Trent Reznor’s ‘Year Zero’ may be an HBO series

Aug. 08, 2008 | 1:11 p.m.

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has been in talks in with HBO about making a two-season maxi-series out of “Year Zero,” the dark future tale that Reznor has chronicled in his music as well as in a celebrated Alternate Reality Game (ARG) with the same title that was created by 42 Entertainment.

“It’s the most exciting thing on the horizon, it’s the thing that when I wake up in the morning it makes me say, ‘God it would be cool if that happened,” Reznor told me this week while sitting backstage before a Nails concert in Toronto. “This is my grand ambition. Will it happen? I don’t know. It was fun sitting and telling [the HBO] guys and watching them shake their head and having writers on board and producers that are in to it. It’s been a fun thing.”

“Year Zero” began (as so many things do in the music of NIN) from a place of negative emotion and sonic experimentation. Reznor was increasingly outraged by the geopolitical situation during the Bush years and he wanted to channel that fury into music, but he was loath to drift into the limiting lexicon of protest lyrics.

“How could I express what I was feeling in a way that didn’t sound like bitching about George Bush? I mean, you know, I love Neil Young but I didn’t want to listen to that record, really,” he said, referring to the singer-songwriter’s “Living with War.” “My reaction to that kind of record is, ‘We know this. It’s obvious.'”

“So it started with me trying to write it as a piece of fiction. I was thinking, ‘It could be the worst idea ever in the world but, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t have to come out.’ I started by writing a kind of world bible about what life would be like around 15 or 20 years from now if things continue on the same path. I spent a few weeks filling it in with the events that could lead to this kind of time and place. Then as an experiment I started writing songs about people in this place and from different points of view.”

The problem was the music was compelling and powerful, but it was more about sensation than story.

“I had a record that would make sense to me but no one else would ever know what it was because there was no narrative. It’s modular, its a collection of snapshots. These were glimpses of a place. Maybe with liner notes I could communicate some of it, but how do you get liner notes in 2007?”

He considered a graphic novel. “That was the route we were going to go with initially. We talked to a different companies about releasing it. But it didn’t feel quite right. We thought about a film, but that has a different timetable and too many people need to say yes. That wouldn’t line up right. then I started thinking about how I could make it really interactive, something you experience rather than something you read.”

Reznor remembered reading about 42 Entertainment and their deeply layered ARG for the Steven Spielberg film “A.I.”  He met with them and the result was a truly amazing through-the-looking-glass creation on-line, shaped by the 42 team working closely with the rock star and his art director, Rob Sheridan. “It’s hard to explain it,” Reznor said, and he’s right. But the best way to get your head around it is through the nifty (and entertaining) case-study presentation that you can find here.

Reznor was delighted with the result. “It was probably the most fun thing I’ve done.” Now he wants to finish the story he started and do it across a range of media.

“I just pitched it to HBO two weeks ago in L.A. It went great. Ideally, we’re trying to get them to do a two-year limited series. I prefer that over a film. We would have a second ARG tying into the second album and ties into the series and they all happen together with a budget needed to pull that all off. There would be a tour down the road. The record completes the story, the ending that no one knows. I know what happens. I knew when I started it. And it’s not what people think. ”

— Geoff Boucher

Photo of Trent Reznor by Myung J. Chun\Los Angeles Times

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21 Responses to Trent Reznor’s ‘Year Zero’ may be an HBO series

  1. cydoniaeon says:

    Psyched !This is great! I cannot wait to watch the YZ series.

  2. Kate says:

    "I know what happens. I knew when I started it. And it's not what people think. "
    It's never what people think with NIN and anyone who's been around long enough knows that. Does that technically mean it is what we think because we know it's not what we think?
    Also, this is awesome news. Hurrah!

  3. Alaa says:

    Very exciting, awesome idea.
    I really wish that this can happen, soon.

  4. Mr. Tangent says:

    I'm really excited about this possible series! I hope it happens!

  5. james says:

    I hope this becomes a reality. The first ARG was so much fun; I can only imagine what this would be like in the form of an HBO series. The HBO execs would be foolish NOT to do this. NIN already has a cult following…

  6. Maxx says:

    This would be a dream come true! Trent is the greatest artest the world has see in the last 20 years! I'd get HBO just to see this. (I'm not kidding)

  7. moose says:

    i was sketchy on a movie (i am almost certain it would bomb) and a TV sereies, however if HBO is interested it might actually get done right I hope it works out.

  8. delly says:

    I really hope that he gets to put this into action especially with the great HBO behind it. Any other station would trash it HBO is the best station to cover such events. I will be awaiting this event and I hope that Trent's wishes come true. He is a visionary. So Trent plus HBO make a great combo! Good luck Trent!

  9. Aron says:

    Fingers crossed.
    I really hope it happens, and follows through to completion. Hopefully Trent will remain in as much control of the project as he wants as well… i won't want it any other way.

  10. Morgan B. says: I am continually facinated by this man's mind. It's nice to know that some of us aren't alone in these twisted thoughts. I am greatly looking forward to all of this. I think it's an amazing idea. Push forward full throttle! And if you need help/support from us just say it!

  11. D351 says:

    Will watch this, download it, then buy it when it hits dvd… They should come back in time from when it's finished and release it now!

  12. Fatikis says:

    I need to watch this. The story behind Year Zero that I know is epic. I am waiting. If the series does not come I will probably spend a day crying. The rest of my life will then be devoted into making the world the horrible place of year zero so that I can see the outcome first hand.

  13. Labby says:

    This would be absolutely stellar! I would LOVE to see a YZ series on HBO. Very exciting to think about it. Probably would be a lot better than a movie… although, a book alongside it COULD potentially be extremely interesting. YZ fanfiction I've seen on ETS is pretty amazing, anyway. :D

  14. pask says:

    this would be great if it was pulled off with the adequate budget and care given to the material and core of the story. ie: give tr total control over the project.
    as for a two season story – that's all well and good, but will HBO kill it off halfway through as they did with the amazing CARNINVALE after they said they'd see it through to the very end?
    hopefully after the fallout of that cancellation, they've learned not to upset such a core fanbase, as tr has one equally, if not more so, strong as the CANIVALE fans.
    this news puts an end to me thinking THE SLIP was the second unusual half of YZ as well… as long as tr is creating and not repeating album after album like most bands his age lately, i'm all for whatever he as still to release…

  15. James says:

    An artist like Trent Reznor teamed up HBO, the end result is going to be great! The YZ album is nothing short of brilliant, a two part mini series even better. I think there be more than just fans that dig it. Realistically it is not a very farfetched vision of the future, people will connect with it.

  16. Brendan says:

    Man, this will be awesome…but can you imagine how long it would take if Reznor had total control, knowing how meticulous he is about his work and getting his vision across the way he wants? All I know is as soon as I see a preview for this thing it better be coming out soon afterwards or I wont be able to stand the anticipation. Hopefully Trent wont let any thugs at HBO push him around when it comes to doing this EXACLTY the way he wants it. Simply cannot wait :)

  17. Doug says:

    This will happen. Can't you feel it? It's like it already did happen. There are things which have been set in motion which cannot be undone.

  18. Hi,
    Your article is great. I found it while searching information about a potential HBO / Year Zero tv show.
    I wrote an article on my blog about it and use some of your stuff. Of course I linked your page.
    You can check it @… (in french).

  19. Andrea says:

    What a lame idea! HBO must be desperate for material if they`re considering this.
    Give new comers a chance! Drop the "has-beens"

  20. Peter Lange says:

    "I know what happens. I knew when I started it. And it's not what people think. "

    — The fundamentalist Christans are proven correct when the rapture finally comes, leaving behind a ragtag group of misfits, each with their own personal demons that kept them tethered to an earth now overrun by hellspawn and zombies. Together, they need to make their way to the new holiest place on earth (why did Christ return in Disneyland of all places?) where they will storm the gates of heaven with automatic weaponry.

  21. […] from Reznor’s discontent with the government in the time of George W. Bush.   Reznor spoke to The Los Angeles Times about the difficulties and the process of creating the […]

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