“Everything that happens in the show has happened in real life somewhere”

Showrunner for The Handmaid’s Tale recently spoke about drawing real life inspiration and shooting Season 4.

Bruce Miller, Showrunner for The Handmaid’s Tale recently spoke about the series at the Screen Forever conference and touched briefly on filming Season 4

Here is an excerpt where he spoke with Fiona Williams, SBS Managing Editor, SBS Movies, Guide & Homepage.

Following events in Washington in January, she asked Miller if he draws from real events?

Bruce Miller:
Yes, absolutely. Everything that happens in the book, everything that happens in the show has happened in real life somewhere. We don’t want to invent cruelties for people to visit on one another, especially on women, that’s the last thing we need to do. There are enough horrible examples in the world. We twist them and move them but we are not creating things like that.

I think most of the back story, the story leading up to Gilead, was either explicitly laid out by Margaret (Attwood, author) or intimated in a way in the book that I took the thread and ran with it. I very much used her set up and her scaling of how things happened and how long they took.

Where she drew them from was futurists of the time. It’s only logical that they would mirror events. Trying to reach for ideas that were born from Margaret’s past, and after that it’s a question of rigorously keeping track of when things happen so the timeline stays accurate so when we put in a scene we know where it goes in those flashbacks and we can make it ring true emotionally.

We have made that world so much more complicated, tracking is an important part of telling the story, making sure we know exactly where we are so the audience is not lost in that back storytelling.

Fiona Williams:
Incredible back stories, Aunt Lydia, thanks for that one. So much of the show going to wear to date seems to be in conversation with the previous occupant of the White House and the wider political climate. How is that felt in season 4?

Bruce Miller:
I just finished writing the finale for season 4, we couldn’t have written it during a more tumultuous time politically. Every year seems to be a more tumultuous or historic time to be working on the show.

The conversation with the person in the White House is about right is being affected by the world they live in. The forces, the darker forces in American politics that brought Donald Trump to office are still there, they were there before and they will be there in the future. Any time you can have a period of time that lays bare that stuff, where people are talking out loud about these horrible things they want to visit on other people, all of that honesty is good, it makes the people in the show more believable.

I have trouble believing that Joseph Fiennes’s character could be that blind and misogynistic but then you get other people in the world… Any time someone takes off the mask and allows me to let Joe be a more complicated person, I am often blind to the Commander Waterfords around me, I’m naïve that way. As people around me show their true colours it helps me get more comfortable with the grown-up world.

Fiona Williams:
Any insights into when we might see Season 4?

Bruce Miller:
Soon. I don’t have any more information. Those decisions are so much made by Hulu and MGM. It’s funny, a lot of stuff we have talked about tonight is connected to a group of people. The thing you have to remember is I get a lot of the credit for decisions and parts of the show that are handled expertly by people and I would be terrible at, and scheduling and promotions are one of those things.

I think about making the show, I never think about selling the show, if I did, I would make a bad show. When they tell me this is our ad campaign, I say fantastic, but I never think about that stuff. The amount this is a group effort especially in this COVID year where we have had to rely on people for our health and safety on the show, it is a group effort on a scale that you cannot imagine, every person in is a storyteller.

Everybody knows what June is going through that day and they will think about that when they paint the walls of her set or talk to Lizzie in the make-up trailer, they are all storytellers like I am.

Fiona Williams:
On that, shooting the season during COVID protocols, does that manifest in any way on-screen?

Bruce Miller:
Yes, but not directly. The COVID protocols have changed tons, and we have learned, we have been lucky, knock on wood, people have put their lives on hold in Toronto to keep the show going and to keep money coming in for the 200 people we employ there.

There has been a big sacrifice. The way it’s manifested itself on areas we could not have too many people in front of the camera, we shot things that were different to what we would have decided because we couldn’t have more than a few background actors, you can’t have as busy an environment.

We made some story decisions which I hope you won’t notice based on that. And then there are scenes with 100 people and we have no people so we have to put those people in in postproduction. Hopefully we made those adjustments without indicating it to you. If I was on another show I would have considered having COVID be part of it but in the show there was a COVID in the back story, a plague already, you don’t want to manufacture it, it’s part of the back story.

We tried to do it, luckily or unfortunately there were a lot of gags in our show and a lot of people’s faces are covered, including the police and Lizzie, strangely that horrible misogynistic trope pays dividends.

The Handmaid’s Tale returns to SBS Thursday 29 April.

4 Responses

  1. The book and the film were inspired by the rise of the Religious Right and Reagan in the 1980s-what’s happened and still happening with Trump and his minions is another level of insanity above it. The series could just ‘end’ with no particular conclusion a la ‘1984’, remembering it took Ireland about 500 years to pull itself out of a benighted theocracy.

  2. I guess the story timeline for The Handmaids Tale could potentially last for forty years based on other real life despotic regimes, maybe the writers should be thinking about having a few time jumps or it could end up like the ‘Colony’ series with its somewhat contrived conclusion, a conclusion that this show will also need at some point.

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