The World of Twin Peaks: By Design or by Chance?

Twin Peaks

As an aspiring author, I often think about how a story should be planned. Some authors write a very detailed outline and follow it; others begin with a basic idea then start writing to see where it leads; while others use a combination of both. Usually it's very difficult to research these approaches to see what results they yield, but when I was writing my review of the Twin Peaks series I was surprised by the amount of information I found relating to each storyline and character.

The creators planned the storyline and feel of the show thoroughly, but most of the iconic characters and scenes were unscripted. If you're familiar with the series, after reading this article you should be able to see how the original design blended with the improvised to create a cultural phenomenon.

In this article I'll be excluding the storylines that the writers were forced to change by third parties (early reveal of Laura's killer, and ending Audrey and Cooper's relationship followed by introduction of their new love interests).

By Design

Twin Peaks Lumber Mill
Twin Peaks Lumber Mill

Tony Krantz, who was both David Lynch and Mark Frost's agent, told them they should do a show about Lynch's vision of America, similar to Blue Velvet (1986). They watched Peyton Place (1957) and from that developed the town before its inhabitants. They drew a map and knew there would be a lumber mill, then determined the prevailing atmosphere. They came up with an image of a body washing up on the shore of a lake. Frost and Lynch came up with the notion of the girl next door leading a "desperate double life" that would end in murder.

Lynch and Frost wanted to mix a police investigation with a soap opera to create a series that was scary and sexy, funny and stylish, mundane and surreal. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer was initially going to be in the foreground, but would recede gradually as viewers got to know the other townsfolk. The murder wasn't supposed to be solved, and the aim was for Twin Peaks to expose the gruesome underbelly of apple-pie America.

The cast of Twin Peaks featured some of Lynch's favourite character actors, several veteran actors who had risen to fame in the 1950s and 1960s, and some new, young and good looking actors. Lynch and Frost hand picked all the directors. Technically and artistically the series was revolutionary for television at the time, and geared toward reaching the standards of movies.

With few exceptions, each episode corresponds to a single day, starting at morning (or middle of the night) and ending the next night, and the episodes follow consecutive days. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger.

Invitation to Love

Invitation to Love was a "series-within-a-series" in Twin Peaks. It was seen briefly on TV screens in every episode of the first season except the pilot, but only occasionally in the second. It acted as a commentary on events unfolding in Twin Peaks itself.

By Chance

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy Ferguson
Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy Ferguson

Due to budget constraints, Lynch intended to cast a local girl from Seattle, to play a dead girl. The local girl ended up being Sheryl Lee, and to his surprise she could act. Her image just being dead became one of the show's most memorable images. While Lynch was shooting the home movie of Donna and Laura, he realized that Lee had something special. As a result, Sheryl Lee became a semi-regular addition to the cast, appearing in flashbacks as Laura, and becoming recurring character Maddy Ferguson - Laura's similar-looking cousin.

Frank Silva as BOB
Frank Silva as BOB

Frank Silva, who was working as a set dresser on the pilot episode, was moving some furniture in Laura Palmer's bedroom and moved a chest of drawers in front of the door. A woman jokingly warned him not to get stuck in the room, and Lynch, who was standing nearby, had a vision of Silva locked in Laura Palmer's room. After finding out that Silva was also an actor, he filmed a panning shot of Laura's room with Silva hiding behind the bars at the foot of the bed. At this point he still did not know how he was going to use this shot.

Later that day they were filming the scene where Laura's mother has a terrifying vision and sits up bolt upright. Lynch was pleased by the performance but was informed that the shot was unusable because a crew member had been caught in the reflection in a mirror behind Mrs Palmer. When Lynch learned that the crew member was Frank Silva he was pleased and the idea of BOB as a malevolent spirit came about. A close-up of Silva in the bedroom later became a significant image in the series.

Twin Peaks Red Room

Contractually Lynch and Frost had to create a closed alternate ending for the pilot episode, so it could be screened as a movie internationally if the series was not picked up by the studio. This alternate ending was not scripted. One afternoon Lynch touched the side of a hot car and a scene in a red room with Michael J. Anderson speaking backwards leapt into his mind. Once filmed, Lynch was so pleased with the alternate ending's footage he decided to incorporate some it as a dream sequence in the series' second episode. Later in the episode, Cooper narrates the dream and outlines the shot footage which Lynch did not incorporate.

This dream sequence became a driving plot point in Season 1, and ultimately held the key to the identity of Laura's killer. Originally the Red Room represented Jacques Renault's lodge in the forest. When Cooper and Sheriff Truman found the lodge it had red curtains and a record player was set to repeat, so it fit the Man From Another Place's description "Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song, and there's always music in the air." Later the Red Room became the Black Lodge (or is it the waiting room to the Lodges?) When Jacques' lodge was shown again in the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me it didn't have red curtains.

Al Strobel as Phillip Michael Gerard the one-armed man
Al Strobel as Phillip Michael Gerard the one-armed man

The one-armed man, was originally only to appear walking out of an elevator in the pilot, as an homage to The Fugitive (1963 - 1967). His name, Phillip Michael Gerard, was also a reference to Lieutenant Philip Gerard, a character in The Fugitive. However, when Lynch wrote the "Fire Walk with Me" speech, he imagined Al Strobel, who played Gerard, reciting it in the basement of the Twin Peaks hospital — a scene that appeared in the alternate version of the pilot episode, and later in Agent Cooper's dream sequence. Highly impressed by Al Strobel's performance, Lynch decided to make the character integral to the series mythology.

Catherine E. Coulson as Margaret the Log Lady
Catherine E. Coulson as Margaret the Log Lady

The Log Lady was originally supposed to hold a log and flip a light switch during the pilot episode's town hall meeting, but the character became part of the series. In 1993, two years after the series was canceled, cable channel Bravo acquired the license to rerun the entire series, including the addition of introductions to each episode scripted and shot by Lynch. In these intros, the Log Lady offered cryptic musings on the episode the viewers were about to watch.

Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson and David Lynch as Gordon Cole
Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson and David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Mädchen Amick auditioned for Twin Peaks, however there was no part for her, so they added the character of Shelly Johnson just to have her on the show.

When Agent Cooper called his boss in Philadelphia, Gordon Cole, somebody needed to do the voice on the other end. David Lynch did it, and as he was quite a long way from Kyle MacLachlan who plays Cooper, he spoke quite loudly, and so the character was born.

During the filming of the scene in which Cooper first examines Laura's body, a malfunctioning fluorescent lamp above the table flickered constantly, but Lynch decided not to replace it, since he liked the disconcerting effect that it created. Also, during the take, one of the minor actors misheard a line and thinking he was being asked his name, told Cooper his real name instead of saying his line, briefly throwing everyone off balance. Lynch was reportedly pleased with the lifelike, unscripted moment in dialogue, and kept the mistake in the final cut.

During the rock throwing scene in Season 1, Kyle MacLachlan was directed to break the bottle, and did so on the first take. Kimmy Robertson who played Lucy Moran was unable to hide her glee, and cheered in joy. This mistake too ended up making the final cut.

Part I of this article series - Twin Peaks (1990 - 1991)
Part II of this article series - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

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