’ve got a common goal, you’re all aiming in the same direction, and you get on with it in your own ways.

I love that. How’d you put the cast together? Why these people?

Well, it varied slightly. Oscar Isaac, I just adore him, and I really like working with him. I like him as a human, and I think he’s an incredibly gifted actor, and I’d worked with him before, so there was a straightforward aspect to that. Natalie Portman had a quality that I was really keen to get, which relates actually to the thing we were just talking about, the different sorts of self-destruction models you can have. She has enormous poise and a sense of control, but she also has the ability to, within that sense of poise and control, display glimpses, flashes, and then great explosions of damage, and it was particularly the coexistence of those two states that was important. And with Tessa [Thompson] and Gina [Rodriguez] and Tuva [Novotny] and Jennifer [Jason Leigh], it was much more just old-fashioned casting. I sat in a room in Hollywood and in came Tessa, and she gave an absolutely unbelievable reading and she was so smart and articulate and the performance was really … it was so precise, but also so … generous, and free-spirited in a funny way. Anyway, I just thought it was perfect. And so that’s just like old-fashioned casting. You just think, “Oh my god, she’s amazing.”

She fits.

Yeah, and then you want to run down the corridor and say, “Look, look, you’ve got the part. Just don’t go away. Come back.”

Is it important for you that — obviously, with someone like Oscar, who you have a relationship with and who understands your work, this doesn’t have to happen — with someone like Natalie, do you have to have a series of conversations where you say, “This is what this film is,” or, “You tell me what you think this film is, and then we’ll see if this makes sense”?

Yeah, but it wasn’t a series, it was one. It was one long conversation. It was a long time before we started shooting. I mean, really a long time. We met and she’d read the script and she’d watched Ex Machina, and we just sat down and I said, “Look, here’s the plan.” And a lot of what we talked about actually was process. I said like, “This is the intention and this is how I work, and do you think that’s a way you would fit in with?” It was that sort of conversation. But the thing about someone like Natalie Portman is that she’s, in many respects, a demonstrated known quantity. Natalie — when’s the first time I saw her in something? She was probably like 11, in Léon or something. I mean, that’s really a long time ago. That’s a lot of films.

We all have a relationship with her in some way.

Well, kind of, exactly. You feel like you know much more about them than they know about you — well, certainly, in fact. So a lot of it is just trying to say, “This is the project, this is how it will work, and are we talking the same language? Have we got the same grammar of communication between each other?,” as much as anything else.” Because I didn’t really have any doubt on the technical-ability front, it wasn’t that, it was like: Is it going to be a good fit in process?

I was thinking recently about if you ever go back and look at the films that you’ve written but didn’t direct and if you thought about how you might have done those films differently if you were directing? Not to undermine the people who actually directed those films, but because now you’ve taken on a bigger film with a bigger budget, is there a part of you that says, “I actually might have done this differently”?

That’s a complicated question. It’s difficult for me to answer it too honestly. I mean, I try not to bullshit when talking and so if I feel like I’m about to, I try and dodge the question. There are various reasons why it would be difficult for me to answer that question. And you say it’s not to be undermining, and I understand the spirit in which you’re asking the question, but it inevitably involves me saying, “That thing in the film, by my terms, was wrong.”

I ask specifically because of the experience you have now that maybe you didn’t have when you were on set 10 years ago working on a film.

I would say that broadly what happened was, the first guy I worked with was Danny Boyle. And Danny is someone who is not intimidated by writers, and not intimidated by having them around. So he wanted me on the set, I was in rehearsals, and I was in the edit, and that was because Danny is basically not neurotic. And because that was my schooling in film, I just carried that through. If then somebody said, “I’m not sure I want you in rehearsals,” I’d be like, “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m going to be in the rehearsal.” Because my schooling came from Danny. So anyway, it’s difficult to talk about that.

Makes sense. That’s interesting, though. Do you still have a good relationship with Danny?

Oh, yeah.

And does he see your films?

Yeah, yeah. I showed him an early cut of [Annihilation] and wanted to know what he thought. I can get a lot of insight from Danny because we’ve got a long whole history. I mean, it goes back more than 20 years. And so we don’t have to dance around each other, and we can say simply, “Why’d you do that?” or “Why don’t you just cut that?”

I’m interested in how you write the metaphysical in a screenplay. That’s obviously a huge part of this story. How are you able to convey what you want to see on screen in that format?

Sometimes it was difficult, because language is not as precise as we think it is. I often think about lawyers and judges, and I think, so here you have people dealing with words that are written in order to be as clear as possible. And yet you have an entire industry of judges whose job it is to interpret the words that are trying to be clear. And that tells you a lot about language. And so when you’re dealing with abstractions, you can feel like you’re in a mad loop, where you’re saying something as clearly as possible but everyone’s looking at you blankly and you just don’t know what to do with it, because now you’re running out of tools that are available to us for communication. I’m not psychic. It’s a weird problem. What often used to happen, particularly between me and Andrew Whitehurst, the VFX supervisor, and also with the production design team, is we’d have sheets of paper and drawings and we’d just be drawing stuff. Because in a weird way, a drawing can quickly convey something [where] the words would have just never gotten you anywhere.

I ask because — and I think it’s not spoiling anything just to say that the final third of the film, especially the end of the film, is a visual and oral experience that I have a hard time visualizing what it even looks like in a script.

Yeah. I can’t even remember how — some of it would not be contained in the script, it would come out of the conversation and the collective. And one of the problems with attributing ideas is that ideas usually come out of a preexisting conversation. So if somebody says, “Why don’t we do this,” if the preceding conversation hadn’t happened, then they wouldn’t say that. So where do you attribute the idea to? It’s just part of an organic process. But say, at a certain point in preproduction, with regard to a certain moment of notional combat between Natalie Portman’s character and a manifestation of herself, you start to think, “Why is that so many stories end up with a punch-up?” Like it could be a verbal punch-up in a courtroom or it could be a physical punch-up in a bar or the edge of a cliff, or it could be a gunfight, or a helicopter chase, whatever it is. It’s a punch-up.

A physical showdown.

Basically. And where does that come from? And seeing the ritualistic aspect of it, and the aspect of it that’s like a dance, and thinking you know what, let’s make this literally like a dance. Let’s get Sonoya Mizuno, who I’d worked with on Ex Machina and who is an incredibly gifted actor but also incredibly gifted dancer and can communicate an enormous amount physically, and polar-opposite Natalie, who’s also got a lot of interest in dance, and start to create a sequence that way. And let’s not be shy about it. Let’s just fucking do it.

I hadn’t quite put together the thread of choreography that happens with the last film and with this film, too. There’s some synchronicity to those two things.

Oh, hugely, actually. I think dance is a really fascinating thing. And that aside, I often try to reach a point in scripts where they become dialogue-less. And key sequences no longer require talking, they’re just things that you observe and experience.

Why do you do that?

Well, just ’cause I dig it. I just dig it. It’s fun. I mean, it’s cool. I don’t know what the word is, it’s not fun or cool. I take both of them back. It’s just — it’s powerful.

Compelling.

Yeah. That it can be mesmerizing. And you leave behind all the discourse, and there’s something really lovely about that. There had been elements of that in Ex Machina, and this was an expanded version of that element.

Ex Machina
A24

One of the things, in rewatching Ex Machina, that I really responded to was some of the characters’ incredible ability to explain things in compelling ways. To use exposition, but as a means to explaining a character’s motivations, the things that they’re interested in. This movie, there is a little bit more — 

Just to say, it’s a funny thing about exposition being a dirty word. But that is what we do a lot of in life.

Yes, we’re doing it right now.

We’re doing it right now. And we do it with any number of different things.

I think it’s because most exposition is bad, and when people are watching it they know right away that, “Oh, this character is going to tell us what’s going to happen so that we’re situated in the next scene.”

Yeah, something like that. Because it’s unmotivated by any truth of the character, so you often get … I was watching this sort of film not that long ago actually where there were some people running toward a bridge where they were going to set charges on and blow up. And as they were running they were saying, you set the charge over here and then do that … and you discuss all that before you ran.

There was a plan.

You must’ve had a good half-hour before where you could’ve gone through all that stuff, and so in moments like that you can feel all the artifice and the story is creaking under it and you lose the sense of truth, but you know some people in a room who are trying to get their head around whether something is sentient or not, well, they’re going to talk about it. That’s legit.

That’s reasonable. I was responding to it because there’s a quest for truth and exposition in this story that is a little hard to land on.

In Annihilation?

Yes, and quite purposefully it seems like.

Yeah, it’s got a different process. Because in Annihilation — there’s an element of this in Ex Machina but there’s much more of it in Annihilation — it’s that it’s done by inference, not by statement. It requires participation by the audience, in an explicit way. I think if you watch the film with a closed mind or an expectation to be spoon fed in a particular way, it just won’t function. Because the audience has to step to the film as much as the film steps to them, simply because it relies on inference and, if you’re not willing to infer, then none of it will make sense.

Do you feel the weight of that? Making a film for a major studio but a film that is obviously intellectual, for lack of a better word, that asks an audience to work a little bit harder than it normally is asked to?

I really don’t, actually. There’s two reasons. One is the transparency I talk about. I write a script, and when I show the script I’m not kidding. That’s the plan. I’m going to shoot it. So if you don’t like it don’t finance it. It’s a pretty fair contract, it seems to me. But that aside, I don’t think there is any shortage of very, very sophisticated, interesting drama around. I really don’t. I thought Moonlight was an incredibly complicated, sophisticated, beautiful bit of filmmaking on the big screen. I thought Handmaid’s Tale was just a remarkable bit of film narrative on the small screen. Are there intellectual components and moral complexity and deep ambiguity and a requirement for that kind of participation I was talking about in both those films, or film and television series? Absolutely. And they’re not alone, because then you could add a bunch of others.

But your film does have something in common also just more broadly speaking with something like Transformers, because it is a big studio film in a sci-fi wrapper.

It’s not because — I mean… all right, I understand.

It’s not a denigration.

No, no, I totally get it. But the VFX budget for Transformers would be considerably larger than the entire budget of Annihilation. I mean, Annihilation is a $40 million film, which is a massive, massive chunk of change, but it’s a smaller chunk of change than $250 million. And so with that comes different requirements and expectations. However, it is in a danger zone. Right? It’s absolutely in a danger zone because, Ex Machina is a $15 million film that A24 could form and gradually release in a completely different way. Soon as you’re in $40 million, you are actually going toe-to-toe with big movies, which are probably going to annihilate you. And so, yeah, there’s a broad truth to what you’re saying, but there’s, I don’t know, a slight issue with the comparison. But I get what you’re saying.

How do you define success for a film like Annihilation, personally?

Personally, only on the film. On the film itself. I have lost money through film studios more often than I’ve made it. In many respects I don’t know why I keep getting — 

Don’t say that out loud, come on.

No, but I mean it.

I think it’s because people like your films, honestly. I think they like the stories.

Do you know what I think it is? I think it’s because I trick them. I think it’s because I write genre and people see the genre and think, “Oh yeah, maybe this is mainstream.” And then I make it and they go, “Oh, Christ.”

Your films have made money.

Some of them have. You’re gonna want to check out Dredd.

Yeah, but that’s movies.

I’ll tell you what. Sunshine lost the bomb. Dredd lost the bomb. Never Let Me Go lost the bomb. Those three films were back-to-back. Ex Machina made some money, but it really looked like it was going to lose it, and it was a weird surprise for everyone involved. And now Annihilation. That’s not a brilliant track record. I’m not trying to talk myself out of a job.

You shouldn’t.

Well, yeah. No, but it’s just observably true, isn’t it? It’s mysterious to me. I don’t get it. I don’t get why I keep getting financed.

Alex Garland (left) and writer Jeff VanderMeer
Miya Mizuno

Well, given that Jeff’s books are part of a trilogy, is that something you were thinking about as you were making your film? Like, “Maybe this will be part of three films I’ll make.”

No, no. I knew, obviously, because I’m not naive, that studios want franchises. I understood that. But I made it very, very clear that I’m not going to be a person who’s going to be involved in a franchise. And I’m not interested in franchises. I tried it once with Dredd and, in a weird way, was incredibly relieved that I didn’t have to follow through on the promise, because after three years of working on a film, the last thing I want to do is stay in that world. I actually never want to look at the film again, let alone make another version of it.

You never rewatch your work?

I never rewatch any film. I’ve watched snippets of it. Like sometimes when you do a Q&A, the thing’s still showing and so I’ll see like the last five minutes or something like that. But no, no, I’ve never watched a film I’ve worked on.

It was just announced that you’re going to be making a TV show for FX.

Yes. That’s what I’m trying to do next year.

How are you feeling about making that shift to television? You’ve written novels and you’ve written video games, but this is your first proper TV experience.

I feel a bit nervous. What do I think? I think TV’s a great venue for doing obviously not long-form narrative but also some more complex stuff in some respects. And I think of it roughly like, I can see why Taxi Driver’s natural home in the ’70s was big screen and I can see why Breaking Bad’s natural home was a streaming service in the 2000s, or whatever you call it. But I also know, having moved between mediums before, that there’s going to be a lot I don’t know and a lot I don’t understand. I have written it; it’s done. It’s eight parts, eight hours, so the scripts are done. And I’m just about to start soft prep of locations and exploratory casting.

What’s the most fun part for you?

I quite like writing first drafts, because there’s a lot of excitement and optimism in it. But I really like editing. I really, really like editing.

Why?

Because it’s calm and reflective and it’s like doing a massive sequence of super-satisfying crossword puzzles because you’re presented with a problem and you can’t figure out what could possibly be the solution, and when the solutions arrive, they can be so elegant and gratifying. And at the end, there’s the thing that the collective has worked on, all the people have worked on, and then you can just watch it and say, “Look, this is what we all did.” And there’s something nice about that.

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