Posted on Friday, March 11th, 2016 by Jack Giroux
The Leftovers is never afraid of showing a little soul-crushing drama. The HBO show is often bleak, but it is about loss and suffering, so why wouldn’t it be? Perhaps the finest and most grueling scene in The Leftovers season two features Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and Erika Murphy (Regina King), slowly poking each other’s wounds, and director Craig Zobel (Z for Zachariah) uses some striking close-ups to fully convey their pain. It’s a powerful moment, one showrunner Damon Lindelof is quite fond of.
Below, read Lindelof’s thoughts on the show’s unconventional style of storytelling, director Mimi Leder‘s work, binge-watching, and more. (Spoilers are discussed).
When a director like Craig Zobel comes in, how much do you and him discuss the style of the show and what it calls?
To be honest with you, I have a couple of visual things that I don’t respond to when it comes to the show. Anything that makes me super conscious of the filmmaking I don’t like, like I don’t like dolly track. I don’t like canted angles for this show. I don’t like angles where we’re looking up at the characters, like low-angle shots and wide-angle lenses for close-ups I just don’t feel like live in the world of The Leftovers.
That said, sometimes the directors do it and I’m like, “Oh, that worked.” I think that the shot that ends the season premiere of Erika sitting at the table is actually a tracking shot where Mimi just did this very slow move back, and I loved it.
And then, same thing in the season finale from season one where… I don’t like crane shots that are just there to show you the arbitrary scope of it, but Mimi found this brilliant crane shot that comes off of dead Patti and then you see Kevin smoking a cigarette next to her. I was like, “Well, I’ll be damned. I love this.”
The rules are there are no rules. I completely trust Mimi to govern the language. I think that the show is like Pete Berg continued his Friday Night Lights aesthetic, which is handheld, three cameras so that you don’t have to shoot a lot of coverage.
The cameramen, our operators are so amazing on The Leftovers. They are storytellers, so they go and they find the story. Then in the editing room you don’t have nine different takes of characters matching. It creates a much more sort of organic feel.
I hate sets like sound stages. I like to shoot a practical location, so it feels like there are real walls and real natural light coming in and ceilings, but it’s a struggle to get a boom mic in there. But when a camera moves through walls and stuff like that, I feel like on a show like Fargo, it’s brilliant because there’s a stylized sort of poetic tone to Fargo. On The Leftovers, it would make me feel like the show was less real in some way.
The more grounded the visual storytelling is, the more out there we can get with our musical choices. I just want the show to feel grounded and real. And again, the show is so pretentious. I don’t want to apologize for that. I want to own it. It’s super pretentious. Like, we’re talking about religion. Pretentious, like surreal, has also become a dirty word. The shows that I love tend to be pretentious.
When people say Breaking Bad is a show about a guy who basically found out that he’s going to die of cancer and he starts selling meth, I want to punch those people in the face because that’s the plot of Breaking Bad, but the show is super pretentious. It’s about everybody has evil inside of them. If given the right set of circumstances, you can turn the most benevolent human into a monster. That’s a pretentious idea. The reason that that show transcended television is because of that, not because it was… It’s the same premise of Weeds, more or less, minus the cancer diagnosis.
For you, what is The Leftovers actually about?
The show is about trying to figure out what to do when there’s no one there to tell you what to do. And so, Tom [Perrotta] talks about it often, where it’s like all religions fail to explain the departure. I think people need a system of beliefs and they want structure. They want someone to tell them, “This is what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to get a job, and the way that you get a job is you go to college. And the way that you go to college is you do well in high school.” There’s a system in place.
When that system completely and totally abandons you, do you grasp onto it anyway or do you try to build a new system?
Ultimately, I could say that the show is about suffering and it’s about loss, because I think that’s where its emotional weight is. When I think that The Leftovers is working at its highest level, like the Erika and Nora scene that you mentioned, you are seeing two women who are suffering very intensely. That’s tapping into something that we feel. It’s emotional suffering because they’ve lost someone that they care about and they don’t understand why that happened. And it’s existential suffering, which is, “I wish that I could believe in a god that would explain to me why this happened to me, but I don’t. And what am I supposed to do with that?”
When Nora in episode six is suffering intensely and Wayne hugs her, the reason that that moment is so emotionally affecting is she is being unburdened by her suffering. The reason that we feel an emotional connection to Kevin while he is singing “Homeward Bound” is because he’s suffering.
I feel like the show, to me, what it’s about is, it’s Job. It’s, is there purpose to suffering? If I suffer enough, will I get a reward? Or is this why we’re here on the planet, to suffer? Is there a lesson to be learned? Can we transcend through suffering? Obviously, The Guilty Remnant, that’s like their whole jam, is creating an environment where they are suffering, but they also want to bring suffering to others.
So yeah, that’s a great logline: season three: more suffering, where that came from.