Nick Antosca

Channel Zero – Interview with Showrunner Nick Antosca Pt.1

If you haven’t been watching Channel Zero on Syfy, you have been missing out. Channel Zero, Candle Cove is a dark and dramatic look into a children’s TV show, that causes the kids to become unhinged. Based on Kris Straub’s, Creepypasta short story, Channel Zero, takes the viewer into a realm of make believe and mayhem. Showrunner Nick Antosca, has been really generous with his time lately. He has been giving us the opportunity to ask questions about this series every week. Here is part 1 for you.

Is there a reason why you chose this particular Creepypasta to make the whole show about?

Yes.  It’s kind of the – it’s the quintessential Creepypasta, right?  Like the best stories here are the ones that kind of go viral because they worm their way into your head. And the fact that Candle Cove has struck accord with so many people and it has fan fiction all over the internet and sequel stories and people have made their version to the puppet show is evidence that, you know, a lot of people respond in a way that suggests it’s a common experience that speaks to a kind of familiar horror.  Everybody have seen a show like this, everybody remembers something from their childhood that stuck with them that they don’t quite understand.  So it seemed like that perfect place to start in adapting creepypastas particularly.

Can you talk a bit about kind of how you expanded the narrative? So all of Mike and everything was kind of your – what you’ve added?

Yes.  I mean, Mike Painter is one of the handles on the message board in the original story.  So we tried to build out from what was there already.  Like the end of the short story is – and talking about the conversation they had with mother.  So we took those characters and just let ourselves be inspired by the original story.  I love the aspect of (Kris’) story that leaves the origins of the show open to interpretation in a six-episode season of TV. We needed more mythology and a little bit more explanation, but we didn’t want to go too far and we wanted to keep it character-based.  So we just let the story itself suggest avenues to create more horror and more character story.

Was there any puppet or cartoon character that maybe you were scared of as a kid and if so, what or who?

Yes.  It was Chucky in Child’s Play. When I was a kid, they used to play that on USA all the time.  I remember seeing Child’s Play 2 and Chucky killing the teacher, Beth Grant in a closet in the school room and that stuck with me as particularly horrible. And also the moment where he comes to life in the first movie, it’s just so nasty and so viscerally unpleasant, especially watching it as a kid, it’s deeply disturbing.  And so, yes, that was one.  And we also – we have an element of Child’s Play in Candle Cove in Channel zero because Don Mancini who created Child’s Play who wrote and/or directed every Child’s Play movie is part of the Writer’s Room. He co-wrote episode two, the one from this past Tuesday with me, and he also co-wrote the finale and then he wrote an episode in season two and he’s a good friend of mine, I worked with him on Hannibal, too, so that was really cool.

Who is more creepy? Is it the kids that are killing people, the Tooth-Child, or even just the puppets from the show?

It’s the kids to me because – it’s the kids and Mrs. Booth who you see at the end of episode two feeding the Tooth-Child.  To me, that was…I – we – the puppets and the Tooth-Child are certainly scary and disturbing, but I always find real people and characters the scariest.

It’s been brought up about Mike being sent away as a child.  Where was he sent?

He was sent to live with relatives.  After his brother died, his mom basically had a nervous breakdown and she couldn’t deal with one after she lost the other one. So she sent him to live with his relatives, it’s briefly alluded to in the interview in the opening.  But we never get into explicit detail about exactly where he went.  In the back story that we built, he was sent to live with an aunt and an uncle and they raised him until he went to college.  And he’s – you know, he’s stayed in touch in a very kind of a strange way with his mom, but he hasn’t gone back to Iron Hill and both of them have this kind of unspoken stuff in the past about what happened when Eddie died.

Why did he confess?  What made him confess?

The pressure that’s been building up for so long finally boils over in this episode both because he’s come home and he’s in proximity to his mother, he’s having this conversation with her, the conversations they have on the train tracks as they go toward the concrete factory where they found the body and then the fact that he finds the body and sees his mother’s reaction to it, it all sort of builds up and spills over in this episode.

TIBS: Is there a physical being behind the happenings in Candle Cove or is it something that’s more dark and supernatural?

Just to make sure I understood, you said is there a physical being behind what is happening in Candle Cove? TIBS: Yes.

The answer is both.  There – I don’t want to get too specific obviously but there is stuff happening in the real world.  There are – there is somebody – or maybe multiple people who are doing things that are connecting to Candle Cove and there is also a supernatural element.

TIBS: I wanted to ask something about Mike.  He seems to be suffering psychosis.  Is this psychosis because of what happened or, you know, when he was young and he killed his brother or what is behind his psychosis?

Well, I will say that if as a child you had seen a terrifying puppet show that continued to menace you into adulthood, your mind would not be the healthiest. So it’s largely a result of the trauma that he experienced as a child and the influence that the show has had over him.

Mike is maybe more important to everything that going on than we think.  Can you talk to that a little bit?

Without giving everything away, your interpretation is pretty good.  That is definitely the implication that a savvy viewer could take from that moment.  And Mike may or may not know how important he is to what’s going on but we’re going to find out soon.

I had read that you already are starting on the second series with the new Creepypasta.  Is there anything that you can tease about that?

Yes.  We’re shooting it right now.  We’re more than halfway done shooting.  I am talking to you from Manitoba where we’re – where we film the show.  It is based on the NoEnd House which is a Creepypasta short story by Brian Russell. It’s another one that is very popular, it’s got a bunch of fan fiction and kind of fan-base and sequels floating around online.  It’s a whole different cast, a whole different director because we get a new director that do every episode of each season.  This is Steven Piet who did fantastic indie film called Uncle John which you could see on Netflix and it stars Amy Forsyth, John Carroll Lynch who played Twisty the Clown in American Horror Story and Zodiac Killer in Zodiac.  And it will be out I believe one year after the first one in October 2017 on SyFy.

Is there going to be a similar thing where there’s like shout outs in each season to previous seasons, like are all these Creepypastas taking place in a shared universe or are they going to function completely independently from one another?

They should function completely independently.  You won’t need to have seen one to see the others and there won’t be things that you need to know about the first one to appreciate if you watch the second one for example. That said, a lot of the same people are working on behind the camera, actually all the same writers are working on each season. So it is likely that you will see certain playful elements that connect each season, you may see things from Candle Cove that particularly attentive viewers would notice in the NoEnd House season and beyond.  So it’s not part of the DNA of the show, like you don’t – we don’t have to do that but there will probably be Easter eggs.

It’s interesting though, in terms of balancing creepy, suspenseful, and horror, there’s always that moment of how much of the monster that you show.  And you’ve brought out the Tooth-Child pretty early on.  So what was your thinking behind that?

Well we thought the Tooth-Child is a very important element of the show’s mythology and a visual that we particularly love.                               Certainly I agree with you that too much of a good thing is not so pleasurable for a viewer.  So we tried to keep him in the shadows and under wrapped a lot but just as – you know, we have the same philosophy with the puppet show itself, you know.  You don’t want to see too much of Candle Cove, you just want to get sinister moments of it each episode. And, you know, that stuff, our creators and our puppet show, they only work if it’s built around characters who you find interesting.  And so, you know, it’s about finding a balance.

Are there plans to bring this to other platforms?

I hope so.  I have no idea how that stuff works to be totally honest with you.  I’m like, you know, the up here in the Writer’s Room and in Manitoba doing the creative stuff. And I deal with like a couple creative executives and then there’s this – it’s like, you know, being on the ship and then you look out the porthole and the whale is blinking at you but you don’t see the rest of the whale.  There’s this whole other corporation that does things with rights and international sales and stuff and I just hear about that, like, “Oh, we sold it to the UK, we sold it to Canada.”  At some point I assume I’ll hear we sold it to some streaming service and I think that’s just the process.

What decisions went on to effect the pacing because with scary movies are just scary shows, pacing is important as well as how many creepy moments you kind of put into each scene or just, you know, each episode?  So what are the decision making – what’s the decision making behind that?

It’s actually something that we put a lot of thought into particularly in the Writer’s Room then also in editing. It’s exactly you say like if you’re making a horror movie – you’re a TV show and you have too much scary stuff, like too many scenes of stuff jumping out of you, it becomes dull if you know every single scene is going to be something jumping out of that too or always somebody like creeping up on something.  It’s predictable.  And I am just personally not so interested in jump scare horror or more traditional style and this show, it was always very important to me to have a slightly different kind of horror in terms of tone and pace, horror that was – that’s based on atmosphere and character.              And some of that comes from having come out of Hannibal which is very much the same philosophy.  And so, you know, we would think about in the Writer’s Room like what is the psychology of the scene, what is – where is Mike?  Where is Marla at this moment psychology and emotionally and how do we build, dread, and suspense out of that?  So, you know, we made sure to kind of do – have a philosophy of less is more in terms of actual, you know, “horror movie moments” and then kind of make them count and lean toward the language of cinema and stuff that we loved in, you know, David Lynch movies or stuff like that.  So, yes.

Is there a possibility that there is someone  familiar that is the Tooth-Child that maybe we’ve already met or seen?

Yes.  I mean, without giving any specifics away, the Tooth-Child is tied into the character story and the mythology that we already know.            And I also don’t want to be too literal about it, the Tooth-Child is something that – you know, it’s a figure from nightmares and it has a symbolic meaning that sort of dictates what it does too.  And, you know, that’s the kind of thing that I appreciate in the sort of nightmare-ish horror that I love to watch.  You know, in making this show, Craig McNeil, the director, and I were sort of like, “Well, you know, I don’t know that a lot of people are going to watch this, who knows.”  We just wanted to make something that we would want to watch ourselves, sort of the more kind of independent filmmaking philosophy rather than a ratings-based approach to making to TV.

Was that kind of in your mind at all when you’re creating the show?  It’s really show how these people have changed over the years and kind of revisiting that evil?  And can we expect to see – to explore more of those friendships between the adults moving forward?

Yes.  I think that it’s kind of a universal thing like wondering, “Well, what happened to the people that I grew up with?”  And “What would happen if I went back and pulled that thread from when I was a kid?” And for the connection to Steven King’s It, it was not intentional.  I’m a huge Steven King fan.  I actually haven’t read IT since I was a teenager and it was only sort of went through in the Writer’s Room and breaking this through like, “Oh yes, this is – it talked about, you know, adult going back to his hometown and confronting, you know, an evil that he faced when he was a kid.”  It’s more influenced I would say by stuff like The Returned, the TV just totally.  And actually Peter Straub’s novels, The Blue Rose Trilogy which are about, you know, many cases people confronting childhood evils.  Peter Straub, not related to Kris Straub, it’s a different Straub.

Is that all practical that Cassandra is wearing or is there some digital additions made after the fact?

There’s digital – you know, a raising of the scene and stuff like that.  But, yes.  I mean, it’s a suit that was made by Francois Dagenais and designed by Francois and also Greg Nicotero who just like as a favor, as a friend did the initial sketches. And – yes, it’s our 19 year old actress/dancer Cassandra Consiglio just wearing a very, very disturbing suit.  And overall, the philosophy with the effects was like, let’s do a practical.  It’s just sort of more interesting.

Did Candle Cove plot all this for 30 years, and this is sort of the end game that we’re seeing?  Or is this like just sort of a new manifestation or if more of what happened to them just a result of long-term trauma from years ago?

Well that is a great question and I’m not going to give you an explicit answer to it.  But I will say that it is – the question that we want the audience to be asking more unconsciously than consciously, it’s a very deliberate choice to make this town weird and make it subtly weird.              So it seems like everybody is a little off, a little uncomfortable, and a lot of the interactions between people are kind of tense in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on and I would love to do what (Herzog) did in that movie where he literally hypnotized all the actors and they gave all their performances under hypnosis. Obviously, that is not a realistic way to make a TV show but, yes, it’s – you know, it goes to the direction that Craig gave and the way that we wanted to have everybody seem to have a bit of a secret.  And if you’ve seen episode three, you know that a lot of the people sitting around the table at that diner party in episode one are harboring questions and doubts and have influences that are not immediately obvious. And, you know, to get back to your original question a little bit, it’s not the case that, you know, Candle Cove is kind of puppeting everybody in this town but I think it does have a lingering influence whether it’s supernatural or not, right?  Like there are people who glimpsed it as kids and haven’t really thought about it for a long time but when they do think about it, they get uncomfortable.  And then there are people like the Leslie Grimes at the TV station who saw it and think about it every day.

At the beginning of the show when Katie is walking Candle Cove and then the little shrimp puppet, I’m not sure what its name is, beckoning kids to go into the cave. Is that a nod to Freddy Krueger?

Yes, he’s wearing a Freddy Krueger sweater in fact – or one that’s similar.  Yes, it’s a little bit of, you know, play for reference.  I have heard a few people note that and, yes, it was a conscious decision.

Is there a potential for that show to kind of like expand its potential range as far as what – potential traumatizing neighborhood or like in other cities?

Yes.  I mean in episode two when Mike has that conversation with Lily that’s very entailing, there’s a couple of possibilities that I think the audience could – or a couple of interpretations that the audience could have about that. One is that Candle Cove could be reaching out to a much wider audience.  It can expand beyond this town?  It can reach kids hundreds of miles away.  Another one is that because Mike is connected to it, maybe it can reach out to people who he is related to by blood.  I mean maybe that’s the connection or we know that Mike is a little bit unstable and sometimes see things and hear things that are there but are manifestations of his declining mental health. And so it’s possible that that wasn’t even real.  However, you will know the answer – you’ll know which one of those things it is by the end of the show.

It’s reaching out and that was the other question that the – that girl would just talk to had touched on, it’s like, is this going to be an every 30 year thing in (inaudible) and creeps out the next, you know, bunch of kids?

Yes.  I mean, you know, things will become a little bit clearer over the coming episodes, of course, but it’s more connected to Mike than it is to cycles of 30 years or anything like that. And, of course, I don’t know if you’ve seen episode four but – yes. So that connection to Mike’s daughter will become a lot more intense and we were lucky enough to find this great child actress in Winnipeg named Abby Pniowsky who plays his daughter and she’s also – she made an appearance in season two as well.  We’re shooting with her – we just shot with her again because she’s so good.  And, yes, that storyline is one of my favorite things from the show.

Since Mike is the center of things with the first group, is the daughter the new him, or is it like his brother?

In a way.  Well it’s – the interesting thing about Katie for Mike is that she has £ she’s going through some of the same stuff that he went through when he was a kid, right? So the scene where he is in the hospital room with her is really about him confronting a younger version of himself and trying to hold it together well.  He’s asking her questions that he wishes that he could ask, you know, the younger version of himself or his brother and that’s what makes that seem so psychologically intense.  I wouldn’t say that she’s an exact analog for him or for his brother but he sees elements of his own childhood in which he’s going through.

Does Mike thinks he’s actually part of the real show or is he just a weird guy and he’s trying to trick her with his little fan fiction?

I don’t think he’s that far going but he wishes he was the real show.  He wishes that he was involved in it. And there’s a kind of superiority complex that some people have about knowing about the show that nobody else knows about or the band that nobody else knows about or the comic that nobody else knows about and it’s like if – you know, if you say to them, “Oh, what’s that?”  You’re like, “Oh, you don’t know about that?”  And it – you know, it gives them a sense of power and I think that’s what this character has.  I mean that’s what we were – that’s what we told Kris the actor in terms of how to play it.  It’s like he has a secret that no one else has and when he gets to tell Marla about the show, there’s a certain pride in it and that’s what’s so kind of creepy and unnerving about him.

Are there may be repeats that maybe we’re not going to get to see in the past, or are they just brand new episodes that that’s just makes it even more creepy?

I think there are some repeats and some new episodes.  Like you’ll definitely see – you’ll also see variations on episodes. Like at the end of the pilot, you see a clip that you then see again at the beginning of the second episode but the dialogue is different.  So we want to suggest that the show is kind of an organic changing thing.  You’ll also see at the beginning of episode two, you see a clip from the news in 1988 and then Candle Cove breaks through it and then when we come out of that footage of Candle Cove, it’s Katie watching at the present day. So that’s not something that I, you know, expect casual viewer to notice even but the intention is to suggest that this thing kind of spans decades.

Is it something that made like children do things everywhere or just this town?

It’s just this town.  In the mythology of Channel 0, it’s just the town of Iron Hill.  In Kris’s original story, it’s left vague but the suggestion is that it aired on a random channel around Ironton which is, you know, a metropolitan area in Ohio. And, of course, we took the name Ironton and changed it to Iron Hill for the show but in both cases, the implication is at least that Candle Cove only appeared in a localized area.

Stayed tunes for Part 2 in this series of Interviews with Creator, Nick Antosca!

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