On that Bandersnatch hype train! What better way to start the new year by making choices with life and death consequences in an Orwellian nightmare? (Brought to you by Netflix!)
I won't go into any story spoilers. HIGHLY RECOMMEND EXPERIENCING THIS FOR YOURSELF!
To set up the scene, it was New Years Eve and I was celebrating with some old friends from Philly. The ball just dropped and we ushered in 2019 with champagne, chili and abundant glee. Recommending Black Mirror's controversial episode, we sat down, started the show... embracing ourselves for the madness that was about to come.
Black Mirror Bandersnatch is a feature length special (TV movie if you will) that allows viewers to choose different decisions for the story to go. It is like Dungeon and Dragons or a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game. Once you make a choice, there is no turning back. Countless permutations can decide who lives or dies while probing deeper into its sci-fi themes of control and free will. Seriously, you can miss a whole lot of backstory if you pick things aimlessly.
Bandersnatch gives the viewers at home a taste of power. Do you want protagonist Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) to take the job at a video game company? Will he listen to The Cure or Thompson Twins? Sometimes the mundane provide sizable clues to Bandersnatch's narrative. There are five (maybe more) endings to count.
So our New Years Gang zigged and zagged through Black Mirror's cinematic maze, experiencing the philosophical and bizarre associated with the show. As we continued, we all developed a semi-God complex. We felt omnipotent as Stefan's life was playdoh in our hands: pliable, textured and amusing. But it had some hiccups.
There were a few times that we felt like the choices could have been more enticing or had greater weight to Bandersnatch's driving mystery. Sometimes the movie snatched back the controls and "resetted" back a few scenes with slight tweaks to what we saw prior. Stefan even says "I should try again" when one path leads to an anti-climatic ending.
Luckily, our breakfast remained the same.
By the end of our first watch, it dawned on us that we flew too close to the sun and the sun was an online streaming service. Our Icarus moment made me realize that all of us are inundated with so many options for entertainment, that it can be tough to really enjoy something wholeheartedly when the Main Menu/Next Show button is a click away. I mean I have definitely wished that I could be in ten places at once while working a dozen different tasks. Several of them would be binging shows I promised to watch.
Black Mirror Bandersnatch's greatest accomplishment is allowing audiences at home to decide where their story goes. And while the episode falls into a "rinse-and-repeat pattern" that nudges you to go a certain way, you must put the time and effort in to get the most out of Bandersnatch's offerings. Enjoy the ride for what it is and isn't.
Which leads me to creative freedom and how making decisions can tell us something about success and failure.
Whether you are an artist or film director or composer, you gotta make difficult decisions. A music score or movie will go through the grinder in what makes it into the final product or the cutting floor. Brainstorming is great for meandering the endless possibilities for how beautiful a project will look and sound.
When you get down to the nitty-gritty and collaborate with others, sometimes the ideal has to be tweaked for realistic expectations and limitations. Yes, that is always the bitter pill to swallow when you got the vision. Active decision-making becomes second nature. You know what you want, but it is the matter of problem solving and compromising to ensure that the product is seen to completion.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Why the Bandersnatch Experience came to mind for this blog is that we creatives always wonder if we made the right call on how we express our artistic vision. Did I want that performance from my actor? Was the final cut representing my intent?
I personally had to rewatch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch again and experiment with different variations, hoping that I would get a resolution that I imagined in my mind. And it kinda happened?
Our "IRL" choices are not presented in a letterbox with a timer like Bandersnatch. But most of us feel a twinge of pressure in making a decision. When it comes to story, emotional and intellectual investment drives us to chug along with the choices we make or not. Yet results that benefit the art and we did not expect are - what we call - "happy accidents."
Happy accidents can be like Christmas in August: illogically wonderful but why stop it?
I remember editing an episode of a comedy series I produced and the audio cut out on our best take in a bar. While it wasn't earth-shattering, I knew we couldn't shut down the location for another day. Fortunately, my delightfully charming and bearded Director of Photography previously recorded a funny interaction between the main character and the bar owner. Their conversation was so natural and lively, that it did more justice for the scene. Improv's great at times. Did it require a lot of sound mixing and playing with audio presets? Yes. But it still got the job done! I made a decision to roll with the punches and be flexible in how we used our footage.
What constitutes as good and bad is up to you. Being fixated on the things you didn't do or felt valueless can be detrimental to your work. Happy accidents and creative compromises open the realm of possibilities to where your work can carry you.
I am not saying that you should change your idea a thousand times on a whim though. Let what appears as "shortcomings or failures" be a guide in seeing the bigger picture. And there is always next time to get your idea picture-perfect.
Life is about making choices and living with them for better or worst. But it's never too late to try again.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now streaming on Netflix.