‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ Creators on How the Show Began as a ‘Labyrinth 2’ Pitch

     August 29, 2019

The 10-episode Netflix original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, being released 37 years after the original film, is a breathtaking, beautiful and terrifying return to the world of Thra. When three Gelfling – Rian (voiced by Taron Egerton), Brea (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) and Deet (voiced by Nathalie Emmanuel) – discover the horrific secret behind the power of the Skeksis, the fires of rebellion are lit and an epic battle for the planet begins.

Collider recently got the opportunity to sit down with show creators/co-executive producers Jeffrey Addiss and Will Matthews, as well as writer/co-executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, to talk about approaching the show as a high fantasy story for everyone and not just a show for kids, how this evolved from a desire to pitch an idea for Labyrinth 2, fleshing out the story for a 10-episode season and beyond, the need to have all of these scripts ready prior to shooting, how working with puppets affected things on set, pairing actors with the right puppet character’s performance, working with a filmmaker as collaborative as Louis Leterrier (who directed all of the episodes), how long they could see all of this going for, and which puppet they’d like to take home from the set.

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Image via Netflix

Collider:  I’m very excited that this TV series exists, and that it still very much has the dark and scary tone of the film.

JAVIER GRILLO-MARXUACH: One of our mottos was, “No childhood left unscarred.” We embraced the darkness.

JEFFREY ADDISS: We certainly talk a lot about the darkness and a lot about how dark it was gonna go. We were very conscious of not doing that just randomly. We always had to have a story reason, but if there was one, we would go there. We were not afraid of it.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: We never looked at this as a show for kids. I think that because the puppets are in it and because the Jim Henson Company has done so much work in that space, people assume that it’s a show for children, but this is high fantasy for everyone. That much said, I think Jim Henson held kids in much higher esteem than a lot of other people who make children’s television. He knew kids were tough and resilient, and that if you showed them the darkness, they would be able to take it and process it in a positive way. That’s what you see in the film, and I think that was our idea, going into this, too. Everybody talks about how terrifying the movie is, and it is, but we never thought, “Okay, we’re just gonna be terrifying, for the sake of being terrifying.”

And there’s something just so magical about getting to see the actual puppets.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: Walking onto the set of The Dark Crystal, Jeff had been there for months already because he was the on-set producer/writer, but Will and I went there a good three months into production, and they were filming the Crystal Chamber and a Skeksis banquet. If you were allowed to visit the set of The Force Awakens and say, “Oh, I’m in the middle of the Falcon. How exciting?” But then, Han Solo walks in, and he’s 70 and got white hair and is kind of crotchety.” When you walk into the Crystal Chamber, the Skeksis are exactly the same. It’s literally like you’re walking into the screen, Purple Rose of Cairo style, in 1982, and it’s staggering. You’ve literally walked into your childhood.

ADDISS: We built so many of the hallways, you could get lost in them.

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Image via Netflix

After you spend time on a set like this, how do you go back to regular normal life?

ADDISS: You’re eager to go back to regular life because you don’t see the sun while you’re there. We shot all of it indoors. We had one exterior shot that we did, that wasn’t plates or backgrounds, when we went out to the parking lot to burn a puppet. That was our only exterior. Everything else was inside. So, when you come out of it, there’s a feeling of, “What is the real world anymore?” But you’re also grateful to see the sun.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: What’s amazing is that, when you look at these sets and everything in this show, you’re watching artisans working at the peak of their talent. There were people who worked on the show, who built puppets and wardrobe and wigs in the original. All of these people have all of that experience, and the artists that we got are of such a class and quality. There are things on the set like hand-painted backgrounds, and that’s a technology that doesn’t get used a lot in Hollywood. Now, you just throw up a green screen and put up a background, but we had things like that. It was like stepping into an era of filmmaking that doesn’t exist anymore, and that gives you an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the commitment of the artists. When you say, “How would you go back to normal life?,” it can be difficult because normal life isn’t nearly as beautifully rendered as those sets were.

Jeff and Will, you guys came to this by way of Labyrinth 2, which is an unusual bit of a journey. How did you originally end up coming up with an idea for Labyrinth 2?

ADDISS:  That’s what we do for fun. Will and I have been writing together for 10 years, and he didn’t drink when I met him, so I introduced him to alcohol and weird puppet movies from the ‘80s. We just would sit around for fun and break stories on things that we loved. It was an exercise, for us. So, we were literally sitting in a bar having some drinks and talking about how you would do Labyrinth 2, shortly after [David] Bowie passed away. That’s why it was in the zeitgeist. So, we came up with something that we loved and thought, “Let’s call the Henson Company,” and it has led to this, which is so crazy.

Were you surprised about calling them and having them say, “We’re not interested in that, but we do have this”?

ADDISS: Oh, yeah! It was a dream idea, to throw [our idea for Labyrinth 2] out there and see what happens. But to have them come back and say, “What about The Dark Crystal?,” was incredible, so we jumped at it.

WILL MATTHEWS: Our first meeting was with Lisa Henson, in her office on the Henson lot. You’re just trying to look cool and keep it together, but you’re looking at all the toys and all of this stuff and you’re like, “This is where they make childhood dreams!”

ADDISS: And then, there’s the first time you step into the Creature Shop and have that experience, which is overwhelming. Then, there’s the first time that you see a Skeksis built, and the first time you see a Gelfling, and the first time that you see a Fizzgig. Have you ever seen a hairless Fizzgig? It’s terrifying!

GRILLO-MARXUACH: That’s the headline, “Have you ever seen a hairless Fizzgig?” Their experience is like if you called George Lucas and said, “Hey, we wanna remake Tucker, the Man and His Dream,” and they’re like, “Nah, but I’ve got this thing called A New Hope. You wanna remake that?” Like, what?!?

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Image via Netflix

How did you then come up with an idea for The Dark Crystal?

MATTHEWS: We went back to the bar, and got back to work. Jeff and I stayed up all night and worked on our pitch for a sequel feature film. And then, we went in and met Lisa Henson, and she said, “I’m so glad you’re here to tell me your idea for our prequel TV show.” And we were like, “Yup, no problem. Got it. Here we go!” You just meet and talk about it and share ideas. And then, you go in for another meeting, and (director/executive producer) Louis Leterrier was at that one, and that one went well. And then, a couple of weeks later, you’re pitching the whole series to Netflix, and you’re off and running.

How close is all of this to what that pitch was?

ADDISS: Very close, in terms of the markers. Very close, in terms of setting where the flags go, along the journey. This show is about half of what we pitched. There is a second half, waiting to be told, if we get the chance. You plant your flags, and they’re pretty darn close. We had the lead characters, or at least the ideas of them. That’s when Javi [Grillo-Marxuach] and the writers’ room came in, and we started fleshing it all out, because there’s a lot of space between those gaps. You do a 25-minute pitch, but we’re doing a 10-hour show, so there’s a lot of story left to break and come up with, and that takes you into some surprising directions. Seladon wasn’t a character that was a big part of the pitch, at all. That came from Louis and the writers’ room, who fleshed out that character and brought her to life. She’s a much bigger and more complex part of the show than we had originally imagined. At the same time, there are moments that are right out of that original pitch. It’s amazing.

Jeff and Will, how did you come to work with Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and find a groove together while you were working on this?

MATTHEWS: It was brutal because Javi’s so mean.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: And we clearly don’t get along and have nothing in common. I’m a screamer, and I like to create problems that only I can solve. No. We hit it off, immediately. We’re all birds of a feather. We’re cut from a similar cloth, and we like a lot of the same things.

MATTHEWS: Jeff and I pitched the show, wrote the pilot, did the test, and got the green light, but then, they called us up and were like, “You guys have never been in a room before, nevermind led a room before, so now, we’re gonna bring in someone to help.” And a lot of times, that help can go quite badly. But Javi had written that essay about the laws of showrunning, that I read every year, and it just could not have gone better. That’s really a testament to Javi.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: And to you guys. We had a great time. At the end of the day, when you look at the show, among the many things that I’m proud of about the show is that ,when you look at the scripts, we broke that season together. They had written the pilot, but we broke the season together, and we rewrote together. We worked with all of the writers on their stories, and our fingerprints, as a group, are everywhere. It’s so seldom that you get to have that kind of simpatico with other writers, and that shared sense of mission. It’s great.

ADDISS: There are lines and things that we don’t remember who wrote anymore. Louie was also in the writers’ room, as well, for a lot of it. It was very collaborative. We had our director in the room with us. When we would maybe start to go down roads, Louie, who’s very gentle and very magnanimous, would quietly be like, “I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to shoot that. Can we find another way?”

GRILLO-MARXUACH: There was also that time where we went, “Yeah, write whatever you want. And then, at the premiere, you can see what I did with it.” Feature directors tend to cast a big shadow because they’ve worked at that level and they’re renowned for doing the kinds of films Louie has done. So, [Jeff and Will] had their scary experience meeting me, but for me, the fear I had was, “Oh, my god, I’m gonna go work with this huge feature director. What’s that power dynamic gonna look like?” Louie is the showrunner of record on this show, and he directed every episode. For me, one of the nicest surprises was coming in and finding that Louie was such a generous, collaborative, gentle guy. He literally gave me the shirt off his back, one day.

MATTHEWS: It happened. Javi said to him, “Hey, I like your jacket.” and Louie said, “Here, you take it.” Then, I said, “Louie, I like your car,” and got nothing!

GRILLO-MARXUACH: That’s what we hope we can take to our projects, outside of this, if there are any because I think we could do The Dark Crystal for a long time. Hopefully, there will be more. The Jim Henson ethos is all about unity and collaboration. We like to say that working at the Jim Henson Company is a team sport. We’re all coming at this because we want to honor Jim Henson’s legacy. We all have to come together and find common ground, which is what the show is about. It’s also what the process of making the show was about. It was beautiful because most egos were checked at the door.

ADDISS: That process goes all the way down the line, through production and post-production, as well. There’s a lot that you can do with puppets in post, before we would bring in the voice actors. We could change and find things, find new moments and find bits of bobs of things to put together. I don’t think there’s a single scene that we shot, that isn’t in the show, though. That’s how efficient we got at it. How much we had the same single vision is that, if anything, we would add a few scenes because we felt like we needed a little bit more or a little bit there, but I really don’t think there’s a scene we shot that’s not in the show.

MATTHEWS: And with that level of efficacy, it’s still the longest shoot in Netflix history. Puppets are very slow and very expensive.

GRILLO-MARXUACH: And they’re very temperamental. Sometimes their ears would fall off. They were like, “No, my latex is itching!”

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