Teen Wolf producer Jeff Davis talks with Werewolf News, adjusts my expectations to “awesome”

A. Quinton — May. 25th 2011

It’s worryingly easy for me to forget that this site is on the Internet, and that anyone can read my posts and respond. That includes random Googlers, werewolf fans like you, and most recently Jeff Davis, writer and executive producer of MTV’s Teen Wolf. I know I said in my last post that I was just going to sit quietly until the show came out, but now I can’t. After exchanging a few lengthy emails with Jeff over last weekend I’ve learned a lot about the show that’s not immediately evident in the slick trailers. I want to share some of that info with you so that like me, you might find something that gets you genuinely excited about the show.

A thousand words of casual one-to-one correspondence paints a much clearer picture than a handful of quotes in an interview, and I came away from these emails no longer worried that the show might be helmed by the same kind of ham-fisted chart-watchers that turned 2010’s “The Wolfman” into a tone-deaf creature effects spectacle. When Jeff’s first email arrived on Friday afternoon I was expecting a shot in the arm in the form of cut-n-paste PR copy. What I got was a friendly, earnest offer – “Would love to talk about the show,” he wrote, “and give you some more info if you’d like. Maybe put some of your fears to rest!”

Wait, what? Isn’t this the guy who got a six-page article about his show in the New York Times? Let me check the header graphic… yep, still says “Werewolf News”. Still just a WordPress blog. Why in the world would the guy who created Criminal Minds care what I think? Nevertheless, I wrote back, explaining that I wanted to like the show, but “when I read the PR, or try to suss out the story from the trailers, everything I see says ‘this is not meant for you, 30-year-old guy who likes monsters… This is for teenagers who are too cool to like Twilight but who still want to see hunky werewolves with their shirts off.'”

Jeff’s response was surprisingly unguarded.

I have to admit the Teen Wolf previews so far are shrewdly targeted toward the Twilight crowd. Before writing the pilot script I actually read the first two books in that series. I wanted to see what the appeal was. But the movies… I couldn’t finish the first one.

Okay, fair enough. I couldn’t even get 50 pages into the first book. But does this marketing effort mean that the show is really going to be Twilight with no vampires? Apparently not! Writes Jeff:

One of the things I’ve told the network over and over is ‘I’m not doing Gossip Girl with werewolves.’ I’ve said it many time but The Lost Boys has really been our paradigm. That twist in the end when the kids realize that Max is actually the head vampire and has been after their mom all along was just goddamn perfect. That’s the kind of storytelling we’re going for.

He also commented on that whole “using ‘Teen Wolf’ as a recognizable brand” thing I took a dig at him for in that earlier post.

What the New York Times article didn’t put in was that I also said “corporate branding aside, when I sit down to work with the writers on the episodes we don’t think to ourselves ‘how can we pad Viacom’s bottom line’ but how can we tell a great story?”

With so much concern for authentic storytelling, then, why is the show being marketed like this? He didn’t come out and say so, but in talking with him I got a sense that the creators of new TV shows don’t have much control over how networks market them. What Jeff sees as The Lost Boys with werewolves probably looks more to MTV like an investment to be marketed to a profitable demographic as broadly and enticingly as possible. So let’s leave the marketing to the marketers. What about the show itself?

One of the most reassuring things Jeff shared with me was his opinion of The Wolfman. That’s the one that jaded me, I told him, and I imagine a lot of other werewolf fans feel the same. I was so excited about that film, even after Mark Romanek left as director, and the final product was such a compromised piecemeal let-down (other than Rick Baker’s work) that my defensive reaction was to feel like a chump for having been so excited in the first place, for ever having trusted Hollywood to “get it right”. Turns out, the guys in charge of Teen Wolf felt the same way about it, and aren’t about to make the same mistakes.

Russell Mulcahy (my director and co-executive producer who you probably know is a genre nut) and I went to The Wolfman as soon as it came out. What a shocking disappointment. Somewhere along the development process you knew they were trying to go for what Coppola did with Dracula. But there was just no style. No story. And the end was two hairy guys wrestling in a living room. But knowing studio politics and development hell I feel for the guys behind the camera. I’m sure they had the best of intentions and were probably just as disappointed as the audience.

Speaking of hairy guys, I was particularly interested to hear more about the werewolf special effects. It’s clear from the trailers that they’re not doing the lazy “fade to a real wolf” thing, but the practical effects we’ve seen so far look pretty tame. This is a real make-or-break issue for me – even if I don’t particularly like the story, a good werewolf suit / makeup will go far. Yes, I’m superficial. Luckily, it sounds like they take the appearances of their werewolves seriously:

When we started, Russell and I knew we wanted to do makeup effects. Using real wolves just seems like a cop out. But makeup effects… after dealing with it for two years, it’s tough, believe me. We were reshooting Tyler’s makeup shots from the pilot all the way at the end of our six month shoot because we had finally gotten it to a point where we liked it. I actually will pick up scissors in the makeup trailer and clip Tyler’s sideburns myself. I’m sure I drive the makeup artists crazy.

We wanted our werewolves to have a kind of progression. Tyler Posey’s werewolf look was meant to be something a little more Pan’s Labyrinth, a teen wolf and not yet a real werewolf. Tyler Hoechlin who plays Derek Hale will look a bit more monstrous. We gave him far more pronounced cheeks, a stronger brow, sharper looking teeth. And then there’s the other one… the one you only get a glimpse of in that extended trailer. That’s a combination of creature FX done by KNB (Greg Nicotero) and CGI done by EdenFX. Russell and I spent a lot of time on the design for that werewolf. And it’s damn expensive to get it right. We want it to be scary as hell.

Jeff was generous enough to share a picture of this “other” werewolf with me – the creature attached to this hand. The details remain top-secret so I won’t share the picture or give away any specifics, but trust me when I say it’s fucking awesome. You know me, I’m a werewolf snob, and this thing warrants a pipe, smoking jacket and snifter of brandy. Jeff could have saved himself a whole lot of typing if he’d just sent me that image on Friday along the words “This is coming. Shut up and wait.”

That’s just what I’m going to keep on doing anyway, in fact: shut up and wait. For all of this encouraging information, I still haven’t actually seen the show… but I do feel way better about it. Jeff’s earnest, affable emails did put many of my fears to rest, and in a way that made me feel like he genuinely cares about this stuff on many of the same levels I do. Maybe these details will do the same for you.

I asked him if I could quote our correspondence for this post, and his response was immediate: “Yes feel free to post stuff from our conversation.  If it earns us more viewers and fans I’ll do anything. Shooting the first season of the show was the best professional experience I’ve ever had and I’d kill to do it again for a second season.”

I bet you’ll get that chance, Jeff.

  • kat

    Wow. I wish i could say something with a little more oomph, but ‘wow’ was the only word to come out. As a fellow werewolf enthusiast i am picky and nit-picky about my werewolf both on a deep and superficial level. This post has both solidified my opinion that this site is amazing and informing, and has reassured me that the upcoming show Teen wolf will go beyond people’s expectations. I can’t wait to see the outcome. Hope to see more informative posts like this. Yours truly, kat.

  • Well, then. I guess we’ll see how things turn out on the 5th.

  • Rob

    Hey Andrew, I know you won’t share the pic, but I have a question if the picture is anything like this cap I snagged from the trailer a week ago.

    http://img228.imageshack.us/img228/3530/wolfr.png

  • ArcLight

    Sounds good to me. Let’s hope he can pull off the show it sounds like he wants to do.

  • Doruk

    Oh good, cautiously optimistic here, then.

  • Rob: there’s some resemblance, but the picture I saw was a very detailed PR-style shot of a creature that looked way meaner, way scarier, and way more in-focus.

  • Liz

    How could you NOT see it coming that Max was the head vampire in The Lost Boys?

  • Liz

    Soo, progression: Does this mean on this show that, the longer someone is a werewolf, the scarier the werewolf gets? :D

    Pretty pretty please…I don’t want our main character to stay a sissy werewolf with mutton chops and sharp teeth FOREVER.

  • That’s a great question! I don’t know, but I hope so – it’d be great to watch that progression over the season(s).

  • MarkOne

    I was there last July at Comic Con in San Diego when they had the very first panel for Teen Wolf. Going in, me and a lot of people were skeptical. But their presentation, complete with a short clip of the pilot, really put a lot of concerns to rest.
    Then, after seeing the promos and ads, I had to admit my skepticism about the show returned. It was definitely getting that Twilight vibe.
    But reading the interview has gotten my hopes up again. Hopefully once we see the premiere on June 5 and 6, the actions of the show will back up those words.

  • Komodo

    I really hope that’s the second stage werewolf in Rob’s picture and not one of the “villains”. I dig the design, and I’m pulling for a longer snout Howling type werewolf for the antagonist wolves…

    So the Wolfmen can kicks their pointy nosed asses.

  • Komodo

    Addendum: Seriously, I hope Scott does make it to the point where he reaches the “hideous monstrosity” stage in the werewolf life cycle. We need more representation of protagonist werewolves that don’t morph into pretty cuddlebutts but instead become feral monsters.

  • Jennifer

    I have to say that i am still apprehensive about the new teen wolf show, i grew up with the original movie and have fond memories of the campy, quirky flick. I think that it’s great that you were also a little jaded by the original promotion of the show. I don’t always agree with your opinions but i feel that you are a trusted resource for werewolf news on the internet. it’s great that your not afraid to speak your mind and that it actually got attention beyond the scope of werewolf enthusiasts. Maybe your interview with the writer and producer will cause them to be aware that real werewolf fans want great make-up effects and an interesting story. Although i think its a little presumptuous that he slammed the wolfman. i for one think Rick Bakers effects are amazing and he has another oscar to his credits. I think that Teen wolf and the wolfman are two completely different types of werewolf movies, the wolfman was bloody, violent and portrayed werewolves as horrific monsters as opposed to the teen wolf promos shirtless sex symbols. It is in these difference that depicts the main differences in werewolf fans today. there are the twilight enthusiasts who desire chiseled, cuddly, romantic wolfpup. while there are the traditionalist that demand good effects and gore. I don’t envy the writer or creator who has to try and attain a balance for these fans and it seems that it is not an easy task. All we can do is watch and see.

  • Roukas

    Thanks for your research here, Andrew, and send my thanks to Jeff as well! Hopefully the creative force the new Teen Wolf can learn from the mistakes of lycanthropic movies/etc. from the past, and it sounds like they’re doing exactly that. I know that your your standards are high and your shit-detector is finely tuned when it comes to creative monsterdom, and I’m glad that you may catch a break here! Yes, marketing’s got to do what marketing’s got to do, but what matters is the character, narrative power, and sheer wolfyness of what’s being created.

    With the exception of a Daily Show and South Park episode or two, I haven’t watched any TV all year. Nevertheless I’ll be sure to give Teen Wolf a go.

  • This sounds pretty damn great! I was getting my hopes up when you mentioned it on IM, but it’s looking even better seeing what the writer/producer had to say. It’s just a shame you can’t share the image.

    I feel like I’m an oddly specific category of werewolf fan though, fitting into both the “30-year-old guy who likes monsters” and “want to see hunky werewolves with their shirts off” categories.

    If it ticks both those boxes and is sufficiently Lost Boys-esque, it might be the greatest anything ever.

  • zockereinstein

    Well, I still feel quite skeptical, as far as I’ve seen/guessed some details I really don’t like. To give an example, the “werewolf hunter” topic. I mean, this is the second worse thing you can have on a werewolf series, just behind the vampire thing. Ok, I can live with it, but please, please, don’t turn the show into a “werewolf chronicles”/”true meat”/”puffy the werewolf slayer” thing ;).
    BTW, thanks for your news, I’ve become a loyal follower :).

  • Are you planning to set up a talk back post for those that saw last nights first part?
    I really Dug what I saw and it didn’t completely get rid of the humor.

    I hope he doesn’t get too mopey with it.
    I always hate that.

    Personally very few crits.

  • I expect we can probably wait until after tonight’s episode to get one rolling. That said, last night’s premiere actually wasn’t too bad. I still question the choice of lacrosse as the school’s big team sport (those scenes were probably the weakest in the whole episode), but that’s a minor quibble.

  • Rob

    Yeah, I dug it. Looking forward to tonight’s episode.

    Managed to get another cap of the wolf btw. http://img851.imageshack.us/img851/9532/image3xa.png I liked the look of its body from the mist scene. Hoping we see more of it tonight.

  • WW

    The first episode is solid but a bit formulaic. The second one is much better and shows what the show can do when it comes to thriller territory.

  • Roi

    Wow. Jeff really sounds like an AMAZING guy! I adore Criminal Minds, so that alone made me give Teen Wolf another shot with it’s new episode tonight. That, along with previous information that you’ve posted and this interview made me feel a little more confident about the show. Glad I did too! It’s getting MUCH better.