Nick Antosca is an American author of literary fiction and screenwriter. He is the author of five books, including Fires, Midnight Picnic, and The Girlfriend Game. He is also the creator and showrunner of the horror anthology television show Channel Zero.
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Nick Antosca is the showrunner, creator, and executive producer of Channel Zero: Candle Cove, which is based on Kris Straub's creepypasta story. He was a writer and producer on NBC's HANNIBAL. He has written five books including THE GIRLFRIEND GAME, FIRES, and MIDNIGHT PICNIC, which won a Shirley Jackson award. He is from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Thank you for all the questions, and for watching the show. I'm going to wrap it up now. Hope you enjoy the season finale tonight!
how did you manage to make this show better than 6 seasons of AHS using school play costumes and a 15$ budget?
On HANNIBAL, I once asked Steve Lightfoot (the other writing EP besides Bryan Fuller) why HANNIBAL looked so much better than anything else on TV, and he said "Good lighting doesn't cost any more than bad lighting."
I couldn't possibly be more in love with the show and a big part of that love is due to its flawless execution. So my questions would be:
How hard did you have to push for practical effects? Was there much resistance to using them vs computer effects?
What manner of wizard is your cinematographer? How did you pick them? Seriously some of the best camera work in any medium. If they don't win an emmy that would be a crime against art.
I had to argue to make the Tooth Child a suit instead of a CGI effect. It wasn't a huge battle, but I definitely had to make the case.
Noah Greenberg, the DP, was Craig's cinematographer on THE BOY (2015). If you haven't seen it, see it. It's beautiful. It's why I pursued them to do CANDLE COVE.
Does the deliberate pacing of this season affect the writing process? (Does the script for an episode of CC have more screen direction or fewer pages than an episode of NoEnd House?)
Does the single director workflow hinder production in any way?
What will it take to get some officially licensed Candle Cove toys?
1 - More like the deliberate pace of the show is deliberate… so the writing process causes the deliberate pace. I think about a scene in terms of “What is happening here psychologically? What does this moment feel like from Mike’s psychological/emotional POV?” We try to avoid obvious beats. The scripts for CC and NEH feel similar in terms of writing style. It’s just my style. When I write TV scripts, there is a ton of description and screen direction, including very specific camera angles and shots. I’ll even sometimes say “To get an idea of what this looks like, google [whatever it is]”. I don’t do that in feature scripts because it’s entirely up to the director. But for TV, I have much more of direct hand the visual language of the show.
2 - THAT SAID, this show was always intended to be a showcase for directors I love. Craig’s film THE BOY is so fucking intense and good and he’s the kind of director you would never expect Syfy to hire to do an entire season. And when I give him a script, it’s not like “DO THIS.” It’s like, “You can tell from my detailed screen direction etc what the intention of the scene is… so please preserve that intention but don’t feel like you have to do the exact shots.” I trust that a director like Craig and a DP like Noah Greenberg can come up with cooler shots and improvise and adapt to whatever conditions we encounter on the location, or stuff we discover with the actors. Same deal with Steven Piet on season two. These guys are great talents with distinct voices and you can see it in their respective seasons. This is a really unique show in terms of the showrunner/director collaboration.
3 - No idea. Ask Syfy!
How Fucking Horrifying is The Channel Zero finale gonna be?
Fucking Horrifying is relative!
What is the scariest real life situation you have ever been in?
Physically, I was most scared when I was a young teenager and we had a mentally ill/ dangerous man move into the little house behind ours. He had strange people over and buried little bags of bird bones in our back yard, and he would stand at his windows or just inside his door and watch our house for long periods of time. After six or eight months he left and we never saw him again.
Emotionally/psychologically, probably most scared at age 30 when my best friend died.
I'm a huge fan of the show!!!
Are there any other creepypastas you'd like to adapt for channel zero? I can't wait for noend house. :)
Yes, there are many. I loved doing No-End House (yes, we put a hyphen in the title). If we get more seasons, I have a short list of creepypastas that I think would be great for us to adapt. Don't want to name them now because we'd still have to get the rights.
I absolutely love the series, big fan of the original story. Three questions, go ahead and answer whichever ones you want.
1 - Is there a reason Janet was removed from the Candle Cove show?
2 - Would this be considered part of the original Candle Cove canon, or just an adaptation?
3 - Any tips on writing horror?
The mythology of having a real child in the show would need a lot of unpacking. Who is Janice? I did like the imagery and the idea though. So we did have a real child appear (briefly) in the puppet show as a nod to Kris’s story — we just made it Mike’s daughter Lily, after she is taken.
No, definitely not canon. Don’t want to get too meta, but in a sense, our adaptation is fanfiction. Imho if there such a thing as “Candle Cove canon” it consists entirely of Kris’s story. (Or if there’s more to it, then that’s up to Kris to define!)
Don’t rely on easy scares. Make it psychological and personal. If writing for the screen, think in terms of images and cinematic storytelling. If writing fiction, think in terms of suggestion.
How'd you guys get Olivier De Sagazan?
> How'd you guys get Olivier De Sagazan?
We wanted the puppets to be the “friendly” faces/masks for something sinister. In the writers room when I described what the “real” malevolence behind the show would look like, I would show Olivier’s videos. I wanted it to feel tactile and grotesque and organic in contrast to the puppets.
Once Craig Macneill came on board to direct we talked about how to achieve that. And it was like, “Wish we could just get de Sagazan to do it.” Then we found his email address online somehow, maybe just on his website. Asked him to do it, convinced the studio to hire him, and he flew out for a week.
One thing this show has let me do is meet and work with people I’ve admired for a long time, and Olivier is at the top of that list.
He is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He set himself on fire for us — his idea.
He’s featured more substantially in the season finale tonight.
What did your path from indie novelist to screenwriter & producer look like? What advice do you have for an experienced writer (pub'd here and there) looking to develop the right skills & relationships to get into the writer's room for projects like this?
First, I have been very lucky. I never expected to make a living as a writer.
I was always writing fiction as a kid and planned to be a novelist. But even when I was young I had no illusions about making money doing it. So I had a day job (as an assistant, then an “associate”) in HR at a financial company while I was writing novels. Then I got laid off after the 2008 crash. I could see that great TV was being made. I had no idea how to get into the industry.
I teamed up with my best friend Ned Vizzini, who was an incredibly talented and very successful YA novelist and also wanted to get into TV, and we studied TV pilots for shows we liked (Twin Peaks, Lost, The Shield) and diagrammed their structure to teach ourselves TV writing. Then we wrote a pilot and a feature screenplay together. We came out to LA together in February 2010, searched for jobs for a while and tried to make connections until we got hired on TEEN WOLF in August 2011. Then we learned from our showrunners on that and other subsequent jobs.
Ned was bipolar and took his own life in 2013. After that I was on my own, had only ever done screenwriting with a partner. That was a very painful time. Basically everything I knew I had learned from or with him. I didn’t realize it at first but almost everything I’ve worked on after he died deals explicitly with death or loss. Particularly HANNIBAL, but also THE FOREST (an assignment rewrite), and now especially CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE and NO-END HOUSE (which is VERY different from CC but has thematic parallels). Now that I think about it, for better or worse that was my version of therapy.
In terms of advice, I would say study great shows. Study the scripts and study the shows themselves, and reverse-engineer, write outlines for them to see how the structure works. Learn the cliches and tropes so you can subvert or avoid them (or use them to your advantage as the case may be). Try to think cinematically.
In terms of relationships, to write TV you really need to move to LA, and then just meet and talk to as many people as you can. Be around TV writers and showrunners as much as possible. Read interviews. Read scripts. Nothing beats in-the-room experience (I have learned so much from showrunners like Bryan Fuller, Shawn Ryan, and Jeff Davis) but you can be ahead of the game by internalizing an understanding of structure.
What did you learn/like from Season 1 that informed how you went about creating Season 2?
Don't write lots of scenes with kids and animals. Tough to shoot, logistically. But ESPECIALLY scenes with blood gags. Plan to spend more time than you think shooting them.
but who WAS phone???
A couple of questions...
What can we expect from Friday the 13th?
How did you get your first gig/how did you seek out opportunities?
What advice would you give to someone currently in film school? Particularly about trying to make a living after graduation?
What are some of the challenges with writing for TV with how saturated the industry is with great shows right now?
When writing horror or adapting preexisting stories, how do you consistantly come up with new and exciting material?
Sorry this is a lot...curious film student!
I'm not the guy to ask about Friday the 13th unfortunately! I was hired by a previous Paramount regime, wrote a script that I loved for David Bruckner, handed it in to the new regime, and never heard anything else about it. They got a new writer and director and are taking it in a totally different direction. It was a bummer because I had a great time and wanted to work with David.
My advice would be to get a day job and write (if indeed you are a writer) as much as possible.
I come up with new material by immersing myself in the source material, trying to come to a deep understanding of what makes it work and what is most interesting about it, and then letting myself be inspired and bring something personal of my own to it.
Is it intentional that Mike is kind of a creepy or ambiguous character with regard to his intentions?
What's it like working with kids who manage to deliver such creepy performances?
Our kid actors were a dream to work with. Abigail Pniowsky (who also has a cameo in season 2, and can currently be seen in ARRIVAL) and Luca Villacis were incredible finds for us. Both local Winnipeg actors, and so essential to the show. And super down-to-earth and cool.
Did you draw inspiration from Stephen kings IT ? An if not what sources helped in the process of thinking about the town?
Not consciously. I read it when I was a teenager and only realized once we were in the writers room how similar the structure was to IT. But Stephen King has definitely been an influence. My friend used to say, "If you have a great idea, write it now. Otherwise, Stephen King will do it eventually."
The town of Iron Hill is loosely inspired by the small town in Maryland where I grew up after my family left New Orleans.
Why was Candle Cove the first creepypasta you decided to adapt? Was it just a personal favorite? Did you have another story you wanted to adapt, but found challenges that kept you from choosing it?
It came to me, actually. I was already a fan of the story and of creepypasta in general, but Max Landis had optioned Kris's story on his own and was looking for a way to adapt it. A movie had been discussed and decided against, and my manager (also Max's manager) approached me about doing it for TV. My first reaction was, why not do it as an anthology series since there are a ton of great creepypastas? So I pitched my take on Candle Cove (the Mike/Eddie story, etc) and then wrote a treatment and we took the pitch out to networks. Fortunately, Candle Cove is THE perfect story to begin a creepypasta anthology series with.
I have a few questions but I first want to say I adore the show and how the focus is on atmosphere as opposed to throwing out all sorts of 'scary' imagery. It's really refreshing to see. Anyway, to my questions...
Do you have a finite number of Creepypasta's you'd like to adapt and how far ahead have you planned?
Following on from that, are you limiting yourselves to ONLY doing Creepypasta's? If not, I'd love to see you do a season on the Search and Rescue series from r/nosleep. Those fucking stairs in the woods man!
Also, your Friday the 13th script sounded like a shit-tonne of fun!
Thanks for doing this.
I consider the NoSleep stories fair game :)
Is there a story chosen for season 3? If not, I feel like "The Fox Lake Events" could fit the short episodic style you've got going on. It doesn't have as big of a following as Candle Cove or NoEnd House, but it might be worth checking out. I know you're looking for stories where you can contact the writer, and the person who wrote The Fox Lake Events has their email on that blog.
Thanks. I don't know that one, but I will read it. For a potential third season, I have two in mind, but we would still need to get the rights.
What inspires you? What authors, experiences, have been most influential to your work?
Great writing anywhere I can find it. Thomas Ligotti, Peter Straub, James Salter, Nabokov, and Shirley Jackson are some writers who have directly influenced me. In film, David Lynch, Michael Haneke, Andrew Dominik are directors I love (among many others).
This is absolutely my new favorite show; I'm watching it with a Lost-like intensity.
Out of all the creepypastas out there, what made you choose Candle Cove?
Thank you! Candle Cove had already been optioned and was always going to be the first one. The idea to do more stories came later.
How does the series' look shape its sound design? I find the music and sound in Candle Cove to be extremely effective; I was particularly haunted and disturbed by the sounds of Jessica's murder. Is there more care put into the sound of this series than other projects you've worked on?
Yes. Because we don't have much of a budget, and because Craig and I strongly believe suggestion and atmosphere are crucial parts of horror, we did put a lot of care into the sound design, more than I have seen on any other show except HANNIBAL.
Do you have an artist for season 2? who/how?
Yes. Sarah Sitkin. She is an amazing sculptor and artist who helped design some of the things you'll see inside the No-End House.
Also, the great Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin did some video art that will appear in No-End House.
In both cases it was kind of a Sagazan situation... "Huh, I wonder if this awesome kinda-outsider artist will come and help us out on our weird low-budget Syfy show... let's call them up and see."
There are a lot of child actors in the show, with many disturbing scenes. Not just the obvious ones - one of the most uncomfortable for me was the bullying in episode one. Do the child actors have a sense of show's plot? Are they into the story at all?
They have a sense. Luca, who is 12, definitely does. The bullying scene was probably the most intense to film. Craig is wonderful with kids -- another reason he was perfect for this season.
Knowing how the show ends tonight. Would you consider making a second season of Candle Cove later on in the future?
I doubt it, each season will be closed-ended.
You probably get this a lot but do you plan to do a season on character based creepy pastas like Jeff or Eyeless Jack?
If we got more seasons, sure, we might do a character-based creepypasta.
It won't be Jeff the Killer.
As a fellow New Orleanian I must ask: where did you go to high school (Ben Franklin for me!) and did you go to NOCCA (I did!)?
I actually went to high school in Maryland! We left New Orleans when I was young. We lived in a terrible neighborhood, and our neighbors were threatening to kill us because of a dispute with my parents. They stole our car and one of my earliest memories is the car being dragged out of the Bayou St. John covered in mud. This was in the late 80s.
What is a relationship deal breaker for you?
Bad taste in books and movies.
Favorite Lynch movie?
Mulholland Drive closely followed by Lost Highway tied with Blue Velvet.
Will season's 3 & 4 also be shot in Winnipeg or are you considering other cities?
I love Winnipeg and hope to go back. It's entirely up to the studio/network.
Ned's sister here, Nora. Just happened upon this AMA. Thank you Nick for sharing his story with honesty and understanding. He would be so proud! I remember his absolute glee in piecing together plots. So very grateful to see you're expanding what you two started.
Hey Nora, I can’t tell you how often I asked myself what Ned would think of a particular scene or story idea, or heard his voice in my head while writing. I’ll email you!
Why were Mike and Eddie Hispanic as children, but Mike grew up to be Caucasian?
We auditioned tons of kids in Winnipeg and Toronto, including twins, and Luca was simply the best actor.
Has Max expressed an interest in directing at all?
Not on CZ -- I think he'll be busy running Dirk Gently full-time and directing American Werewolf!