'Brand New Cherry Flavor' Creators Want You To Ask "What The F**k Just Happened?" [Interview]

Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion had hard rules for Brand New Cherry Flavor. The co-creators of the new Netflix show, who previously worked together on the late, great Channel Zeroknew what would and wouldn't fly in their adaptation of Todd Grimson's novel. Nonetheless, Antosca and Zion won't reveal what those exact rules were for their nightmarish Netflix limited series, which is about a director's hellish journey in Los Angeles struggling to get her first film made.

Antosca and Zion understandably don't want to offer easy answers or dispel the mysteries of Brand New Cherry Flavor. A part of the fun is the mystery. No fan of the show would want it explained to death. The show is, as Antosac and Zion told us, a dreamlike experience.

Recently, we interviewed the duo about the show's nightmarish imagery, including Lisa Nova throwing up kittens and her disturbing short film.

What were some of the effects or feelings you were hoping to elicit with the show?

Zion: The easiest answer for me is I want the audience to be entertained and going, "What the f**k just happened? What's going to happen next?" I just want them to have fun.

Antosca: Lenore and I have been friends for a long time and share pretty similar tastes. We talked about how much enjoyed shows and films that have the rhythm of a nightmare, so it feels real and unreal at the same time. We tried to capture that nightmare energy and keep viewers off-base and hypnotized.

Since Lisa Nova is a filmmaker, how much does her point-of-view influence the style of the show?

Antosca: It had to be cinematic, right? We talked a lot with Rosa about what kind of filmmaker she was and her style. Lisa's movie is supposed to show raw energy and raw potential. It's not supposed to be a finished masterpiece. We hoped the show itself would have that cagey, twitchy, raw energy.

It's the first section of the book you responded to, right? That's what you focused on, correct?

Zion: I love the whole book, but yeah, we focused on the first section for adapting.

Antosca: If we're telling a story about an artist coming to Los Angeles to try and get her vision out in the world, there's so much globe traveling in the book that feeds into that but isn't essential to that basic story. You're on a relatively indie budget, too. We thought containing the story in Los Angeles would be the cleanest way to do it and could bring a lot of the cool stuff and nightmare energy from later in the book to that first section. Also, we could explore Lou and Roy's characters more. We wanted to be spiritually faithful to the book and Lisa's character, and then invent and bring our invasion and Todd's vision to create something.

You wear your influences on your sleeve in this, like David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Paul Verhoeven. You both watched a lot of '80s and '90s horror movies while making this, though, so what were some of the deep-cut references?

Zion: For me, it's easily Killer Clowns from Outspace, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Blood Diner, Chopping Mall, and April Fool's Day. I could go on, but it was more about sensibility.

Antosca: I'm just going to add one, Perdita Durango.

[Laughs] My god, I just watched that last week.

Antosca: Isn't that insane?

Zion: What did you think?

I felt bad for liking it, but I did appreciate it.

Antosca: I watched it with my wife and we were like, "Wow. This is uncomfortable. You could not make this today." It did have malevolent energy to it, like, what is this? I'd say I'm more fascinated by it than liked it. You can see some overlap, though, and spiritual stuff they share.

It's something else. What work went into crafting Lisa's short film? How'd you both decide on the imagery?

Antosca: We didn't want characters talking about this film but never see any of it, which happens sometimes. We wanted to put enough of it on the screen, so you felt you were seeing a little bit of what's going on in Lisa's head. We talked with our incredible DP, Celina Cárdenas, who did the entire series, and Matt Sobel, who directed parts of it for episodes four and five. We just tried to think about, what would express that raw energy? What would she be influenced by? There are hints of Lars von Trier. Hopefully, it's a little bit of a jolt.

The kittens weren't in the book, which was your idea, Lenore. How did that idea come to you?

Zion: I really don't know [Laughs]. I really like kittens, so kittens are usually on my mind. At that moment, for some reason, I thought it'd be a good idea for Lisa to puke them up. It certainly fits something inside of me that's burning to get out.

Antosca: Lenore has a puking phobia. The kittens were her idea.

Zion: I can't watch vomit.

How was that effect achieved?

Zion: Man, we went through a number of iterations of what the kitten would look like. There were a bunch of different versions, like a puppet one Rosa would actually put in her mouth and throw up. Originally, we planned to have this thing rigged on her neck, that would make it look like something was rising up through her neck. When we did a trial run without whatever you call it, the neck machine, Rosa was so convincing. It just looked like she was indeed vomiting up a kitten, so we didn't even bother using that thing. Really, what it required was Rosa being game to deal with fake vomit up a kitten over and over a kitten. Remarkably, she was. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to do it.

Brand New Cherry Flavor Trailer

There is some very good body horror in this show. What other effects were challenging?

Antosca: Well, when you have to create a new orifice, you want to get it right. You want it to feel appropriately visceral.

Zion: There were a few versions of it before the one we landed on.

Antosca: The first one looked a little too familiar.

[Laughs] Right. With the dream logic of the show, what were the rules?

Antosca: Absolutely. There are rules to the dream logic, but... we're not going to tell you any of the rules. In the writers' room, you quickly get a sense of what happens in this world and what doesn't. How does the magic work? Pretty quickly the writers and we were all able to say, "No, that would not happen in this world. We can't do that, but we could do this." We tried to create our own secret mythology.

Were there certain stylistic rules, like what the camera should or should not do?

Antosca: We talked a lot about how the specific ways in which the show would be heightened. It doesn't exist in the real world, so there's no handheld, verite style. We also wanted directors to bring something specific to it, right? You can kind of feel the imprint of every director.

What were you looking for in an actor to play Lisa Nova? What qualities were needed?

Antosca: You have to believe she's real in a world where people can spontaneously combust or puke kittens. You have to be grounded, but at the same time, believe supernatural stuff can happen to her. For a character who is so much about her creative drive, urgency, and desire, you need someone who has that depth. You need someone with intensity behind their eyes. Rosa has that intensity. She's an incredibly dedicated actor and brings stuff to it I don't think anybody else could.

What surprised you about the way she played Lisa?

Zion: What I found most delightful was she always, always, always nails the comic moments. It's a weird, screwy sense of humor in this show, which is hard to nail. Rosa intuitively nailed it. She has an encyclopedia of horror cinema in her head, that's really impressive.

Do you both relate to Lisa in a way as an artist?

Antosca: We all have our version of the story of feeling you got something inside you need to get out in the world, that you have something to express. Then, dealing with the obstacles the world throws in your path. Everybody in the writers' room had some version of that journey. Rosa herself has a version of that journey. Everyone who is trying to make something or do something creative feels that. For a show that is so bizarre, a lot of people who worked on it felt they had a lot to hang onto.

Zion: Not literally, but the way Lisa approaches the insane things happening whether in her life or in her body, I think there's something I understand about that. It's a radical acceptance of weird, new things, like, "Oh, I guess I'm living with this now. It's fine. I'm not going to dwell on it. I have something else to do." Just the acceptance of the bizarre. If you let the bizarre suck you into the vacuum of marveling at it, you get stuck.

Antosca: That is very, very you, Lenore. Handling the bizarre in perfectly acceptable ways.

Even though this show is about creative nightmares, what days were very fulfilling for you making Brand New Cherry Flavor?

Antosca: Working together. This is the second thing we've worked on together. We worked on Channel Zero, of course. It's a pleasure to run a show with a friend you trust and make this weird nightmare come to life together.

Zion: It's a completely crazy thing making a show. If you're doing it with someone you really like, get along with, and trust, it makes all the difference. It makes all the difference in the world. We just have a great time working together. As far as adapting this material goes, Todd's book is so wildly imaginative and went into so many unpredictable directions. We could take the spirit of that writing and do that in the writers' room. We could say, "What if wanted to do this? What if we wanted her to puke cats?" We could try any bizarre idea and see if it would work. Having that range to work with as a writer, it's delightful.