The anthology series centers on a seemingly unremarkable room in an American hotel, exploring the lives of an eclectic group of characters that pass through it. Shifting tonally from episode to episode, it’s covered everything from horror and thriller material to comedy, wrapping its third season last November.
“This is officially our last season, until everyone comes in and gives us huge numbers,” Duplass joked. “And then we’ll be back for another season.”
Joining Duplass on the live-streamed panel, moderated by Indiewire’s Steve Greene, were executive producers Mel Eslyn and Sydney Fleischmann, composer Julian Wass, along with actors Karan Soni and Natalie Morales, all of whom have now also served as directors on Room 104.
Teasing a forthcoming animated episode directed by Eslyn, Duplass noted that there are many more surprises to come in the acclaimed anthology’s upcoming season. “This year, I think we were the most liberal with how we defined ‘The Room,’” the EP said. “I think that was one of the most fun things that happened.”
During the panel, the Room 104 team teased a number of clips from Season 4. One involved actress Jillian Bell having a conversation with a cackling stuffed bear; another appeared to be a trippy riff on sit-coms, featuring Kevin Nealon. And a third episode features Duplass in grungy, long hair, as a guitarist preparing to play for a room full of excited teenagers.
As Duplass explained, the latter episode emerged from the beginnings of his friendship with singer-songwriter Mark Kozalek, of the bands Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. While Duplass intended to write “a really dark episode for him about an infamous songwriter who disappeared,” Kozalek ultimately passed on the part, which left the series co-creator himself to step into it. “It was really a wonderful culmination of what I wanted this show to be,” he said, “which was things that come from a strange part inside of me, but are [elevated] by the people around me.”
In terms of what to expect from Season 4, composer-turned-director Wass also teased that the forthcoming season will feature “so many original songs, which was really fun.”
For most of the conversation, though, the focus was on what made Room 104 such a special project. For all involved, that was primarily the opportunity to place a spotlight on up-and-coming filmmakers with exciting voices, while engaging in audacious, experimental work. Heading into the series’ first season, “I started to realize if I start to collaborate with younger filmmakers, I’ll be able to offer a little bit of guidance, without continuing to repeat myself over and over,” Duplass recalled. “So, my idea was, ‘Let me juice myself up with new energy and voices.’”
Directing her second episode of the series in Season 4, after previously appearing on it as an actor, Morales shared the sentiments of Duplass. “This show is so cool and such an amazing opportunity for younger filmmakers, because essentially what they’re doing is giving you license to make your very own short on HBO. On this show, Mark and Syd basically hand you the reins and say, ‘What do you want to do? How do you see this? It’s yours.’ That’s an opportunity I don’t think any show has really offered anyone, and especially not me,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that. As someone who started directing TV for the first time, this show got me into the DGA, which is so amazing.”
In wrapping up the panel, the creatives behind Room 104 shared the lessons they’d taken from working on the show. For Morales, it was being able to ask the question, ‘What if there were no rules?’
“You can’t be an imposter of something if that something doesn’t exist, so what if the box doesn’t exist?” she said. “It’s easy to get stuck in a way of thinking, but I like being challenged and reminding myself, ‘What if we make a new way to do it?’”
Noting that his acting part on the series made him #1 on the call sheet for one of the first times in his career, Soni said the series gave him a new kind of confidence in himself and his creative abilities. “It reminded me you are your own worst enemy,” he said. “You have something to say, and you matter in that way.”
Among all the projects he’s shepherded to date, Duplass said he found Room 104 to be one of the most fulfilling. “Once I truly opened myself up to the fact that I don’t always know best, all the stuff that I made started to get more exciting to me, and to viewers. A lot of people don’t talk about the longevity of artists; we destroy ourselves to get where we think we want to go, and this project has been the most sustaining,” he said. “This one fills me up, and it’s been really special in that regard.”
Created by Duplass and his brother Jay, the HBO anthology series will return for its fourth season on July 24.
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