I had the good fortune recently to watch the first six episodes of DON’T LOOK DEEPER, a new sci-fi thriller series that dropped on Quibi July 27th. The series follows Aisha, a teenage girl who discovers that she’s not completely human and goes down the rabbit hole of finding out where she really comes from and what it means for her life going forward. Director Catherine Hardwicke, co-creator Jeffrey Lieber, and cast members Don Cheadle (Martin), Emily Mortimer (Sharon), and Helena Howard (Aisha) met with moderator Perri Nemiroff on Friday to discuss the series, talking about how they worked hard at making their characters as weird as possible, how the futuristic show relates to our world right now, and the ways that the pandemic will change the entertainment industry.

The panel started with a trippy series trailer, which showcased the stylish look of the series and the heart-pounding story at the heart of the show. I’m excited to see that the second half of the season looks even more disturbing and compelling than what I was able to watch. After the trailer, Lieber discussed the origin of the show, saying that co-creator Charlie McDonnell wanted to explore “how people are perceived and who they want to be.” Lieber went on to say that his own experience as a parent informed the series because he’s fascinated with the experience of growing up and trying to figure out who you are separate from what your parents passed on to you genetically and how they raised you to be. He also credited writer Bianca Sams for bringing a vital perspective as a Black woman who’s much closer to Aisha’s age than either himself or McDonnell.

As a streaming service offered exclusively on phones, Quibi offers horizontal and vertical viewing experiences. Hardwicke said she was intrigued by the challenge and that her mind was blown by the Turnstyle technology: “You can almost be the editor as you’re watching it,” choosing how you want to experience the show from moment to moment. You get a sense of how the characters interact with the environment in landscape mode, whereas you get much “more intimate” in portrait mode with close-ups on characters’ faces.

Mortimer praised the writing, saying that “something exciting happens every ten minutes, and it’s very tight.” This is very true of the first six episodes; each one ended on an incredible cliffhanger. Filming the installments was “like making a really good independent film,” she said. Lieber agreed, saying that they had to be “ruthless” with their storytelling choices in trying to create a compelling narrative that fit the brief installment format.

The panelist all agreed that the show is, at its core, about questions of humanity and identity. According to Cheadle, “All these characters, in a way, are missing pieces and trying to find out who they are.” Mortimer added that it’s a very “dystopian existence that we’re living ourselves, and I feel like there’s something about Aisha’s predicament that…one can really relate to – not as a robot, but as a human that feels like a bit of a robot from time to time.”

The cast discussed their trust and admiration for one another, which was evident in the show. Cheadle said that Mortimer, whose character makes some questionable moral choices, was constantly digging for Sharon’s motivations and “asking the right questions around humanity and who she was and what was driving her.” Mortimer praised Howard’s performance, saying that “her attitude was so punk rock and exciting to be around, and I felt elevated and challenged by it…it was her energy that gave me the confidence to kind of be brave.” Cheadle said the whole cast was experimenting with ways to make the show as strange as possible, and that he gave Hardwicke an editing room mantra of “Keep it weird!”

Hardwicke said that they chose a handheld shooting style to keep the focus on the characters’ humanity. “We really wanted that intimacy and that kind of humanity where you actually almost feel the cameraperson as part of the dance, you know. You can almost feel the cameraperson breathing…it just was more…human.” Lieber said that they had to rethink their whole production approach to fit the Quibi format and that in much the same way the entire industry will have to rethink how it operates in the face of the current pandemic: “I think it’s a burden on us, but it’s also a huge opportunity. Because there’s a ton of stuff – and Catherine’s really good at this – of saying, ‘Why do we do this this way?’ Because the process itself was totally different than what we’re used to doing.”

For more on DON’T LOOK DEEPER, check out our review here. The first three chapters of DON’T LOOK DEEPER are now available on Quibi. A new chapter will be released every weekday, concluding with Chapter 14 on August 11.

Jessica Scott
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