Shudder Interview with Greg Nicotero

Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural, is the home of the star-studded monster hit Creepshow. Based on George A. Romero’s iconic 1982 movie, Creepshow is executive produced by showrunner Greg Nicotero and with all episodes from Season 2 are now available to stream at Shudder.com the guys at the channel got to sit down with the man himself and talk all about the show and more.

This anthology series based on the 1982 horror comedy classic, is still the most fun you’ll ever have being scared! A comic book comes to life in a series of vignettes, exploring terrors ranging from murder, creatures, monsters, and delusions to the supernatural and unexplainable. You never know what will be on the next page…

Entering his 37th year in the industry, Greg Nicotero has never forgotten his roots. Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70’s, it never occurred to this young movie and special effects buff that Hollywood was literally in his backyard. Auteur Director George Romero would be the first of many to recognize something within Nicotero and forge a relationship of collaboration as a special effects make-up artist.

Within two years he found himself in Los Angeles working with Sam Raimi, James Cameron, and Wes Craven on landmark films such as Evil Dead 2, Aliens, and the A Nightmare On Elm Street series. The climate that embraced practical make-up effects allowed Nicotero to partner with Howard Berger and together they created the longest running effects house in Hollywood, The KNB EFX Group, Inc. Founded in 1988, and still as vital as ever, Nicotero and his team have worked on nearly 700 film and television programs that stretch through cinema as a who’s who of horror, science fiction, and thrillers. With titles such as Reservoir Dogs, Spawn, The Mist, Scream and Sin City, this unique troupe of artists have brought life to stories and characters of all kinds, all the while innovating and perfecting their craft.

Partnering with directors such as Frank Darabont, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez, Nicotero fine-tuned his craft as an effects artist and gradually moved into providing 2nd unit direction on several feature films. After a stint on a number of movies across the globe (Inglourious Basterds, The Book of Eli, Predators, and Transformers), Nicotero found himself in 2010 designing zombies for the AMC series The Walking Dead. Within months he’d become the producing director on the hit show and to this date has directed 33 episodes of the series.

Maddie Nichols as Lola- Creepshow _Season 2, Episode 3B – Photo Credit: Curtis Baker/Shudder

As the zombie epic enters Season 11, Nicotero has debuted his new critically acclaimed series Creepshow, an anthology comprised of 12 terrifying tales per season inspired by the original 1982 film of the same name. He is currently in production on Seasons Two and Three, serving as executive producer and showrunner; and has directed nine segments to date, including an animated special.

Nicotero has also had a hand in producing Fear The Walking Dead, while supervising make-up effects for HBO’s The Watchmen, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

For anyone who’s never seen Creepshow, could you tell us about the show and what’s in store for season two?

Greg Nicotero: Well, Creepshow is a horror anthology based on a 1981 movie that was written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero. It was initially conceived as a tribute to DC Comics, the horror comics of the 1950s and 60s. In the 50s and 60s there was a lot of censorship going on so people found some of the material questionable, some of the subject matter not appropriate. Horror always had this sort of stigma attached and was ostracised because people get offended by blood or gore. So, Creepshow was really intended to be a tribute to that time period. Now, the fun thing about that time period was, even though horror had the audacity to be daring and be bold, sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was entertaining, sometimes it was outrageous. So, my plan for Creepshow really is to provide entertaining genre material that gives you a different experience with every story. Some of them can be scary, some of them can be outrageous, some of them can be funny, some of them can be terrifying but with every episode you get two different stories and they’re very different stories. It leaves you wanting more, it leaves you loving the experience of seeing something that’s kind of funny but also has more elements and that’s really what I think Creepshow is about, giving the audience a myriad of genre experiences in these 20-minute bite size morsels.

D’Arcy Carden as Renee- Creepshow _ Season 2, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Curtis Baker/Shudder

Could you tell us about any personal connections you might have with any of the stories from this season? Does “Model Kid” bring back any memories that relate to your own childhood, for example?

GN: Well, interestingly enough, Season One for me was a very challenging season. I went into Creepshow headfirst with passion and respect and responsibility to the genre and to George Romero. You know George gave me my first job in the business, in 1984 I worked on Day of the Dead with George Romero and Tom Savini. So, to have the opportunity to reimagine Creepshow for a new audience, I felt that weight, I felt that responsibility, but it was something that I was 100% up for the challenge, and also had no idea what I was getting myself into when we did the show. It was like grabbing a bull by the horns and I just held on as tightly as I could. By the time Season One was over I was pretty exhausted, I put my heart and soul into the show. I was really proud of the fact that people saw the heart and passion in Season One. For Season Two I really went into that experience more confident in my abilities to develop stories, to write, to direct, to produce and I feel like Season Two is exponentially more successful on a billion levels. A lot of stories are personal to me. A lot of the stories have a connection with either who I was when I was younger, or my influences. “Model Kid” [Creepshow Season Two, Episode 1] is very, very much a snapshot of who I was when I was 10 years old – living in a world where my room was decorated with monster models and posters and magazines and I was painting model kits and watching Super 8 movies on the wall – I mean, that was me! And a lot of us, when you think about genre filmmakers Frank Darabont and Quentin Tarantino and Wes Craven and Alexandre Aja and Edgar Wright, we all really have the same DNA. We all grew up being inspired and influenced by the same things, whether it was Ray Harryhausen or the Frankenstein monster or Christopher Lee, we’re all inspired by the same things. So, when you’re able to tap into that sort of collective consciousness of what inspired us before, it really worked. A lot of kids definitely tapped into that. There’s another episode called “Night of the Living Late Show” which really leans into every film and fantasy. Justin Long plays a character who is able to invent a device that can put you physically into any movie that you want. How many times have we all thought Oh, man, I would love to be in that, what would I do if I was with Brody, Hooper and Quint fighting the shark. It’s really an exciting opportunity. And there’s “Public Television of the Dead” which is my homage to my friend Sam Raimi and the movies that he made. I was fortunate enough to work with Sam on a lot of movies. We worked on Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness very closely. So I feel like Season Two and Season Three of Creepshow are much more personal to me, and by being so, I feel more successful.

Coley Campany as Mrs. Bookberry-Creepshow_Season 2, Episode 2B-Photo Credit: Curtis Baker/Shudder

This season highlights issues like domestic abuse, racism, and homelessness, among others. Was it important to you from the outset to address themes like these in the show?

GN: Well, I feel like the horror genre has always been clever in the way that it disguises social commentary in the backdrop of genre material. Every good filmmaker always finds a way to make comments, and a lot of times people don’t notice it. They don’t notice it because it’s hidden in the guise of the great horror premise. Dawn of the Dead is always talked about as a send-up to consumerism – when all the zombies go to the mall and they’re walking around the mall, there’s always discussion about George sort of winking at society as it is. So, I do feel that genre material has the responsibility to turn the spotlight on issues that are current and social. With domestic violence and homelessness and racism it is important to acknowledge that this is the world that we live in and maybe people will learn something from the story. People don’t like to be told how to feel, but if they watch something, they watch an episode of Creepshow and it makes them feel a little differently afterwards that’s a pretty big bonus.

Brock Duncan as Joe- Creepshow _ Season 2, Episode 201A – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/Shudder

The show’s also very funny. How do you balance humour with the darker and the scarier aspects of the episodes?

GN: It is a tricky balance and I will have to tell you that, not a lot of people know this, but I’m a pretty funny guy. I have a good sense of humour. I just find myself not laughing as much as I want to in life. The Walking Dead doesn’t give us a lot of opportunity to play into comedy. So, I really felt like after Season One, when I was looking for stories for Season Two, I found a short story by Joe Konrath called “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” And, it just kept getting weirder, it kept getting more outrageous and it kept getting funnier and I enjoyed it and I thought I would love to interject a little bit of Tim Burton, sort of John Landis vibe. An American Werewolf in London is probably the quintessential horror comedy and I am a good friend of John’s and I admire him tremendously. So, I really felt like with “Shapeshifters Anonymous” I was going to lean into the comedy aspect of the show as well. I want the show to be entertaining. It doesn’t always have to be scary. So, I wrote the script. I hired some really great actors – Anna Camp and Adam Pally and Frank Nicotero – and I will really say that being on set with comedians and understanding the sort of improvisational nature, I felt like it kind of opened up the world for me when I realised that I had the opportunity to lean into some funnier moments. You know, there’s a couple ad lib lines in “Shapeshifters Anonymous” that I left in the cut and I laugh out loud every time I hear them. So, I felt like I wanted to be able to have the show have that sense of humour. And, I think with “Public Television of the Dead”, it’s all over that. I had a lot of fun. I think after the first week of filming on Season Two, I looked at my producer Julia [Julia Hobgood] and said I think I’m gonna direct a comedy. I just was having a lot of fun, very different than being on set and having to worry about which character you’re going to kill on The Walking Dead because that’s not fun. With Creepshow people don’t care as much about getting killed because they’re only there for three or four days. I really enjoyed the comedy element of it and I feel like my directing has improved, my storytelling has improved and it’s opened up my world a lot.

Creepshow _ Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/Shudder

How does your team create the creatures and the monsters? And what challenges did you encounter in that aspect?

GN: I’ve owned KNB EFX since 1988 so I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve designed effects for some of the greatest filmmakers in history – Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, I’ve worked with John Carpenter, people that I admired and I respected when I grew up – I found myself standing on set next to them and collaborating with them. So, I feel like one of the most interesting aspects for me was making the transition into directing because it completely changed how I looked at make-up effects. After I had directed my first episode of The Walking Dead I realised a lot of things about how to design make-up effects from a director’s standpoint, not from a make-up artist’s standpoint. I started thinking about camera angles and I started thinking about what elements you needed to accomplish what the scene or the shots require. And it was absolutely life altering for me. I think the next movie we did after I directed on The Walking Dead was Django Unchained. Everything I built on Django I felt as if I was going to shoot it. Quentin is such a hands-on director, he likes to rehearse with his actors, but he also loves that spirit of what’s going to happen in the moment. So, you can’t go to a director six months before he’s even designed the set and ask him how something’s gonna look because he probably doesn’t know. He may have an idea in his head but my experience, with a director like Quentin, when we did Grindhouse, I designed all of the shots of the car crash and would show him. When we did the scalping in Inglourious Basterds I shot video of the scalping and showed it to Quentin so when it came time to shoot it for the episode he said Yeah, man, just take your camera and shoot it the way you showed me. He trusts my vision. So, once I started directing I really approached prosthetics and creature effects from a very different perspective. I know what I want and I know how to get the best out of my team. We really rely heavily on practical effects with a little bit of digital augmentation – they’ll erase the rods out of werewolves arms or will augment the eyes or something – because the truth of the matter is that I like building practical creature effects. So, most of the time I will get with my team and I will design all of the creatures with them and then they put it all together. The directors on the subsequent episodes of Creepshow usually show up with the creatures already designed, with the effect sequences already planned out, because that’s one of my fortes. I feel like one of the reasons why the creature effects are successful is because, a lot of times, I’ve already designed it in my head, I’ve already thought about it, I’ve already figured it out and we have a little bit of lead time to build it. Television is a fast schedule, we shoot seven days per episode, we would never be able to build anything worth shooting if we only had seven days. So, as soon as we start pre-production, we’re assigning different creatures to different people in my studio, to sculpt, to paint, to mould, so that when it comes time to shoot it, they put it on the truck to Georgia and we film it. It’s very liberating to be the showrunner so that I can have 100% creative control with what the creatures look like and then make sure that they get shot to my specifications.

Josh McDermitt as Harlan – Creepshow _ Season 2, Episode 202B – Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/Shudder

Which episode of the new season are you most excited for Shudder audiences to see?

GN: That’s really a tough question because I feel like each story is so dramatically different. I love the pilot because I feel like the first episode, with “Model Kid” and “Public Television of the Dead”, I really feel like that just gets out of the starting gate at 100 miles an hour and I’m proud of those episodes. But, I will say every single story has its own pedigree it has its own merit. So, it’s really hard for me to pick one of my babies and tell you what’s my favourite because I’m still editing. Right now we’re mixing Episode Four today and then I’m finishing the visual effects on Episode Five, so they’re evolving in front of me still. You shoot it, you cut it together, and that’s one thing and then you live with it for a little while. While you’re cutting it you look at every little piece of footage, you play with the scares, or the laughs or the monsters and then they start putting in the visual effects and then they start putting in the music and then we start putting in the comic book pages and the panels and all of a sudden each episode, even episodes that I thought Ah man, you know that one might not be exactly the way I imagined it, but then it gets better. It’s like cooking a great meal. You have all these ingredients, you have the best ingredients that you can get and then you start putting them together and by the time they’re all baked, and the general public can see them, they’re the best version of each of those ingredients and it’s a really great experience. I’m a very, very particular type of artist because, for 99% of my career, I always look at something that I’ve done and say, Man! If I did it today, I would do it differently. Maybe I would try this, maybe we’d try that. That’s what artists do. I don’t know one artist that would look at a piece of art that they’ve created and think that it’s perfect or complete. Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest fantasy illustrators of our generation, used to go in and paint over some of his paintings that are now considered masterpieces. He would just go in and be like Yeah, I didn’t like that background and change it. But I will really honestly say that Creepshow for Season Two is probably the closest I’ve had in my entire film experience of being able to stand next to my work and be proud. I’m so proud of what we did. I’m so grateful to the writers, to the actors, to the cast and crew and the producers. Because, you know we were the first long form show to go back into production during the pandemic. We started filming in August when everybody else was shut down. We were one of the first shows back and we took care of our cast, we took care of our crew, we were safe, we were respectful and we still turned out material that I still can’t believe we were able to pull off with the time and the money that we had. So, I’m so grateful for the response that I’ve been getting from the press so far because I’m a sensitive guy so I tend to not want to read reviews because I know I’ll find the one review that will hurt my feelings and I’ll be depressed for a week. But, so far, it’s been pretty amazing.

Drew Matthews as Zeller, Brooke Butler as Mallory – Creepshow _ Season 2, Episode 4B – Photo Credit: Curtis Baker/Shudder

Is there anyone else working at the moment in genre filmmaking or otherwise that you’d love to work with?

GN: Oh man, I feel like I’ve worked with some of the greats. It’s interesting because I would love to work with Sonequa Martin-Green who plays Michael Burnham on Star Trek Discovery – and I have this fantasy of directing her in an episode of Star Trek. I think a lot of my friends, ironically, have sort of traversed these iconic universes. Robert Rodriguez is working on the Boba Fett show and Sonequa Martin-Green was working on Star Trek and I was kind of like you know, maybe one of these days I’ll get to work in the Star Trek or Star Wars universe so I can fulfil one of the last bucket-list things in my career.

What do you think it is about horror movies and TV that keep audiences turning to them, particularly in times of crisis?

GN: Well, if you’re escaping, if you ever go back and look at history, whether it’s World War Two, whether it’s the social unrest of the 60s, horror has an inherent, rebellious nature. The filmmakers tend to be bold and audacious. I love using Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven and George Romero as perfect examples. In the late 60s they really were like Oh well, you said we can’t show that. Well, what’s that? So, horror has a really unique rebellious nature. I have heard people talk about the experience of watching horror television or movies as like riding roller coasters – you get on, for some reason you’re all in, you’re ready to get on the roller coaster, but there’s a hesitation and there’s a fear about it and then you’re laughing and screaming at the same time, like your body just literally goes through these emotions over and over again. And then, by the time it’s done, your heart’s racing a million miles an hour and you survive and these endorphins are released in your brain because your brain is telling you that it’s over and you survived and the adrenaline is going. That’s what horror is like. Watching a horror movie or being scared, you have those same emotions.

Creepshow Season 2 is now available to stream at Shudder.com

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