Spoiler alert: This post contains details from 11.22.63 episode “The Rabbit Hole.” Read at your own risk.
Who better to break down the adventures of Jake Epping than the woman behind it all? Bridget Carpenter, the showrunner of Hulu’s 11.22.63, is writing weekly blogs exclusively for EW. Carpenter’s blogs will take viewers behind the episode they’ve just watched with everything from photographs to stories from set and more.
Dear Constant Viewer,
I’m beginning this letter to you much like Stephen King begins his author notes (”Dear Constant Reader…”)
I asked him how he came up with that phrase, and he said he thought he saw it in some old 19th century novel, and it stuck. To me, that makes the phrase fair game. I’m stealing it. So hello, Constant Viewer. That’s who you are to me (I hope) —Constant Viewers of 11.22.63 on Hulu.
It is no exaggeration at all to tell you that creating this miniseries (or “EVENT SERIES” — I think that’s what marketing wants me to say) has been one of the most singular creative experiences of my life. So when EW asked me if I wanted to blog about the episodes week-by-week I said YES I WOULD way too loudly, and my sudden enthusiasm probably made the EW editor a little uncomfortable, only she is too elegant to let that show.
Why has making this series brought me so much joy? For starters: Stephen King. Here’s an author who I have read since I was too young to read him (thanks, Dad). I never in a million years expected to meet Stephen King. Who meets an icon? Who meets an author who channels your fears and dreams and creates a clown that you never forget no matter how hard you try? Well, Constant Viewer, I met him. I wrote him. He was generous enough to me to allow me to work on his beautiful book, and to be his friend, and I tried to honor his novel by making 11.22.63 (11/22/63 changed from slashes to periods, or as I think of them, bullet holes) the best damn Event Series that I could.
There are other reasons that this series was a dream. J.J. Abrams. Maybe you’ve heard of him? James Franco. Chris Cooper. Josh Duhamel. Sarah Gadon. T.R. Knight. I’m going to spend more time in future posts raving about our Olympic Team of actors, so you’ll excuse me, Constant Viewer, for not listing them all here. Just trust me when I tell you that you have a LOT to look forward to.
There are days and months and years that have led me to typing these words to you right now. I had months alone with the novel, which looked like this:
And then there were months with my brilliant writers — Brian Nelson, Quinton Peeples, Joe Henderson, and Brigitte Hales. (Hi, guys!) And then we were prepping hundreds of pages of scripts, and all of a sudden it was the first day of shooting.
Kevin MacDonald was our (OSCAR AWARD-WINNING) director for the pilot (yes, I just dropped the O-bomb) and an executive producer and I will embarrass him right now by saying that he is an incredible artist and I love him.
(He won’t be embarrassed by the “incredible artist” part, but he is Scottish and semi-repressed so the “love” will make him blink rapidly and change the subject.) David Katznelson was our director of photography for the pilot and never have I been around a more brilliant, nimble, or polite photographer. Just sitting next to David on set made me feel calm. (Which is saying a lot because it’s hard to be calm when you’re watching James Franco do a scene with Chris Cooper.) And David’s photography sings.
During the many months writing and filming this, we all found ourselves re-inspired and motivated by King’s story. Stephen read every script, watched every cut. Nothing makes you more willing to roll up your sleeves and do that tenth rewrite like the certain knowledge that the King is gonna be reading that draft. God bless him, he made the whole thing so goddamn much fun.
James reads. I think that day it was A History of Palo Alto. (It was a different book every day.) He would sit and read up until the moment he heard the word “Action!”
This clown doesn’t have anything to do with the series, nor does it appear in the show. However, on our first day of shooting, I went to Toronto Island, where there is a super old-fashioned amusement park and midway, and this clown was one of the games. It seemed like Stephen King was speaking to me through this clown. I mean, come on.
This is what happens when you shoot in a small town and word gets out that James Franco is there.
Oh, before I forget, let’s talk about the cockroaches. I mean I don’t want to but we kind of have to. I didn’t take any photos on the day we shot with the roaches. I hate cockroaches more than I can possibly express. I hate how they look, I hate the word, I hate writing it. When people read the script, they got to the cockroach scene and they said, “Wow, great Stephen King touch!” But, Constant Viewer, the cockroaches are there because they scare the living s— out of ME. They’re not even in the book! So I have only myself to blame when Kevin Macdonald scooped up a GIANT ROACH from the floor of the set and ran towards me saying, “Come on, you can hold it!” And I screamed, “IF YOU COME ANY CLOSER TO ME I WILL F—ING FIRE YOU” — and Constant Viewer, I’m not proud of that. I’m really not. But it did stop him from coming any closer. Then he revealed that he was not, in fact, actually holding any cockroaches, only pretending. So he and the crew had a nice ha ha ha on me.
What else, Constant Viewer, what else? So many memories! We had an experienced, tough, grizzled film crew. And yet every time Chris Cooper began to speak his dialogue, the set grew so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Every last grip, every best boy would hold their breath until the scene ended. I saw the head of the electric department turn to a P.A. after we cut, shaking his head in awe. “Wow,” he muttered. Such is the power of Chris Cooper’s presence.
The score throughout the series was composed by Alex Heffes, and I don’t mind telling you that more than once it made me cry. It will you, too, Constant Viewer, just wait.
I loved this Diner, designed by Carol Spier. It is, bar none, my favorite set that I have ever been on. I wish I could live there. Rabbit hole and all.
And you’ve listened to the Main Titles theme, have you not? That music was composed by J.J. Abrams. In his spare time. (Sometimes I kind of hate that guy.) While we’re talking about the main titles, watch them CAREFULLY from week to week. The keen-eyed Constant Viewer will note that the main titles … well, they may change. Just like the Past. If you push, that is — if you push at the right time, with just the right amount of pressure. But be careful. Like Al tells Jake, if you really f— with the Past, the Past f—s with you.
Here we are, Constant Viewer. Together for the moment. I hope you enjoyed the first episode. We have so much more to talk about! Until next week …
For more insight, follow Bridget on Twitter @BridgetCarpen12.