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Horror Scares Up Interest At Produced By

Discussing horror were, from left to right, Dave Alpert, Norberto Barga, Jeremy Carver, Carlton Cuse and Tim Minear.

The horror genre has significantly scared up ratings for the past several years. From record breakers like “The Walking Dead” and innovators such as “American Horror Story” that utilizes an anthology format that has become popular with dramatic series including “True Detective” and “Fargo.” The Los Angeles Produced By Conference 2015 kicked off the Producers Guild of America’s weekend-long conference with a panel featuring top-notch producers who are ushering the genre in new directions.

Sponsored by Variety, “Scary 3.0: The New Horror” included producers David Alpert (The Walking Dead), Norberto Barba (Grimm), Jeremy Carver (Supernatural, Being Human), Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel, The Strain) and Tim Minear (American Horror Story). The panel was moderated by Variety’s executive editor of television, Debra Birnbaum.

Birnbaum opened the panel by asking the producers what they felt made television a successful format for horror fare. Alpert suggested the ability to become invested in a character was a major bonus. Routing for the survival of characters they liked through weekly journeys “allowed viewers to forget their own troubles” said Alpert. Barba credited the recent public embrace of Spanish cinema horror, namingly movies like “The Orphanage” that offered higher production values and a strong aesthetic.

“The mood and the landscape are frightening but the story is always rooted in reality,” said Barba.

The remaining panelist agreed the key to effective horror on television was the creation of strong characters and chemistry between the actors that bring the story to life. Cuse also highlighted the importance of having a network that will provide effective marketing for the series. He noted “The Strain” “worm coming out an eyeball” campaign that FX spear-headed “cut through the clutter”. Minear agreed that FX has done a great job with marketing “American Horror Story.” He added that rebooting the story each year has made AHS a successful franchise.

When asked how social media plays into story development or fan engagement, the panelist primarily stated they avoid looking at social media, choosing to remain focused on creating a great script. Marketing, however, has been more directly influenced by social media. Minear pointed to AHS creator Ryan Murphy’s wise use of the medium. After Lady Gaga’s tremendously well received performance at the 2015 Oscars, Murphy shared the announcement that the singer would play a role in the series fourth installment, “American Horror Story: Hotel.” The post immediately flooded the internet and was picked up by major news organizations.

Carver’s marketing team likes to use social media as a way of making their shows “must watch” events. “The audience doesn’t want to miss out, they will watch the shows so they don’t fall behind in the discussion.” However, the writers are encouraged to “keep their heads down. We like to keep the writer’s room cocooned, so they can focus on creating the best story,” said Carver.

AMC Network has created second screen experiences for their original programming that allows them to direct the focus of the social media campaigns to specific moments. Alpert stated prior to the second screen experience, “The Walking Dead” viewers would get distracted by posting during the show and “important information was getting lost.”

Accessibility and lower cost have allowed the producers to regularly mix visual effects into the practical effects, resulting in truly horrific visuals. Carver’s programs utilize in house effects team to create fantastic creatures and gory effects. Cuse stated “The Strain” benefited from utilizing the same effects house creator Guillermo del Toro employs for his features. However, with great VFX comes great responsibility: images that appear too gory on screen can be nixed before they go on air. When Barba had an exploded head effect that the network requested be removed due to excessive blood splatter, he used the amount painted out as his gage for all future effects. Minear described VFX that were nixed due to their association with sexual imagery, while Barba stated limbs and torsos can be cut off or split open as long as they are not human in nature.

Despite advancements in visual effects and a television landscape that allows more horror elements to be shown on the small screen than ever before, the producers all felt the best horror comes from building a sense of dread.

“Once you show it, it’s not scary anymore,” said Minear.

Each producer was a fan of “less is more” and that something is “far more disturbing when it is not literal but hinted at” for it teases the emotions of the viewers.
“We are in a place to explore horrific things from the experience of a character. We can stretch that out, and allow these stories to be told,” said Alpert.

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