CS Interview: Director Catherine Hardwicke on Quibi’s Don’t Look Deeper
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown) to discuss her work on the Quibi sci-fi thriller Don’t Look Deeper starring Helena Howard, Don Cheadle, and Emily Mortimer and streamings its first three episodes now!
Looking back at first getting her hands on the script for the project, Hardwicke found there were “multiple things” that drew her into it and wanting to take on the directorial role, describing it as “fascinating” and noting it “taps into several things” she loves exploring.
“Of course, teenage coming of age stories, the search, quest for your identity, who am I, what kind of person am I, and I loved that aspect,” Hardwicke described. “I loved the kind of push/pull, love/hate affair with technology that we all have, and exploring that on another level. How do we feel about technology? And how does it affect our lives? And so, I thought all those topics were really ripe to dig into.”
When it came to working with streaming service Quibi, which had yet to launch when she signed on for the project, she found the most enticing thing about it was “the idea of somebody breaking the rules and disrupting things” and telling audiences and filmmakers to “try something different.”
“Try telling your story in seven to 10-minute bites. Try composing in a vertical format,” Hardwicke explained. “That is a big challenge right there. Anything that helps us kind of think out of the box and out of our ruts I think is kind of excellent. And on many levels, we need to change our thinking right now and just kind of ball our brains way up and be open to new stories, new filmmakers, new everything, new formats.”
With one of Quibi’s big gimmicks being its vertical presentation for mobile devices as much as its 10-minute chunks of programming, Hardwicke found it to be a “huge challenge” creatively and technically in bringing the project to life.
“I’ve been trained as an artist and when you paint a painting or do the drawing, a lot of times you’ll work in a vertical format, a portrait format, because that’s a classic way to show a single person,” Hardwicke related. “And now, to work in a vertical format with moving pictures is different because it’s not all about one person. You’ll notice, or at least I noticed the parts where it was just one person, when we were just with Helena and she’s running, she’s thinking. That was ‘easy’ to compose in a vertical format. But as soon as you have two people interacting, you know, in life we pretty much interact in a horizontal way. You walk into a room, I walk into a room, we walk to each other and talk. So that was a whole new challenge, to figure out how to compose and create powerful images. So yeah, very challenging.”
The 64-year-old writer/director recalled this hurdle to be the most challenging with scenes in which there was a “dynamic confrontation” between characters, in which she would want to film it in the style she’s grown accustomed to, “almost like war photography,” with a camera moving with the characters and “capturing them so you can see when one person says something, the effect it has on the other, without always having to cut away.”
“That’s very difficult to do in a vertical format, because how do you get two faces in?” Hardwicke opined. “Actually, it’s more extreme than the classical-like, Renaissance portrait. It’s a narrower frame even than that. So that was challenging, like how to keep the dynamic, how to feel like you really have the effect of one person’s words on the other. Every one of those scenes were a bit scary for me. Even capturing their argument sequence or fight was of that action sequence specifically a car chase with a car that is a self-driving car, that’s very challenging, too, because again, when you’re filming something, you follow movements of a car or a person running. Or you know, you see distance, you see travel in a longitudinal way. So how do you still feel that intensity and get the geography, understand the geography, understand what you’re watching in a vertical format? That was hard. But I liked the challenge. I mean, that was exciting. We shot it on a landscape format, and knowing, because I’ve done a bunch of tests, knowing that it was going to have to be translated because of vertical. So then, in the editing room, I was basically recomposing the shots, sometimes using a different camera angle. But the sound still had to be synced up. So you couldn’t use a different take of somebody’s dialogue if they didn’t say the words in the exact same cadence, for example. So it was multi-layered challenges. But I liked that challenge. And we somehow succeeded.”
Though she enjoyed the challenge and what came of filming in the vertical format, Hardwicke does admit she’s viewed most of the project in the horizontal format, finding that it’s “what I’m more use to and that give you more scope,” but also noting a positive element to come from the mobile-friendly viewing.
“When you switch it, if you make that choice at some point, I’m going to switch it to vertical, it can create the effect of more intimacy because it’s more than likely going to be more of a close-up or you’re closer in on the person’s face,” Hardwicke explained. “So you don’t see the environment, but you feel like, oh, I’m almost FaceTiming with this person. So I can see either way has some advantages. It was definitely a new world for me.”
Another major challenge Hardwicke and her crew faced in bringing this story to life was the ambitious heights required of its futuristic sci-fi setting and the budgetary limits they faced going in, pointing out that every director “always has bigger ideas” and that she herself wanted to “make the world more expansive” in a similar vein to a certain HBO hit.
“At the same time they were shooting the new season of Westworld, which was set in the future, and so, I was just hearing about all these cool locations they had and all these flying cars and VFX, I’m like, no,” Hardwicke said. “We don’t get that. But that encourages me to innovate in a different way. So because ours was supposed to be set in the near future, not as far in the future as Westworld. Ours is in the near future, and I would just try to find ways to add subtly details like, let the backpacks be glowing, like solar backpacks or the cars. You know, all-electric, and then there’s charger stations scattered throughout subtly. But then, there’s also fun things like solar balloons you see over the school, and just different things that I could kind of take in to just subliminally set that tone that you were ’15 minutes in the future’.”
Though she would have loved to see the universe expanded upon, Hardwicke did find a strong creative collaboration with creator Jeffrey Lieber and writer Charlie McDonnell and finding ways to “translate what’s written on the page” and how she could “make it more cinematic” and “more dramatic.”
“The director brings another layer, another filter, another way of thinking about the script and another way of figuring out transitions and things,” Hardwicke described. “So that is a normal process that Charlie and Jeff and I would work together on certain things. And then, of course, when you have an actor pop in, and especially Don, Emily and Helena, they start really living and breathing those characters, and they have great ideas. Most actors do. Like I’m feeling this at this moment or I don’t know if I would feel that or say that right now. So you workshopped it and I have rehearsals with the actors, physical rehearsals to find how to elevate the script, how to make it better, how to make it fit their visions of the characters, too. So a script is like a living document.”
One of the biggest changes that she found said spawned from this development and tweaking came in the form of Don Cheadle’s character, which she revealed had parts of his back story not quite filled out upon first receiving the script and therefore she worked with the duo and Avengers alum to help flesh him out.
“Don Cheadle is kind of a genius not just as an actor, but as a writer and producer on all the shows he’s done, and many of the projects he’s done,” Hardwicke warmly opined. “So he has very strong kind of genius feelings about the character. And so, we would go through and really work on deepening those scenes, understanding his back story more. What would make this man accept this unique person into his life? Even when he finds out about her situation, he still accepts her and loves her as his own daughter. And what is it in his past that makes him feel that way? You know, and Don would say sometimes his character’s kind of a broken banana bird. I’m like, okay. Fascinating. So how do you carry that through? What does he teach at school? He’s a professor. What kind of professor? So what is his house like? All those things help build the character.”
In building the cast for the series, Hardwicke recalled that “other people were auditioned in a regular way,” with the role of the best friend coming from “a big, cool casting search,” but that Helena Howard, Emily Mortimer, and Cheadle were thought of without any kind of audition or tests.
“I had seen Helena’s work obviously in the beautiful Sundance breakout movie Madeline’s Madeline, and she was so raw and emotional and connected,” Hardwicke described. “You know, really present and truthful, all the great things you could say about an actor. And then, having conversations with her on the phone and Skyping, back in the days of Skyping, like in the old days. So before we knew about Zoom. We’ve connected and she felt like the perfect choice. And then Don and Emily obviously have beautiful bodies of work. But the thing that I think attracted them to this and attracted me to them is they hadn’t really played this kind of character very much before. I don’t think I could say that Don’s played this kind of character with all that kind of damage and the issues and introversion and everything. And also, at least recently I’ve seen him in much more extroverted, super crazy fun roles like Black Monday. Also, Emily’s character of the scientist is just fascinating because I think it fascinated her. She’s so passionate about science and what the possibilities are and what she could create that she’s kind of blind to the ramifications for her creation itself and for other people that would interact with that creature, creation, I should say. So I think she was just excited with such a unique role to play.”
Though she didn’t feel as though she had seen these stars in their roles before, Hardwicke found she didn’t have to push Cheadle or Mortimer in any way for their performances, as “both of those actors are pretty damn kickass” and stating that “they were not phoning it in in any way, shape or form.”
“They were thinking very deeply about it, you know, from the work,” Hardwicke recalled. “They contemplated it a lot beforehand making the call to me to say that they would be interested. From then on, they just kept digging deeper. And of course, you have — well, we had a nice rehearsal period, where people got to explore different elements, just tried this. ‘What if he’s more like this?’ And even when we do your wardrobe choices, you learn a lot when you go to the wardrobe fittings and figure out how ill-fitting — Don’s character doesn’t care about his looks. He’s in an intellectual. He lives in his mind. The last thing he worries about, does his suits match? He probably didn’t buy a suit for 20 years. So we were always trying to find he’s not Don Cheadle. I mean, Don comes very stylishly dressed into the room, looking like the hippest person on the planet. And then, he becomes Martin, which is not the hippest person on the planet. And one day we looked at his outfits and we found that the fabric was like seven distinctly different shades of brown, all the different fabrics that did not go together well. But that’s what he loved, that kind of detail, and the glasses.”
Set in Merced, California, “fifteen minutes into the future,” Don’t Look Deeper centers on a high school senior who can’t seem to shake the feeling that something about her just isn’t right. And that something is… she’s not human… not one of us. This revelation of what she really is, where she comes from, and who has started looking for her, sets in motion a series of events that suddenly puts her entire life in jeopardy.
A dark and provocative take on technology versus humanity, Don’t Look Deeper is a bold tale of self-discovery from the co-creator of Lost, Jeffrey Lieber, and YouTube sensation Charlie McDonnell.
Directed by Hardwicke, this futuristic thriller stars Oscar nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns), and breakout talent Helena Howard (Madeline’s Madeline), as well as Jan Luis Castellanos (13 Reasons Why), Ema Horvath (The Gallows Act II), Kaiwi Lyman (Den of Thieves), Harvey Zielinski (My First Summer), and Belissa Escobedo (The Baker and the Beauty).
Hardwicke executive produces the series along with showrunner and writer Lieber and McDonnell, along with Kathleen Grace and Laura Schwartz from New Form and Jed Weintrob and Julina Tatlock for 30 Ninjas. Don’t Look Deeper is set to premiere on July 27, with the season finale set to bow on August 14.