Andy and Lana Wachowski were absent from Comic-Con international in San Diego, but their “Sense8” co-creator J. Michael Straczynski was present and more than willing and able to discuss the sci-fi Netflix series with gathered fans.
“You people are the first time on the planet there’s been a gathering of people for ‘Sense8,'” JMS announced to a roar of cheers. A strong theme throughout the panel — both from JMS, and from the fans asking questions — suggested that an intense fandom has been born, in large part due to the show’s core concept of diversity. Not diversity in the traditional sense, ie: having a multicultural cast (which “Sense8” does), but the fact that the core concept of the show explores that which divides us, and that which unites us.
The series follows an ensemble cast of characters, each of whom finds out is they are a Sense8 — a person that can share sensory perception from their metaphorical twins, even across the globe. This connection allows them to communicate, to talk as if they are in the same room.
“It’s a show about community, about how we’re more alike than not,” JMS said, summarizing the series’ concept. He explained that he has a group of friends spread across the world that will on occasion plan to start watching a movie at the exact same time, and text comments to each other. “Separated by continents and oceans, they still found a way to have a shared experience — and that’s how the concept of the series began.”
JMS discussed how divided we are as people, in ways social, sexual, geographical and political, and the ways in which the show’s ensemble cast reflects that. “We explore characters you don’t normally see — how often do you see a story about an African bus driver?” The geographical diversity allows for a show populated by characters based in San Francisco, Berlin, India and Korea, an approach that led to great challenges in production. “We shot it in the gosh-darnedest way,” JMS said, detailing how conversations the Sense8s have take place alternating from each character’s perspective, as if the other is in the room. “We had to shoot each conversation twice, and so we film the scene once in London, and then have to re-film the scene from the other Sense8’s perspective six months later, in San Francisco. And the actors have to replicate the mannerisms from their first performance of the scene so they match.”
JMS made great pains to note how “real-world” the production is. “There’s basically no CGI in the film,” he said, save for one specific effects shot. “We shot 100% on location, no sets… That makes the studio nervous,” he explained, due to uncontrollable things like inclement weather that can interrupt production.
The series is also unique for its story structure. Since it’s a Netflix show, it means that the entire season is released at once. “[It’s] made for binge-watching. It’s structured as a 12-hour movie. I joke that the title of the first episode could be ‘WTF?’ the second episode, ‘Huh?’ and the third episode, ‘I See Where You’re Going With This,'” Each act of the overall story is told within four episodes.
Asked if there is a back-up plan to continue the story if, as the questioner put it, “Netflix stupidly decides not to order a second season,” JMS was adamant. “We always plan for success. In all the seasons I did of Babylon 5, we never had a ‘Plan B.’ There is no back-up plan.”
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