CS Interview: Sam Raimi on Quibi’s 50 States of Fright
ComingSoon.net got the chance to join a conference press call with legendary horror writer/director/executive producer Sam Raimi (Drag Me To Hell) to discuss his work on the Quibi anthology series 50 States of Fright, on which he wrote and directed the first three-part episode “The Golden Arm.”
The first season of 50 States of Fright will explore stories based on urban legends from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington, taking viewers deeper into the horrors that lurk just beneath the surface of our country.
Golden Globe winner Rachel Brosnahan (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Travis Fimmel (Vikings) and John Marshall Jones (The Last Revolutionary) star in “The Golden Arm” episode based on a famous urban legend out of Michigan, co-written by Sam (Spider-Man, Army of Darkness, The Evil Dead) and Ivan Raimi (Army of Darkness, Drag Me to Hell, Darkman) and directed by Sam.
50 States of Fright will be executive-produced by Raimi and Debbie Liebling through PDO 3, Van Toffler, Tony DiSanto, Cody Zwieg, Barry Barclay, Tommy Coriale, and Chris Mangano.
Though not a stranger to the small screen world, Raimi did not that one of the biggest challenges in shooting the series came in the limited time and budget his crew had in telling the story while mentioning that he found no issue in Quibi’s vertical presentation, stating that his series was one of the first they had “perfected their rotating visual technology for.”
“Staff limitations are the same, limited resources as well, these are not big budget films, they’re fairly precise with the budgeting, we have like a TV budget,” Raimi described. “With 50 States of Fright, that budget is really thrust upon us, it’s a lot like making nine independent films, because we didn’t have the same wardrobe or characters or set a normal TV show would have. Each of these sets, each of these actors, each of the wardrobes were unique to the approximately 24-minute episode, so there were a lot of expenses that you don’t normally have on a TV budget. It came down to not relying on visual effects or big budget spectacle but rather get back to the basics of simply telling a story.”
Given the new streaming service and looking for a new demographic, some showrunners and producers might craft a mission statement of how dark, graphic or explicit their series can be but Raimi notes that with 50 States, the writers and directors were so focused on making a quality series there was never a worry of how far they could, or should, go.
“We just tried to focus on our characters and make sure our audiences were wrapped on a good cliffhanger at the end of each episode and that we had enough turn to develop it to hold the audiences and hopefully some chilling and thrilling ideas in each story,” Raimi said. “We never really set any limitation bar on how gory or bloody a show should be.”
The genesis for the series came when the other producers of the series, Gunpowder & Sky, approached Raimi with the concept for it and believing it to be a “really good format” for a TV show, namely in exploring the possibilities of “all the lore each state must have” and believing there to be “at least one or two stories for each state.”
“I recognized that when the producers came to me I had seen in the state of Michigan some books at tourist spots, you’ll see “Ghost Stories of Michigan” pamphlets that a local writer has published and I’ve seen something similar in the state of Illinois and I realized when they presented the idea to me they must be writers and stories for every state,” Raimi explained. “I saw how instantly people would think, ‘I want to see the story for my state.’ I recognized they had a great idea so we took it together to Quibi and Jeffrey Katzenberg and he said ‘Great, it sounds perfect for what I’m doing.’”
In assembling the cast for his tale “The Golden Arm,” Raimi looked back to an unnamed project from two years ago that never came to fruition in which he first met star Fimmel and found himself “so impressed” by the 40-year-old Vikings vet and that “he had such great ideas,” while being interested in working with Brosnahan after seeing a few of her performances across her filmography.
“I thought, ‘Oh I gotta work with this guy, every scene we’re talking about he’s expanding, he’s getting into the character and what they think and feel, he’s got such a real take on every moment we’re describing that he would be a great collaborator,’” Raimi recalled. “I thought one day I want to work with him as a director, he’s so intelligent and communicative. As far as Rachel, I love her on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she’s brilliant on it, I know a lot of it is the writing and directing, but it’s also powered by her incredibly realistic and fun lively performance. S when I heard she was available I asked if she’d do the role and she said yes and Travis said yes also. They were really good on set, they were very respectful of one another and both really contributed to the moments, making them very real on set, and I remember on the first day with them, they each had suggestions about their dialogue and performances, they personalized the roles in a great way and were really great as collaborators. I wish we had more time together because the whole thing was shot in a handful of days.”
In reflecting back on his childhood and the urban legends that terrorized him, Raimi opens up on the fact that “The Golden Arm” did alongside a tale of two teens trying to find a quiet place for some alone time in their car in the forest only for it to take a dark turn.
“I’ve heard it everywhere, about the couple that go out kissing in a deserted spot in their car and they realize the car has died when they want to leave the car, one of them says ‘I’m going to walk to the gas station, stay here,'” Raimi tells. “When the guy goes off and leaves the partner in the car, the partner starts to hear some movement in the woods and the guy hasn’t come back yet from the gas station and then there’s this tapping. The police come and they say ‘Don’t get out of the car,’ and she says ‘Why not?’ and they slowly cover their eyes and their lips and they turn around and look and the guy that left for the gas station is strung up over the car, his blood is tapping on the roof of the car, something in the woods grabbed him and strung him up without the other person really seeing, so that was one of the stories that really scared me as a kid.”
Though having made his career on the big screen with the original Evil Dead trilogy as well as the Tobey Maguire-led Spider-Man trilogy and 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, Raimi’s only real dive into the world of television came in the form of Starz’ sequel series Ash vs. Evil Dead, and having worked in both he finds both long and short-form stories can have advantages to them.
“I’m sure that there’s long-form horror stories that work very well, there’s the great Stephen King books like Carrie and The Shining,” Raimi said. “When you have a great writer who can fill out the second and third act and supporting characters and scenes then it works great. For me, I’m not a great writer but I do love ghost stories, the kind you tell around the campfire and so I think it works beautifully to have a 15-minute type of story, I think it’s kind of like a rollercoaster ride. You don’t really want to be on it for an hour and a half, but instead for a five minute or ten minute experience. The format is perfect is conveying thrills and chills and ghost stories.”
50 States of Fright is currently available for streaming on Quibi!