MTV’s TEEN WOLF is your typical coming-of-age story with a new twist —our awkward teen hero must navigate the minefield of high school AND learn how to control his new werewolf nature – so he doesn’t, you know, accidentally kill his friends, family or crushes – smack in the center of those turbulent hormone-addled adolescent years. Writer and executive producer Jeff Davis and director and co-executive producer Russell Mulcahy talked about what drew them to MTV’s TEEN WOLF series and teased a bit about what to expect as the show debuts.
Interview with Jeff Davis, Executive Producer/Writer
M+M: Wow. This is nothing like the campy 80’s flick! How was this darker tone established?
Jeff: The tone was set right off-the-bat from the first meeting with MTV. It was their idea to do the show. I had a meeting with MTV . .. . [MTV] said they were attached to TEEN WOLF the series and asked would I be interested in writing it. So I asked MTV at the meeting, I said, ‘How do you guys see adapting this for a TV series because the original is very much a comedy and, to me, it’s actually a basketball movie.’ . . . . So they said, ‘We want to do it a little different — a little darker, sexier’ and I said, ‘Well, what if we did it kind of like The Lost Boys?’ Which was an ’80′s movie that I still love to this day. I mean, I love Teen Wolf very much. But The Lost Boys just stuck in my head ’cause it is scary, it’s sexy, and it’s still funny — really funny, like Corey Feldman, the Frog Brothers. I mean, you always remember them. So that’s really the paradigm we chose. It’s The Lost Boys with a little bit of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer thrown in. . . It’s funny. We talk about this being a remake or reboot, and after talking with MTV a little while ago, I said, ‘Since it’s MTV, maybe we should call it a remix: We’ve taken an old classic and kind of given it a new beat.‘ How’s that for a sound bite?
M+M: With the main character having wolf powers, does he have to learn to control his powers?
Jeff: Absolutely, and that’s a lot of the conflict of the first season. Actually the 2nd episode is [Scott’s] first game, and at a certain point [his best friend] Stiles tells him, ‘Look, this game isn’t going to turn out quite well if you happen to murder someone on the field.’ So that’s definitely a conflict for him. One of the reasons we chose lacrosse as the sport is he gets to wear a helmet — and it’s a much more violent sport than basketball — although I’ve seen some pretty impressive fights in basketball. So we get to hide his features under a mask and he gets to race across the screen at night. So we were able to take some liberties with that with the sport — hiding him under a helmet. But it’s definitely a struggle. He’s got to learn to control his powers. Which brings us another character relationship, which is the relationship between Scott and Derek and in the show Derek, the older werewolf, and it becomes very much a master-apprentice relationship. As a kid I remember watching the old KUNG FU movies on Saturday mornings. I always loved it when the young upstart is being trained by the Shaolin monk. So it’s kind of that role.
M+M: Will there be a love-triangle?
Jeff: Not really. It’s more of a passing thing. We didn’t want to copy the love-triangle from Twilight and TRUE BLOOD, which do it quite well. I think TRUE BLOOD is phenomenal. The relationship between Alexander Skarsgard’s character and Bill and Sookie — it’s just strife with tension. What the other writers and I are going for is a Romeo & Juliet love story.
M+M: What can you tell us about the character of Lydia?
Jeff: Her character develops in a way that I think will be surprising. You’re going to have to wait ’til later in the season to see a twist with her. Unexpected twists and turns. I will say this: before writing the 2nd episode, I knew exactly what the last frame of the last episode was going to be. So there’s a plan.
M+M: It is interesting to see how dominate the male the point of view is on TEEN WOLF.
Jeff: It definitely sets it apart in that the other supernatural shows have done very well with the anti-hero and have kind of the morose, brooding vampire who has to struggle against his desire to murder. Ours is more a wish-fulfillment. In my eyes, it’s more of a Peter Parker/Mary Jane story. I mean, [Scott’s] life becomes better after being bitten by a werewolf. But also, it becomes worse. It’s a kind of ‘be careful what you wish for’ sort of story. Although we really did want to give it a different tone. It’s funny ’cause when I first started heart about TEEN WOLF and heard that it was going to go to series . . . one of the ideas I had was to take one of the female characters and not make her a werewolf and make her a hunter instead — or a hunter-in-training — and it adds plenty of conflict. It gave us a Romeo & Juliet story. I think a lot of people are really going to love this.
M+M: How much of the werewolf transformation will be shown, or will every effort be made to keep the character looking hot?
Jeff: That’s the struggle. How do we have an attractive werewolf? I always say, ‘Other shows have werewolves you can pet; we have one you can kiss.’ So it tends to be more of a BEAUTY & BEAST style, without going too beastly. One of the inspirations was Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo de Toro has this way of bringing a kind of beauty to his creatures, where they’re both kind of scary and sexy at the same time. So we tried to do that. We do have a progression of werewolves. When you see Derek as a werewolf, he’s definitely going to look more monstrous, and then there’ll be others. So we leave Tyler Posey much as you see him throughout the show with some augmentation.
M+M: What traditional werewolf lore was used and what new twists have been incorporated?
Jeff: Well, we certainly keep the full moon ’cause who can’t resist that one. It’s where we get the word ‘lunatic.’ So there’s so much fun we have with that. I will tell you that silver is a little different in our version. Wolfsbane plays a certain role. It has a Kryptonite quality, where different types have different effects. We did a ton of research into werewolf mythology, and we picked bits and pieces. But we also took other liberties. I’ve come up with a few new ideas. Most of the new ideas are purely to create more conflict with the show. It’s basically to pit the characters against each other and to bring as much conflict as possible out of each scene.
M+M: One of the hunters uses a bow and arrow, is that because of the wood or the metal?
Jeff: That’s a good question. There’s a scene actually in episode 11 that quite confused the network. They kept giving me notes on it about a certain type of wood. So you’ll have to wait to see that scene that it shows up in. But it’s funny, werewolf stories. I mean, mistletoe is known as something that can fend off a werewolf. White ash oak. What other things are there? There’s a very specific reason that hunters use arrows, which is answered in the webisodes actually that we’re about to shoot next week. So you’ll have to wait to have that question answered.
M+M: Are there other supernatural entities that will be revealed?
Jeff: It’s funny you should mention that. The werewolf makeup was so difficult that I’m hesitant to start with any others. I mean, witches — you’re getting that in THE SECRET CIRCLE and you’re getting that in TRUE BLOOD this year as well. I think there’s actually a lot of material purely in the realm of shape-shifting. There are so many different cultures and so many different stories. I’m fascinated by them. I think there’s a wealth of stories in that, so I’ve always said that there will be no vampires in this show — but that said, please ask me 5 years from now when I’ve run out of stories!
M+M: You mentioned shape-shifters, that implies beyond werewolves. Will we see any in the first season?
Jeff: Yes, it does. But not the first season.
M+M: What kind of balance is there between the supernatural stories and high school stories?
Jeff: We wanted it to have balance, definitely. There are some shows where it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re in high school.’ I remember my high school years. They were not great years. I’ve got plenty to draw on personally as a writer. Plenty of pain and horror and pure supernatural stories. I think there’s so many great stories that match up with stories of becoming a werewolf. For me, it’s like a Peter Parker story. I’ve talked about that a lot in interviews. That [Scott’s] kind of like Spiderman. He’s an outsider who’s trying to get in, but he’s also got a big secret that he needs to keep. I’d like for the audience to watch the show and see a teenage story happen in the midst of werewolf stories as well, and to have a bit of balance.
M+M: Do you watch other genre shows so that you can avoid the similarities?
Jeff: It’s funny ’cause I take that incredibly seriously. I watch every single episode of every single show that I can get my hands on. I’ve watched all of VAMPIRE DIARIES, all of TRUE BLOOD. I love those shows. I even watch GLEE to see how their doing high school. So I see it as part of my job actually. And, as a fan of those shows, I make sure to steer clear of them. I’m also friends with Kevin Williamson, creator of VAMPIRE DIARIES, and people who look closely, VAMPIRE DIARIES’ fans will see a little Easter Egg in episode 2.
M+M: Were there any limitations on the portrayal of gore on the show?
Jeff: Not at all actually. Quite surprisingly, [MTV] kept telling us to go with extra. . . . I’m not such a huge fan of gore, but it’s a great shock-moment. I prefer suspense over gore. Not to say that I don’t love those movies and that type of genre, but as an uncle of a 6-year old niece who will probably watch this show, I don’t want to go too far because I’m aware that young girls will be watching the show and I feel a certain responsibility as an adult.
M+M: Are you open to ideas submitted by the cast?
Jeff: I love input from the cast. But they’ve mostly gone with what I’ve written. Dylan O’Brien [who plays Stiles] actually is such a smart kid and I will literally IM’d him on Facebook at 2 a.m. and said, ‘Hey, help me come up with a better line.’ It’s hilarious. I actually bought him three screenwriting books because I want him to co-write an episode with me and I don’t think he’s read a single page.
M+M: How do you feel about the premiere date being at 11 p.m. on a Sunday?
Jeff: Obviously, they are launching it off the MTV Movie Awards, which is very smart for a network to do. When I was doing CRIMINAL MINDS, we got 19 million viewers off our first episode purely and totally because it came after CSI, which was then doing about 23 million viewers. So it’s very smart way to launch a show. But I think with the brand recognition, and with the amount of promotion they have been doing, which is great for a cable show, I hope we do quite well.
M+M: Do you have any reservations about having the show then air Monday nights at 10 p.m.?
Jeff: That’s strictly up to the network. They’re saying these days that genre does well. They’re trying to make Friday nights a genre night. For me, if it’s a good show, I think the audience will follow it. . . .So hopefully they’ll find us.
M+M: Do you have any concerns that the target demograph will wait to watch the show online opposed to live?
Jeff: I’m not actually concerned about that. I know there’s so much online viewing — downloaded by torrents, but I leave those things in the hands of the network, in the hands of the business people. I think I’d drive myself crazy if I do that and become incredibly cynical and I’d be one of those showrunners railing against people stealing stuff online.
M+M: Will there be a ‘torture-your-audience-cliff-hanger-endings’ at the end of season one?
Jeff: Cliffhanger? Gosh, there’s a cliffhanger at the end of every episode! That finale actually has several cliffhangers. I will tell you this though: the end of episode 3 twists everything in a new direction.
Interview with Russell Mulcahy, Co-Executive Producer/Director
M+M: As a big time horror film director, what attracted you to this project?
Russell: I love the genre. I actually had not see the film Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox, so Jeff had me sit down and watch it. And he’s very charming. When I met Jeff, he had been hired by MTV because they wanted something sexier and scarier, and he said, ‘Let’s make it more like The Lost Boys.’ So Jeff and I really hit it off because we both just love the horror/fantasy genre and cinema. We wanted to make this very cinematic. The fact that it was for MTV was very odd. . . But MTV is reinventing themselves as a network that wants to tell scripted stories, so it was an exciting project.
M+M: What kind of special techniques are you using as a director to sculpt this show?
Russell: I guess every technique in the book. I just like making movies and I wanted to make this look like one. It’s an episodic show with lots of cliffhangers and character involvement, so I treated it as a feature film with the limited budget we had. But that was sort of the idea, that there would be so many roads and characters and mythology to weave together.
M+M: Were you involved in the casting process?
Russell: Yes. I remember the day that Tyler walked in. He had what I call the ‘It’ factor. We got too incredibly f-ing lucky with that cast — and the cast actually become friends off camera. What you see on camera is not faking it. Crystal, gorgeous girl, she came in and bang! Then Dylan, he had two You Tube links, that was his resume. It was so un-Hollywood. But he’s a damn good actor. He’s a great comedian, he’s sexy and he surprises you with a sense of humor. Dylan is a great spontaneous comedian in a real way and he’s also a terrific dramatic actor.
M+M: How far are you able to go with MTV being a cable show to make the sex element edgier?
Russell: There are no guidelines, so to speak. But you should just watch the show. It’s a story of teenagers. It’s a Romeo & Juliet. The story of forbidden love. It’s a classic story… when I’m talking about Romeo & Juliet, I’m talking about a guy that falls in love with a girl and her daddy wants to kill him. [Scott] is given what he initially thinks is this great gift, where he gets these extra powers. He has extra hearing. He has all these different senses and in a teenager it’s like ramped up to a – not 11 – to a 12, plus fangs, and he has to learn to control it.
M+M: What’s been the biggest challenge, besides budget?
Russell: Weather was huge. We filmed in Atlanta in the winter. We got snowed out in a January blizzard — even worse, Starbucks shut down. Then, in the opening we had a huge flash flood, in which we lost thousands and thousands of dollars in equipment. But the crew was wonderful and it was a great place to film.
M+M: Were there any limitations on the use of gore on the show?
Russell: People will die in the series. There will be blood. But Jeff and I are much more interested in being scared, in engaged suspense, the mysterious and making your skin crawl, that feeling of uneasiness, rather than just splatter on the screen. I mean, I did TALES OF THE CRYPT, so I was known as the blood bludgeoner. So I’m quite used to throwing blood. But I’m being cavalier. We were really going for something smarter. It’s harder to be scary, than to just splatter.
M+M: The pilot had a lot of cool point-of-view shots, is that something that will be a signature of the show? Was any 3D technology or processes used in filming or post – for instance in the asthma inhaler shot?
Russell: Yes. As you’ll see, there’s a number of signatures. But I can’t tell you them! When I came in and met with Jeff, we came up with ideas and techniques. . . . To me, heightened suspense was a very high criteria.
M+M: Do you have a particularly favorite scene?
Russell: My cameo. I’m in the pilot. I’m the guy holding the hose. Had to get my Hitchcock moment in!
M+M: Was wire work used in the show for the stunts?
Russell: There is wire work. We also used a great guy called Spider who specializes in parkour to do a lot of the work. It’s just extraordinary what he can do.
M+M:: How many episodes were you able to direct of the first season?
Russell: I directed 6 of the 12 episodes, and then co-exec’d on the rest.
M+M: How long did the filming take for the first season?
Russell: We were there from October to March. . . . The great thing about shooting in the winter is that the leaves are off the trees and so, at least at night, you can get more light in the forest. With all the leaves in the summer, it is very hard to light the forest. So it’s easier to put up with the cold sometimes — except for the kids that had to run around with no shirts on. Good thing they’re young!
M+M: Tell me about working with Duran Duran. Was there anything you utilized or learned when making their video for “Hungry Like The Wolf” that you tapped in directing “Teen Wolf” for MTV? Or that you just want to tell me about for reasons? Please?
Russell: (Chuckles) Oh, you’re serious! I’d love to, but I’m getting a signal that we are out of time.
TEEN WOLF debuts on Sunday, June 5th at 11 PM on MTV. The second episode airs on Monday, June 6th at 10 PM (which is its regular time-slot for the first summer season). The next new episode will air Monday, June 13th at 10 PM. These interviews were conducted on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 25th in Hollywood, CA.