Though David Fincher and Tim Miller’s stylish, inventive, and often bonkers anthology series Love, Death & Robots hits Netflix this weekend, this collaboration is a long time coming.
Back in March 2008, it was announced that Fincher, then best known for his work on Fight Club, and Tim Miller, most famous for co-founding VFX and animation studio Blur, were working on an omnibus Heavy Metal film. It only took them 11 years to actually bring that concept to life — albeit in a different form.
The original idea behind the duo partnering on Heavy Metal came from an early meeting Miller and Fincher had about collaborating in the late ’00s. Miller had been developing a “different kind of Heavy Metal” for a new generation with the sci-fi and fantasy comics magazine’s editor/publisher Kevin Eastman.
Heavy Metal — with its blend of subversive, cyberpunk, and sometimes pornographic stories featuring monsters, machines, and beautiful women — had had a huge influence on Miller as a child, and had previously been adapted into two cult-favorite feature films (one in 1981 and one in 2000). This new approach to an omnibus film stemmed from Miller’s desire to “do animation that wasn’t Hanna-Barbera.”
It was only Netflix that finally said, ‘Yeah, we think that sounds interesting.’
Fincher was game for the idea, and their partnership was born. Unfortunately, no major movie studios would make their project.
“Why I like Heavy Metal was because I like short stories, and so anthology just seemed like the great thing to do, to me,” Miller told IGN during an interview at SXSW. “Who would know that it terrifies movie-making executives — and people in general — because David and I tried for years, and it was only Netflix that finally said, ‘Yeah, we think that sounds interesting. Here’s some money. Go forth and do something great.'”
Over the years, Fincher and Miller’s intended Heavy Metal movie adaptation fell away from them — though Paramount Pictures had originally signed on to make the movie, Fincher never could get the movie funded, and in 2011 director Robert Rodriguez revealed he had acquired the rights to Heavy Metal with the intent to develop an animated film at his Quick Draw Studios. (It’s likely Rodriguez still owns the rights, even though his project never came to fruition either.)
It seems clear that, for Miller and Fincher, the original concept of adapting Heavy Metal evolved past the brand’s name and turned into what eventually became Love, Death & Robots. Still, one thing always stayed the same about Miller’s vision for the anthology: he wanted every story they told to be “great.”
Heavy Metal wasn’t the only sci-fi/fantasy story magazine at the time — there were other similar anthology collections like Eclipse and Savage Sword of Conan — and Miller consumed all of them. One thing he recalled about all of the anthologies was they tended to have at least one original story per issues that he really loved. He wanted to bring together a full line-up of those types of tales — in this case, the 18 shorts in Love, Death & Robots: Season 1 — for a new audience to enjoy.
Of those 18 episodes, 16 are adaptations of existing short stories, and two are original works. This created what is essentially a modern version of the Heavy Metal concept: taking a collection of compelling shorts connected only by the ideas of love, death and robots and putting them under one umbrella. The creative team behind Love, Death & Robots read and selected a vast array of short stories they felt were true to the series’ name, pulling in tales from established sci-fi writers including John Scalzi, Joe R. Lansdale and Alastair Reynolds, and from there honed in on what they felt were a good mix.
As Miller tells it, the criteria for the types of stories they would tell was “no criteria,” which is why you have a werewolf story set in Afghanistan next to a tale about a sentient yogurt that takes over the world — and even one live-action short, just to keep viewers on their toes.
Similar to the “no criteria” ultimatum, there also isn’t any thematic relevance to the stories being told. “I thought that any kind of structure to it would limit the type of stories that we could tell,” said Miller. “So the number one goal was no goals.”
The irony behind the 11 years it took Miller and Fincher to bring their spin on a modern Heavy Metal-style story to the screen is that, in the age of YouTube and Snapchat, today’s audiences seem more primed for short-form storytelling than ever.
Modern audiences seem more primed for short-form storytelling than ever.
“You could make a pretty strong argument that YouTube is really just like a never-ending anthology of short stories about cats or people having terrible skateboard accidents,” said Miller. “I honestly think that it’s funny, because David and I back then would be having the argument of, ‘Can people consume media this way?’ And now it becomes the argument of, ‘Can people consume media any other way?’ … It’s weird how the pendulum has swung the other way.”
Now that Love, Death & Robots is finally released, it remains to be seen what the future holds for Miller and Fincher’s long-gestating project. They’re leaving the door open to potentially spinning out some of the more popular stories in Season 1 into longer form content, or simply just doing another season of shorts. Netflix as a platform offers the unique opportunity to try more non-traditional storytelling, like Black Mirror’s choose-your-own-adventure episode Bandersnatch. But what needs to come first, of course, is making sure people actually watch and enjoy Love, Death & Robots.
“What doesn’t make sense is to say ‘this is what we’re going to do’ before you find out if there’s an audience for it. I think there is, but I could be wrong. And then, in which case, Netflix definitely will rightfully so say, ‘Thanks very much. We’ll see you later,'” said Miller with a smile.
“But even when we pitched the story, it was really interesting, because Netflix has this sort of perception of being very data-driven but also creative at the same time. And when they said yes to the series, they said, ‘We don’t have any data for anything like this. We don’t know if it will be successful, but we think it’s interesting. So we’re willing to take a risk and go forth and prove that it is, in fact, something that people want to watch.'”
Even if this is the only season for Love, Death & Robots, Miller seems happy this is the final form of what he and Fincher worked on for more than a decade. This time around they found a way for the authors of the original stories to share in the success — something that was shot down when he and Fincher were developing the anthology stories originally. But even more than that, Miller just hopes that this series drives a new audience to do something he loves: read.
“If there was one thing that I would hope that comes out of the series is that yes, we want everybody to watch Netflix, it’s true — but read a book. There’s so many good stories out there. I mean, these are the ones that we picked, but for every one of them, there’s a thousand great ones,” said Miller.
“I’ve spent more joyful hours in my life reading books than almost anything else that I can talk about in the press. And so I would hope that people realize that there’s a lot of good stories out there, and they don’t have to wait for them to be presented to them. They can go find them themselves.”
Love, Death & Robots is currently streaming on Netflix. Be sure to check out IGN’s review of Season 1.
Terri Schwartz is Editor-in-Chief of Entertainment at IGN. Talk to her on Twitter at @Terri_Schwartz.