From creator Vera Miao, The CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories (which started out on CW Seed and is now airing on The CW) is an anthology of contemporary tales of horror inspired by the viral fan fiction idea comprised of two sentences. No matter the advancements in technology, social progress, inequality and environmental degradation, we are still haunted by universal primal fears, filtered through our anxieties, and that’s explored in this series that will send shivers down your spine.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer/writer/director Vera Miao talked about her unusual journey to being a storyteller, why this series is the perfect opportunity to weave in social and political issues, her original pitch for this show, how they figure out what their two-sentence horror stories will be, why they have to cut some concepts, and what she’d like for the next step in her career.
Collider: It sounds like you had a bit of an unusual journey, going from non-profit to actor to now being a showrunner, producer, writer and director. How did that happen? Were you doing other things with the goal to eventually get into production, or was this never part of the plan?
VERA MIAO: It’s funny, I can’t say that I had a plan. That’s for sure. As you can probably imagine, looking at the highlights of my trajectory, there with no plan. Throughout everything that I’ve done, what’s always been consistent, since I was very, very, very small, was stories. I am a notorious bookworm. I was always the nerd with the thick glasses, who spent all of her time in the public library, and was the kid who walked down the street reading a book. Books, comics, TV shows and films were just a consistent through-line in my entire life. I had lots and lots of different things going on. I had a very early commitment to social justice work in the non-profit sector, and was very active, all through college, and started in that sector, before I even graduated. A few things happened. I’ve always had a left brain/right brain. I’ve always wanted to feel the creative side of things, and in social justice nonprofit work, I started to realize that storytelling is a way that humans make meaning and storytelling was a powerful defining force in how I think about the world.
The move into storytelling, as my career, would seem like a 180 from the outside, but internally for me, was an extension of this thing that I had my whole life, which is how what I do can contribute, even in the most insignificant way, to a larger purpose, hopefully. So, when clicked into that, I could, for myself, justify formerly exiting the non-profit sector, in a professional capacity, and committing myself to this path of storytelling. It’s true, my entry was acting. I consider that a little bit like my film school ‘cause I did not go to film school, and that entry was through story. I studied at the Atlantic Theater Company, which is David Mamet and William H. Macy’s company. Because it’s Mamet, story is god and the writer is god. That really shaped my understanding of dramatic story structure. They were also very clear about just making stuff – writing stuff, producing stuff, making your own things – and not waiting.
As someone who was older and had a whole other career, I got into this with a little bit more of an explicit mission on my side. And quite frankly, as an Asian woman, it wasn’t like the acting jobs were just falling in my path, so I just started making my own stuff. That process of writing, producing and, eventually, directing made me realize that my original desire to be telling stories that have meaning was still the flame that burned the hottest, and the way that it fit the most, in terms of what my role was, was really as a director. The path through acting was formative in making me the kind of storyteller that I am and helped me understand how this process works. I’m very appreciative of it because I didn’t really understand actors and the acting process. When I started directing and writing, all of the pieces seemed to click into place.
This show explores a lot of social and political issues, and you can explore a lot of different thing because of the anthology aspect of it. Is this series the perfect opportunity to blend all of that stuff together?
MIAO: Yeah, for sure. It’s just a direct reflection of how my brain works. Stories help make meaning, and I’m always trying to figure out myself, people around me, and my community, society, and the world. Those are the things that preoccupy my brain, all the time. Stories are a much more accessible and human way to keep processing and keep trying to make meaning, so it felt natural. It was less of an intentional extension of my activism work ‘cause that’s not how I see it, but I don’t see it as separate, either. I didn’t go into activism as an international part of the processes. It was an organic evolution of the things that I was really passionate about and that I thought mattered, in the same way that telling stories matters so much. Storytelling, to me, is just the most honorable tradition. So, it does end up coming out, particularly in this series because it’s episodic. I’m clearly a The Twilight Zone fan. There are a lot of natural ways in which you get to do character studies in the world. There are specific kinds of characters for dealing with specific kinds of things, in the world around them.
When you first went in to pitch this idea, what were you expecting? Were you expecting that it would just be an interesting experience, or did you go in expecting something to come out of it?
MIAO: I, 100%, did not expect it to get made. In general, the odds are long in this industry, across the board. I went into the meeting not expecting anything. I was just very honest and transparent about what I wanted to do with the show, and what it was and what it wasn’t. I remember in that meeting, I said, “This is not a jump scare, roller coaster ride of gory horror. This is psychological and maybe sometimes even a little slow burn. It very much looks at previous cinema, and these stories present opportunities to go deeper into characters, but also how people intersect with some of the issues that preoccupy our every day. And it’s really an opportunity to showcase some talent that, perhaps, are not as well known or mainstream yet.” A bunch of the directors are gonna be the folks leading this industry, in the very near future. I was really upfront because I didn’t think anything was gonna happen, so I was really taken off guard, when the idea hit. It was just one of those situations where you think you know what’s gonna happen next, but you really don’t.