What Mike Flanagan Loves About Collaborative Storytelling

If it's one thing Mike Flanagan knows, it's his horror. To be honest, though, I really expect nothing less from a person who was born in Salem, Massachusetts (Jealous!). He's had spooky vibes in his bones from birth. Perhaps most well known for his Netflix projects like the supremely creepy 2018 series "The Haunting of Hill House" (an adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name) and last year's incredible "Midnight Mass" about Catholicism, sobriety, and vampires, Flanagan has proven he has what it takes to make scary stories for the screen. His films have also garnered much love and attention over the years — I, myself will never forget the time I watched "Hush" in a heavy metal-themed bar and felt true paranoia for the rest of the evening — and he's got even more hair-raising projects coming down the line with "The Season of Passage" based on a Christopher Pike novel and next year's Edgar Allen Poe-inspired "The Fall of the House of Usher."

Obviously, Flanagan is a talented and busy director, but his work is not solely from his mind alone. He's been known to embrace collaboration — perhaps most frequently with fellow producer Trevor Macy — which has helped his work to really shine. His most recent project, "The Midnight Club" about a group of terminally ill kids who gather at night to trade scary stories in "Are You Afraid of the Dark"-style employs six different directors over the show's 10 episodes which, much like the show's premise, lends itself to an extremely synergistic experience. But what is it about collaboration that Flanagan loves so much and should fans of his work expect more of it in the future?

It's all about collaboration, baby!

The decision to only direct two episodes of his new show "The Midnight Club" is in stark contrast to Mike Flanagan's work on his last project, "Midnight Mass" where he directed every single episode. In a recent interview with Discussing Film, Flanagan talked a bit about his love of collaboration. He explains that the impulse to collaborate is "something that's very necessary as our company has grown and as our shows have grown," even going so far as to refer to the idea of him directing every episode of "The Midnight Club" as "inappropriate." Since the show is rooted in the idea of storytelling and the sharing of stories, it just made sense that other directors come onto the project to help. Flanagan tells Discussing Film, "One of the things about "The Midnight Club" is that it celebrates different storytellers; it's baked into its DNA. And in so much as it was exciting to have different characters take the head of the table on the show to tell their stories." He goes on to say, 

"If I was directing all of this, we would have missed out on having these different points of view, these different visions come from these different storytellers, who were excited to dive into those stories in particular and put their own stamp on them. If anything more than any of my other shows, "The Midnight Club" is about collaborative storytelling. If I had tried to hold all of that for myself, I think I would have done the show a great disservice."

But the impulse to collaborate on "The Midnight Club" is nothing new. Flanagan has a long history with the directors he chose for this show, and his desire to continue collaboration with them and others is strong.

A collaborative future

Flanagan laid out all of his connections to some of his directors of "The Midnight Club" for Discussing Film. Familiar names include Michael Fimognari who has essentially "been [Flanagan's] director of photography for [his] whole career," Morgan Beggs who was Flanagan's assistant director for "Midnight Mass," and Axelle Carolyn who directed an episode of "The Haunting of Bly Manor" — another one of Flanagan's shows that utilize different directors for its eight episodes. For Flanagan, getting to work with old friends in new capacities was exciting. He tells Discussing Film, "We've had the joy of also being able to work with creative collaborators in a new capacity and to say, "All right, this is yours now take it and run." And I trust those people with my life. It's just another way to collaborate really." 

But "The Midnight Club" also gave him the opportunity to collaborate with new individuals as well, most noticeably Viet Nguyen. "I'm madly in love with [him] and we became immediate fast friends because I respect his work. He did such a good job. It's a real pleasure to be able to meet and interact with other storytellers this way," Flanagan says of his new collaboration with Nguyen. 

Even though both "The Haunting of Hill House" and "Midnight Mass" were directed by Flanagan alone, Flanagan's recent collaborations seem to be giving him the confidence to continue placing more cooks in his kitchen. "Some shows, like Midnight Mass, were so close to me that I felt that I had to do it all," he admits. However, he goes on to say, "That's going to be a rarer and rarer thing, I think, because the collaboration is way more fun, to be honest." Whether Flanagan decides to carry on his love for collaboration or not, fans of his work are guaranteed to get exciting new work from him very soon