Charlie Brooker interview
The following feature is available free for reproduction in full or in part but must include a credit for Black Mirror and TX details.
The first series of Black Mirror won an international Emmy, and a lot of praise. Does that sort of thing matter to you?
Yes and no. Obviously it's nice when something you've worked on is received well, but on the other hand it just ramps up the pressure and level of expectation for next time. And the entire concept of awards ceremonies is a bit bizarre. It's nothing to do with what's ‘best': it's about whether a panel of judges in a room somewhere can reach a consensus. All awards ceremonies should be torn down and converted into children's' hospitals immediately.
You're back with a new series - explain a bit about each one.
Be Right Back:
Years ago a friend of mine died, and then several years after that, I was trying to clear space on a phone - this is back in the days when you could only store a limited number of contacts - and I felt terribly guilty for deleting his name to make room for others. It was crazy - a number that didn't even work anymore - and yet it felt disrespectful to hit ‘delete'. And then this year I looked at Twitter one night and thought "what if all these people were dead, and everything they were saying was being mimicked by a piece of software"? Because that's the kind of thing I think late at night. People spend hours typing messages into Facebook, Twitter, you name it - what if there was a service that could harvest all this, and pretend to be you after you died? Copy your figures of speech; crack the same sort of jokes that you do; proffer the same opinions and so on. Even if you knew it was only software, if that was a friend or relative of yours, the temptation to chat with a program like that would be unbearable, especially if you were grieving. So it's a story in which a young woman finds herself suddenly bereaved, and then she's offered the chance to communicate with a simulation of her husband, based on his Tweets, Facebook status updates, emails, etc. And when she talks to it, she's stunned by how lifelike it seems. But at the same time she knows it's not really him: it's just a souvenir. And so the question then becomes: is that enough? And if it isn't, can she bear to ‘delete' him?
The first series of Black Mirror featured three stories which were pretty much different genres (political thriller / dystopian sci-fi / relationship crisis), although they all shared a similar tone and sensibility. We're doing that again this year. If Be Right Back is a romance (of sorts), then White Bear is an apocalyptic thriller. A young woman wakes up, apparently following some kind of suicide attempt, unable to remember her own name. She stumbles outside looking for help, but no-one will even speak to her. Instead they all stand around filming her on their mobiles. Then a man with a shotgun appears and gives chase - and the crowd continues to film, as if idly watching a sporting event. I was thinking of the ubiquity of camera phones here. The audience at any gig is a sea of little blue lights. During the riots over student fees, there were scenes on the news where you'd have one person smashing in the window of a bank while 50 people filmed it on their phones. During the Libyan uprising you could see people walking around filming the aftermath of attacks, almost like tourists. When Gaddafi's body lay on display for a couple of days, people crowded round it with their phones out. It all looked pretty nightmarish. Almost like a zombie movie, I thought. And then I thought, what if rather than a zombie movie, you had a story in which 90% of the population just became emotionless voyeurs. They'd just film whatever was happening in front of them, especially if it was horrible. What would happen to the remaining 10%? Some of them would go nuts and start doing terrible things to amuse the ‘audience'. White Bear explores that nightmare -- and then hopefully creates a new one.
The Waldo Moment
Back when Chris and I were doing Nathan Barley we had an idea for a storyline in which someone invented a sort of animated MP - like something from the band Gorillaz. It seemed like something that could potentially catch on. Today there's no doubt that the relationship between politicians and the public has become increasingly strained - MPs are widely viewed as a different, inherently untrustworthy species. Literally like weird creatures we just have to put up with. And they're easy to mock, but they're not easy to replace. And at the same time you've got someone like Boris Johnson becoming wildly popular in part because he represents "character", something most MPs seem to lack. He's become bulletproof. He can actively, openly fuck up - literally performing slapstick at times - and people seem to love him for it. Never mind his policies. He rose to prominence by doing panel shows. Now some predict he'll be PM one day. That's an odd state of affairs.
So this story is about a CGI character from a late-night topical comedy show that gets entered into a political race for a stunt. The guy behind it isn't comfortable with politics - he just sees himself as a clown - but once the wheels start turning there's no stopping the thing. But he's not interested in running the world. He doesn't know how. So what can he do?
Do you have any water-cooler pig-shagging moments in this series?
No pig-shagging, but hopefully some standout moments. I won't say what they are though. That's for others to decide.
Are they comedy dramas, or just straight dramas?
Somewhere in-between I think. They're pretty straight, but often based on ideas that could be funny if you chose to view them that way.
Did you write all three this time? How do you find your inspiration? Where do your ideas come from?
Yes: probably stupid, but there you go. God knows where ideas come from. Usually you're thinking about one thing, when a separate thought comes in and collides with the first one unexpectedly, thereby creating a new thing. And you're just a spectator to it. Christ, what a Pseuds' Corner thing to say.
You co-wrote an episode with Konnie last time. Did she get involved again this time, or as she too busy producing and looking after your progeny?
She was busy, yes, but she chipped in with the odd note here and there. She's far more cynical and has a dryer sense of humour than many people realize. When I'm doing the Wipe shows she often watches the footage with me and comes out with some of the best lines. Lines which I then steal.
Becoming a parent inevitably changes people. Do you think it's changed your style of writing?
No. Your method of writing changes a bit, though, as you have to fit it in between feedings, changings and the like. Otherwise there's very little difference between having a baby and having a dog. They both shout and shit everywhere but you love them regardless, apart from the baby.
Can we expect your work to be even more scabrous and dystopian, due to sleep deprivation?
I've always tended to write late at night and usually function on very little sleep, so I doubt you'll notice much difference.
Is it difficult to hand over your work to someone else to direct?
No - the alternative would be directing it myself. I probably don't have the patience or skill for that job.
Does it ever look the same as you'd imagined?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Usually it's better
Do you think you'll ever end up writing a lovely, fluffy rom-com, with Enya music playing over the denouement?
Didn't you see Dead Set?