On December 14th, 2017 the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA hosted a screening of “Get Out”, with a post-film Q&A with writer-director Jordan Peele and moderated by Larry Wilmore . The event was co-presented by the Writers Guild of America West as part of the “Groundbreakers screening series.” *The following will contain extensive spoilers about the film, including the ending.*
Poster by Francesco Francavilla
This was the second time I’d screened “Get Out” at the cinema, and it was my third viewing over all. It was already in my top ten favorite films of 2017 before this viewing, but it might have now cemented a place in my top five. What really struck me was how the movie still held me under its spell, despite already knowing what was to come. When Catherine Keener‘s Missy Armitage first places Chris Washington, played flawlessly by Daniel Kaluuya, in “The Sunken Place” I still felt the panic for the character that I did the first time. When Chris tries to leave the Armitage home, my pulse was still racing and heart pounding while Allison Williams‘ Rose Armitage toys with him about finding the car keys. Many films with “twists” tend not to hold my attention on repeated viewings because the entire film is seemingly built around that one moment. My reactions proved to me “Get Out” is much more than its reveal of what the Armitages, and their cult like “secret society”, are up to with The Coagula Procedure. It’s not only enjoyable upon repeated viewings, but it might be even better.
After the screening Larry Wilmore introduced Jordan Peele for a roughly hour long talk about the film, from its conception, to the writing process, casting, and Jordan’s experiences filming his first feature. Jordan was candid about everything that went into creating the finished film, and what follows are some highlights of that conversation.
- The original spark leading to “Get Out” came from a dream Jordan had. He was walking through a bank lobby when suddenly the sound dropped out. When he turned around everyone in the lobby was starring directly at him in silence. Jordan called this a “fear of unwanted attention”, and when “Get Out” evolved into a horror movie about race he tied this fear to his experiences as “the only black guy at a party.”
- Jordan worked on the outline of the film for five years before pitching and selling the idea. Even though little had been written down, he had the entire film in his head. Some of the biggest hurdles with writing the script came from getting, and keeping, the correct tone. He didn’t want to veer into a Wayans brothers parody, but Jordan also didn’t want it to tread into “Funny Games” territory, which he deemed “too dark, and unpleasant.”
- He summed up the vibe he was going for as exploring the premise of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” with the tone of “The Stepford Wives” and the meta-commentary on the horror genre of “Scream.”
- While the film’s target audience was African-Americans, Jordan didn’t want to alienate the rest of his audience. So, he worked to approach showing that point of view in a way that would promote empathy by drawing everyone into having “the black experience” while watching the movie. This led to Larry Wilmore congratulating us all on being “honorary black people for the last ninety minutes.”
- Jordan listed Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Quentin Tarantino among his “director inspirations” for “Get Out.” He went on to talk about how he always believed the best movie ever would be from combining Spielberg and Kubrick, and that he considers Tarantino to be one of the most influential directors of his generation.
- “The Sunken Place” was conceived as a representation of oppression. In his mind this was a stand in for systematic racism, the true monster in “Get Out”, as well as the prison industrial complex, lack of representation in the film industry, and lack of representation in the horror genre.
- Jordan was careful to allow the film to build tension, with strategically placed releases. To him the most effective horror films build terror throughout, and the ones that don’t tend to be scarier in the beginning, but far less so in the final act. He named “The Blair Witch Project” as a perfect example where “nothing happens the whole film, and then it ends with a guy standing in a corner” but it pulled audiences in by building a sense of dread, and allowing their imaginations to fill in the gaps.
- A back story was generated for the “secret society” depicted in the film. In Jordan’s mind they were descendants of the Knights Templar. Instead of gaining eternal life via the Holy Grail, they worked to use science to perfect what became Coagula. Instead of bidding money in the “BINGO scene”, he imagined they were bidding priceless artifacts they would have inherited down through the generations.
- One of the genre tropes Jordan wanted to explore, and exploit, was the “white savior trope.” Audiences are so used to having at lease one white person in the film be the “good guy”, he used that in an attempt to keep suspicion away from Rose. In an earlier draft of the script Rose attempted to talk Chris out of leaving after the family dinner scene. Jordan realized that was a dead give away that she was evil. After that she became the one challenging the police office after their accident with the deer, the one pointing out the casual racism her family displayed, and not trying to talk him out of leaving when Chris decided it was time to go.
- Casting was just as important as finding the correct tone. At first Jordan resisted hiring anyone for the role of Chris who wasn’t African-American. He felt they needed to have lived the experience in order to effectively play the character. During a Skype conversation with Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan realized Daniel “got it on a primal level.” Daniel recounted his experiences with racism, being wrongfully arrested, and being the only black guy in a space. At that point Jordan conceded this wasn’t an exclusively American phenomenon, and allowed Daniel to audition.
- In his audition Daniel performed the scene where Chris is first hypnotized by Missy Armitage. Jordan said it was so perfect he could have just recorded it, and put it right into the film.
- LilRel Howery as Rod Williams, was allowed to ad lib while filming. Jordan said LilRel still delivered the scripted dialogue but it came off better, more natural, when he told him to “do it your way.”
- While Rod was used for comic relief, and a tension release, Jordan was careful to never have him be a joke, or be jokey. He wanted Rob to be grounded, realistic, and a voice for what the audience may be thinking as events unfolded.
- An audience member questioned why an Asian man was present at the Armitage party, when everyone else was white. Jordan explained that there was no real deep meaning to that, but he did want to show that their secret society was small and localized. He also wanted to give a nod to the Asian photographer at the end of “Rosemary’s Baby.”
- The original ending had Chris killing Rose on the road during his attempted escape. Instead of Rod showing up, the police do, and Chris is arrested for murder. The movie ended with a flash forward to six months later and Chris in prison. Jordan felt he had to make a statement here as during the Obama era he didn’t think real conversations about race were taking place.
- This ending was shown at test screenings, and it wasn’t well received. Jordan decided to rework the conclusion to what it is now. He said he was still able to address what he wanted to because the audience’s initial reaction to seeing the police vehicle lights is thinking that is how the movie would end.
Jordan’s reason for making “Get Out” was that he wanted to see his favorite horror movie that didn’t exist yet. Hopefully he keeps that mindset throughout his career, because it more than served him well here. He’s certainly on my list of “must watch” writer-directors now, and a much-needed voice in the industry.