Nick Antosca understands the feeling of dread. The feeling is all over his work on Channel Zero, whether it was on the first anthology Candle Cove or the second, premiering tonight, No-End House, he knows how to make viewers squirm.
We had a chance to chat with Antosca about skills in the area, what turned him onto creepypasta and so much more. Check out our conversation below!
Despite the fact that I'm a huge horror fan, for some reason I had never really heard of creepypasta, which is bizarre.
Nick Antosca: Yeah, they're kind of under the radar a little bit. It's this thing bubbling under the culture.
So what gave you the idea to mine those for a series?
Well, the original idea was to adapt Candle Cove, and my manager approached me saying, "Do you know what creepypasta is? Do you know what Candle Cove is?" And "Do you think it could be a TV series?"
And I thought about it a little bit, it's like yeah, I know what Candle Cove is, but there are a million of these stories; there's a ton of great horror concepts just out there in the world of creepypasta. So why not do an anthology series where every season, we can adapt a different story.
And then how do you choose? I mean, if there's that many out there, are you just scouring the Internet? What's your process?
Well right from the beginning, there's kind of a self-selection process within the world of creepypasta, because certain stories strike a nerve and Candle Cove is obviously one that everybody who knows creepypasta knows.
No-End House is another one that really hit a nerve with people. You know, stories like that tend to go viral; people write fan fiction about them, they're on lists of people's favorite creepypastas, there are fan-made video games.
So I already had an awareness of which stories were really kind of getting under people's skin. And right from the beginning, before we even sold the show, I have a list of the stories that I was most excited to adapt; I always knew that if we had a second installment, No-End House was the top of the list.
And fortunately, Brian Russell, the author, was easy to get in touch with. He was really enthusiastic about doing it. And the story has everything that we look for in a creepypasta to adapt; it has a great horror concept and then a suggestion of a larger world for us to explore and an anthology to create.
Right, that's exactly what I wanted to know; how do you get that? A larger world would be very helpful. And they're small, like short stories, aren't they?
They're very short. Actually, No-End House is one of the longest ones. Candle Cove is just a couple pages.
No-End House is, you know, it's a full-length short story, but it ends on a cliffhanger, and the most exciting thing about the concept is this idea that you leave the No-End House, you think you're safe, and then you begin to realize that what you perceive to be reality is, in fact, the last room in the house.
And that, to me, opens up a lot of possibilities. That is a nice metaphor for living in a state of uncertainty and dread, and it was something that it would be exciting to explore over a whole season.
That's what I noticed, that Candle Cove was like a state of just utter creepiness and that No-End House was that feeling of...You're just so unsettled and it confuses your whole sense of being.
Yeah, every season will be different in style. I mean, they look and feel different, but you will always be able to rely on Channel Zero for a sense of dread. I'm more interested in exploring an atmosphere of discomfort than a series of traditional jump scares.
Candle Cove had that creepy tooth kid, which just freaks me out even just to think about him. Is there gonna be something like that for No-End House, or is it just the house itself?
Well, I don't know. You can't necessarily predict what speaks to people. The Tooth-Child struck a chord because it's this elemental thing that nobody could quite ... That felt like it came out of people's nightmares, I guess. The No-End House, it's more the world that the house creates that I think is particularly affecting.
But we don't go into the seasons thinking like, "How do we make another Tooth-Child?" Or how do we do this? It's more about what the story itself demands and where the psychology of the characters leaves us.
And I don't know if it's intentional, but in watching the first two anthology stories in their whole, I noticed there's like a significant emotional edge to them that kind of makes the horror even dig deeper, you know.
Not just jump scares like you said. And not even just the dread, but there's a real emotional punch. Is that something that will continue?
Yeah, the scariest thing is what's already inside your head. And the deeper you go inside the house, the deeper the house goes inside you. So we're always interested in psychological horror and digging deeper into what's truly scary.
And the actors, your cast, people are really signing on for this. Do you have a line of people just waiting?
Not that I know of, but the cast thing is...I mean, the process is pretty simple; we make a list of people we love, get the script done, and send it to them. And fortunately, the actors we love have responded to the scripts, so John Carroll Lynch was always our dream to play this role.
And you know, people want to work. They want to work on cool stuff and they're excited by unusual projects, so it's not hard to call them up and ask them to read the script. We've been very fortunate.
Yeah, I think the cast for season two is really good and will help bring eyes to the series, as well.
I agree, obviously. You know, in addition to John, who is a familiar face, I'm really excited about our younger cast. Amy Forsyth obviously plays the lead, Aisha Dee, Jeff Ward; they're all people who I think we're very lucky to get, especially at this stage in their career. I think that people will be seeing a lot more of them.
Aisha Dee is just coming off The Bold Type. She’s really grown in popularity recently.
Yeah, Aisha had just shot the pilot of that. Yeah, she had just come off of doing the pilot for that. I saw her audition early in the process and I was like, "I want her." And then we were told, "No, she's not gonna be available, she's shooting this pilot."
So for a month or so, we were still trying to cast that role, and I kept saying, "Find me another Aisha Dee," and then finally it was like, "Oh actually she's gonna be done shooting that pilot by the time you guys shoot." It was like great!
So we had her chemistry read with Amy, who was already locked in from the beginning, and the two of them just had such great chemistry, you know. You could see it even when they weren't reading the scenes. They just hang out together and have a very natural rapport, like they've known each other for years.
So they really brought something extra to the relationship between the two characters. Yeah, they get along really well. Our whole group of younger cast really became good friends, and in fact, the actors who play the other two guys in the group came to LA after we shot and became roommates with Jeff Ward for a while. So it was like one big happy family.
That's nice! And there are already details out there about seasons three and four.
There are some details out there; not all the details are accurate. More official details will be announced after No-End House airs. But we've already shot the third installment. We're just starting to edit and those two are based on, drawn from, two other creepypasta stories that will be announced soon.
So which one had the more accurate data? [laughs]
I'm not gonna offer any concrete details.
I will say that the third installment is going to be a more heightened style, more Argento. It has elements of Candyman and Nicolas Roeg and Don't Look Now. And it is less literally adapted from one creepypasta than the first two seasons. We took an element of a story that we particularly loved and expanded it substantially.
So is there any chance that we can get you to do these faster? So it could be more like Big Brother, where you have a Channel Zero every season; like winter, and then spring, and then summer and fall? [laughs]
I don't think we could do four a year and maintain the quality. However-
Yeah, I mean maybe. It's really up to Syfy. I'm not sure when the third installment will air. It's possible that it won't be a full year after the first one. I think we could logistically get them done, you know, every nine months or something. That's just me shooting off the cuff.
As soon as one's over, you just want to suck up another one, you know?
That's good to hear. I love making it.
You're also doing something similar by way of reality stories also with Universal Cable Productions for Hulu called The Act.
Oh, that's right. Yes. I'm developing a show for Hulu, along with the journalist named Michelle Dean who wrote a story that the show is based on, or the first season is based on. And that is in the development process right now, so I'm hopeful that eventually, we'll be doing a different anthology.
And so would that be kind of the same thing, where you'd find a story, a true story, that has hit the web in the same viral way? Because, you know, sometimes they're done in the news so often you don't see the web stories. But they don't get quite the coverage that they do on the web.
Exactly. Every season would be a bizarre true crime story. But I don't want to talk in too much detail about that because it's still in the development process. But it's something that I'm actively working on and very excited about.
And I can't let you go without talking about your unmade Friday the 13th script. Because there's not anything that you do that I don't love, and between horror, true crime, and Friday the 13th, it's like my three favorite things in the whole wide world.
Is there any possibility that you would ever make that, even though the script's out there?
I would. It's completely not up to me; the studio owns the script, they go in whatever direction they want to. I believe there are some rights issues, I can't remember. I think the rights reverted back to a different studio. But creatively, that was a really fun project. I was really bummed that it didn't go forward, but it was, you know ... In a way, it was just writing Friday the 13th fan fiction.
But so much better than what they tried.
Yeah. It was cool.
You really understood it.
You understand the idea behind Friday the 13th. It's not dark and depressing, it was supposed to be fun. A fun killer series. It was just great.
We just wanted to make a fun, classic Friday the 13th movie. You know, it was just fun to play in that sandbox, and I hope that, eventually, they make a good one. It's just very sad that they weren't even able to make a Friday the 13th movie. I don't understand how that happened.
And I think that the success of It this weekend, and the success of horror, in general, this year speaks to the appetite for something like that right now. You could say if they made a Friday the 13th and put it out right now, it would be very well.
And you know, they've tried having slasher television shows, and they've failed because they haven't managed to get it right.
Yeah, that doesn't really work.
They just haven't managed to get the right tone. They tried to mimic something instead of just going for it. I think you should give it a shot, is my point.
My opinion is that TV is not a good medium for the slasher genre because there is, by definition, an episodic nature to TV. Like it's kill after kill after kill and it's hard for that not to become really monotonous in a TV setting. Surely there's a way to do it so it will work, but I think getting slasher stuff right as an ongoing TV series is really difficult.
I think that you could do it in a limited series. I think that we could do a season of Channel Zero that uses a slasher template to tell a really interesting story because in six episodes you could do it. But season after season, it's tough.
It's gotta have that anthology feel. That's why.
So I'm just saying; I'm tossing it at you. Nick, I think you're the one. Just saying.
I'm catching it. You know, I think that every season of Channel Zero should be a different flavor of horror. And like I was saying, the third installment is gonna be sort of Candyman, Nicolas Roeg, that vibe. I think that there is a potential future season if we were to get more installments, that lives in the slasher world.
Yeah, because you are a storyteller, too. You write books; you don't just have to take other people's ideas. Isn't the Friday the 13th kind of your creepypasta?
That's my fan fiction. And then every full installment of Channel Zero will be based on a creepypasta or an Internet-sourced story, but you know, I'm interested in writing original horror as well.
Well good. Well, I can't wait until No-End House premieres. After the first season kind of kicked Channel Zero into motion, I think this is gonna kick it into a higher gear.
I think so too. Thank you very much.
And No-End House premieres tonight on Syfy at 10/9c, so don't miss it. It's everything you want from a television series (except more episodes!!).
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.