Split Screens Festival ended its first year with a screening of Hannibal’s final episode: ‘The Wrath of the Lamb.’ Right after the screening Matt Zoller Seitz was joined on stage by a whole host of panelists either directly or peripherally involved with Hannibal. The theater was packed with flower crowned “fannibals” and watched over by showrunner Bryan Fuller, who appeared in godly high definition on the big screen through the magic of video chatting.
The panelists included Leila Taylor who is the creative director at the Brooklyn Public Library, Matt Marks who is a composer at Alarm Will Sound, and novelist Rob Hart (New Yorked, The Woman from Prague). Also in the house was our personal favorite lady Janice Poon, food stylist for Hannibal and author of the Feeding Hannibal cookbook and Dr. Lori Morimoto, independent scholar of fan studies.
Finally, Raul Esparza joined the group after his earlier panel and exclusive interview. Each panelist spoke to how Hannibal impacted them and how the work done on or around it continues to echo in their current projects.
The panel was so full of good insights that the only sane way to break it down is by panelist. We will hit the highlights, but you can check out our live tweeting at the end of this article for more details.
Bryan continues to be as engaged with Hannibal as ever and once again assured fans that a team is on board for a season four if it gets picked up. He shared that he wants it to be Angel Heart meets Inception and if that doesn’t catch your interest, I don’t know what will.
He showed a lot of love to the fannibals and even wore a fan art t-shirt. Bryan talked some about how, in Hannibal, they approached gore differently than a typical slasher-type or horror show. They wanted to “over-sensualize” and “compartmentalize” the violence, making it something beautiful and separate from how horrific it really was.
It made sense given Hannibal’s fondness for turning corpses into beautiful, symbolic tableaus and the style in which Hannibal was shot. Having just watched ‘The Wrath of the Lamb’ these ideas became abundantly clear and Bryan said that the final fight between Will, Hannibal, and the Red Dragon was “a threesome” – they shot it in a way that tried to make the violence sensual and beautiful, more like a dance and less like a murder. He managed to pull it off but credited the amazing cast and team he worked with because without them, he does not believe they would have been able to achieve the necessary emotional depth.
When questions were turned over to the audience, one individual asked Bryan if he had any advice for people who wanted to be writers and filmmakers. His suggestion was a simple one: take the leap. If you want to tell a story then you have to sit down and figure out how to tell it in a way unique to you.
Janice, royalty among fannibals and an absolutely delightful lady, shared how Hannibal changed her perspective on her business. Before Hannibal she said she had always been “a tree falling in a forest,” not really seen or heard except through what made it onto the screen.
However, Hannibal brought her into the light. Bryan said her “tree fell on a house,” that house being the fannibals. Through social media and the rabid fan response to the show, she started to share some of the behind-the-scenes sketches through her Feeding Hannibal blog. She started to engage directly with the fan base in a way she never could before and enjoyed exploring the history, culture, and symbolism of the meals she prepared for everyone’s favorite cannibal.
Directly before the panel she joined fannibals at a restaurant not far from the venue for a thematically appropriate dinner. The fans love her and she loves them back in earnest. Previously, we were able to speak to Janice after her blog morphed into a cookbook.
Like he did during his first panel, Raúl spoke again to how Hannibal taught him to act in front of a camera. Given his career had been mostly in stage work, he felt he had a lot to learn. Of note was the fact that he did not have to be perfect on every take. When doing television there was freedom and flexibility to play with a scene and a character.
He said he learned to come to set with a lot of options but no set choices. Leave the door open and see what happens. Yes, a lot of takes get left on the cutting room floor but the beauty of the small screen is that the final cut will usually take the best anyway. It was rewarding as an actor to have the freedom, and Bryan did a lot to make room for it.
He shared about inserting easter eggs into his character for his own enjoyment and how, when a fan picks up on it, it is exciting. There was a lot of that on set. Everyone tried to add things or play in a way that was symbolic or played into a pop culture reference. They did it for themselves but it was always amazing to the cast when the fans would pick up on and identify what they did. They were seen, which meant people were really paying attention to what they put out there.
She may be the creative director of the Brooklyn Public Library by day, but by night she is a wildly talented creator. Hannibal inspired her to create in a way no other show had and she began her “Scrapbooking for Serial Killers” project. Currently it has taken the form of teacups (a symbol used in the series) hand crafted for every episode.
It was inspiring to hear about how Hannibal sparked her creativity. Most of what I took away from it was that creativity, especially the kind that goes out on a limb, has a tendency to begat further creativity.
An audience member posed a question about representation of the mentally ill in horror to the panel and Leila had a particularly poignant thought. Hannibal as a television show worked hard to separate its killer characters from reality or humanity. It was not a show about Hannibal-the-mentally-ill-guy-who-eats-people, it was a show about Hannibal, the devil, smoke. Writing in that kind of separation really helped untether the show from reality and eliminated a lot of issues surrounding appropriate representation.
Matt is a composer by trade and shared with the audience that his work had been inspired by Hannibal, particularly Brian Reitzell’s role on the show. As a musically inclined creator, Matt was so intrigued by the Hannibal soundtrack that he helped arrange a live concert to showcase Reitzell’s score for the show.
The sounds of Hannibal played a vital part in the show’s mood and often pushed the bounds of a typical television soundtrack. Matt also had a response to the earlier mentioned audience question about representation, sharing that he believed empathy played a large part in being able to toe the lines in the show. He added that, at the end of the day, imagination is the biggest part as the writers try to put themselves into the character’s shoes and do right by their state of being.
A writer in his own right, Rob Hart was another in the long line of individuals inspired by Hannibal. In particular, he talked a lot about how the show encouraged him to play with different, darker themes than before. It can be hard to go “dark” in a story or delve into certain territory when thoughts of losing the audience or going “too far” run rampant in the writer’s mind.
Yet Hannibal managed to play with some very vital, dark, and utterly human themes that pushed the audience into a deeper place of understanding. If Bryan Fuller and his team could do it, why can’t other writers? Why shouldn’t they? So with that green light, Rob has started to go a different direction in some of his writing.
Since the question about representation was posed to the entire panel, Rob shared some of his insights. He said when he is dealing with the portrayal of mental illness it all comes down to adequate research. You don’t write about something you don’t at least try to understand, so thorough research becomes paramount to appropriate representation. It is the responsibility of the writer to portray things truthfully.
Dr. Lori Morimoto
Last but not least, Dr. Lori Morimoto brought some of her research into Hannibal and its fans into the mix. Hannibal inspired her to look deeper into fan-producer relationships and rightly so, since there is very little precedent out there for the relationship that Bryan has with his fannibals.
The show was so interesting to her because Bryan really did write fanfiction. She pointed out that he took the same beats, some of the same themes, and even the exact dialogue from the books but made it into its own story. That alone was an impressive feat.
Lori said that Hannibal was also a three-season metaphor for the writing process, showing how characters, confidence, and content shift. For Hannibal, everything sort of culminated in season three when Bryan threw all procedural pretext to the wind and went full throttle into the world he created.
My mind was blown just from a couple of her observations. You can check out her full body of work here.
The final Hannibal screening and panel was really a great way to end Split Screens Festival’s inaugural year. The whole thing wrapped with a raffle for Hannibal swag provided by Bryan Fuller. Included were items like signed DVD covers, a season of Hannibal, and a piece of prop art drawn by Hannibal.
Fans were happy, creators were happy, and everyone ended the night with drinks at a nearby bar to celebrate the success of both Hannibal and Split Screens Festival. We are looking forward to next year!