John Wilson shares his thoughts on a memorable pursuit of the perfect risotto, his early season two efforts, and the magic of stumbling across Kyle MacLachlan outside of the subway.
(Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the first season finale of "How To with John Wilson," "How to Cook the Perfect Risotto.")
It's hard to come up with the perfect "How To with John Wilson" joke, but as the season one finale starts, a tough competitor comes up. While constructing a lightning-fast story of the risotto, John Wilson came across a specific piece of footage filmed on a street corner in New York City. When he matched it to the intro of the episode he'd already written, he knew he had gold.
“I want to have a new shot for each line. Adam Locke-Norton edited this episode. We just sat down and everyone had our sequences of our favorite shots. We went through them all, just hours and hours of footage, ”said Wilson. "We found that shot of the garbage bag floating over the trash can and it looked like a chef's hat. We both started laughing hysterically. Then you know it's a good pairing."
It's the kind of moment How To with John Wilson seems to have on an endless scale, chosen from an ever-increasing amount of footage that Wilson has shot in locations within the Five Boroughs and beyond. That sense of patience and attention to detail stems from Wilson's previous online work, which follows the same wide-format approach as his new HBO series. Wilson's voice-over leads the viewer step by step to a topic that in the end encompasses much more than promised in the episode title.
In the season's opening episode, “small talk” is used as an entry point to explore how we let people into our lives and when we try to keep them there. Personal security, smoothness of memory and hygienic decisions revolve around a show that also manages to celebrate the specifics of city life.
Wilson reckoned that the "How to Make the Perfect Risotto" season finale would match the frustration of giving up a cigarette habit. After production of the episode lasted into March, the end of the episode was about a rapidly changing world. New connections emerged.
Zach Dilgard / HBO
“I did the episode about risotto because I wanted to repay my landlord. I actually quit nicotine and it was really hard for me. I thought it was going to be this hybrid type of "cook and pull back" movie. And then obviously the pandemic happened and all three were entangled, ”said Wilson. “Each part happens to talk to each other in strange ways. The kid with the exhaust, that's what we saw on a cut after the shutdown had begun. He talks about pollution, but he also talks about individual and collective responsibility. The audience may not realize it at the moment, but it does hint at this kind of struggle that I have with individual versus collective responsibility with the pandemic and whether or not my individual actions affect more people. "
When the health crisis changed production requirements, so did the show. In the final part of the episode, Wilson navigates the early days of New York City's closure, but for the remainder of the season he had to find a way to articulate his filmmaking sensitivity to the other camera crews.
“Scaling was interesting. I had to teach a lot of people how to write in my voice, edit in my style or how to take photos. I had a whole style bible full of GIFs that I made for all the cameramen: loose rules of composition, how to spot visual gags, panning them from one thing to another, and turning them into a joke, ”said Wilson. "But it really wasn't that difficult. I just picked people who work on the show and are either very close to my style or even better than me. I had to think about what was unique about my process before getting anyone else involved was what the ingredients for this particular sauce were. "
Of course, not just watching the show from a distance. The risotto episode shows off one of the show's other strengths: it gives space to strangers who feel comfortable appearing on camera in an essentially experimental documentary comedy. "How To with John Wilson" always strikes the balance between conversation tangents that surprise some people but come from a place where they get to know the real person.
"I'm trying to let the material breathe for as long as possible," said Wilson. "I feel like so much of what qualifies as documentary or reality TV is just overworked and you don't get a real sense of who that person is. Documentary actually works very closely with those stereotypes . You are either good or bad, you are either righteous or a criminal. The nuance of it all is so much more interesting.
"When I look at & # 39; Property Brothers & # 39; or something like that, I really want to know what these people are actually like. I long for that extra dimension with these people, "he said." The carpenter who works on a house in one of these shows, the people who don't usually get a microphone, I want to know how they feel about these niche topics. ”
Jon Pack / HBO
Wilson knew when something incredible was happening in a scene from the season premiere. At the end of an otherwise straightforward observation of people ending conversations, there is a longer, unbroken shot of a beloved character actor trying to get on public transport.
"I followed Kyle MacLachlan a few blocks before I finally got on the subway," said Wilson. “If you can believe it, he stole a subway ticket for about 10 seconds before I even hit the record button. It's just one of those things that I try not to shake while I'm photographing it because I realize I am photographing that once in a lifetime moment. That is the climax that I keep following. Fortunately we were able to write it, but you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, despite being six very dense episodes. That's why I like to do what I do because the idea that this footage disappears and is never incorporated into anything is tragic for me. "
The season finale shows Wilson packing up his computer rig so he can continue working on the season from home. While HBO hasn't ordered a second season yet, Wilson wanted to keep documenting the changing city around him.
"I did a few episodes by myself. This is my hibernation," he said. "I can't stop filming. The last thing I wanted was for there to be a reporting gap between the first and a hypothetical second season. At the thought of missing out on this extremely unique and fast-moving point in New York City history, I would hate to miss the opportunity to film as much as possible before it goes away. The way restaurants looked six months ago is vastly different from the way they look now, and I'm not sure if it will ever look that way again.
"I believe that video and film are the best ways to archive a document, at a specific time and place," said Wilson. "And I always worry about losing things. I like to take in as much of it and keep as much of it as possible."
"How To with John Wilson" Season 1 is now streamed on HBO Max.