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SYFY WIRE Severance

How scrolling Instagram led Ben Stiller to figure out the trippy opening titles to 'Severance'

Stiller opened up about his dystopian workplace thriller during a chat on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

By Josh Weiss
Atv Severance Photo 010401Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Tramell Tillman and Zach Cherry in “Severance”.

If you're a an artist/designer who posts your work on social media, be sure to keep it at it — you never know what Hollywood titan might be watching. Appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers Thursday evening, Ben Stiller explained how the trippy opening titles for Apple TV+'s Severance were the result of him scrolling through Instagram and stumbling across the work of Oliver Latta (a Berlin-based artist who goes by the professional monicker of "extraweg").

"He had this weird animation of babies coming out of a brain and turning into jelly and I thought, 'This is amazing,'" Stiller, who executive produced and directed the project, recalled during the interview. "And so, I reached out to him and he hadn't done an opening credits sequence, but it felt like his vibe was right for the show. So, he worked with us over the course of time, getting to know the scripts and all that. It's been a lot of time to mount it in the way that we wanted to do it, and it's been fun to have it come out because we've been in the bubble with it for so long and not knowing how people would react to it because it is kind of weird and specific."

Similar to every other live-action production that began to ramp up two years ago, the high-concept effort was forced to postpone its on-set photography due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We got it five years ago and I thought it was amazing and it took a few years to get it going," Stiller continued. "We started to produce it about six months before the pandemic, then we were about to start shooting [and] then we had to shut down, so we've been on it for like two-and-half-years."

Created and written by Dan Erickson, Severance — whose finale drops next Friday — stars Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) as an employee of a dystopian corporation who undergoes an experimental procedure to separate his work life from his home life. Scott is just one part of an A-list ensemble cast that also includes Patricia Arquette (Escape at Dannemora), John Turturro (The Batman), Britt Lower (High Maintenance), Zach Cherry (Succession), Dichen Lachman (Jurassic World: Dominion), Jen Tullock (Before You Know It), Tramell Tillman (Hunters), Michael Chernus (Orange is the New Black), and Christopher Walken (Wild Mountain Thyme).

Stiller went on to admit that it took him way too long to realize how similar Severance was to the prison setting of his Golden Globe-winning series, Escape at Dannemora.  

"I thought, 'Oh, this is really different than Dannemora, we're doing this sci-fi, weird thing and its got a totally different feel.' And then, about a year into shooting, I'm walking around the hallways and I said, 'I feel like I'm in prison' and then all the sudden, I'm like, 'Wait a minute! This is just like that prison thing I did. This is exactly the same! I haven't done anything different at all!'"

The season finale of Severance ("The We We Are") premieres on Apple TV+ next Friday — April 8. 

"I've never really been part of a show that has that sort of interest in it where people are wondering what's gonna happen the next week," Stiller continued, likening the fan reaction to that of Lost. "I never watched Lost, but I know what that kind of thing is. It's been fun to see how people speculate and have these theories."