[Interview archived from the Secret Cinema website]
In this series we talk to some of the creators behind Secret Cinema’s latest production Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner: The Final Cut to discover more about the just how you go about building a world of pure imagination out here in the (so-called) real world…
Lee Markham is author of the acclaimed novel The Truants, published by Duckworth Overlook. Inspired by the murders of Baby P, Jamie Bulger and Damilola Taylor, and by the London riots during the summer of 2011, The Truants featured on several year-end best-of lists and has been hailed as “The Trainspotting of supernatural prose”.
What was your involvement on Blade Runner?
I joined the team last October  just as they were firing up the engines on Blade Runner.
My work on it basically involved building a detailed ‘pre-narrative’ story architecture – what’s happening in the world in the immediate time-frame leading into the film.
And then within that overall story arc, we needed to create a detailed journey for every single member of the cast, from Deckard, Batty, and Tyrell right down to the most fleeting extra (40 of them in total).
And once all those weaving interlocking story arcs, motivations and counter-motivations were set, we then had to weave 10 different audience journeys through the whole thing.
So a we built proper, granular, detailed Blade Runner prequel narrative that was then seeded into the environment and the cast where it morphed and evolved over the first few shows through audience interaction into its own, living, breathing liveable thing.
What were the biggest challenges for you as an author on the project?
I think the biggest eye-opener was how unique a form of storytelling this whole thing is… coming in from the outside, it was an easy assumption to think it simply fell somewhere between cinema and theatre, but it’s a damn sight more complicated than that. I’d imagine it’s probably actually closer to writing for a massively multiplayer online role-playing game… but even there, I don’t know how much has to happen – whether or not they need the story to end up somewhere. Probably not.
Because the narrative with a Secret Cinema is not linear where you can write a scene, and then the next scene, and then the next. Here, the story is multi-linear – every character is on set and in a ‘scene’ all the time – and every one of their stories runs concurrently alongside all the rest.
So I wandered in thinking OK, you have maybe 5 or 6 weighty characters with stuff to do, and then a bunch of bit-players. But that doesn’t work in this world – all those so-called ‘bit-players’ need 2 or 3 hours of story to live out. And each story has to cross paths with every other story at some point, and all within the confines of the overall narrative we’d built that needed to ‘dock’ with the film.
Then you throw 900 audience members, each with their own story and journey, and their freedom to wander off-track, and you’re into full blown mind-fuck land as a storyteller.
But it was an amazing experience to be thrown that far out of your comfort zone – and it’s the only way to learn and grow in whatever discipline it is you pursue.
What did you discover down the Blade Runner rabbit hole?
There’s a load of stuff down that rabbit hole, and none of it is solid… which is a joy. I ended up watching the film about 50 times whilst working on the show, and the sequel I guess somewhere upwards of 10 times, and one thing I only clocked really late in the day is that the opening shot of both films is a close-up of an eye… which suggests to me that both films are very much one character’s perspective of what happens each story…
I think it’s Batty’s eye at the beginning of Blade Runner, and Deckard’s daughter’s eye at the beginning of 2049 – so Blade Runner is a replicant’s account, and 2049 is the account of a memory builder… so not necessarily unreliable narrators, but certainly witnesses operating from somewhere between reality and imagination.
So all bets are actually off from the get-go. Which is very much in keeping with the themes of what makes us real or not, human or not. It’s also a lovely metaphor for the art of storytelling itself – that stories are actually memory implants, that we seed in our minds and revisit as memories. So, the films are memory implants themselves, that we volunteer to subject ourselves to.
But yeah… one of those rabbit holes…
So – is Deckard a replicant or not?
Ha! Well… here’s what I’m rolling with: no. He’s not. But he has had a bunch of memories implanted. I do in fact think that there was an ‘original’ Deckard that was killed on the job. But he was so good a Blade Runner that the LAPD had his memories extracted and implanted into another human subject who was able to continue his work. Which left that human subject somewhat blank, and quietly troubled by what it is he does.
I also suspect that Rachael might not in fact be a replicant after all. And I am entirely convinced that Tyrell is a replicant. But, y’know… it’s all for you to play with… that’s the magic of Blade Runner – you can reconfigure it in so many ways…