Three Thoughts About Sam Esmail's New Interview with Creative Screenwriter
Sam Esmail's New Interview
Recently, Sam Esmail participated in an interview with Donna Marie Miller in Creative Screenwriting Magazine (or is it a website?).
Obviously, I am going a bit crazy waiting for Season Three (since technically we would be enjoying season three right now). Sam Esmail reportedly moved the production schedule to accommodate Rami's burgeoning film career. My understanding is that Season 3 will premiere in October although no date has been set and as of today, they are filming in New York City.
I have tried to get in touch with SE, but have not been able to gain his attention (he must be busy rearranging trash in New York City while directing Season 3). You can always check out my interview with Sam Esmail from last year.
Also, I should probably try again to pass on my congratulations to Sam and to Emmy Rossum for their recent marriage. Congratulations and much success to both of you.
Okay, now to the point, here are my thoughts about the Creative Screenwriting interview.
Three Things About Same Esmail's Creative Screenwriting Interview
1. "I Never Thought It Was Accurately Portrayed"
If you read my coverage of "The Flash" (which you might have missed because nobody read it) you may know that I coined the term "Geek Magic" to explain the typical Hollywood approach to hacking which usually goes something like this:
* Complex and near impossible data gathering problem arises
* Main character calls in the tech geek
* Tech geek touches keyboard for about 20 seconds
* Tech geek solves data gathering problem
One of the best things about Mr. Robot is that the show actually has consultants (I see you Kor) who spend as much time working on the hacks as the writer's do on the dialog.
Anyway, Sam's answer about his approach to tech is important here:
"..I have a lot of friends in the tech world and in the hacker world. I’ve also just read about hacker and tech news just as a hobbyist. So I’ve been around these people and it’s really a very interesting subculture that I actually never thought was accurately portrayed in Hollywood, whether on film or TV. I just really drew a lot from that, and I drew a lot from my own life, from people that I know. I took as much as I could from personal experiences, as well as from other writers in the room. Authenticity is kind of our motto in the room, and not only goes for the technical accuracy on the show, but for the people as well. In fact, more so for the people, because we wanted these to be very specific and very real people."
All I can say is thank you, and keep it up.
2. "My Own Experience In Dealing with Social Anxiety"
So, last year we learned, through interviews, that Elliot's mental challenges were created because Sam had himself suffered from social anxiety and because he had a friend with dissociative anxiety disorder.
The depiction of Elliot's DID had so much impact on me that after Season 1 I spent a few weeks of the offseason reading up on Dissociative Identity Disorder. While I absolutely would never consider myself any kind of expert in DID, this research did inform many of my opinions on what was being depicted during Season 2.
Full disclosure, I myself suffer from panic disorder, generalized depression, and addiction. So, for me, the struggle between my perception and other people's perception of reality have been wildly different. To put it another way, I connect deeply with Elliot's struggle (I am also a Post-Modernist who constantly questions "objectivity" and "reality" as hegemonic and contested spaces).
Anyway, Sam mentioned that they have hired a psychologist expert in DID as a consultant (pretty sure this is new for Season 3 as I have never seen reference to a consultant until recently). Here is what Sam said:
"We also have a psychologist as a consultant who deals with people with Elliot’s specific disorder. We involve her in the writing process a lot in terms of just breaking a story to begin with, to kind of get into his whole point of view. What it ultimately comes down to is that we want the experience of watching the show to feel like what a person suffering from this disorder feels, how that person would experience the events that happen in Elliot’s life. So it’s a combination of bringing a consultant on, as well as just doing a deep dive into the disorder, and the friends and the people that we know with the disorder, and getting those details right. Ultimately it really comes down to showing the details, and showing the anguish of the day-to-day struggle of it."
Many of my responses to several interpretations of what was being depicted on the show were drawn directly from my reading on Dissociative Identity Disorder, so I will be really interested to see if and how the writing of Elliot changes now that an expert psychologist in on the Mr. Robot team.
In particular, I wonder if commentary that I or others made about Elliot's behaviors (from the perspective of the DID research) was wrong because the Mr. Robot writing team were writing somewhere in between Multiple Identity Disorder (psychologists used to believe people with MID had multiple personalities fighting for control of a single body) and Dissociative Identity Disorder (a single consciousness with multiple fractured personality fragments).
I hope there will be a way to figure all of this out. In addition, if I was wrong about any of my statements last season, it certainly wasn't for lack of trying to be accurate. I spent hours and hours reading very dry articles about the legal and medical truth of DID.
I very much appreciate what Sam has done here because so many people throw evidence and expertise out the window because they think Multiple Personality Disorder is more entertaining to depict (M. Night Shyamalan's movie "Split" for instance).
In my opinion, purposefully using diseases real people experience carelessly can contribute to social stereotypes that directly affect people living with these diseases. Sam Esmail is taking this responsibility seriously and I respect that.
3. "That's The Way That I Think We Tell Our Story"
Some really interesting quotes from Sam here:
"That’s the way that I think we tell our story. There is a linear story, but as we fill in the details of the past, the present starts to get reframed. So we have this circular logic to our storytelling. For example in the first season, you are following this relationship between Elliot and Darlene, and then once we reveal the past content of that relationship, everything before it gets reframed. So yes, that’s definitely going to be a device that we use moving forward."
"You’re right to see that contradiction <between Darlene and Elliot's understanding of the abuse they suffered in childhood>, where her <Darlene's> interpretation of the past is very different than Elliot’s. That’s where we play a lot with memory. Elliot obviously has those issues where he is repressing both people and whole swaths of time. Again, this circular storytelling that we’ve embraced, is the reflection of how Elliot starts to remember things. As those pieces come in, you’ll start to see that the present storyline will continually be reframed because of the information we learn."
Even more interesting to me here is the depth of character developed from Season 1, Darlene's through Red Wheelbarrow, and through Season 2. How can we forget her speech to Susan Jacobs about the lawsuit Edward lost against E-Corp when he got sick, Darlene's amazing story of being kidnapped, the Darlene moments of the sitcom episode, or the story of Darlene's mom and her beloved cat from Red Wheelbarrow?
While the memories are different and have certainly been reframed, I still find the accounts can remain consistent.
It is possible that Edward pushed Elliot out of a window and that Elliot and Darlene's Mom was brutally abusive to Darlene.
One of my ongoing theories is that Elliot and Darlene's Mom was acting out her anger towards Edward on Darlene either because of Edward's infidelity (there is a small hint in the sitcom episode that Edward cheats on his wife) or because Mom is jealous of the attention and time Edward spends with Darlene (yes, this could go to even more disturbing places - remember Dolores Haze was Darlene's screen name and both Darlene and Angela have been referenced in the context of Lolita).
Anyway, I fully anticipate that the trauma and dysfunction at the heart of the Alderson family will have a HUGE role to play going forward.
Huge kudos to the writing team for creating such a complex and continuously interesting (if troubling) set of characters.
One other thing, I generally would compare what SE is talking about here more to the so-called "Rashomon effect" than to anything else.
In Kurosawa's Rashomon, the story of a crime is told several times from the perspective of different witnesses (who all see the same event very differently). By seeing and processing the panoply of perceptions our own understanding of living the event becomes more nuanced and we are forced to consider that reality itself is not objectively experienced the same way by every witness.
With Mr. Robot, sometimes even the same witness sees that same event in multiple ways over time, which adds another interesting element to the Rashomon effect.
Many people start off their coverage of Mr. Robot by talking about how Elliot is an "unreliable narrator," I am coming to believe that the point is to question the notion that there can be such a thing as "objectivity" or "reliability" at all.
Okay, I am planning to put out a Season 3 Predictions post soon (won't be that different than my post a few months ago on Reddit).