Quibi's new sci-fi drama series, Don't Look Deeper, makes its debut on the short form streaming service on Monday, July 27th, offering a "fifteen minutes into the future" story about high school senior Aisha (Helena Howard) who can't shake the feeling that something about her just isn't right. She comes to discover that she's not human and it's a revelation that opens up questions of what she really is and where she comes from while also setting into motion a series of events that puts everything in jeopardy.
Starring Howard along with Avengers: Endgame star Don Cheadle, Marry Poppins Returns' Emily Mortimer, Ema Horvath, Jan Luis Castellanos, Kaiwi Lyman, and Harvey Zielinski, Don't Look Deeper was created by Lost co-creator Jeffrey Lieber and Charlie McDonnell, the series is directed by Twilight's Catherine Hardwicke. ComicBook.com recent had an opportunity to chat with Hardwicke about the series and the challenges of making such a complex story in Quibi's "quick bite" format.
Don't Look Deeper is set to debut on Quibi on July 27th with the service dropping new chapters of the Black Mirror-esque tale every weekday through August 11th. There are 14 episodes total in the series, each under 10 minutes in length.
Read on for our conversation with Hardwicke.
ComicBook.com: Don't Look Deeper is kind of this really unique show on a unique platform. What made the Quibi platform the right format for this story?
Catherine Hardwicke: Well, I think it was just kind of perfect timing because of the script. The writers had created this short form series before they even heard of Quibi, and suddenly Quibi came... Right when we were thinking, "Oh, where could we take this? Who's doing short form," [Jeffrey] Katzenberg announced, "We're going to do this." So we walked in one of the first meetings with them, which I think it was supposedly there were only six people at the company at the time, and they were just the embryo of the idea. And we walked in. They're like, "Yes, this is exactly what we want to do." And it was amazing because the script that we had in place, we modified it. We extended it a few more episodes because they wanted it up to 15 episodes at that time. You know, it's 14 now.
And then they also wanted... Nothing could be not even one frame longer than 10 minutes, so that was fun. But I feel like the way we were trying to tell a story, it did work in these short bites and with these cool nods since it's so much about memory and erasing your memory and going back through your memories, it worked in flashbacks and a lot nonlinear storytelling that lends itself to kind of fun ways to introduce each chapter instead of, if it was a long film, it would have been a whole different feeling. So it just worked on every level, I thought.prevnext
And that's one of things I really kind of noticed when I was watching through it, and I tried to be good and watch it and then take a minute and kind of process what I had seen. But it quickly turned into it a I need to know what happens next, so I ended up binging it, which... You know, that's how it happens. But one of the things I really notice about it is you could watch it in the incremental bites and definitely get the story presented in that kind of unique fashion. But you could also watch it straight through if you binged it back and forth like that. And it didn't necessarily lose anything in the translation between the two formats. You've done features. You've done individual episodic television. What was different for you in how you approached this and in what ways was it the same making something that's maybe more streamlined?
Well, yeah. I think, in episodic television, we get our episode, you get your script, but you don't know what's going to happen after that maybe. Maybe only could read one script ahead. You haven't seen the finished episode before yours. So in our case, all the episodes were written before we started. And that was excellent because it is a complex story going back and forth memory, and I think it would have been very difficult if people didn't know where their characters were going to go or where they had been. So that's a good thing. So in that sense, since we knew the whole thing, and I was going to direct all 14 episodes, I could cross-board it so that every time we went to... When we went to the school and shot the school, we shot all the schools scenes like you would do a feature in order and not in order, kind of out of order.
But it's more economical. Instead of having to go... Like on a TV show, we go to... I just did This Is Us. We go to the house, and then in the next episode, they might go back to the house. In the next episode, they might go back again. But we were more efficient like a feature shooting it in blocks. And we did understand the whole character arc too, so that was cool. That was good for us. But the idea of having these fun beginnings, 14 kind of cool beginnings, is kind of interesting. We don't really think that way in a film. And then ours were more cliffhangers, the endings, to keep watching the show, keep tuning in, and that's a bit different also. A lot of episodic TV is a little bit more of a closed episode.prevnext
Yeah, one of the things I really noticed was each individual episode was almost in a way its own short film.
Oh, yeah. Oh, I like that.
Because again, you were getting a whole segment of story. There was nothing that was left out, but you were also left with that thought provoking thing at the end, like I need to know what happens next. And if it had been a short film that just stopped there, the viewer is going to be left with a lot of self reflection. But since it's not, you get to move on to the next thing, and it all just builds. And I thought that was a really interesting approach as compared to some of the other offerings I've seen in that short form format. From an editing perspective, what was different about putting it together, since you kind of had the luxury of shooting it in a sense like you would a feature? What were the challenges in editing it to make it into that very interesting and unique quick bite format?
Well, super challenging was to have it fit. It could not go even over, not even one frame or two frames over 10 minutes. So you're kind of going... At certain points in the editing room, it's kind of like a telethon. "Okay, if we do this, it won't hurt the scene, but we can take out 1.5 seconds. Yay!" You know? Because you're just trying to get it down to the 10. And a couple of episodes are right on the bleeding edge. But that's because you've got to go in there and really fine cut it in a way that you still feel all the emotions in every scene and you end with something intriguing. What's going to next? I need to know. That pivotal moment just happened. What's next? So I think there were all those challenges just time-wise, but the other big challenge was the vertical and the horizontal format. And that was a mind bender, to say the least. Yeah.prevnext
Is a format like this, the Quibi format, is that something you would do more with in the future, you think?
Well, I think it's fascinating. I mean, since we were literally... I think we were in the first or the second dramatic series for Quibi to start shooting. So we were kind of just right there on the bleeding edge of no one else had tried this before, to shoot it so that it could be filmed in horizontal and vertical. So now, having said that, I've learned a lot of lessons, and I'm actually prepping to do the show for another platform that would be all vertical. So I'm like, "Whoa, okay." Continuing on the adventure.
That sounds like quite the challenge.
Yes it is.prevnext
So talking just a little bit about the actual series, how deeply involved in the production were you outside of just directing it?
Oh, well, you see me listed as, or you might see, as an exec producer, and I'm just kind of all in. On everything, almost all the shows I've done in the last 10 years, I get a producer credit, and I really earn it. I mean, I'm very involved, almost absolutely macro to micro. Hiring, pretty much all department heads, working in detail with the art department, even painting some of the props myself because I come from production designs, working very closely with a wardrobe, people, hair, makeup. Lots of time I spend at the makeup effects house with Tony Gardner working on the robots and this. And so, I'm involved in the stunts, everything
I love that. And speaking of those bigger details, one of the things that I really took away from Don't Look Deeper... how it comes together visually was really interesting to me. There's a very sleek, modern, almost sterile at times, look to it visually. Architecture, the angles of some of the shots, even the muted color palette. But there's also all this warmth generated from the characters, specifically from Helena Howard's Aisha. Can you tell me a little bit about the process that went into putting this aspect of the series together?
Yes. Great. Thank you for noticing or commenting on it. My background, I've studied a lot of art, I have a degree in architecture, and then I was a production designer on a lot of other people's movies. So obviously I've been focusing on the visuals for a long time, and even just doing the transition to directing, I took a lot of acting classes and tried to learn the other skills that I didn't know, writing classes and everything. But in terms of the visuals, the production designer and the cinematographer and I were always following a palette. In this case, there was a photograph that I had found in a magazine when I was in an airport. I took a photo on my phone of these two colors that I really loved in a photograph.
And then the DP showed up a couple of days later with a different photograph but the same two colors. And I'm like, "Yep, that's going to be kind of our keystone, our palette here." And so we'll put up the images on the wall and share them with everybody, digitally and analog, so that you walk into my room as a director, and you are surrounded by the images, the locations, the ideas, and the inspiration. And then everybody in the room just hopefully absorbs that, and we talk through what we're trying to do with the prop master, the costume designer, the production designer, everybody, so that we try to get on the same page.
And then we are mostly all of the whole show is locations. So we're not at the liberty of building sets and painting all the walls or anything. So even as we're location scanning, we have the palette in mind, the idea in mind. When you said there are certain things that are colder, yes, the laboratory kind of environment. But even that, we were supposed to be, quote, 15 minutes in the future, but as you could kind of see, we used mid century, modern, and slightly past that architecture so that it wasn't brand new, super slick. It wasn't all bright and shiny walls and stuff, super sci-fi. It still had a warn feeling and, like you said, kind of a warm feeling too. And you're right. Helena just brings out in spades. That's why I loved her. When I saw her in Madeline's Madeline, the Sundance movie, you could just feel this character, how she could translate so directly to this screen her emotions in a very raw and intense state.prevnext
In a couple of ways, Don't Look Deeper reminded me a lot of Thirteen, not in the actual story sense or not in the way it visually looks, but kind of the layering of some of these additional themes. And you hit on some really important themes in the series, and as you watch, it's less of a teen angst kind of story and more of an identity angst. We get those layers of Aisha dealing with so many pieces of the quote/unquote coming of age process and discovering herself, even though she's not quote/unquote real. Why do you feel that this story is so important right now?
We'll I think it works even just on one level, like humans' relationship with technology. That's quite interesting. Our frustration, our embracing of it, our love/hate relationship with it, how it's changed our life for the better in most ways, but then other ways it can backfire. This one character, Emily Mortimer's character, she is so intensely focused on pushing net technology and seeing how far it can go, and she's not really thinking of the more human or emotional ramifications of it. I thought that was a whole fascinating area, but also, besides the technology, this character is the other. She's other. She's different. She does not fit into the mold. She does not act or behave or look like everybody else. So certainly... And what does humanity depend on? How do we identify people? Is it the color of the skin? Is it what's under their skin? It is a metaphor, I think, for a lot of issues that society is grappling with right now. You know?prevnext
Watching this, one of the things that popped into my head is there's going to be some inevitable comparisons to Black Mirror, though. And I don't know if you're familiar with this other... Series is kind of the wrong term, but it actually reminded me a lot more of ITVS's Futurestates, which was a series of kind of 15 minutes in the future type of short films. It ran for, I think, four or five seasons. And in a lot of ways, this reminded me of Jennifer Phang's Advantageous, which involved cloning, but you had some of the other and what does it mean to be human as well? Do you feel like comparisons between Don't Look Deeper and some of these other 15 minutes in the future type pieces of entertainment are warranted, or do you think it's part of a larger conversation?
Yeah. I mean, I'm not as with the last two that you mentioned. That sounds great. Of course, I love Black Mirror, and I love that that people are exploring these ideas about the future. So I think it's great in a way. I mean, I like sci-fi anyway and any futuristic things and anything that's imaginative that people are thinking, "What are possible futures for us? What are possible paths we could go down that may not be ideal?? Or do they contain any cautionary tales, or do they contain exciting possibilities for us? So to me, I would be happy to be compared to those provocative shows. I mean, I think that's good.
Yeah, more of them, I say.prevnext
When we get to the end of Don't Look Deeper, the story leaves so much unanswered. It leaves a lot of really important space, I feel, for the viewer to take some serious self reflection on the nature of humanity and what it means to be human. The final scene in particular is really thought provoking and also just beautiful visually as well. If there were to be a second season of this, is that a story you'd like to revisit and dig deeper into? Or do you think it stands alone kind of where it is?
I think it can stand alone, and then if there was going to be a second season, yes, I would be fascinated to follow what Aisha is going to do now. What is she going to do with the knowledge of her of her situation and what her capabilities are? I mean, she obviously has a lot more capabilities than the rest of the students to do interesting things, so what is she going to do with that? I'd love to know. I'd love to see that.prevnext
What was your favorite thing about working on this project?
Oh, well, I love working with actors, and so I loved working with Don Cheadle, Emily, and Helena, and the other actors too are really fascinating, each one in their own right. And I felt like it was just... That experience that you love as a director, that the writer brings something to the table, you try to make it more cinematic or more dramatic, grounded, make it real. The actors come in in the rehearsal stages, and each person has a distinct idea and embraces their own character. So that's so fun when Don says the lines or Emily, and they're like, "Oh man, I feel like I would be doing this." And just that creative process is very fun and stimulating.
What is one thing you hope viewers take away from the series?
Well, I hope right now that there is something that we take away, something about compassion for people that are different than us, compassion passion and love of, well, I guess, diversity, self-discovery, supporting others and in their quest or their search for identity. I hope it can give us some kind of a message about tolerance and love.
I hope. We need it.prev