04.17.13 | Erin Hallagan
This week AFF has been bringing you our favorite TV pilots and how they’ve impacted our love for television. In today’s AFF Interview, we sit down with AFF Alum Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy to discuss their new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove and the shift they see in the future of television.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What was your relationship before you started working on this project? When did you start collaborating? What is your process like as writing partners?
SHIPMAN: Brian and I started writing together after meeting in graduate school in Austin in 2004 and discovering we shared the same peculiar, often downright deviant, sensibilities. Finding the right writing partner is as difficult and rare as finding the right romantic partner, especially one into all that dirty business.
MCGREEVY: We were in the same graduate program (the Michener Center for Writers) and fast friends. We became screenwriting partners out of both mutual respect and mutual laziness: it was half the work!
AFF: Brian, the show is based on your novel. Did you always intend to turn it into a script, and if so, how did this affect the writing style in your novel? How did you both approach the adaption process and how much does the show diverge from the novel?
MCGREEVY: The novel, during the writing, was its own beast. Naturally I would daydream to some extent what an adaptation would look like, but as someone who works in different media I’m an advocate of focus: concentrate on the step you’re currently taking, not the one five down the line.
AFF: What makes Hemlock Grove different from other supernatural shows?
SHIPMAN: As much as we love the genre, we consider ourselves drama writers not horror writers. There is a supernatural element to our show, but to quote Joseph Conrad, “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; Man alone is quite capable of every wickedness.” It’s a theme that runs through a lot of our work: the more civilized we think we are, the more we forget we’re all just animals — and will be grimly reminded of that.
Preparatory to shooting, our producing-director Deran Sarafian hosted weekly screenings of our favorites in the genre, and invariably they fell under the largely gore-free sub-genre of Psychological Horror: Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, etc. It’s what we’re interested in and the only real way to sustain a series like this. That said, we don’t give a fuck who we kill.
AFF: How did Eli Roth become involved with this project? What was it like working with him?
MCGREEVY: We interviewed potential producers in the spring of 2011, and really connected with Eric Newman, who is Eli’s producing partner. Everyone agreed on the best direction to take the material, and by the end of the year the deal was in place.
AFF: All 13 episodes will be released at once on Netflix. Did this affect the way you designed/organized your first season? Does it make the writing process more exciting or frustrating? How do you anticipate this release platform affecting the future of television?
MCGREEVY: It is the future of television.
SHIPMAN: One of the more remarkable and atypical advantages of the full series order and our schedule of production was that we were able to write almost the entire season before we shot a single frame. Rather than scrambling week to week, we had the rare opportunity to take our time and craft this story into what can almost be looked at as a 13 hour movie. For two guys coming out of the features world, it was an intuitive model and quite forward-thinking on the part of Netflix.
I think what they’re doing is the future of TV. Just as we were looking to get into that world we saw the House of Cards announcement and knew immediately we wanted to jump in bed with them.
AFF: What are some advantages with Netflix releasing all 13 episodes all at once? Disadvantages?
MCGREEVY: I see no disadvantages, frankly. Traditional television holds no interest for me, and the direction things are going is being dictated by the audience, myself included. I haven’t personally owned a TV since 2008.
SHIPMAN: I haven’t had a TV in a while, so almost exclusively binge watch on a laptop. The traditional model will only continue to fracture and evolve, and as both a writer and viewer I toast it.
Watch the latest trailer for Hemlock Grove here: (warning, NSFW)
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