Nick Antosca is one of the brightest young horror writers/producers on television. Having written for Teen Wolf and co-produced Hannibal, Antosca had already proven himself within the business before 2016. But in 2016, Antosca made himself a household name in the horror genre with the creation of the SYFY series Channel Zero. Already in its fourth season, Channel Zero made most other attempts at televised horror seem a little tame. Antosca quickly created the type of show American Horror Story has always wanted to be (don’t @ me). Recently, Nick agreed to talk to us about the new season of Channel Zero (The Dream Door), which premiers on SYFY on October 26th.
Before we dive off into some Channel Zero nerdom, I wanted to ask a couple of book questions. I’m not sure if everyone realizes Nick Antosca has novels out there. And, for fans of the show, there are some similarities to be found. His first novel, Fires, deals with some of the same suburbia nightmarescape as No-End House, and (my personal favorite) Midnight Picnic reads almost like a lost season of Channel Zero.
Pure Fandom: You’ve worked with some great indie presses (CCM, Lazy Fascist, Word Riot). I’m curious about that period of your career. What lessons did you learn from the experience of being an indie writer? How has it influenced your work in television and film?
Nick Antosca: Well, one interesting aspect in retrospect was the freedom that comes with obscurity. And I loved working with many people I met in the indie lit world. For example Jackie Corley at Word Riot who picked up Midnight Picnic and published The Girlfriend Game. I believe both are out of print now, unfortunately.* And I have mixed feelings about that; I don’t feel much of a connection to most things I wrote that long ago (with the exception of some stories that I still love in The Girlfriend Game). I was 19 when I wrote my first novel, Fires, which is also out of print now.** Most of those books were published many years after I wrote them.
The lit world now, from my more distant POV at least, feels very different than it did. The people I knew have sort of scattered to the winds, it seems like. Or moved to LA.
Working in TV made me a better writer. I’m a very different kind of writer now, almost ten years after mostly leaving that world. A lot in my life and perspective has changed. And from a basic craft standpoint, before I worked in TV I had no idea how to tell a story.
*You can still get both on Kindle. Just click the links above.
**Much harder to track down.
PF: Do you expect to return to novels/short stories at any point? Are there some ideas in your head better suited for that medium?
NA: I get ideas all the time that I think would make for a good story–I wish there were time to write all the things I want to write. But yes, the short answer is I’d like to return to it, I’m just not sure when.
Channel Zero Talk
PF: I’ve read where you said the show started out of, more than anything, an opportunity to film the creepypasta “Candle Cove” (which became season one). Is there a method in which you choose creepypasta stories to feature? You’ve used “Candle Cove,” “NoEnd House,” “Search and Rescue” (which became Butcher’s Block), and “I found a hidden door in my cellar, and I think I’ve made a big mistake” (this season’s The Dream Door). Is there some common element that catches your eye the most?
NA: Yeah, Channel Zero did start with Candle Cove specifically in mind. But for each subsequent season we’ve looked for stories that allow our writer’s room to create a mythology and build out a really fascinating world. Usually there’s a hook for me—a particular image, or character or concept—and a structure, and when all our writers get in the room and start pitching ideas we’ll start working from that concept.
The Dream Door
PF: I’ve been consistently impressed with how the show uses horror to explore some deeper themes of the human condition. Your team seems to have a knack for pulling out the right surreal images to cycle through our heads like a recurring nightmare in order to shake up thoughts about some very real issues. What are some of the major themes or motifs we can be watching for with The Dream Door?
NA: In Dream Door we get into how childhood trauma imprints on us: how we repress it, how we carry it into our adult lives, what survival skills we invent to get through it. So the door has a practical function for the plot, but the door showing up unexpectedly like it does also represents something about the way our minds work.
PF: Can we talk for just one second about Troy James? My kids and I watch America’s Got Talent, and we fell in love with the guy. We went on and on about how he could carve out quite a career for himself in horror movies. And then, boom. He’s in Shadowhunters, The Flash (as Rag Doll … f**king awesome), and Channel Zero. Were you involved in this feel-good story? If you weren’t, it is perfectly acceptable to pretend like you were. No one will blame you.
NA: Troy is incredible. We’ve had him on two seasons of Channel Zero now and he is truly a unique individual. I can’t take any credit for his career exploding, though, that’s all him.
PF: What all went into the decision to run the episodes in six consecutive days?
NA: I have zero involvement in programming decisions—however they do it is fine with me. The episodes are airing as part of a 31 Days of Halloween event SyFy’s doing, so I guess it was just the right opportunity and it’s cool that the finale airs on Halloween. People can stream all the episodes after the 26th if they want to though, after the first one airs.
Nick Gets Coy … With Some Very Exciting Possibilities
PF: We got two seasons this year. First, thank you and SyFy. Will that continue? Can we expect there to be a possibility of two seasons in 2019? You’re a busy guy, but I’m asking this with crossed fingers.
NA: I hope so! We’d have to get renewed first, so we’ll see. I love the show and I’d love to keep making it.
PF: Do you foresee any possibility of crossovers from season to season? Are there some Easter eggs planned (or placed which we may not have noticed)? Are there any characters who might show up again? You know … the ones who, um, … are still alive.
NA: Could be.
PF: Speaking of death, each season seems to serve up a pretty shocking death. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD: Candle Cove gave us Jessica when we least expected it; No-End House served up J.D. super early and Dylan just as we were sort of digging Dylan; and then, of course, the Butcher’s Block finale was just sh*t balls crazy. Something about the source material and the descriptions of this season make it seem a little more intimate, if that makes sense. If you can even speak to this without spoiling anything, can we expect a different brand of “what the f**k just happened” moments?
NA: Without giving anything away: yes.
PF: One of my favorite decisions this show has made and stuck to is the commitment to one director for each season (you reading this, True Detective?). Can you tell us a little bit about this season’s choice, E.L. Katz? What should excite us about him? What does he potentially bring to the table that we may not have seen before in this show?
NA: Yeah, this is a more intimate season of Channel Zero in some ways and we’re looking closely at troubled familial relationships, intimacy issues, the burden of the past… Evan was a great choice for us to flesh out those themes — if you’ve seen Small Crimes, he definitely explores similar issues there. Above all, we needed someone who could navigate the emotional turbulence of the story while still keeping the horror front and center. Plus, especially later in the season, there is some bizarre humor (at least to me it’s funny) and Cheap Thrills was a great example of Evan’s tonal fluency.
Non-Channel Zero Questions
PF: Can we please, please, please talk just a little bit about Hannibal and Believe? Because … mother f**k. I love both of those shows (Bryan Fuller and Alfonso Cuarón are both personal favorites of mine … Pushing Daisies was brilliant, Prisoner of Azkaban is THE BEST Potter film, and anyone who disagrees can fight me). I feel like I wake up pissed off some days simply because they ended too soon. Those were both NBC, right? Can we say, f**k those dudes? Is that fair? I know you were involved to different levels in each of them, but I would love to know any tidbits you’ve got about what was taken from us. Was there a future in either show that sort of haunts you? A story you never got to finish?
NA: Sure, especially with Hannibal. I loved working on that show. And there are always those things you think about later that might’ve been really fun to do. Bryan had a great season four concept. But most of the time I’m focusing on what my next project will be and the new world I get to dive into.
PF: What can you tell us about The Act? I loved the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest. When I saw you and Michelle Dean (author of the BuzzFeed article the film was based on) had teamed up for this, I got very excited. I can only assume from what I have read that we are in store for a fictionalized retelling? It’s such a great story. Perfectly set up for a horror makeover, so I’m hoping that’s what I have to look forward to.
NA: You could certainly look at it as a psychological horror story. What we wanted to do with The Act is tell the human version of Gypsy and Dee Dee’s story. The tabloid version completely disinterested us — our goal has always been to portray the authentic emotion and behavior of real people who were motivated by the same things all of us are — the desire to be seen and to be loved. Whether you’re writing horror that’s inspired by fictional events or real ones, it’s always scarier when the audience can empathize deeply with the characters they’re watching. People should be watching and thinking to themselves, “What would I be capable of?”
Channel Zero: The Dream Door premieres on Syfy on October 26.