In celebration of the release of all 13 Chapters of The Stranger on Quibi, writer-director Veena Sud recently joined me for a new episode of Collider Ladies Night. While you’re likely aware of Sud’s Emmy nominated work on The Killing, did you know one of her very first gigs out of grad school was working for the MTV reality show The Real World? As a diehard Real World fan for many years, including the season Sud worked on, The Real World: Back to New York, I was mighty excited to get the opportunity to dig into that experience a little. What I didn’t expect though, is how heavily Sud’s reality TV work would influence her as a storyteller moving forward.
But first, for anyone out there who isn’t thrilled about the reported manipulation that might happen on some reality shows, it might come as a nice surprise that that wasn’t the case on The Real World: Back to New York. Here’s how Sud described her day-to-day with the show:
“When I was at The Real World, it was very much cinéma vérité. We were not allowed to talk to the cast. Aside from giving them a house and jobs, there was very little interference – and lots of alcohol. [Laughs] But we had to observe. That was my job is observe for 12-hours shifts how people act, how they wake up in the morning, how they eat breakfast, what they do. And the vast majority of the time, they’re not doing anything very interesting.”
Those 12-hour shifts gave Sud the time to pick up on certain habits, and one in particular actually came in handy on the pilot episode of The Killing:
“When people fight, we repeat ourselves, all the time. The exact same thing that we say minute one of the fight, we’re saying probably minute ten. The exact same phrasing. And it’s like a ping pong match; repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. And so what that afforded us as a film crew was, we’d go into a fight – and I started to realize we had time now to record things because we’d go into a fight and shoot the close-ups right away, just in case they don’t repeat. But they would. I’d pull the camerawoman back, she’d shoot the two-shot, pull her back, she’d get the wide and they’re still fighting and they’re still saying the exact same stuff. And so at that point, I would say, ‘Go to the rest of the house and see how people are reacting to this screaming match that’s happening behind closed doors, or not. And the reaction of the other cast members was so interesting because how people react to something that’s happening off camera, sometimes is more powerful than the actual drama on camera.”
How exactly did Sud bring that concept to her Emmy nominated script for the pilot episode of The Killing? Here’s how she described it:
“So, flash forward many years later and I’m writing The Killing and trying to find a way to have that final moment in the pilot when the mother of Rosie Larsen discovers her daughter is dead, not be exploitative but also be extraordinarily powerful and break the audience’s heart. And I remember how influential it is to see how people react to sadness or grief or anger, and so I wrote the two boys into the scene where they’re watching their mother break down as she gets the news of her daughter’s death. And that moment between these two little boys just looking at their mom, all her cries are off camera. Staying with them, having the courage to – these young actors, they were in it, stay with them was, I think, one of the most powerful moments of the pilot for me.”
If you’re looking for more content from Sud, you’re in luck! Not only do we have Sud’s full Ladies Night interview coming your way soon, but we’ll also have a conversation with Sud and The Stranger’s Avan Jogia covering the development of Jogia’s character from script to set to post-production.