‘Westworld’ Showrunner Lisa Joy on How A.I. is Turning the Sci-Fi Show Into “a Documentary”
“[Westworld] was science fiction when we started, and now it’s much more like a documentary film,” said Lisa Joy, the creator and showrunner of the hit HBO series, about a dystopian world with self-aware artificial intelligence. “With Chat GPT and advances in A.I., these issues are becoming more and more relevant today.”
Joy, speaking at the Series Mania television festival in Lille, France on Wednesday, noted that while the show was canceled by HBO after four seasons late last year, both she and co-creator Jonathan Nolan would have liked it to continue for a fifth and final installment. She noted that the topics central to the show “will continue to be explored, if not in Westworld then in other series, taking them to new levels.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Joy gave insights into her life and career as one of the most sought-after talents in the international TV industry.
The Peripheral, Joy’s first major project under her overall deal with Amazon Studios, signed in 2019, has just been renewed for a second season and the multi-hyphenate is deep into production on the hotly-anticipated Fallout, a small-screen adaptation of the hit apocalyptic video game for the streaming service.
Joy is overseeing the international jury at this year’s Series Mania, noted that watching this year’s competition lineup, which includes shows from as far afield as Israel, Iran and Japan, has given her “the best feeling that you can have when you watch a show [as a writer] which is is one of complete and total insecurity. And I’ve had that repeatedly, like: just where do these people get these ideas, how do they film this wonderful stuff? It’s so fresh and original, beautifully done. It gives me so much hope and excitement honestly for all of the shows and content to come.”
While she is best known for her U.S. series, Joy noted that as an “international production” herself — her father is British, her mother Chinese — she grew up watching British and Chinese series, such as Doctor Who and The Monkey King. “So that’s always just been a part of my DNA. I think the reason I like genre in a way is because it’s so universal that it doesn’t pertain specifically to one culture only. And so I would love to do more kind of internationally-based programming.”
She also touched on the looming U.S. writers’ strike, throwing her full support behind the Writers’ Guild, which, she says, “act for the collective good.”
“In America, unlike a lot of countries in Europe, we don’t have universal health care, we don’t have much of a social safety net,” she said. “And I remember struggling to make it in Hollywood and wondering about all the most basic of needs that I faced. Even if you’re lucky enough to get staffed on a show, there’s no guarantee that if that show ends or you’re no longer on that show, you can get another job immediately. It’s very stressful. I think that the Writers’ Guild is working to make it possible for writers at all levels to have an easier time supporting themselves. I think that’s incredibly important.”
The Writers Guild of America officially began negotiations on Monday with the studios, as the union seeks to increase compensation and set minimum standards for the size and duration of writers’ rooms, as well as other issues.
Much of the Series Mania talk was a celebration of Joy’s success, but the Emmy-nominated writer was quick to point out the setbacks and misfires of her career.
“People introduce me as: ‘she created this and she did that’ but you could also introduce me with all the things that I failed to get on air,” Joy noted. “I think that’s really, really important for people in this business to remember is that everything is not going to go right and all your shows are not going to go at the time you want, even if you love them and have put your soul into them. You just can’t stop. You have to keep going. [Because] no content, no idea really ever dies. It’s reincarnated in new works. It’s never adieu, it’s just au revoir.”
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