A Tight Schedule And A Thousand Favors: How The New 'Creepshow' Got Made [Set Visit]

Two things are immediately clear when you walk around the set of Creepshow, the Shudder streaming service's continuation of the classic 1982 George Romero film. First: everyone is exhausted. Second: everyone wouldn't have it any other way.

Executive producer Greg Nicotero decided early on that each episode of the series would feature two stories from different directors, some established and some new. And that each episode would feature recognizable actors, some new to horror and some nothing short of icons of the genre. And that each episode would focus on practical effects and make-up inspired by the original movie and other '80s classics. And oh, yeah: each episode would be filmed in three-and-a-half days on a small budget, a choice that ran crews ragged but also resulted in a gleeful energy that radiated behind the eyes of everyone we spoke to when we visited the Atlanta, Georgia set earlier this year.

A lot of things had to come together just right for Creepshow to get made. First, Nicotero had to leverage his power as an executive producer on The Walking Dead to get this passion project running. And then he had to call in favors and recruit exciting horror writers. Yes, that included original Creepshow screenwriter Stephen King, whose short story "Gray Matter" was adapted for the new story by Nicotero himself:

So I went out to Dave Skal, we got Josh Malerman, and Rob Schrab. I actually wrote Stephen King and said, 'It can't be Creepshow without a Stephen King story. What do you think?' And he's like, 'I got just the story!' Like, within twenty minutes. I was kind of blown away with how great my friends were, and everybody that responded when I would reach out and go, 'What do you think?' Within minutes, they would get back to me. Stephen had two different stories that he had proposed. Once we got into production and started to see how we were landing, I kind of felt that there was one that was actually perfectly suited, which was "Gray Matter," which is the story that I directed.

Naturally, Nicotero balanced his bench with younger horror writers...including Joe Hill, the celebrated novelist who just-so-happens to be King's son, and Josh Malerman, whose novel Bird Box had just blown up into a hit adaptation on Netflix:

And then I thought, listen, if we've got Stephen King, we need Joe Hill. I'm a huge fan of Joe's. I loved Horns and NOS4A2, I f***ing love all his stuff. Fireman, I loved. Joe sent a couple stories over, and there was one where he was like, 'This one's kinda dark.' And I'm like, 'OK, if Joe Hill says it's dark...' So I read it and was like, 'F*** me, that's really, really dark.' I was like, 'I don't know if we can [do that], it's so f***ed up.' So he sent a couple stories, and that was the fun part, reading all this stuff. Josh Malerman sending a bunch of stories and being like, 'F***, this is great.' This is before Bird Box and all that other stuff, so Josh was just – he sent one called "The House of the Head" and one called "Leaving Too Soon," and it was literally like sitting in the greatest candy shop in the world with all these stories.

With so many talented writers contributing stories, Nicotero admitted that he got greedy. Why settle for only a few stories when you could cram as many as humanly possible into a single season? This led to anxiety, second-guessing, and the understanding that they really needed to swing for the fences to make this all work:

I was pretty greedy at first, because I was like, 'We should do three stories per episode, and each story should be like seventeen minutes and we should do three.' We got into production, and I was like, 'What the f*** was I thinking, three? We should do two!' Now we're doing two, and it's literally three and a half days per episode to shoot, so I'm like, 'Who the f*** said two?' But many of my friends, I think it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan or Norman [Reedus] who was like, 'Listen, if you don't wake up in the middle of the night with an anxiety attack, you're not reaching high enough.' And I'm like, 'OK, then I'm reaching really f***ing high.' Because I wake up every night like, we need to get a shot of this, or we need to do that.

In addition to Morgan and Reedus (who work with Nicotero on The Walking Dead), Nicotero found encouragement from several icons of the horror genre, who granted him permission to go crazy:

I called Joe Dante, and I called Sam Raimi – I was like, 'What do you guys think?' The challenge is that it's three and a half days. Then I was like, I'm going to call my friends and say, 'Hey, come and shoot and you can't stop filming for twelve hours. You can't eat. You can't go to the bathroom. You've just got to keep filming and go crazy.' And everybody was like, 'That sounds great!' So I got Roxanne Benjamin and David Bruckner and Rob Schrab and John Harrison.

If all of this sounds like a punishing process...well, it was. Everyone on the set of Creepshow talked about the long hours, but everyone also talked about how much fun it was to make these fast and filthy horror shorts where the only rule was that there were no rules. Nicotero credits the crew for sticking with them and exceeding expectations on every level, with the production design team turning around major sets in just a matter of days:

I'll be really honest. I wanted to tell as many stories as I could. I just thought if you're going to do Creepshow, it's not one story, one hour. It just didn't feel right. So we really jumped into the whirlpool deep, but thank God the crew that we had, and Aimee Holmberg our production designer, and the makeup effects guys and everybody, it's been amazing. The fact that nobody's ever said, 'No, we can't do that.' They've always been like, 'Well, we should do this.' You walk on set and you're like, 'Holy f***, how'd you guys do that in three days?' We built a set, you shoot on it for three days, you go to another set and shoot on it for three days and you walk back, and it's completely rebuilt into a different [thing]. How do you do that? I wouldn't have even thought. Like, there was a morgue here yesterday, and then three days ago there was an apartment here, and now there's another. It's pretty astounding. I was telling the Walking Dead line producer that working on this show has been like the Matrix, where you just get plugged in and a second later, you're like, 'I know kung fu.' I've learned everything about making movies, and I've been making movies for a long f***ing time. But it's like [mimics being plugged in], OK, got it. So I think in retrospect, when we're done editing and mixing and sound effects, and there's a poster that's out and I'm at Comic-Con talking about it, it's going to be like, 'It was like a dream. How the f*** did we do it?' It's like they say, you just never stop shooting. When I was directing, I was like, you can't stop. I felt kind of bad for the crew, because I was literally going, 'All right guys, now we're over here!' and we shoot that, and 'Now we're over here!' and we shoot that, all running around, but they all stayed in it, man, and that's a tribute to this group of people. It was hard, and I move fast, so they're like, 'Yeah that'd be great but –' and I'm already gone, off to the next set someplace.

And yes, Nicotero got some of his friends to be involved by being sneaky. For example, he recruited Reanimator star Jeffrey Combs to play a Nazi officer who encounters a squad of American G.I. werewolves through some friendly subterfuge:

Jeffrey Combs is here. And he gave me shit today because I texted him and said, 'Hey, do you want to come do a cameo?' and he read the script and was like, 'It's not really a cameo. It's actually a character.' I was just gauging to see if he was up for it, and the next thing you know, here he is running around...It's like I said, it seems like yesterday was January 7, and now it's the end of March. It's all been a blur of monsters of mayhem and craziness. I literally texted every single actor I've ever worked with to find out what they were up to. 'Come on, let's come play! It'll be fun!' Listen, I think the best was, everybody wrote me back. Josh Brolin was like, 'I'm going over to Prague.' I literally hit everybody that I knew, because I was like, 'Come on, this is our chance to do what we always want to do, which is work with our friends. And it's quick: you come in, shoot a couple days, and you leave.' So in that regard, it's been fun. Everyone's like, 'The Walking Dead is the hardest show,' but this was insanely hard, because it's kind of my baby.

Of course, Creepshow also saw Nicotero calling down some folks who starred in the original movie. One of his biggest gets was beloved horror actress Adrienne Barbeau:

Adrienne Barbeau is here. I directed her, I was really excited, because when Creepshow got announced, she was like, 'Can I be in it?' I'm like, 'What do you think?' So we were shooting a shot. We did one take, we did a series [of takes], and I said, 'Let's try this, let's try this.' She came over and she went, 'There was one in there that I loved,' and I said, 'Me too. The other ones, we're just playing around. Once you have one in the can you love, you try a couple different things.' And she's like, 'You're good?' And I'm like, 'I'm great. It's awesome. Trust me.' And she went, 'You sounded like George [Romero].' Because she said when [she] did the first Creepshow, George kept saying, 'Bigger, be bigger!' Billy can be really big. She said George said, 'Trust me,' and she said, 'You sounded just like him,' and I got a little chill. I was like, oh man, all the tornado of the production and wanting it to be great and threading the needles of practical effects and actors and the amazing production design, and when she said that, for five minutes, I was like, 'Oh shit. Wow.' So it was pretty great. And she was like, 'Next time, can we have more than a day?' (laughs)

Creepshow premieres on Shudder on September 26, 2019.