Legendary TV producer Norman Lear was stunned into silence the first time he saw Jordan Peele’s record-setting horror movie “Get Out.”
“I’ve never been more touched,” Lear said at the Producers Guild’s annual Produced By conference on Sunday. “I lose words when I think about how this man’s film affected me.”
Lear’s comments came during a panel where the famed producer behind such iconic shows as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” sat down with Peele to discuss the making of his universally acclaimed directorial debut.
“Holy s—. I don’t have the words for it. That is such a piece of work,” Lear said after playing a clip from the film, in which the protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother (Catherine Keener) and banished to a psychic abyss called “the sunken place.”
Peele called out the scene as one of the hardest for him to write, saying that as writer-director he had to walk a number of “tightropes” to achieve his goal. Not only did the scene, with its creeping sense of dread and surprise ending, have to defy audience expectations, it also had to represent a point of view that hadn’t been portrayed on screen before.
“There’s a lack of representation, not only in our skin, but in our identity, and what we would do in this situation,” Peele said, explaining that the story and the characters were written to fill a void in the horror film genre.
And that’s reflected in the visual style of the sunken place, which Peele intentionally designed to resemble a dark movie theater. The director said he wanted the black audience members to see themselves on the screen in that moment. “No matter how loud we scream at the screen, we can’t affect what’s happening. We can’t get that representation.”
“Story is one of the few ways that we have to stepping into someone else’s shoes,” he said. “If the story is told well, if the actor is doing their job, if the script is right on, we’re all that protagonist, and we see through the eyes of that protagonist.”
“Get Out” clearly met all of those marks, resonating with the audience in a way that few films do. The movie earned raves from critics, with a 99 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and broke box office records. Last month, Peele became the first African-American writer-director to surpass $200 million worldwide.
“I’m in this moment right now where I’m fortunate enough to have the success … Now I feel this burden of the task of doing it again,” Peele said. Now, as he looks to the future, he finds himself turning to people like Lear, who has enjoyed nearly unparalleled career longevity, for guidance.
“Of all the people I’ve ever known, all the people who’s work I’ve ever seen, you’ve proven that you can do this over and over and over again,” Peele told Lear. “Giving us work that opens our minds and resonates on this level of zeitgeist … I just have to say, I’m blown away by this. I want to learn from you. I want to figure out what you did to keep the compass due north.”
“If my career goes the way I want it to go,” Peele added, “‘Get Out’ will be the first of many.”
“[Before the panel] we talked a little about what you’re doing next, and there’ll be many,” Lear assured him.