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The Untold Truth Of Yellowjackets

In November of 2021, a new show premiered on Showtime and took the world by storm. "Yellowjackets" follows a group of high school soccer players whose plane crashes in the middle of the woods in 1996. The show oscillates between two timelines -– one follows the weeks leading up to and the events immediately after the crash, while the other details the survivors' lives in 2021. The surviving team members are suspiciously quiet about what went on during the 19 months they spent stranded in the forest, and it's clear the trauma of their time there has taken a toll.

"Yellowjackets" has received rave reviews from critics and was certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com calling it "one of the best ensembles of the season." With shocking twists and turns and plenty of mysteries still to be answered, it's no surprise the series became a breakout hit. 

However, even though there's a lot we don't know about the Yellowjackets themselves -– and it's undoubtedly better that way –- there are still some things about the show's production that we'd like to learn more about. Questions like "who thought up this show to begin with?" and "how is the casting so perfect?" come to mind. Without answering any of your questions about what happened out there in the woods, we've taken a deep dive into the behind-the-scenes secrets of the production. Read on to find out everything you need to know about "Yellowjackets."

One director on the series has major horror cred

Arguably, the pilot is the most crucial episode of a TV show, and for "Yellowjackets" it's no different. Luckily, the producers of the series found the perfect person to helm the first episode. The pilot of "Yellowjackets" was directed by filmmaker Karyn Kusama, who also serves as an executive producer on "Yellowjackets." Kusama is most well-known for directing the 2009 horror film "Jennifer's Body," which, though initially panned upon its release, has since become a cult classic. Kusama has also directed several episodes of the series "Halt and Catch Fire."

The most horrific element of "Yellowjackets" is something Kusama is cinematically very familiar with. Speaking to The Ringer, Kusama has commented on the fact that both "Yellowjackets" and "Jennifer's Body" feature teen girls engaging in cannibalism. "You know what? I think what appeals to me more is the expression of hunger, and the ways that women are starved and [have] starved themselves. I mean that in a literal way and a metaphorical way." As an executive producer, Kusama was also involved in other processes of production, such as casting and writing, adding her own unique perspective to the mix.

The casting adds another layer to the story

Though it wasn't necessarily intentional, the casting of the older versions of the surviving Yellowjackets adds another layer to the already rich characterizations. Many of the current-day versions of the characters got their start as teenaged actresses in the 1990s, a happy coincidence that encourages fans to view them through a particular lens. Christina Ricci, who plays Misty, got her start in films like "Mermaids" and "The Addams Family." Juliette Lewis, who plays Natalie, was first seen in films like "Cape Fear" and "Natural Born Killers." Finally, New Zealand native Melanie Lynskey first appeared in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures."

In this way, the casting of the grown-up characters is kind of like the casting of the parents in "Riverdale," all of whom Glamour points out were famous as teens in the 1980s and 1990s. "I think they were really smart to tap into that '90s zeitgeist with all of us," Lewis told The New York Times. For her part, Ricci thinks her and her castmates' experiences in the '90s bonds them together as actors. "If you want to see fame as traumatic — I think it is — then perhaps you could say that we are all bonded by the trauma of having been very young and very famous." 

Regardless of how intentional this casting was, it certainly adds more meaning to an already complex and rather profound show.

The creators of the show are a married couple

Sometimes the best creative partners also make the best life partners. This is definitely true for the creators of "Yellowjackets," who also happen to be a married couple, as noted by NPR. Co-creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson had worked on several successful shows before — "Narcos" and "The Originals," for example — but "Yellowjackets" was the first show they had created themselves. To help them along as first-time showrunners, they brought on Jonathan Lisco, who was suggested by executive producer and director Karyn Kusama, to be a co-showrunner.

If you're surprised to hear that Lyle and Nickerson are married in real life, you're not alone. Apparently, this fact also came as a surprise to some of the cast, who didn't know their relationship status until partway through filming the first season. As Lyle told Entertainment Weekly, during the shooting of Episode 3 she was having a conversation with Christina Ricci who asked if her husband would be coming to visit her now that COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted. Lyle responded that Nickerson was her husband, and Ricci was shocked. That's one more mystery that doesn't need solving.

The music wasn't an afterthought

The music on "Yellowjackets" is critical, especially since about half the series takes place in another decade. Most of the music on the series is from the 1990s, which was obviously an intentional move on the part of creators. Speaking to ScriptMag, Lyle and Nickerson revealed that they often write while listening to playlists they have curated to help set the mood.

For "Yellowjackets," several songs were "scripted in," which means they were written into the script from the start. This can be dangerous because securing the rights to songs is tricky and can be quite expensive, but Lyle and Nickerson felt strongly about their creative direction in this case. Some of the artists they scripted in were musicians like PJ Harvey and Liz Phair. Surprisingly (considering the subject matter), most of the artists they asked said yes, as revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

Juliette Lewis, who is a musician and toured with her band "Juliette and the Licks" for many years, told Vulture that "every music cue is on point," which really adds to the setting and the tone of the series. Music is also very important to Lewis' character Natalie and was something Lewis and her younger counterpart, Sophie Thatcher, used to connect to the character.

Yellowjackets was inspired by skepticism about an all-female Lord of the Flies

Though "Yellowjackets" has often been compared to William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and other survivalist stories, the show was actually inspired by a previous project that took on Golding's novel. Several years ago, co-creator Ashley Lyle read an article in the trade press about a proposed all-female reboot of "Lord of the Flies." The responses to the project were rather derisive, with commenters saying things like, "What are they going to do? Collaborate to death?"

Lyle took offense to the assumptions that girls were somehow less prone to brutality or violence because of some base feminine instinct. Responding to this commenter in her head, Lyle thought, "you were never a teenage girl, sir." She recalled one occurrence from her high school years, where one of her peers poisoned another girl's food "just for fun." Thus, the twisted world of "Yellowjackets" was born.

The show's creators know how they want the series to end

Before settling with Showtime, who seemed like the best fit for the direction they wanted the series to go in, creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson pitched "Yellowjackets" to several other studios. In their pitch for the series –- which was described by some of their colleagues as very "thorough" –- Lyle and Nickerson outlined their plans for the entire series, including how the series finale itself would unfold. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Lyle and Nickerson described how they laid out the entire premise of the Season 1 finale in the pitch, which they say was filmed exactly how they described it in those initial pitch meetings.

"Yellowjackets" was pitched as a five-season idea, and Lyle and Nickerson say they know exactly how they want it to end, something they shared with studio heads in these meetings. For a show with as many twists and turns and mysteries to solve as "Yellowjackets," it makes sense that there's an endpoint in sight. Now it's just up to Showtime to allow these plans to become a reality.

The show was originally going to be set in the '70s and the '90s

Though the dual 1996 and 2021 setting of "Yellowjackets" seems like an obvious choice now, this wasn't always the case. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, co-creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson revealed their initial idea for the series. Lyle confessed that they originally had the idea to set the series in the 1970s and the 1990s instead. Initially, according to Lyle, they wanted the series to have a "dazed and confused quality to it."

However, when they signed on to produce the series, Showtime had other ideas, and convinced Lyle and Nickerson to change the time period to the 1990s and the present day. "That is a much smarter version of this," Lyle now concedes. The more contemporary time period also makes the most sense because Lyle and Nickerson grew up in the 1990s and are about the same age as the characters in the present day, so there are some experiences that they share. 

Plus, as executives at Showtime argued, it's way harder to produce a show set in two different historical time periods than it is with only one. As most would probably agree, the people at Showtime clearly made the right call.

Many of the cast members don't know where the show is going

"Yellowjackets" is a mysterious and confounding show for viewers, but as it turns out, it's just as cryptic to some of the cast members. As Samantha Hanratty, who plays the teenaged Misty, explained to Hollywood Life, a lot of the cast were kept in the dark about the more mysterious elements of the show. For example, in the pilot episode, one of the girls falls to her death in a trap and is then presumably eaten by the other survivors. The audience doesn't know who this person is, and, as Hanratty tells it, neither does she.

Tawny Cypress, who plays the adult Taissa, told Vulture that she was similarly in the dark about what happens to the characters when she started filming the series. It wasn't until she spent time with hair and makeup each morning that she started learning key plot points that would happen to her character, many of which took her by surprise.

Apparently, Melanie Lynskey is the only cast member who knows the truth. In the same interview with Vulture, Lynskey revealed that she "grilled" the creators about what would happen got them to tell her their plan for the end of Season 5. According to Lynskey, she got them to reveal this information because she's "paranoid and anxious" and needed to know they had a plan before she signed on. The rest of the cast, however, was kept in the dark about where the series is headed.

Melanie Lynskey was the first to be cast

Casting is a hugely important part of production for any series, and for "Yellowjackets," this was no different. As co-creator Ashely Lyle revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Melanie Lynskey was the first actor to be cast, and they knew from that point on that the series was on track because of how talented Lynskey is as an actress.

In general –- such as with Lynskey -– the creators tried to cast the adult versions of the characters before they found their younger counterparts, but the one exception was the character of Natalie. Unlike most of the actors, who auditioned in person, Sophie Thatcher sent in a self-tape that Lyle and Nickerson were so blown away by that they knew they had to cast her on the spot. This meant that Thatcher was actually cast before Juliette Lewis came on board as her grown-up counterpart.

Sophie Nélisse, who plays teenage Shauna (Lynskey's character), came on board after Lynskey was cast and had to undergo a bit of transformation to prepare for the part, as noted by Vulture. Nélisse is normally blonde and blue-eyed, and as such had to dye her hair brown and wear brown contacts to become Shauna. The casting was clearly a success, as Nélisse and Lynskey look eerily similar in the show, even as their real-life differences are apparent off-screen.

The show premiering on a weekly basis was important to the creators

While those of us born before the millennium remember a time when this was not the case, binge-watching is the name of the game in television right now. With all of the streaming services currently available, whole seasons of shows often premiere all at once, instead of on a weekly basis. "Yellowjackets," however, does use the weekly release model, and with great success.

Per Phillip Maciak in Slate, this weekly model is perfect for "Yellowjackets," as the thrill of seeing what comes next and trying to unravel the show's many mysteries is a big part of its appeal. As co-creator Bart Nickerson told The Hollywood Reporter, they wanted each episode to have "a beginning, a middle, and an end" and be its own contained story while also filling in the larger picture of the show. "It's not just a ten-hour movie to us," Nickerson explained.

The way Lyle and Nickerson describe it, each episode kind of poses a new question while still moving closer to answering some of the show's larger mysteries. Lyle and Nickerson both came up writing in network television on series like The CW's "The Originals," so they are familiar with the weekly format and working with cliffhangers, commercial breaks, and the like. As a part of their writing strategy, they broke up each episode into a four-act structure to tie all of the (seemingly) disparate threads together — a structure that could have been lost had fans been able to binge the entire season at once.

The actors collaborated on how to play the older and younger versions of their characters

Many of the actors on "Yellowjackets" had the interesting challenge of playing one version of a character and making sure it aligns with another portrayal of that character at a different age. To do this accurately, many of the actors convened with their counterparts to discuss how they saw their characters.

Jasmin Savoy Brown, who plays teenage Taissa, told Vulture that she would often call her modern-day counterpart, Tawny Cypress, while on set to ask her specific questions, like "do we say 'ee-ther' or 'eye-ther'?" for example. Samantha Hanratty and Christina Ricci, who both play Misty, found that they naturally embodied Misty's mannerisms –- such as the way she pushes her glasses up her nose –- in the exact same way without even discussing it with one another.

For Sophie Thatcher and Juliette Lewis, who both play Natalie, music was a huge part of the way they connected, as they discovered music is very important to both actors as well as the character. Speaking with Vulture, Thatcher noted that PJ Harvey was "a really big influence for Juliette," so Lewis –- a musician herself –- sent her some demos to dig even deeper into the music.

The plane crash scene was 'genuinely scary' to film

Frankly, there are a number of terrifying elements in "Yellowjackets" — from literal cannibalism to subtle supernatural undertones -– but the initial plane crash itself is pretty scary, too. As it turns out, filming the plane crash scene also took some guts on the part of the actors. As Ella Purnell, who plays Jackie, told Vulture, it was "genuinely scary" to film the scene because they were in a plane attached to a rig that would shake them back and forth, and they were always at an uneven angle.

The set for the plane crash itself was made from a real plane that had been cut in half, with sparks flying, luggage exploding — the works. Jasmin Savoy Brown explained to Vulture that they shot the crash scene over two days, and it involved a lot of crying and screaming for long periods, which was quite exhausting. "It was very immersive. It wasn't acting," Sophie Thatcher said. Sophie Nélisse, however, said she wasn't scared at all and that the plane "was kind of like a roller coaster." For those on the audience side of things, the crash looked pretty gnarly on screen, so we're glad no one got too traumatized during filming.