Oscar® winner Jordan Peele disrupted and redefined modern horror with Get Out in 2017 and then Us in 2019. Now, he reimagines the summer movie with the expansive new horror epic, Nope, a dark pop nightmare of uncanny science fiction and complex social thriller that unpacks the seeds of violence, risk and opportunism that are inseparable from the romanticized history of the American West … and from show business itself.
Your films are so unique and different to everything else. What was the genesis of NOPE?
It’s hard to talk about the genesis without giving anything away, but I felt there was this vacuum of a movie that I wish existed but also that didn’t – which was the big, horror, UFO film. In some ways, I felt I had the responsibility to take that on. So, the idea, concept and plot started from there.
What was your main inspiration to write it?
Humanity, like all my films, combined with the feeling of existential helplessness. Then I targeted this idea of spectacle, to bring people out to the theatres and help invigorate their love for the cinematic experience, and at the same time I asked myself the reason why we are obsessed with spectacle. Why is the human condition such that we have this addiction to witnessing magic, be it beautiful or horrific?
At the core of the story there is a relationship between two siblings that are very different but have a special bond, right?
Yes, it’s a story about home and two siblings – OJ and Emerald Haywood – who have a connection and a bond to rediscover during the film. I think they represent two halves that most of us have in us. There is a part of me that is Emerald, wanting to be out there getting the laugh and the appraisal, and another part that is OJ, socially nervous and uncomfortable. I’m an only child, but I’m fascinated with the sibling relationship because it is based on a primal genetic sort of loyalty, with something special beneath. No matter how much they can go at each other’s throats or how much their existence is defined by being different to one another, they will come to support each other at the end. So, I wanted to tell a tale about that because it’s something that always brings me a great deal of heart, joy, and melancholy.
And what did two actors of the caliber of Daniel Kaluuya – whom you had already worked with on Get Out – and Keke Palmer bring to those roles?
They are such different performers with such different backgrounds, and they both embodied their characters so wonderfully. These are characters that act as foils to each other, and as soon as we got these actors together you could just see them starting to become Emerald and OJ and how real that relationship was. It even got to the point where I didn’t have to talk to them much or tell them how they felt towards each other, because they knew. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer complement one another so much, and in essence made each other’s characters. So, the scenes where they are together are magical, and their bond is real.
How did Daniel react when you told him he would spend a large part of the movie on a horse?
Initially, not great, but I will say that I have never seen an actor work as hard as he did to get the horse skills together. It’s just wonderful to watch his process, because from the first day I met him on Get Out and told him I needed him to get the accent right, he has been flawless. Then on this film he said that the next time I saw him he would be a horse rider, and basically that’s what happened.
And you also have rich complex supporting characters that add a lot to the movie.
I’m inspired by directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino, because they don’t take any character for granted. I was blessed to fill the supporting roles with massive talents.
The film is also epic in scale and visually stunning.
My director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema, was an absolute pleasure to work with and a true genius. I believe he is the only cinematographer who could have forged the ground – both artistically and technically – to achieve some of the things we pulled off in this film. We did some things with large-format and IMAX cameras that I’ve never seen done. The heart and soul of the movie is about capturing the impossible on camera. When I asked Hoyte what he would use if he had to film a flying saucer for posterity, he said he would use an IMAX camera, just because of the resolution.
How would you explain your relationship to symbolism?
My relationship to symbolism in my films has grown to become a little bit more organic, regarding how symbols manifest and what they mean. During the course of a process, you find connections in things, and so much of telling a story and moviemaking starts with something you don’t know and trying to understand what you have been trying to tell yourself. So, you can’t sort of decide what symbols are, but rather let them show you what they are.
The use of name cards in the narrative is quite original and fascinating too.
Without going too deep into what that is about, I think NOPE structurally feels different to other films, and there are departures from traditional storytelling in it. I feel that the name cards helped an audience know how to watch the film and understand that this was not going to be the most straightforward style of narrative, in a movie where you were going to have to pay attention in a different way.
NOPE transcends and reimagines genres, to the point where it is impossible to place in a box. How important is that to you?
I love that! I’ve been trying to identify boxes and break out of them for my whole career, and part of that has to do with feeling boxed in. Also, when you have a box, you have a magic trick waiting to happen and an audience waiting to be surprised; so, if you can find a box, bust it open!
Horror and genre movies have existed and been successful since the dawn of cinema. Why do you think that is?
Because I think it’s everything. Film is one of the ways we address our fears, which we fight as human beings. And I truly believe that anything we suppress, keep down or hold down for long enough, doesn’t go away. Actually, it can come back in worse ways. So, there is something about getting together with a bunch of people to face those fears in a safe environment that helps our body release them and not hold on to them. That’s why these movies work.
Regarding the scope, this is your largest film to date. What lessons have you learned from making it?
So many! In terms of the scope, I would just say that there is nothing unachievable. This is something that I would tell myself and anybody trying to make a film. Anything is achievable in this medium if you focus on collaboration. If you find the right team, work and problem-solve together, you can create the most grand illusions. Since King Kong, back when they didn’t have any of the tools we have now, it was all about innovation. So, this was about putting myself and the team to the test and see how far we could push it. And now I feel we can continue to go further.
MONKEYPAW’S SOCIAL IMPACT CAMPAIGN AND UNIVERSAL’S BELOW-THE-LINE TRAINEESHIP
Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions now launches a social impact campaign alongside each of its film and television projects. “We started doing this on Candyman, and we’re making sure that every Monkeypaw production has a social impact campaign that’s intrinsic to the film or the television show that it’s riding alongside in tandem,” Nope producer Ian Cooper says. “For Nope, we’ve been working with my colleague, KEISHA SENTER, Monkeypaw Vice President of Culture and Impact, to highlight three pillars that demand more exploration and more unpacking after you experience the film. One of them, apropos of the Eadweard Muybridge jockey and Emerald and OJ’s roles in Hollywood, is to shine a light on the below-the-line artisans and craftspeople that make the film but who are not household names. The second is the forgotten elements of how Hollywood intersects with representation and excavating people that have been forgotten or whose names weren’t known. The third is looking ahead to the future and making sure that we are empowering young people and showcasing the fact that being a part of the industry can encompass many different equally important roles. We want to educate young people that you don’t need to aspire to be in front of the camera or operating the camera, but that there are a multitude of incredible filmmaking roles to explore.”
Adds Keisha Senter: “To show young people the variety of roles in Hollywood, we are excited to share that we will be working with our partners at Universal Studios to invite and include HBCU in LA students at the Nope Premiere.”
Parallel to Monkeypaw’s social impact campaign, Universal’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion (GTDI) department launched its Below-the-Line Traineeship for individuals seeking careers behind the camera as part of NBCUniversal’s overall commitment to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion within all areas of production.
In collaboration with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Hollywood Cinema Production Resources (Hollywood CPR) and various IATSE locals, the first cycle of the traineeship welcomed six trainees to the set of Nope, which filmed on location in Southern California last year. The trainees were comprised of five Hollywood CPR students, who were selected to gain the requisite hours needed to fulfill their Hollywood CPR graduation requirement, and one member from ARC, who joined to gain experience and exposure in visual effects.
Trainees were assigned to a specific department based on their area of study or interest. The selection process included interviews with production executives, relevant stakeholders and the head of their respective departments. With each traineeship, all trainees will be paid for their work and the duration will vary depending on each production.
“In line with our efforts to provide more gateways into the industry, we could not be more excited to bring this traineeship to a new generation of below-the-line talent,” said Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman, Donna Langley. “Honing your craft on the set of a Jordan Peele movie is an opportunity that none of the trainees took for granted. We are extremely grateful to Jordan and the entire Monkeypaw team, who share our passion and commitment to investing in diversity and early career development.”
Monkeypaw was proud to inaugurate the Initiative. “At our core, Monkeypaw has always sought to highlight underrepresented voices and we have been honored to help share those stories with audiences. We were privileged to further our mission as the first production to partner with the California Below-the-Line Traineeship,” said Win Rosenfeld, President of Monkeypaw. “It is crucial not only to Monkeypaw’s growth, but the growth of the film industry that all producers collectively commit to initiatives that bring awareness and opportunities to underserved communities to help careers flourish.”
Upon admission, trainees started receiving support and guidance to participate in production meetings, departmental meet & greets, and relevant health & safety trainings. All trainees were also assigned a GTDI and HR partner to ensure the experience is as rewarding as possible.
Diversity, equity and inclusion have long been hallmarks of UFEG. In 2017, under Langley’s leadership, the studio launched its GTDI department – becoming the first major feature studio to establish a department reporting directly to the Chairman, and the only studio to address these issues with one team delving into both content and work culture.
“As our state works to expand career opportunities for more Californians in the film and television industry, the California Below-the-Line Traineeship is a welcome initiative to increase diversity in below-the-line crew,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Traineeships are an important tool to expand access and foster a more inclusive workforce, supporting California’s commitment to an equitable recovery.”
Governor Newsom recently signed legislation expanding the state’s successful film and television tax credit program, including incentives to meet diversity goals for above and below the line workers. The Film and Television Tax Credit Program 3.0 also includes a Pilot Skills Training Program, which provides technical skills training to individuals from underserved communities.
Established in 2017 by Universal Filmed Entertainment Chairman Donna Langley, GTDI became the first-of-its-kind diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) department for a film studio. The business-led group creates programs, initiatives and strategies ensuring that DEI is at the forefront of Universal Pictures, Focus Features and DreamWorks Animation’s work culture and content creation, both in front of and behind the camera. Building upon NBCUniversal’s overall DEI commitment, GTDI creates industry access and identifies film production opportunities for underrepresented talent while partnering with its Television and Streaming counterparts on efforts impacting both film and television. Since its launch, GTDI has amassed an impressive and inclusive talent pool through its live action and animation writing programs; directing and composing initiatives; and below-the-line traineeships, with 70 percent of its talent securing production credits on NBCUniversal content