Presented by The Television Academy Foundation, Hollywood Horror was an evening of exciting guest panels, screenings of pieces of new series, and a bit of makeup effects and decorations to set the mood.
Hosted by Chris Hardwick, Hollywood Horror examined how the phenomenon, long a staple of motion pictures, is alive and well in myriad television shows.
Inside The Television Academy’s Wolf Theater, following a brief introduction by Morey McIntire, president of The Television Academy, Hardwick, producer and host of American Movie Classics’ Talking Dead, moderated several onstage panels. “Horror has meant the world to me,” Harwick expressed.
Up first to speak was Ryan Hurst, an actor from American Movie Classics’ zombie smash The Walking Dead.
“Now with some many platforms, audiences are ravenous for content,” he said of broadcast television, but also cable channels and online delivery systems. “These genres lend themselves to these open stories that want to continue and continue. The Walking Dead is such a juggernaut. When you sign on for a television show, the onus is on the actor to make a lot of brave creative choices.”
Following Hurst, Angela Kang, both an executive producer and the showrunner for The Walking Dead, commented on Hurst’s contributions to the series.
“One of the things that we really loved is Ryan said, ‘Where is this mask from? It would be cool if it was from somebody he knew,’” she revealed of Hurst’s costume piece. “We wound up with this whole episode story. Very early on, the costume has a basis of what’s in the comic. It ended up part of that story as well—it wound up giving the character depth.”
Adding to that, Pollyanna McIntosh, another actor on The Walking Dead, stated, “That interest in story on the part of Angela is something that we really appreciate.”
Unquestionably, along with The Walking Dead, a sure phenomenon in new horror-oriented series is Netflix’ original show Stranger Things. Actor Cary Elwes explained a similar flexibility to The Walking Dead that actors have on his project.
“The showrunners are very collaborative,” Elwes conveyed. “They encourage the actors to explore different things. if you don’t care about the characters, then the show is nothing. Now with Netflix, all of the great writers have flocked to television—we are in a new golden era of television.”
Next, McIntosh seconded Elwes assertion about the state of new series. “TV has become elevated,” she said. “The genre has become elevated. It always had a range of possibility; the imagination can soar. What I experienced through acting in the genre is that there are incredibly creative people working in the genre.”
Hollywood veteran Jake Busey, who also acts on Stranger Things, was surprised by his being cast in the show. “Before the show came out, a buddy asked if I heard of the Duffer brothers,” Busey recalled of Stranger Things’ creators. “They are going to do TV shows because that’s what Netflix wants them to do.”
Then, Kang reiterated her cast and crew’s affinity for the material on The Walking Dead. “I feel so lucky that I get to work on this show,” she remarked, noting that she’s been on the series since season two—it is now in its tenth season. “It’s been a dream for me. I consider myself a writer of character-driven dramas that happened to be in this world. As television has evolved, it’s easy for people from many backgrounds to enjoy horror in so many territories. There’s something hopeful, that speaks to grit and the human spirit—to survive and make it through things that are incomprehensible.”
Senior supervisor of visual effects on Stranger Things, Paul Graff noted that, on his series, quality comes out of frugality.
“What I do is like a musician—I need to make music in a band and figure out how that band works,” Graff said. “Give every shot what it wants to have it be the best shot it can be. What I appreciate the most is that, every time, you are in new unknown territory. After three years of working on Stranger Things, the gold standard of creative chaos [mandates to] keep it coming.”
Continuing the evening, Hardwick interviewed Eryn Krueger Mekash, producer on American Horror Story, now nine seasons in. “When we first started doing the show, I had worked for [creator] Ryan Murphy for 17 years,” she said. “He gives me this script, American Horror Story; it’s going to be different every year. Anthology has been gone for a long time—he’s brought it back.”
Of note, American Horror Story was, at the outset, brought to Mekash as she is a special makeup effects expert.
“Makeup, hair and costumes work sometimes 18 hours a day,” she detailed. “You are constantly on your toes every season. Most of our makeups are done practically—Ryan insisted on it from the beginning. The reward of the show is that it’s a constant puzzle. If we have an idea, we’ll talk to Ryan about it. He’ll say, ‘Go for it.’”
Along with Mekash, Dean Zimmerman, editor on Stranger Things, was also on hand to discuss television crafts. “The Duffer Brothers make it easy,” said Zimmerman. “It happens all organically—we get to play in the sandbox every day. It’s a lot to do with Netflix and their support behind this series.”
Lastly, Mac Quayle, composer for American Horror Story, re-emphasized Ryan Murphy’s collaborative nature.
“Every season is a completely different setting—everything gets reinvented,” Quayle explained. “We wanted to pay homage to the 80s slasher films, so we wanted [the music] to be electronic. We knew that was going to be the world—an electronic score that evokes those films. It went many different places: dark and synthetic and electronic. I’m excited that people’s understanding of what constitutes horror is expanding.”