Syfy’s hit show Channel Zero, just completed it’s third season with ‘Butcher’s Block’. We had the unique opportunity to speak with the director of all six episodes Arkasha Stevenson, after the season finale.
Arkasha, I’d like to begin by saying congratulations on your directorial debut with Channel Zero’s ‘Butcher’s Block’. The season achieved a superb balance of psychological horror and gore. Having grown up with the genre, I really appreciate your efforts and dedication. It was a pleasure watching the show. Having said that, on the first episode ‘Insidious Onset’ what was your main focus?
AS: When I began working on the first episode, most of my visuals came from my background in photojournalism and I felt very grounded with it.Then the surrealism seeped in, so I think with the first episode my goal was to begin slowly so the rest of the season could develop.
DB&B: Since your pilot ‘Pineapple’ was a different genre from Butcher’s Block where did you draw your inspiration from going into the season?
AS: Actually Nick Antosca and I talked a lot about lots of my influences like David Lynch because I’m a huge David Lynch fan. David mixes great imagery with surrealism but as we started shooting we would incorporate other influences like the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethaku who did’Tropical Malody’ and ‘Uncle Boonmee’ the use of his documentary style and the mix of mythology was great. Everything he does seems so natural…so normal. Your logic when you see his films, puts you in another universe. Then there’s Chan-wook Park who directed ‘Thirst’ so that’s mainly where I drew my inspiration from.
DB&B: Every director has a certain viewpoint when they take a story and create it visually. Considering you had a tight shoot schedule and limited budget did you have any concerns about what or how you wanted to shoot each episode?
AS: So we block shot an entire season. There was one day for example, where we shot a scene from every episode. It was really weird, but it was like okay, you’re happy, you’re sad, you’re dead.(we both laugh) I know that’s an over simplification but it was such a group effort to make sure we were all on the same emotional train, but it also allowed all the visuals to blend into their own language. You don’t really feel a ramping up of a visual style because it was continually evolving the entire shoot. It was almost like making stew. You know…the energy from one scene would then be infused into a scene from episode one.
DB&B: Did you have any re-shoots?
AS: no, no re-shoots.
DB&B: So the pressure was really on then?
AS: (laughs) yes, for sure. No pressure at all(more laughter)
DB&B: What kind of feedback have you received from fans of the show?
AS: Oh, its been so positive. I have to be honest this was the first thing I’ve made where people are seeing it. Everything I’ve done before were short films. It was funny because I was avoiding my phone and computer when the show premiered and my feeling was I’m a sensitive creature and I don’t know if I can take the rejection, but people were so kind and loving it. I’m not on Twitter but I logged on to it and was reading the tweets and it was so much fun. My big fear was that there is so much dark humor especially with Rutger Hauer because he is such a wonderful comedian, but as Nick and I were laughing about stuff on set or as we shot scenes I was hoping everybody would get a giggle out of this. So they don’t think I’m a twisted person. And people did think it was funny.
DB&B: Considering how the story and effects were developed in the previous 5 episodes, was it more time consuming to create ‘Sacrifice Zone?”
AS: Ummm, no,the thing about our schedule was everything received the same amount of time but I had never worked with special effect before or some of the visual effects, but the finale was shot over three nights and those three nights felt like three years. There were so many beats like I had this one moment that felt like an out of body experience where we had to split up the camera team and one camera was filming a moment before the Peach family exploded and the other camera was filming Edie Peach giving birth yeah, so Tim and I were running back and forth over this hill between the two shots and we’re covered in fake blood and my hair was all crazy and it felt like we were running through the woods trying to get to the other camera. We had to fit so much into so little time but you do have to divide and conquer and it felt like it was for the best. It put us in this “We’re in a war zone mentality” and we have to blow up the Peaches right now!. It was insane. (she laughs).
DB&B: As far as all the characters are concerned in the finale who do you think was impacted or surprised the most? And do you think the TV audience was surprised?
AS:Absolutely, to be honest, even before I got my hands on the script I thought Zoe and Alice are going to die and that’s it.(we both laugh) But when I read the script I was really surprised and thought “Oh,okay,it’s not what I thought”. I know Nick and the writers went back and fourth with the fate of Alice and what would make more of a statement and be more impactful with Alice’s story. So I loved the message that your brain is fragile and you need to be cognizant of the decisions you make and the bizarre,undiscovered universe inside your skull. I loved it so much that Alice had the chance to expose more of her thought process.
DB&B: So who’s idea was it to create the cosmic looking images inside the demon God’s head in the finale?
AS: Well, its funny because Tim Smith was my creative designer so we talked with Nick about how to make a God on a low budget you know? (she laughs) I felt like Dan Aykroyd at the end of ‘Ghostbusters’ when he was asked if he was a God and he said “no”. (more laughter) We watched a lot of “Tree of Life” actually, because the images are so powerful and humbling and we were wondering what we could do like that then Nick found Susie Steed’s work and I love microscopic photography, and she does this beautiful stuff with macro lens. So we thought this could be our universe.
DB&B: Now that the season is over, if you had gone into Butcher’s Block with a bigger budget would you have changed anything in the story?
AS: No,I love working with a smaller budget because you must be more creative and ‘MacGyver’ things…that’s the fun of it all.
DB&B: So what are your upcoming projects?
AS: Unfortunately I can’t talk about them at the moment, but I can say they’re both horror and it really feels like a good fit for me. (we both laugh).
DB&B: So to wrap things up, who would you like to say a special thanks to?
AS: Oh, goodness,yes,Tim Smith and Nick. Nick was like my fairy Godmother and he pulled me out of a pumpkin patch and put a dress on me…you know? (we both laugh) It was out of the blue, and so unexpected but he was really supportive about the entire process. Nick is the most generous collaborator and without those two, I’d just be a pumpkin.
Thanks again for speaking with us at Dead, Buried, and Back! Arkasha. We wish you well and look forward to following your future projects.
AS: Thank you so much, I enjoyed it.