Facility | Concept Inspiration
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Set in the late 1960s in a military facility in the Nevada desert during the height of the Cold War era. Covert experiments were supposedly carried out by the CIA and US government as part of the notorious MKULTRA project. It involved testing the effects of different drugs on human behaviour, and the use of psychic and paranormal warfare.
This blog is a companion piece to the Facility concept page which has some strong connections to Asylum.
One aspect I found truly chilling about Asylum, was the experiments that Dr Arden carried out on the mental patients. The coldness of a scientific mind and the relentless ambition to find “the answer” seems to wipe out all traces of empathy and humanity. It means there is no end to the horrific lengths a scientist will go to produce the desired result. Even more horrific is that it would be authorised by the government. Like the residents of Briarcliff, the subjects held at the facility are completely helpless – or are they? The theme behind Facility is 1960s psychedelia and cold-war paranoia. Thrown into the mix are conspiracy theories, aliens, psychic abilities, mind control, the Las Vegas mob, ancient Indian legends and covert government operations.
Inside the facility there are two opposing elements - those that seek to control and others that are wanting to break free of the controls. Similarly, this dynamic was typical of the 1960s - a decade marked by protests and rebellion against the establishment. People sought to expand their minds and free themselves from oppression, it was the decade that birthed the hippy-psychedelic sub-culture. There is also a sense throughout this concept that reality is not what it seems, I wanted to try and emulate the mind-bending alternate realities of 60's tv show The Prisoner. The labyrinth of rooms and corridors within the facility contain sights and sounds that have the characters second guessing themselves about what they witnessed - did it really happened or was it all just an hallucination.
The Sin of Pride
The sin that Facility is based on is Pride. Those that run the facility have an over-confidence that they are doing the right thing, and what exacerbates this is that their government has placed faith in them by sanctioning the program. This gives them a superior attitude towards the civilian community and the test subjects. Many of the staff and scientists have a god-complex and think they know what is best for humanity. Each of them have their own version of pride; Jean Smales thinks she is the only scientist of any value at the facility, Ralph Naylor believes he is super-human, Commander Burchill believes he is key in the fight against Communism, and Professor Schneider thinks he has discovered the answer to life. This creates an overconfidence that the "program works" and they fail to see the dangers and immorality of what they are doing. This excessive hubris and professional vanity eventually becomes the downfall of the facility.
One of my all-time favourite characters in American Horror Story is Pepper. Her back-story in Freak Show was one of the most moving on AHS and then her transformation in Asylum after her interaction with the aliens was next-level bonkers. I asked myself some questions. What if Pepper didn’t die of a pulmonary infection? What if the Administrator, Dr Crump, lied to Jude about her death? After-all, we never actually saw her die. What if she was removed from Briarcliff and taken somewhere else to be studied? I really wanted to bring her back to life in Facility to find out what happens to Pepper’s story next.
Cheyenne Jackson is a Broadway actor and a gifted singer and the character I chose for him, Ralph Naylor, is a vicious sociopath. I envisaged him singing a big musical number, maybe belting out a Sinatra tune something like I Did it My Way or I Get a Kick Out of You, while beating the living crap out of someone a la Reservoir Dogs. There have not been any musical numbers in AHS for five whole episodes since Freak Show, if you discount Stevie Nicks in Apocalypse.
I like using actors' real-life skills and hobbies in the characters where I can. For example, Chaz Bono is a skilled yo-yo player and avid collector of yo-yos. I thought it would be cool to incorporate this in his mysterious travelling salesman character, Mr Schippe, who uses a yo-yo to put his victims under a trance.
I describe the people in the town as having a symbiotic relationship with the facility. The hooker Honey Nicholls (Lily Rabe) is mixed in with the mob and the CIA and her character is the means for the "supply" of test subjects to the facility. Her room at the La Vie En Rose is paid for in full every year by Lt Potts at the instruction of the CIA Director. The idea for the creepy stuffed animals in Honey's motel room came from the real Clown Motel also in Nevada.
From left to right: The Manchurian Candidate; The Man Who Fell to Earth; Psycho; Jacob's Ladder; Altered States
A big influence was The Manchurian Candidate (the original 1962 version, and not the 2004 version with Denzel Washington). The film introduces the concept of the brainwashed “sleeper agent” which is what happens to several test subjects at the facility, in particular Jimmy Fontana (Zachary Quinto). The film is based on the book by Richard Condon, published in 1959, about a man who gets captured in the Korean War and taken to Manchuria at the heart of Communist China where he is brainwashed, along with other members in his unit. He later becomes involved in a Communist-controlled presidential grab to assassinate one of the candidates when triggered. A year after the film came out, Kennedy was assassinated. The film is well worth a watch to see the chilling and brilliant performance of Angela Lansbury as Shaw's KGB handler.
When the first version of the film came out it was heavily censored and banned in some eastern European countries because of the inflammatory content. The book, and subsequent film became embedded in popular culture so that to call someone a Manchurian Candidate in politics means that they are a puppet used by an enemy power. Michael Avenatti (the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels) infamously called Donald Trump a "Manchurian Candidate for Russia" in a speech he made outside the Whitehouse in 2018.
The Man Who Fell to Earth was released in 1976 and featured David Bowie as a humanoid alien who travels to earth to bring back water to his drought inflicted planet but ends up being stranded. The film touches on themes of loneliness, alienation, corruption, and coveted knowledge. The alien Thomas Newton is the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s character, Lorelei. Thomas takes an ordinary motel maid, Mary-Lou, as his common law wife as a way to replicate human behaviour just like Lorelei agrees to marry Private Dodd as way to help with her cover.
I’ve also borrowed a couple of elements from Psycho (1960). One of the subjects held at the facility is Frank, a mind reader, that hears people’s thoughts as the voice of his dead mother – it’s kind of a spin on the Norman Bates character. The La Vie En Rose motel acts as the site of kidnappings, druggings and sometimes murder. Clark Pettifer (Matt Bomer), the owner’s son and maintenance man at the La Vie En Rose, likes to spy on guests through a system of peepholes he has drilled in the walls of the rooms - also a habit of Norman Bates.
Jacobs Ladder (1990) directed by Adrian Lyne is a surreal roller-coaster ride of a movie. It's about a returned soldier from the Vietnam War who experiences terrifying hallucinations, the result of being given an experimental drug. The movie aligns with conspiracy theories surrounding the Vietnam War about soldiers being experimented on with the drug BZ which was designed to heighten their aggressiveness. Mo Murphy (Dennis Haysbury) has similar flashbacks and bouts of violence as the character in the film and his wife Delilah (Angela Bassett) says that he has not returned as the same man.
Altered States (1980) directed by Ken Russell is based on the real research done by neuroscientist John C. Lilly. Using himself as the test subject, he conducted experiments with sensory deprivation tanks while under the influence of psychoactive drugs like mescaline and LSD. What happens to the scientist character played by William Hurt in the film is that he actually devolves into primordial matter and his consciousness is separated from his original physical form.
The use of flotation tanks and remote viewing has also been portrayed in shows like Stranger Things and the film Men Who Stare at Goats. Wes Bentley's character Private Dodd is one of the (few) volunteers at the facility who is being trained in the use of flotation tanks to alter his consciousness to be able to participate in a "psychic spying" program. Professor Schneider (Leslie Jordan) uses copious amounts of LSD in order to alter his consciousness. There is a scene in the film where William Hurt's character travels to an Indian reservation in Mexico to participate in a native ceremony where they drink a hallucinogenic. I imagined a similar scene with Ray Whitecloud (Lou Diamond Phillips) and the escaped subjects smoking peyote and having a mind-bending experience in the desert with the Doors This is the End as a soundtrack.
Thank you...I hope you enjoy this concept. I have written some scenes for this already, and will post them in due course.