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Charlie Brooker on ‘Bandersnatch’s’ Hidden Paths and Testing Netflix’s Limits

Variety — Stewart Clarke

There’s a road less taken in art as well as life, it seems. Although “Bandersnatch” offered viewers an interactive experience in its tale of a talented but tormented young video-game programmer, some story pathways wound up being trodden much less frequently, while a few others remained hidden or completely inaccessible, “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker says.

About 250 different segments were produced for “Bandersnatch,” which debuted worldwide on Netflix on Dec. 28. Brooker says that, during the editing process, the producers realized that some sections would be impossible to get to; no combination of choices could actually lead viewers there. In other cases, a viewer would have to go back and repeat a choice in order to get to an alternate sequence of events, which meant that some branches of the story were seen a lot less.

It’s all part of the learning process of producing such an experimental and technically challenging show. Brooker and “Black Mirror” co-creator Annabel Jones said Netflix wanted to see what its platform could do with “Bandersnatch.”

“One of the things they sort of wanted us to do was test the limits of what they could do because it’s a good experimental test case,” Brooker said. “Quite often we’d say, ‘Is this possible?’ They’d never say no. They’d say, ‘Maybe, let’s try and find out.’ Nine times out of 10, they would then work out a way in which it could happen.”

The streamer’s tech team built a bespoke editing tool to allow them to navigate the numerous separate segments of the story, which centered on young programmer Stefan Butler, played by Fionn Whitehead. The actors had interactive documents rather than regular scripts.

Elements that did not make the final version included the ability to look around Stefan’s house, which Brooker had mapped out at one point. In the show, Stefan puts a VHS cassette into a video player, and the team also toyed with the idea of allowing viewers to choose a film for him to put into the recorder, which would then play out in full within the show. Time rather than technical constraints put paid to that idea.

Brooker also wanted to offer “achievements” that viewers could share upon reaching an ending, but he was voted down by the rest of the team, who felt it would over-complicate matters.

Was what they created a game, a film or something else altogether? “It’s probably the latest iteration of something that has existed for decades,” Brooker says. “It does feel like this is a point in technological history where this exists in a seamless way on a platform that is not a gaming platform. That does feel to me quite revolutionary.”

As for whether the experience could work on the big screen, Brooker thinks so, but says you might not want to do it. “Everyone would have an app on their phone and just press ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or whatever. You could do that – [but] it would be bloody annoying. It might be good for starting a big fistfight in the cinema.”

Season 5 of the regular “Black Mirror” series will drop this year although there is no premiere date yet. Jones said the new season will embrace new genres, and Brooker added that there are hints within “Bandersnatch” about what to expect. But little else is known.

“Bandersnatch,” which is produced by Brooker’s Endemol Shine-backed House of Tomorrow, has caught the imagination of millions of social media users. In a negative twist, one of the stars of the show, Will Poulter, who plays superstar games creator Colin Ritman, stepped back from Twitter after receiving abuse.

Co-star Asim Chaudry said that he, too, had received abuse on Twitter. “You get to a point where you can’t read the comments,” he said. “I’ve got racist stuff and all kinds of stuff – there’re idiots out there. It’s like Will said: Sometimes you have to just completely step away. Your mental health comes first, and I admire the action he’s taken.”

“Bandersnatch” presented a unique challenge for the cast, who had to navigate multiple character arcs. “At the end of any given day on ‘Bandersnatch,’ I felt like my brain was melting,” Poulter said. “I was literally unable to have conversation with people because I’d used up all my mental energy.”

He acknowledged that Whitehead faced the biggest challenge as the lead and with so many different storylines to juggle. Whitehead confessed that it got confusing. “I’ve never been good at Rubik’s Cube, but it felt like the filming version of a Rubik’s Cube,” he said.