THE DARKEST MINDS
About The Production
Based on the popular young adult novel, "The Darkest Minds" starts in a
turbulent America where 98% of the children's population has died of a mysteries
disease, deeming the 2% of the surviving children enemies of the state and
forcing them on the run.
"The movie is about kids being able to use these powers in order to survive,
it's a lot of action, but it's also a lot of heart," says the film's director
Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
"The Darkest Minds" hinged on audiences identifying with the characters'
struggles and being able to see themselves in this nightmare. "We wanted this to
feel like a reality that we live in today and recognize," says Nelson. "It's
what makes the powers unique, they contrast with our otherwise normal reality.
You should be able to imagine being able to go out right now and see someone
doing these amazing things, so we didn't want to place this film in some far off
time period or futuristic and obscure place. We want audiences to believe this
"I think that more than ever in the world we are aware of our own mortality,"
says Gwendoline Christie who plays bounty hunter Lady Jane. "And I think that we
live in turbulent times, and as a consequence these dystopian stories have
greater relevance to our lives than ever because the potential for it to become
a reality is great,"
"'The Darkest Minds' has been an interesting journey because we got the rights
to the book five years ago and that was when as a company, 21 Laps, was known
predominantly as a comedy or tent pole family film kind of company," says Shawn
Levy, whose company 21 Laps is producing the film. "But I always knew we wanted
to move into this different space; a space that is what I would I call
"I think this story had a timeless theme," adds producer Dan Levine. "And it's
so universal, in that it's about kids growing up into teenagers and discovering
that they they're different, which people don't understand, especially adults
and the government. So they're thrown into camps. And the story follows these
children becoming young adults and learning to stand up for themselves and
protect themselves. I think the fear of fitting in and the search for acceptance
often follows us into adulthood."
"This story is about a world that is not very different from ours," observes
Amandla Stenberg, who stars as Ruby Daly. "But some really drastic things have
happened. The majority of the population of children has died. And the kids who
are left have developed these mental abilities that are inexplicable. And so,
because of these abilities, the adults are afraid of them and they put them into
camps. And so, this particular story focuses on this girl who escapes from one
of these camps and what happens when she finds a family of her own on the
"Anyone who's been a teenager can relate to this story," says Levine. "And that
was really something we felt that set us apart, that when people see this
trailer and when people get to go see the film, they're going to realize, this
is a film about now and about something that feels very real and that could
happen tomorrow, despite the sort of fantasy and the power element of it. It
felt to us much more grounded and real and it takes place tomorrow as opposed to
some dystopian future with a new world order."
"What made 'The Darkest Minds' special for me was being able to go for something
different," adds Nelson. "I think the 'YA' label for a film is something that's
been done and is so expected, I wanted to do something that was unexpected.
Something that was fresh. And 'The Darkest Minds' had that freshness even in the
script. It had deep emotional bonds. There were real and identifiable characters
you actually want to spend time with. It had amazing action. But that emotional
core was what did it for me."
"There are number themes that kind of run through the spine of the movie," says
Levy. "It's very much a film about belonging and in that regard, this movie
happens to be about kids with some powers, but there's no one who's ever lived
who hasn't wrestled with that search for identity. It's a search that is often
at its most heightened in adolescence, and so that's the focus of our film."
"It is ultimately about a small group of kids with powers, super-human powers,
that they don't yet fully understand, who find each other by being collectively
on the run from the authorities. And it's about the way in which they rely on
and connect with each other as they search for others like them. It might be
dealing with intense themes and events, but the movie is fundamentally really
hopeful. It's hopeful about the possibility of connection and the possibility of
acceptance, says Levy.
"This movie transcends all ages," says Nelson. "It's not just about being a
teenager. Everyone has been in that place when they are not completely
comfortable with who they are. It's about facing the things about you that you
aren't happy with, that you consider a flaw, and being able to grow into this
place of being able to embrace those things. Being able to access what makes you
unique and use it as a strength. This story follows a character that, in the
beginning, is powerless and essentially frightened and ashamed of what she is.
And by the end, you watch her grow. You watch her become this empowered strong
character being able to do things she never thought she could do. Everyone can
identify with that journey."
With a background in animation and a passion for Kung Fu and action films,
Nelson was the ideal director to helm this female-starred action adventure.
"We met a lot of filmmakers to direct 'The Darkest Minds'," admits Levy. "And
early on, our kind of dream since this is such a female empowerment hero's
journey, if we could find a visionary director who was also female it would
insert in the film a really visceral and intimate knowledge of these themes and
some of these experiences. We met Jennifer Nelson, who comes from animation and
who directed the last two 'Kung Fu Panda' films, which are obviously very
different in tone, and we knew she was the best person for the job."
Nelson's desire to bring Ruby's quest for family and survival incorporating a
fighting spirit as well as a lot of heart stems from her long history of
bringing imaginative and never-before-seen worlds to life as seen in her work in
"Kung Fu Panda" 2 and 3.
"Jen really has a brilliant eye," says Levine. "She's a storyboard artist, and
when you look at those panels, they're beautiful, each one of them feels like a
piece of art, and they have such scope and scale, and I think what people don't
realize about Jen is she's got this really wicked edge to her."
"She really loves to explore the edgier side of things, and I think she had just
an incredible aesthetic, from doing the storyboards and being trained in that
way. She has every image in her head, and every shot framed in her head. It's
been a really incredible process to watch."
"What's beautiful about this picture is that it marries all these different
elements, and the only way to achieve a picture with this many moving parts is
to have a strong voice like Jen, who has very specific image of what she wanted,
and Jen storyboarded every single frame of the movie and shot-listed every
single shot," says the film's cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau. "Jen is very
concise about what she needs and very prolific with visual language coming from
THE BOOK SERIES/ ALEXANDRA BRACKEN
Nelson had a firm vision of what lay at the heart of "The Darkest Minds". "I
think that it's just a good story. There's a reason why there are fans of this
particular series of books. They resonate with the characters. They resonate
with the message, and they resonate with the concept of it. And because of that
excitement by fans it made me excited to follow it. I've read a lot of original
scripts and they're great too but this just had something really profound."
Bracken tried her hand at acting for the first time in a scene with Skylan
Brooks who plays Chubs. "Thankfully we rehearsed because I think I would have
literally face-planted at one point. I do not think I have it in me to be a
professional actor but for the part I did I think I nailed it," laughs Bracken.
Reminiscing on her time on set, Bracken explains: "The really wonderful thing
that the set visit especially drove home is that now it's like a true
adaptation. It's a product of so many different people's imaginations and hard
work, and they poured their heart and soul into it. And all of the actors nailed
the relationship dynamics, which I was so excited to see. Now it's like a group
project. It's like everyone gets to share in on this story and I think that's
"The diversity of our cast is imperative," says Levy. "Jennifer really wanted to
cast actors who felt authentic and not just kind of cardboard cut-out expected.
She wanted a cast that was diverse and that reflected the diversity of this
country. And I think it's a fantastic and critical component in a movie that is
about difference and the embracing the championing of difference."
"Ruby was kind of the make-or-break decision on this film. She's in almost every
frame and I confess, I've known Amandla for several years because she happened
to have gone to the same school as my older daughters. And so I would see
Amandla in school plays. And even when she was fourteen, it was very evident
that this young woman was special. She's not only very commanding on a stage and
on a screen, as Rue in 'Hunger Games', I saw her as a Teen Idol singing "Beauty
School Dropout" in "Grease" and she was awesome as that, too!"
"She is kind of profound in the way she thinks about things and feels things and
she really responded to this material and had the right depth, the right ability
to hold some things back and to not kind of give it all up and reveal all of who
she is in every frame, which is very important to this movie. There's an
enigmatic quality to Amandla. There's a fierce intelligence and there is
ultimately a real power to her that makes her the perfect Ruby."
"The character of Ruby is pretty tough," says Stenberg. "And she's also kind of
introverted, the way that she's written in the book. And so in bringing her to
life on the screen, we thought about things that we can do to show all facets of
her, because we're unable to read into her mind like you can when you read the
book. I think she is really passionate. She stands her ground. She knows what
she wants. That's what I like a lot about her. But she's also really thoughtful
and kind of keeps to herself. I think she's a lot like me."
In discussing what drew her to the project, Stenberg says, "The storyline and
the meaning of the storyline was something that immediately excited me about
this project. I think there are some parallels between this story and the world
we're living in today."
Playing Liam, Harris Dickinson was excited to join the project: "What I love
about this script is that it's really grounded in reality, and the kind of
themes of it just bring it back down to what really matters; Friendship, family,
support, and fighting for what you believe in."
"The character of Liam led an uprising and is on the run," explains Levy. "He's
fiercely protective of this young girl named Zu, who escaped with him. And so we
needed someone with power, with physical presence, and someone who could play
this love story because the romantic elements of "The Darkest Minds" are one of
its strongest aspects. And the Ruby/Liam love story builds slowly."
"The whole movie is a quest for this 'slip kids' camp," continues Levy. "And for
this camp where supposedly kids live free, the character of Clancy [played by
Patrick Gibson] is pretty critical because he runs this utopian kind of what
could be a 'Lord Of The Flies', 'Maze Runner', kid-only civilization or outpost,
with order, with kindness, with charisma. And Patrick brings that charisma to
the role. There is even the possibility of a love triangle between Clancy, Ruby
and Liam. We want to kind of make the audience lean in to wonder who Ruby's
going to end up with. And both Harris and Patrick, apart from being good-looking
guys, have such a charm and such a compelling quality on screen that a romantic
triangle makes for a really juicy aspect."
Travelling on the quest to the slip kids camp with Ruby and Liam are two other
characters: Zu, played by Miya Cech and Chubs, played by Skylan Brooks.
"Zu is a nine, ten-year-old girl and Miya is a revelation - she's this young
actress at an age where you rarely find a great actress," says Levy. "When Miya
auditioned, her face was so expressive. Her character doesn't talk for
ninety-five percent of the movie and that's not easy. So you need someone who is
articulate without words. And Miya, who is also crazily professional for such a
young age, brings a heart achingly expressive quality to the character of Zu,
who we learn, over the course of the movie, has been through real trauma - way
more trauma than someone that age should ever have to go through."
After reading the story, Cech explained "I can kind of picture myself as her,
and I found that she was very expressive very much like me."
"And you really root for her," adds Levy. "And you understand why Liam is so
fiercely protective as her surrogate big brother."
The other travel companion, Chubs brings an additional element to the mix.
"Chubs is not only a dimensional and authentic character the way all of our
characters are," says Levy, "but he brings a certain levity. He kind of calls it
like it is. When he sees something brewing between Ruby and Liam, he's going to
name it even if it makes people uncomfortable."
"And I think that you need that levity in a world, and in a film, that has some
heavy themes and some intense scenes and sequences, I know that I, as an
audience member, am grateful to be offered a little valve to release some
pressure, and we do that through humor. But it's not broad, it's not silly, it's
really kind of witty. And the tone of the Chubs character is that really, kind
of winning, comedic aspect in the midst of this virtual family that's making
their way through the landscape."
"The movies that I love the most are the ones where the humor is earned, not
through premise or circumstantial gags, but through character interaction,
character conflict and character discomfort, because discomfort can be funny."
Two very different female characters help round out the cast: Cate, a doctor who
tries to help Ruby, and Lady Jane, a bounty hunter who hunts the children down.
"I knew early that we wanted Mandy Moore to play Cate," says Levy. "We needed
someone who had strength, but who also had real, immediately palpable warmth.
That's what we needed for the character of Cate, who is basically a savior of
sorts. And we need to believe in that and, with Mandy we do, instantly."
"Lady Jane is a bounty hunter and honestly, as soon as Gwendoline Christie came
up as an idea, obviously, whether you've seen "Game of Thrones" or "Star Wars:
The Force Awakens", Gwendoline has a physical, imposing presence that is
formidable and unique, but she's also got such a range as an actress."
"Lady Jane is this kind of road warrior/bounty hunter, traversing the landscape
looking for escaped kids, trying to collect a bounty, trying to take them out.
She needs to be scary, but we wanted her to be kind of scary and a threat in an
interesting and different kind of way. And whatever Gwendoline Christie does,
it's always very captivating."
Excited to sign on to the project, Christie explains, "After reading the script,
I felt that it connected very strongly to our times, to our political situation,
severe and deeply upsetting and awful refugee situations around the world, and
that I think in terms of our media, we're starting to, I hope, connect more with
human beings that are seemingly different from us, and recognize that those
differences aren't so great after all. And that we can recognize, I hope, the
humanity in each other, and what it is to need comfort, to need shelter, to need
liberty, and of course love," says Christie.
"I feel as though Lady Jane is dealing with an interesting moral dilemma. She's
British but she's stuck here in America because they've closed down the borders
due to this disease. She feels if she can contain these children and get enough
money she can return home, but of course at the expense of these children," says
"Lady Jean is a great character in this book," adds Levine. "And I think
audiences are going to love her in the movie."
COLORS (BLUE, GREEN, ORANGE, RED, GOLD)
During the filming of "The Darkest Minds", hundreds of children dressed in gold,
blue and green scrubs take off sprinting across a dark alleyway barely lit with
ominous streaks of security lights scanning over the children. Alarms blare
through the night signaling an uprising as soldiers chase down the children
cornering them against an electric security fence. As snow falls and the
darkness surrounds Harris Dickinson playing Liam and Miya Cech playing Zu by his
side. Dickinson taps into his psi powers forcing the fence to fall.
All the while, Amandla Stenberg watches in horror as her vision of the flashback
reveals the gravity of these children's' situation. These are a handful of the
2% of children who survived a mysterious disease that killed off 98% of
America's children and the authorities have deemed them a danger to society.
The scene takes great precision from the veteran stunt team helmed by Jack Gill
and special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri to illustrate the tension, fear,
and heart that encompass this film.
First, filmmakers had to create a clear vision of each of the children's' powers
to then visualize how to implement the stunts and effects around them.
"We made the powers feel like what would happen if you actually had them, as
opposed to, big heat blasts. We wanted to make it feel like it was literally
coming out of these kids, and they don't yet quite know how to control these
powers," says Levine.
"We wanted to show what would it be like if you got to a certain age and
suddenly you developed these powers, and you couldn't quite control them, and
how scary this would be for these young kids."
"Certain colors are more dangerous than others, and it's very easy to apply to
society today and some of the prejudices that people have to deal with. And I
think that's another part of the book that people can relate to, I think people
who feel like they've been treated unfairly can relate to this book where kids
are just segregated by color and ability," says Levine.
"I think this movie shows that in the end, that what people see as a liability
or a difference is actually a power."
Orange is the color classification for those who developed telepathic abilities.
Ruby played by Stenberg is classified as an orange and develops the ability to
read minds, influence people's actions and thoughts, alter or erase memories,
and change the feelings of others. Clancy Gray played by Patrick Gibson is also
classified as an orange and develops telepathic abilities.
Gold is the color classification for those who developed electrokinetic powers.
Zu played by is classified as a gold and develops the ability to create and
control electricity. They are considered one of the more dangerous.
Green is the color classification for individuals who developed enhanced mental
and intellectual powers. Although Chubs in the book series is classified as a
Blue (telekinetic), filmmakers made the decision to make him a Green in order to
have all four varieties in the group. In the film, Chubs develops heightened
problem solving abilities and a photographic memory.
Blue is the color classification for those who developed telekinetic powers.
Liam played by Harris Dickinson is classified as a blue and he develops the
ability to move objects with his mind.
Red is the color classification for those who developed pyrokinetic powers. Red
classified individuals have the ability to create and manipulate fire. As a
result, they possess immense destructive potential, and are considered amongst
the most dangerous of the PSI - and the most challenging for stunt coordinator
STUNTS AND ACTION
To bring the PSI powers from the page to the big screen, Nelson closely
collaborated with Gill.
"Jen picks it up really quickly which was great," says Gill. "She comes in and
really is like a sponge. She wants to learn all about it and said, 'What are the
parameters? What can we do here? How can we get this to that? Having somebody
that really wants to learn helps us because it makes for a really collaborative
"Jen knows exactly what she wants. And every question you ask her, she has a
great answer for. So that leads us down the right path right off the bat."
"For the Reds we use real flamethrowers. They're flamethrowers that-- kind of
the same idea of the old World War II flamethrowers. It's liquid gasoline that
is propelled out, you know, at a high rate of speed, and it's under pressure, so
we can shoot it about seventy-five to eighty feet. And in the movie, you're
going to see the Reds, you know, spew out this flame and there's going to be
about a five-foot buffer between out of their mouth to where it catches fire,
and that's when the fire then takes over effect and it burns anything in their
When considering the stunt sequences, Gill explains "the whole idea behind this
is even though it's kind of an apocalyptic world it's not the end of the world
for them. We still wanted people to feel that there's hope. We're trying to make
people feel that they are fighting to try and make things better. And so in the
action sequences, everything that we're doing is you're trying to see these
characters build as they go. They're all learning what their powers are. They're
learning how to harness them. They're learning how to do all these different
"What we try to do is we want to build the action so that you don't get the
biggest action piece right at the start of the movie. So we're building all
these powers and all these actions beats so that by the time we get to the third
act, we're doing the biggest action for the whole movie. So it's kind of a
journey for all of us because the characters do build in the fact that they have
to meet each other, find out what each person does."
"Then they find that they're a little scared of each other because they don't
know if each one of them is going turn them in. And so it becomes their part of
their trust each other. Once they trust each other, now they can go out and help
each other to try and get to where they need to get in the end. But bad guys are
always after them and that's the bad part about it is they never know who's
their friend and who's their foe."
"One of the most challenging pieces we faced was for our end sequence in the
third act we have a, a lot of flame breathing characters. They spit flame 70
feet. And so we're using real backpack flame throwers that have real diesel and
gasoline fuel that goes out of them so it takes a lot of time to rehearse it. We
had a couple of months of rehearsal before we even shot the final sequence
because of all the details that went into it."
Gill assembled the best of the best to assist in the off-road sequences,
recruiting veteran stunt coordinator and his brother Andy Gill as well as
longtime friend and stunt coordinator Gary Hymes.
"When Gwendoline Christie had to do her car chase sequences, we made it look
like she's driving a car," explains Andy. "But I'm driving the car from what's
called a pod. It's up on top of the car. And it's mounted to the roof of the car
and I have steering, braking, gas and it's all hydraulically driven through the
car. She has no steering input, no gas, no brake input. Actually has no pedals
in the car. She has to sit in there and act like she's driving, so we have to
rehearse over and over so she knows the moves I'm doing so she can react to
those moves. Jack talks her through it and tells me what he wants me to do
either, either fight with him on the road back and forth or sliding 180's or, or
turning and sliding, going off the road.".
Utilizing the practices they implemented on the Fast and Furious franchises,
Gill and team knew they needed to use real cars on real roads. "Once we started
going back to real action, the audience member kind of felt ok, I'm part of the
thing and that's what we've done throughout all the other Fast and Furious
movies," he says.
"We're using a couple of different rigs, one that is called a biscuit rig, which
is a rig that is essentially like a traveling platform that has a pod driven
like cage that you can drive the controls for the vehicle and place that pod
anywhere on and around the vehicle. So you can look in every different
direction, it's like a flatbed but it has a monitor, steers, and then you can
move that drive pod anywhere you want and it gives you flexibility on your
"The other rig we're using is called the Pod, which literally looks like a
go-kart that goes on top of the van and that driver is driving the van and our
actors can be in it and it gives the illusion that they are driving at the same
"From the camera's perspective it looks like we are actually driving through
other cars in these dangerous situations," says Christie. "But for the most part
there's a stunt driver in a rig attached to the car driving, while we're just
acting, and on a certain level, that's pretty scary. I mean, talk about a
"Jack Gill and his team brings just such great spectacle and experience, I think
it's gonna really elevate this film and we're just thrilled to have him on
board," says Levine.
"What we wanted to do was make the environments and the movie itself very real
and tangible and relatable," says production designer Russell Barnes. "We wanted
to shy away from having an ultra-polished looking movie and really just break
the mold a little bit with what we've seen in the past in some young adult
"Camp Thurmond [where Ruby is imprisoned at the start of the film] is meant to
be dull in tone and very bleak and we wanted to introduce an explosion of color
into Ruby's world once she leaves," continues Barnes. "Ruby has been imprisoned
for six years, and ultimately she meets up with a group of kids who are the
closest thing to family that she's got. And so her eyes are wide, she's seeing
the world through a different lens and so we really focused on illustrating that
through this explosion of color. The tones get a little bit more vibrant and we
up the contrast bringing that new world to her."
"Jennifer wanted the movie to look warm and inviting and to be a world that you
want to be in, especially when Ruby escapes from the camp, it's very free and
youthful and happy spirited. Jen didn't want it to be another dark
post-apocalyptic picture. She didn't want it to be completely cold and
Filming in Atlanta, the variety of locations available proved a huge boon for
the filmmakers. "Atlanta really came through," acknowledges Barnes, "with the
diversity of locations and in being in close proximity to the city. We were
provided with a range of different environments as we travel from suburban to
industrial and a little of post-apocalyptic, as well as a great stage space."
"Georgia is sort of a goldmine of different looks," adds director of photography
Kramer Morgenthau. "It has a lush almost tropical quality to it because there's
so much rain and foliage. It's like a green explosion and that was very
important to Jen's visual design, using overgrowth as a way of showing the
apocalypse versus deconstructed urban sort of warehouses."
The geography of Atlanta helped particularly when creating the Slip Kid's Camp.
Nature helped the design. "For the Slip Kid's Camp it was critical that we found
a basin surrounded with trees enveloping the camp so we could bring forward the
sight of freedom and also illustrate that the camp is hidden away," says Barnes.
"We found a beautiful nook in Stone Mountain just outside of Atlanta which
satisfied all of these needs," adds Barnes. "Here we found lush greens and lush
forests and everything to enhance the feeling of hope that Ruby has once she
gets out of Camp Thurmond."
Despite wanting to make the film feel as though it was set in present day,
Barnes and Nelson decided their sets should feel like something never seen
before. "I did some research on prisons and military bases but we tried to
create something truly unique and an environment that didn't draw too much
attention to any historical reference, so we really built everything from the
ground up," says Barnes.
Although collaborating with Nelson for the first time, Barnes found working with
the director a smooth process: "Because she comes from an animation background
she is very quick and very efficient to draw out and really communicate what's
inside of her head and that makes my life easier," he explains. "These
storyboards were great launching points for all of the departments, we were
really able to see inside her head and help create the world she envisioned."
"The film should feel like it could happen like in a few months if something
crazy happened," says Levy. "I want it to feel like our world, recognizably so,
because I think that makes the themes and the events that much more haunting,
because it could happen here. It's very much a landscape that is the natural
world that, although it is now devoid of young people, is still beautiful and
lush and filled with hope"
"I do think the whole point of the book is showing the hope of people triumphing
through these prejudices and using their abilities and surrogate families and
being accepted by others who understand what it takes to be free," adds Levine.
"Jen is a hopeful person that sees the good in humanity and I think you see that
in this movie," says Morgenthau.
"'The Darkest Minds' is going to give audiences a hell of a ride. It's going to
be a ride that will be thrilling in that it has action, it has adventure, it has
super-visual set pieces, battle scenes, powers being used - all of that. But I
think audiences can also expect a deeply emotional experience with this movie
because although it's filled with spectacle and just cool visceral sequences, at
its core it's also really about characters looking for where they belong and
discovering ultimately that where they belong is with each other," says Levy.
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