Co-Creators of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Writing a Show for Everyone
July 28, 2020
How about this for a dream job: You get to bring The Dark Crystal to a whole new generation and make previous fans happy. For Will Matthews and Jeffrey Addiss, this is reality. Here, they tell me all about it and what’s next on deck for them.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Both Matthews and Addiss have vivid memories of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal (1982).
“I remember being terrified of the Podling getting drained and the Skeksis eating is seared into my mind,” Matthews said, adding that Kira revealing she has wings is another favorite for him.
“So many great moments that have stayed with me for over 30 years.”
As for Addiss, “I can’t remember the first time I saw the film. It was just always sort of there. I suppose that’s the way it is with classics,” he said.
Addiss watched the first copy (taped off one of the movie channels, he added) so often that he wore through it.
“I finally convinced my parents to buy me a proper copy that came in its own case and everything,” he said.
But that was nothing compared to his discovery of the “making of” book at his local library.
“I would literally return it and check it out the same day. My name was the only one on the little card they stick in the back of the book,” he said.
“I’m ashamed to admit that I stole that book from the library when we moved away a few years later. I didn’t think anyone would mind … I was the only one that checked it out! Granted, I never gave anyone else a chance to check it out. Apologies to my local library.”
I wanted to know how old they were and what they thought of it back then. Matthews was eight.
“It scared the hell out of me, but it also made me feel awe and wonder. Such a unique world; it looked and sounded like nothing else, not even other Henson properties,” he said.
Addiss can’t remember how old he was when he first glimpsed this world but he remembers that it scared him.
“I remember feeling overwhelmed by it. I was in awe of the fact that they created a whole world with its own rules and its own feel that was so totally unlike our own. And I remember desperately wanting to know how they did it so that I could do it too,” he said.
“It’s because of The Dark Crystal that I learned how to paint and draw and sculpt and puppeteer. Which, oddly enough, is what led to acting; which led to writing, which led back around to The Dark Crystal. And now I know exactly how they did it and just how hard it is firsthand. Be careful what you wish for.”
So, how did they feel when they got the opportunity to make this project and what did they have to consider to do the job right? For Matthews, the news came the night before his daughter was born.
“I was on the phone with Jeff while pacing the hospital hallway. So I felt exhausted and excited and overwhelmed and very, very lucky about everything,” he said.
Before the project was greenlit, there was a year of development.
“I think we met with Henson to talk broad strokes and then we were pitching Netflix the full show, beginning to ending, two months later,” Matthews said.
“We had a pilot script and a test shoot a few months after that. It all happened too quickly to feel much more than excited and helpful; I really felt like we were helping Thra. Here’s this big world, full of so many wonderful pieces, how can we make it into a cohesive whole? How can we help the suns rise on Thra again?”
According to Matthews, both him and Addiss came in as fans first and foremost, which inspired them to get all the details right.
“And we wanted to add a million more details to flesh out and unify all the disparate pieces of development that had accumulated in the decades since the film was released,” he said.
“We thought a lot about honoring what came before while still pushing forward into something new.”
Here’s how it went for Addiss:
“I felt like the kid waiting in line outside of the Wonka factory, except instead of being miniaturized or turned into a blueberry, I was handed the keys to the kingdom and told to get to work. So that’s what we did,” he said.
Addiss added that the team’s priority was to create a show that honored the original but told its own story.
“Because the best way to pay tribute to what you love is to bring in new audiences and create new fans. Hopefully one of them will add their part to this epic story in another 30 years.”
And that story, according to Matthews, excludes no one.
“Because no one on Thra looks like you, my hope is that you can see yourself in everyone. Because no humans are included, no humans are excluded,” he said.
And the messages are for everyone, too.
“Bravery when surrounded by injustice. Mercy when surrounded by cruelty. Curiosity when surrounded by tradition. Rian, Deet and Brea each embody a different virtue needed to build a better world. And none of them can do it alone. I hope people watching the show (of any age) come away with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.”
Addiss further described the throughline.
“The original film has a very clear message about duality. The Mystics and Skeksis are two parts of a whole that were separated by anger just as Jen and Kira represent two halves of a whole brought together by love,” he said.
In Age of Resistance, Addiss said he wanted to explore plurality.
“Instead of two becoming one (which the movie had pretty well covered) I wanted to talk about the idea of many becoming one,” he said.
“Why is that hard? What are the forces (both internal and external) that keep us apart? Why do the institutions that are supposed to lift us up work so hard to keep us so far apart? Why do we have such trouble coming together even in the face of a common enemy? I don’t think there’s a single easy answer, which is why it felt like a good topic to discuss over the span of 10 episodes. You need something that won’t run out on you.”
In the time of social distancing, the questions Addiss asked could not be more relevant. According to Matthews, however, the pair didn’t set out with any specific political agenda.
“Some people see the Darkening as so obviously representing climate change, but I always thought about it as a metaphor for depression. I’m sure some writers wrote about it as climate change, but not everyone,” he said.
“Some people see the Skeksis as obviously representing a certain political party, but other people see them representing a completely different party. Not just American parties; we had people from many different countries saying that we were obviously writing about leaders none of us had ever heard of! Sadly, a corrupt ruling class is a universal theme.”
Like Addiss, Matthews said his overriding, modern-day theme for the show was unity.
“That doesn’t mean everyone agreeing on everything, but everyone is connected to everyone else. Everything and everyone on Thra is connected. Ecologically, spiritually, socially. There is no “separate.” Even the Skeksis and Mystics (who are from out of town) are deeply connected to the fate of Thra and all its inhabitants,” he said.
“When we started working on the show, the world felt very fractured. Very separate. If the coronavirus has shown us nothing else, it’s just how completely connected everyone on Earth is.”
Writing from a place of love and hope was also a way to honor Henson’s legacy.
“We didn’t shy away from the darkness or the scares, but we always presented a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if that tunnel was full of Threaders. Especially then,” Matthews said.
Honoring craftspeople and artists in general was just as important.
“We told a 10-hour epic using nothing but puppets, which, when you think about it, is kind of crazy. But I remember a number of the puppeteers saying they never got to do work like this; they never got to play these big, emotional scenes about life and death and betrayal,” Addiss said.
“So my hope is that we told a story that allowed these amazing artists and craftspeople and puppeteers to show off just how dang talented they are and just how much puppets can do.”
The art does not end at Age of Resistance.
“Thra has room for many stories; there is a line of comics out now from Boom! Studios, for which we wrote the stories. There are a few more “non-fiction” books coming out about Thra that we helped with a little. The Dark Crystal has many facets. We’re so grateful that we got to be one for a time,” Matthews said.
A Fizzgig spin-off is another possibility, although it comes with its own set of challenges.
“The problem is that a Fizzgig steals every scene he’s in. So, it’s hard to get stars to work with them. But you can’t keep that kind of talent down; Fizzgig will find a way. I keep pitching an odd couple-type sitcom with a Fizzgig and a Podling, but I’ve been asked to stop.”
Addiss has his own ideas about what could come next for The Dark Crystal.
“I really want to do a spin-off about the two old Podlings that work in the Castle of the Crystal. Think The Dark Crystal meets Downton Abbey. Could be great!”
For now though, he’s happy to take a break.
“The Henson company does an amazing job keeping this world alive across a variety of media. Personally, I find it nice to be able to take a bit of a breather,” Addiss said.
“Season one took almost four years. This is a long process.”
As for the future of the co-creators of Age of Resistance, Matthews said there is a lot on the horizon, though he can’t go into specifics.
“I hate to give you such a Hollywood answer, but the truth is I can’t tell you! But I can tell you that we formed a production company with Javier Grillo-Marxuach (of Lost and The Middleman fame), who we actually met on Age of Resistance. The three of us have a bunch of cool stuff in development,” he said.
“Our company (which is so new that we’re still locking down a name) is focused on creating big, exciting genre projects for film and television (something we have some experience with now) while developing new writers and encouraging underrepresented voices in our industry.”
This definitely sounds like something to look forward to!
Written by: Thuc NguyenThuc created The Bitch List, the feminist answer to The Black List. She was born in Vietnam. As a one year old her parents took her out to sea on a tiny dinghy. They were boat people and miraculously landed and were taken to a refugee camp and were then sponsored to the US. Thuc grew up as a Southerner in Kinston and Raleigh, North Carolina and then in Charles County in Southern Maryland. She went to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After this she moved to London and worked for Amnesty International and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. Next was New York City for half a decade, then Los Angeles where she was a TV writers' and producers' assistant on a Warner Brothers/Jerry Bruckheimer television show. Thuc then went to UCLA and earned her screenwriting certificate. She also has a Masters Degree in Non-Profit Management. Thuc is a dual citizen of The US and The Republic of Ireland and known for being a highlight in "Heroines of Cinema" and owning a number one spot on Indiewire's list of Best Screenplays Not About Straight White Guys.