Amazon Provokes With “High Castle”

Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido in “The Man in the High Castle”

It could only have happened, they say, at Amazon. If you’ve forgotten that “OTT” stands for “over-the-top,” consider what might be the most over-the-top premise you’ve heard of… a bleak, dystopian speculation on what might have happened if the Allied forces had lost World War II, and Germany and Japan had claimed the United States as their spoils.

A Tuesday afternoon Creative Masters Series panel brought together members of the creative team of “The Man in the High Castle” at NAB Show. Based on the revered Philip K. Dick novel, the controversial project was brought to Amazon by a team that included director Ridley Scott’s production company as well as Dick’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett, who serves as an executive producer.

According to moderator and “Found Remote” Executive Editor Natan Edelsburg, “Man in the High Castle” is the most streamed show in Amazon Video history; it was nominated in four Emmy categories in 2016, winning two (cinematography and main title design). Edelsburg asked the panelists why Amazon chose to take on such a provocative subject.

“We’re striving to do things that are ambitious and distinct and thought-provoking, and I think ‘Man in the High Castle,’ for us, ticked all of those boxes,” said Marc Resteghini, Amazon development executive. “But we had to figure out how to tell that story.”

Actor Joel de la Fuente, who plays Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido, clearly was awed by the show’s pedigree. “Perhaps no one has had a more distinct voice over the last 50 years or so than Philip K. Dick,” he said. “You have a chance to create something singular.”

Executive Producer Daniel Percival referenced the disturbing, unsettling appeal of the project. “For American audiences in particular, to depict a world in which America is a defeated nation, an occupied nation… to put you into a world that forces you to reflect on your world now — there’s very few television programs that do that,” he said.

Resteghini reinforced the team’s implied mission. “I think that’s what the best science fiction and the best period stories do,” he said. “They hold up a mirror to our society and ask the audience to look inward and reflect.”

Percival described the challenge laid be- fore the show’s cinematographers as one of “taking places that are at once familiar to us as audience members and subverting them.”

According to Resteghini, “I think it’s worth pointing out that Dan and our production team and designers put so much thought into every nuance and every specific thing you might see in the show. There’s nothing in this show that hasn’t been completely thought through.”

The production team also imagined the kind of rebellious underground music that might have sprung up in the series’ 1960s setting under such repressive regimes.

“What happened with the development of music?” Percival asked. “We always struggled with how a culture defines itself through its music, and how we use that; and ‘Resistance Radio’ is one of the most exciting tools in the show.”

Moderator Edelsburg noted that this seemingly muted background detail ultimately led to the creation of an 18-song album by Sam Cohen and “Danger Mouse” Brian Burton called “Resistance Radio,” which has served to extend the cult-like popularity of “High Castle.” But the album’s popularity also highlights the degree to which obsessive attention to detail has engaged the show’s audience.

Behind the scenes, a brisk production schedule requires added resources, the panelists revealed.

“While we have two cinematographers, because the complexity of the prep is such that we have to leapfrog, we’ve achieved this harmonious look,” Percival said. The show is differentiated, Percival claimed, by a more cinematic approach than is used in most series work.

“Television doesn’t worry itself too much with the language of a frame,” he said. But rather than settle for a more conventional “mid, wide, tight” shot rhythm, “we take the cinematic poetry of the frame and apply it to every single shot.”

While the panelists declined to reveal secrets and plot twists for the upcoming Season 3 of “High Castle,” Resteghini feels there clearly are more stories to be told. “I’d like to go back to the Neutral Zone,” he said.

Cast member Joel de la Fuente expressed more practical concerns: “They’re always trying to kill me.”

But for all the panelists, it was the fierce independence of the Amazon “ambitious, distinct, thought-provoking” criteria that made it possible to bring such controversial Philip K. Dick content to life.

“No one else would have done this show,” said Percival.