Amazing Stories Showrunner Interview

Apple has resurrected Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories as part of its Apple TV+ streaming service, the first of their shows to be a revival of a pre-existing show. The original series ran from 1985 through 1987 on NBC. Apple’s first season consists of five hour-long stories. 

The first episode of the new series stars Dylan O’Brien as a modern man who travels back in time through the basement of a house he’s restoring. Episode two tells the afterlife tale of a runner (Hailey Kilgore) who gets hit by a car, but stays around to help her friend (E’myri Crutchfield). The newest episode stars Robert Forster as a grandfather who gains super powers from an old toy ring.

Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz serve as showrunners on the new Amazing Stories. Their previous credits include creating and running Once Upon a Time and writing and producing for Lost. Kitsis and Horowitz spoke with /Film by phone this week about Amazing Stories and a little bit about their Beauty and the Beast prequel series for Disney+. New episodes of Amazing Stories premiere Fridays on Apple TV+.

Was there ever a question of using the original Amazing Stories theme song?

Horowitz: No. John Williams’ theme was so iconic. From day one, it was a must have for us and everybody involved knew that there really was no way we could do this without it.

How did you come up with new animation for it?

Kitsis: We hired a title company and basically we, really almost right away, I think we spent a year going over development with them. You just look at different images and animation and just kind of gradually came about over the last year.

Horowitz: It was a collaborative effort. They did incredible work. They worked with us and with Amblin and Steven had input in it all. It was a long process to try to get it to the place where it is now and got more specific as we started to shoot the episodes and get images to put into it. 

Kitsis: The company’s name is Elastic. They’re phenomenal. They’ve done so many titles that you’ve seen. 

Horowitz: If you look in the title sequence as you watch the episodes, you see images from the various episodes are incorporated in the title sequence.

What was the decision to go full hour versus the ½ hour of most of the original Amazing Stories?

Horowitz: I think it was less about a conscious decision about the episodes should be an hour or a half hour than as we discussed the kind of stories we wanted to tell, a length sort of revealed itself to us which is this 45 to 50 minute length which felt about right for the size of the stories we were telling. It really was about letting the stories dictate the length rather than try to dictate an arbitrary timeframe for it. 

Can the stories be any edgier on streaming than they were on network?

Kitsis: I would say I think that of course they can. I think that the desire for this show is for a show that is for all ages. I think that there was a lot of edge in episode two, but yet we’re not trying to be Black Mirror. That’s not the intent of our show. The intent of our show is for people to, like a great summer movie, where everybody in the family can go and get something out of it and watch it. So for us, we feel like the episodes have edge but what they don’t have is bleakness. We have hope. And a lot of times I feel like that gets confused in criticism and people are like, “Oh, there’s no edge.” There is edge. What it isn’t is bleak at the end. It’s hopeful and that’s what we set out to do.

That’s true and I don’t think I heard any profanity either.

Kitsis: No, we do have unfortunately on the cutting room floor one of Robert Forster’s greatest ‘holy sh*t’ moments when he sees the car up there, but yeah. 

Horowitz: Ultimately, I think the spirit of it is there and that we captured, in our minds, a tone that we were after. 

Kitsis: A tone that I believe is similar to the show that was 30 years ago. One thing I loved as a fan of that show is that it was more about amazement and wonder and hopefulness than it was about necessarily trying to terrify you every day.

What has Steven Spielberg’s input been through this process?

Kitsis: Steven has been, this is his baby. Truthfully, Amazing Stories, he created it. It is him and every step of the way, Steven has overseen me and Adam and all of production. He has been an invaluable guide and creative force in the show for us. 

Horowitz: Every story that you see on the show is one that we pitched to him that we discussed with him. We had extensive story meetings where we would talk about everything and he would have ideas and we would bat them back and forth. His imprint is on all of it. It was amazing and it was on every phase of production from the story ideas to the casting, to the production, to the editing. So in the editing room, you name it. He was involved.

Do you have an example of one Steven Spielberg note that was like “Wow, that’s why he’s Steven Spielberg?”

Kitsis: Every one. Every time we were with Steven, you left going, “Wow, that’s why he’s Steven Spielberg.” He is the real deal and the thing I always say to people when they say, “What is he like?” I say he’s completely inspiring because when you’re with Steven, you’re with somebody who loves what he does. So when he’s working with us and coming up with amazing stories, he doesn’t think of that as work. He thinks of that as fun. I think that he reminds you why you got into this business to begin with which is to spend every day saying, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?” For me and Adam, Steven was just so inspiring that every note made me say that. Every thought, every comment.

Is it harder to amaze audiences now?

Kitsis: Yes.

Horowitz: Probably. 

Kitsis: What I think is hard now is there are so many shows and there are so many voices and there are so many opportunities to run to the internet that I feel like what happens is it’s not harder to amaze people, but what it is is it’s harder to unify people.

Horowitz: I also think audiences are exponentially more sophisticated every day. Which is a wonderful thing. I think that as time progresses, audiences have become smarter and smarter and more sophisticated. So it makes the challenge greater on the side of creating these stories and the bar becomes higher and higher. That was what was so great about working with Steven. Nobody has a higher bar or a greater sense for what the audience wants or need than him. He can push you to places that you’ll never go otherwise. It really was the greatest creative experience I think we’ve ever had. 

Do any of these stories come from the old comics and magazines?

Horowitz: No, these are all original ideas. 

Kitsis: The only one that came from a comic actually was “The Rift” but we bought the comic and made it into an episode. 

Horowitz: Episode 5 was a graphic novel not related to the Amazing Stories comic. 

Has this been different than running Once Upon a Time where you would hire writers and directors to make a consistent continuing story?

Kitsis: This really was like doing five pilots. Once Upon a Time was much more of the traditional television show where each season would have an arc and a tone. You knew what a Once Upon a Time episode was and what the sets were. This is really like doing five different pilots. New director, new cast, new production team every time. 

In this week’s episode “The Heat,” Kyle Bornheimer’s character specifies that he’s a proctologist. Why such a specific color to his character

Horowitz: He’s not a proctologist. He’s a gastroenterologist. The ideas was to make him a doctor and a professional. And really, what the idea was was to draw a contrast between him and Robert Forster’s character which was a generational change. Robert Forster’s character, Joe, was from a very blue collar background working in a factory. His son had become a doctor and more of that kind of professional and there was a gulf between them because of that, one that hadn’t been traversed for many years. 

Kitsis: I think one of the other things was we wanted to draw a contrast in that Robert Forster’s character is recovering from knee surgery and even though his son is a doctor, he wouldn’t listen to him because he was a gastroenterologist. So we wanted to create the generational divide as well as have him not listen to his son because he wasn’t a specialist in knee surgery.

How did you lift the car onto the roof in real life?

Horowitz: We didn’t actually lift the car onto the roof. We had a set built that was the roof and then the car put on it. It was movie magic. 

There is a shot of pulling it up the wall.

Kitsis: Yes, that’s a visual effect. Movie magic. 

I could relate to the Halloween stuff because when I was 14, my parents forbade me to go trick or treating because they thought I was too old for it. Of course all my friends came to our house in costume. 

Kitsis: I know. That’s exactly why we chose junior high because that’s that moment where you start to transition into your next chapter of life, right? You become a teenager and we loved putting Robert Forster and his grandson both at new chapters in their life and both of them feeling powerless. 

What were your favorite episodes of the original Amazing Stories?

Kitsis: For me, of course, “The Mission.”

Horowitz: I think both of us has to be the same answer, “The Mission.” I think that episode, the tension in that airplane and then that amazing release at the end with the wheels, it was a spectacular hour of television that stuck with us as kids for all those years and all these years later to be able to work with Steven and bring the show back was just a mind boggling thing that still doesn’t seem real to us. 

If that was your favorite, does that inform the stories you’re telling now?

Kitsis: Only inasmuch as we were really striving to find the spirit of those stories and the spirit of what Steven’s always been able to capture in his storytelling and bring it to life today and infuse it in all these episodes but all these episodes that we think are very different, but yet all fall under the umbrella of that same kind of storytelling.

Do modern elements add something to these stories? Like in the first episode, Dylan O’Brien was using Tinder.

Kitsis: What I always say is what I loved about all of Steven’s movies and Amblin and Amazing Stories was they reflected modern times. Elliot’s bedroom in E.T. looked exactly like mine down to the Star Wars toys. What we wanted to do was update this in today’s world. So Dylan was a character who was constantly always searching for something. Tinder was just a modern example of someone who’s always swiping through life.

Were you able to play with color more on streaming than you maybe could on network? You could tell the color changes between the modern scenes and when he goes back.

Horowitz: I think that’s a testament to the skill of our filmmakers, our director Chris Long and the filming team and how they were able to really design a photographic scheme for each time period to make them all feel distinctly different. I think they pulled that off. 

What are you hearing about a possible second season?

Kitsis: Right now we’ve just been focusing on the first season to be honest. We’re just about to head into week three so we’re really just being in the present right now. We’re not really talking to Apple or anyone about a season two yet.

If there is one, do you have more stories you didn’t fit into the first season?

Kitsis: We all have ideas. I know Steven has ideas he’s excited about. We have some ideas that we didn’t get to last year. I think one of the most fun things about Amazing Stories is a blank page in the sense of what story is to come that no one’s thought of. That’s what’s really exciting about it but yeah, we have a few ideas.

What sort of subjects are the last two about if we’ve covered time travel, afterlife and superheroes already?

Horowitz: We don’t want to give away too much but I will say it would be quite disappointing if we did a Spielberg series without touching on aliens. That’s probably something to look forward to.

You’re doing the Beauty and the Beast prequel series with Gaston and LeFou. They really created something different than the animated version in the live-action movie. Do you really get to build off of that?

Horowitz: Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s building off the live-action movie. Beyond that, we really can’t talk about it but it’s lighter in vein and building off the live action movie.

Of course, but I thought Luke Evans was such a magnificent goof as Gaston before he turned villainous, so do you get to live in that world in a prequel?

Kitsis: Yeah, I think Luke and Josh are phenomenal. This whole thing will take place before the events of the movie.

It was such a big deal that they gave LeFou a moment to dance with another man. Is there any chance you can explore more elements of that in the prequel?

Kitsis: We don’t want to say anything about anything because we didn’t even want the article to come out last week. We’re just making the pilot so it’s not like it’s all written yet. 

Horowitz: We’re literally in the middle of it.

Kitsis: We’re excited to live in that world for a little bit. 

Horowitz: Beyond that, we can’t comment on anything. 

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