Interview: CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE’s Nick Antosca And Craig Macneill

In which the writer and director of SyFy's excellent new horror anthology answer our burning questions.

SyFy's Channel Zero: Candle Cove is one of the best, creepiest things you could be watching on television right now. Written by Nick Antosca (Hannibal) and directed by Craig Macneill (The Boy), the series uses Kris Straub's "Candle Cove" creepypasta story as a jumping-off point for something even more complicated and sinister. 

Here's what Antosca and Macneill have to say for themselves.

Where'd the idea for Channel Zero - a series based on creepypasta stories - originate?

Nick Antosca (writer): I’ve wanted to make something about urban legends for a long time — Candyman is one of my favorite horror movies, and I love the Clive Barker novella even more — and creepypasta are the modern urban legends. The best ones get at something that feels familiar and dreadful. They are nightmare seeds. Each season of Channel Zero is a nightmare you have after you read the story it’s based on. I thought, if you could preserve the spirit of the original stories, and that feeling of queasy dread — that’s the kind of horror I like. This is a low-budget show made like an independent film, and to be honest we never expected much of an audience. We just wanted to make the kind of horror we love.

Were you familiar with the Candle Cove story before then? Why Candle Cove as the starting story over any other creepypasta story?

Antosca: I’ve been a fan of Kris’s story for years. We didn’t choose Candle Cove to be the first story after we decided to make a show about creepypasta. We set out to adapt “Candle Cove” specifically — but I thought, why stop there? There are so many great creepypasta stories. The idea to do an anthology came later.

Paul Schneider's an interesting choice for this series. Can you talk a little about how you came to cast him?

Antosca: We were Paul Schneider fans, simple as that.  I’ve never seen Parks and Rec. I knew him from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which is probably my favorite movie of the last decade or two. And from Bright Star. For Mike Painter, we needed someone unique, who could seem both boyish and fatherly and who could seem friendly and reassuring but also deeply unstable and wounded. And thank god he said yes. 

Craig Macneill (director): I’ve been a fan of Paul Schneider ever since I saw him in All the Real Girls.  He’s such talented, collaborative actor who brings so much to the table. Mike Painter is an afflicted character who tries his best to mask his torment, and Paul has a strong ability to convey repressed emotions in such a truthful, subtle way. He was the perfect choice for us. 

The design on the Tooth-Child is striking, and has really struck a chord with people. Impressing audiences with creature design is not an easy thing to do these days. Can you talk about the genesis of that design, the decision to go practical, etc?

Antosca: I said Channel Zero: Candle Cove is the nightmare inspired by Kris’s story — the Tooth Child is literally a nightmare inspired by the story. I saw it in a nightmare while I was outlining the season and thinking a lot about childhood, about baby teeth and transformation. I had just started working on Hannibal. At the time, Channel Zero was a long shot to ever get on the air, and I pitched the Tooth Child on Hannibal — it actually almost ended up in the show but was eventually cut. Then when Channel Zero got greenlit, we got Greg Nicotero to help with the initial design, and Francois Dagenais finished the design and then built the creature. There was some pressure early on to make it a full CGI creature, but we pushed back hard on that. There are challenges with practical, but there’s a retro feel to it I love, and it’s just more visceral.

Macneill: Tooth Child first appeared in a nightmare Nick had a few years ago. There was lots of talk about going CGI with the creature in our show, but Nick and I were pretty opposed to that. Our budget was too tight to do CGI right. Practical felt like the most emotionally engaging choice. 

Nick, how challenging was the process of spinning Kris Straub's original story into something that'd sustain a six-hour narrative? You had a helluva leaping off point, but you clearly had a job ahead of you fleshing that out.

Antosca: Because Kris’s story is not a traditional narrative — because it’s formatted as message board posts — it actually gave us more freedom in terms of adaptation. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the story and preserve the feeling it gave me when I read it. We recreated the puppet show as faithfully as possible, and then built the world around it. The Candle Cove season is personal for me in a lot of ways, because the nature of Kris’s story required a lot of invention. The town of Iron Hill is inspired by the rural area in Maryland where I grew up. So it’s a balancing act, and a challenge — bring new ideas to the table, but honor and preserve the original story. Hannibal was good training for that.

Craig, after The Boy and Candle Cove, it seems obvious that you prefer a quiet approach to horror; there's a hypnotic stillness to your stuff that's beginning to feel like a trademark. Can you talk a little about your horror influences?

Macneill: Hour Of The Wolf immediately jumps out. I find Bergman’s masterful control over mood and atmosphere tremendously inspiring. The Shining, Cache, The Tenant, Red Road, Spoorloos, are a few others that come to mind. 

What horror films (or series, if you like) have you seen recently that you really impressed by?

Antosca: Well, The Boy was one for me.  When I saw it, I knew Craig was the perfect director for this. I just had to convince him to come do a TV show for Syfy! It Follows is one of my favorite movies, period. Krisha, which no one else considers a horror movie, but it is, and also a masterpiece. February (now apparently known as The Blackcoat’s Daughter). And on TV, the French version of The Returned is phenomenal and was an influence.  

Macneill: I find Under The Skin mesmerizing. I recently saw and enjoyed When Animals Dream

Another season of Channel Zero's already on deck, but what else are you guys working on right now? Anything you can discuss?

Antosca: I’m in Manitoba right now halfway through shooting season two, which is based on Brian Russell’s story “The NoEnd House” and directed by Steven Piet. It’s going to feel very different from season one, because each season will be a showcase for a different director who I love. So that’s been keeping me busy. I’m also working on a feature for Craig to direct based on one of my short stories. Yes, it’s a horror movie. The kind of quiet, haunting horror we love.

Macneill: Nick and I are currently developing a project that I’m excited about.

New episodes of Channel Zero: Candle Cove air Tuesday nights (which means there's a new one tonight!) on SyFy. Check your local listings, and get onboard this train immediately. You will not be disappointed.