As the creator and executive producer of the MTV series Teen Wolf, Jeff Davis has developed a re-imagining of the iconic ‘80s film that is darker, sexier and edgier than the original. When asked if he would be interested in doing something with Teen Wolf, the Criminal Minds creator/executive producer shared his vision for the series with MTV executives who were immediately drawn to his desire to make a thriller with comedic overtones with a tone more similar to The Lost Boys than the camp that people are familiar with. Once the show was a go, Jeff Davis lined up Russell Mulcahy, who added his background as a horror director to the project. Now, with a good-looking cast of young actors, great stories that are creepy and scary, and cool effects and make-up, they have all the makings of a hit for the network.
At the show’s press day, Jeff Davis and Russell Mulcahy talked to Collider in this exclusive interview about bringing this show to life for MTV, how important it was to establish the look of the werewolves, developing their werewolf mythology, the fact that Season 1 will have many twists and turns, all the behind the scenes features they already have planned for the DVD release, and their excitement to take the series to Comic-Con in San Diego. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you guys get involved with this series? Was it something that was brought to you, and then you developed a concept for it?
JEFF DAVIS: Yes. I was working on a show with the producers, Marty Adelstein and Michael Thorn. We were doing a pilot for the SyFy channel and they asked me if I would be interested in Teen Wolf. I had a general meeting set up with the Teen Wolf executives, and I basically went to the meeting and said, “I hear you guys have Teen Wolf. How do you envision it being a TV show?” They said, “We want to go darker, sexier and scarier,” and I said, “What if we do it like The Lost Boys?,” and they said, “That sounds perfect!” From there, it was about coming up with concepts and ideas. I originally had this idea in my head to do an homage to Stand By Me, in the beginning. Kids go out and search for a body in the woods, and it’s not quite what they expect. That’s how it started.
RUSSELL MULCAHY: I was invited over for a meeting with Jeff, and I brought some sketches and ideas along, and we hit it off straight away. We’re both huge fans of the genre and we spark off each other’s energy.
DAVIS: He brought in these amazing storyboards that he had done himself, and he had visualized the show. I remember Michael Thorn and I turning to each other and being like, “This is the guy. He’s got the best ideas.” He had a way of doing it cinematically, which is what we really wanted. We wanted to go at this with a lot of style. We knew it was going to be hard to launch a show like this, unless we went for it, full throttle.
MULCAHY: Jeff has written the most wonderful scripts and they had to be paired with as much cinematic quality as possible to bring that to life. That’s what we worked on, to give the show the feel of mini-movies.
Russell, what was it like for you, with your history with MTV, to come back and work with them, in this capacity?
MULCAHY: Oh, my god. That is going to make me very old. Well, it’s a network that’s regenerated itself and constantly evolved. Yes, I was there at its beginning stage with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and for “Hungry Like A Wolf” with Duran Duran, and I’ve come full cycle, back to MTV, who is now a network that wants to tell scripted stories.
DAVIS: Doing music videos for MTV helped launch Russell’s storytelling career in film, and he’s come to return the favor.
MULCAHY: It’s a great network.
How much time and thought was put into what the werewolves would look like and how they would move?
DAVIS: We still think about it. We still obsess about it, and we’re still ever-perfecting it.
MULCAHY: Yes, we’re our worst critics. We nitpick.
DAVIS: We’re known to grab the scissors out of the make-up artist’s hands and start doing it ourselves. We did the New York Times cover and I did Tyler Posey’s hair. We’re very hands-on. Russell and I are incredible obsessives about it.
MULCAHY: Yeah, the crew just stands back and watches us go.
DAVIS: We think about it all the time. Essentially, what we wanted was to go for something a little more Pan’s Labyrinth. The creatures that Guillermo Del Toro comes up with were definitely an inspiration. They’re beautiful, they’re elegant and they’re scary, at the same time. That’s what we wanted with Tyler Posey’s character.
MULCAHY: A real wolf has a great majestic quality about it, but when it bears its fangs, you’d better step back. That’s what we wanted.
Were there things that you specifically wanted to make sure that you kept with werewolf mythology, and were there things that you wanted to add that were new?
DAVIS: Absolutely! Shape shifter myths are pretty much found in every culture and every society. It’s pretty extraordinary. The pilot we actually named “Wolf Moon” because the cycles of the moon are actually all named from Native American history. In January, wolves would howl outside of the villages because they were hungry. So, January was named Wolf Moon. We definitely wanted to pay tribute and keep in line with several of the rules, like the full moon being a cursed night for werewolves. It’s one where Scott McCall, our lead character, definitely has to watch out for himself. I love the idea of a best friend having to chain up his friend on a full moon. They came up with the word “lunatic” from the full moon. There are definitely tributes to the standard rules of European werewolf mythology, but we did bend some. Silver is not quite what it seems. Wolfsbane is not quite what it seems. We take our liberties.
How important was the casting with this? Was there one character that was most important, that you cast first and then cast everyone else around?
DAVIS: It was definitely the lead first – Scott McCall. For us, it was an innocent quality, but also a certain sexiness. They had to bring in a danger. We thought about whether we wanted our actors to strike a certain pose in auditions, or whether we should worry about that later. They had to make believable werewolves.
MULCAHY: Tyler Posey, and a number of other actors, came in to do screen tests. With Tyler, I turned to Jeff and said, “That kid has got the It Factor. I think we found him.” Once we found him, he was definitely the rock to then place the other characters around.
DAVIS: I remember a producer once saying about Mark Wahlberg – when he was Marky Mark, making the transition to Mark Wahlberg, the actor – “You just want to watch him on screen. That’s how you know he’s going to be famous. He’s going to be a great actor.” With Tyler Posey, he definitely has that quality. Crystal Reed is just utterly beautiful, but she also is a phenomenal actor. She can cry on cue. I don’t understand how people can do that. They seem to have an almost supernatural control over their tear ducts. Dylan [O’Brien] is a phenomenal comic actor.
MULCAHY: He came in with a resume that had two YouTube references on it. He ain’t no Hollywood kid, but god bless him, he’s a wonderful comedian and a terrific dramatic actor.
DAVIS: And then, you have Colton Haynes, who is a former model that is possibly the most genetically gifted person I’ve ever seen in my life. He has perfect cheekbones and facial structure. I remember my editor seeing him on screen and saying, “This guy has perfect cheekbones. They’re utterly perfect.” But, the nice thing about him is that he’s a great actor. You’ll actually see a real progression in his character, for the first season. And then, there’s Holland [Roden] and Tyler Hoechlin, who both bring very interesting qualities to their characters. Holland is hilarious and she’s quirky. Tyler Hoechlin has got that brooding stare down. He can look at you and stop traffic.
MULCAHY: The nice thing about doing episodic, with the way Jeff has created this series, is that the actors are given a chance to grow, and do all the dips and falls, and take different journeys and paths, and have different cliffhangers, emotionally. It’s great to watch them personally grow as craftsmen.
DAVIS: We definitely wanted unknowns as well.
Was it challenging to take someone like Tyler Posey and geek him up a bit, before his character is turned into a werewolf?
DAVIS: There is a certain thing where you have to think to yourself, “Do you want to nerd him up a little bit? Do you want to throw the Peter Parker/Clark Kent glasses on him, or do you want to let him just be shy and awkward on his own?” He’s a really good actor, and he plays nervous and insecure really well. I think he’s got a quality about him that people are really going to be surprised by. He knows the character so well now that I’ll just go on set and say, “You’re being Tyler Posey. Be Scott McCall.” And, he gets into character then.
What can you say about where you will be taking the story for Season 1?
DAVIS: It’s definitely very much a Romeo and Juliet story. We also have our own version of Van Helsing, who is Allison’s father, which is revealed at the end of the pilot. There’s an underlying mystery that creates the foundation for the show as well. We very much look at it like an eight and a half hour movie with 12 episodes. For me, as a writer, it broke down in my head like the first three episodes are the first act, the middle four are the second act, and the last three are the third act. Structurally, it works quite well as one long movie. You’ll see many twists and turns. I don’t like to give away too many details ‘cause I’m so secretive about cliffhangers and I hate it when trailers tell you the whole story. Hopefully, we’ll grab an audience.
Were you thinking about a possible Season 2 while you were doing Season 1, so that you could add those threads in there?
MULCAHY: Jeff has laid a few seeds already.
DAVIS: Yeah, I already know quite a bit of the arcs of Season 2, if we’re so lucky to have a Season 2. Before writing the second episode, I knew exactly what the last frame of the last episode was going to be, for Season 1. There was definitely a plan.
Do you plan on taking this show to Comic-Con and exposing it to that audience?
DAVIS: Absolutely! I’m a huge comic book geek myself. I grew up on comic books. I still read graphic novels, whenever I can. So, to capture that audience is particularly important to me. We were at Comic-Con last year, and I think people showed up mostly to see the panel after us because you’ve got to get there early. But, once we’re on the air, hopefully we’ll have convinced people and they’ll be there for us.
MULCAHY: It’s a nice train trip. We love Comic-Con!
What sort of feedback have you been getting from people who expect something with the same tone as the film, but then get something very different?
DAVIS: Yes, I think people are surprised. We expect the initial react to be, “God, they’re going to ruin Teen Wolf, my favorite movie of the ‘80s.”
MULCAHY: “They’re going to fuck this up.”
DAVIS: I read one Twitter post that said, “Michael J. Fox is rolling in his grave.” First of all, Michael J. Fox is still alive. And, we do pay good homage to the original movie. It is still about a teenage werewolf.
MULCAHY: I think people should watch it with an open mind, and they’ll be surprised.
DAVIS: But, we do get the coach line in there. “Everything else is cream cheese.” That’s right out of the original movie.
Do you already have plans for special features for the DVD set?
MULCAHY: There are plenty of outtakes, especially from Dylan [O’Brien].
DAVIS: He’s so R-rated, though. But, special features are nice. I’m the kind of person who loves all the DVD extras myself, so look forward to commentary by me and Russell, on certain episodes. We can tell lots of backstories, and there are plenty of make-up effects to look forward to. We’ve taped some really good behind the scenes stuff. I love behind the scenes stuff, myself. I think we did a time lapse of the make-up effects, and we have different types of make-up work in the show.
MULCAHY: We’ve got a great team, with KNB doing the effects.
DAVIS: We have Greg Nicotero, who did the zombies for The Walking Dead.
MULCAHY: We go way back to Tales From the Crypt, so we have a long history together. Also, we’re using Eaton for CG, who did five seasons of Lost.
DAVIS: They’re phenomenal guys. They did our deer in the pilot.