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Exclusive Interview: Producer Jami O’Brien on the directors, writers and style of “NOS4A2”

Friday, May 31, 2019 | Exclusive, Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

The series adaptation of Joe Hill’s best-selling novel NOS4A2 is driving onto AMC this weekend, premiering Sunday, June 2. It’s got a varied and talented team behind the scenes, and executive producer/showrunner Jami O’Brien gave us the full rundown.

NOS4A2 stars Ashleigh Cummings (HOUNDS OF LOVE) as Victoria “Vic” McQueen, a teenager with the ability to travel great distances in minutes by means of a mysterious covered bridge. This ability brings her into contact with a similarly gifted but wholly evil man named Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto), who drives a vintage Rolls-Royce Wraith with the titular license plate and abducts children to devour their souls. AMC’s 10-episode season of NOS4A2 employed a number of genre veterans, including O’Brien, whose credits include FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. To helm the first two episodes, she tapped Kari Skogland, who has helmed for both WALKING DEAD series as well as many other shows like PENNY DREADFUL and UNDER THE DOME.

“I loved her [Emmy-nominated] work on THE HANDMAID’S TALE,” O’Brien tells us, “and we sent her the script and hoped she’d respond. Thank God she did, and we were so lucky to get her; she established the look of the show in a wonderful way. She made a lot of very cool filmmaking choices that really bring us into Vic’s world and point of view, and Charlie’s world and his point of view. She elevated the show, which was awesome to watch, and it was humbling to see her bring the scripts to life on screen.”

Next up, guiding episodes three and four, was John Shiban, whose résumé stretches back to producing and directing THE X FILES. “He is someone I’ve actually worked with before as a writer, on [AMC’s historical series] HELL ON WHEELS,” O’Brien notes. “He was my boss on that and directed some episodes that I thought were amazing, and also a lot of BREAKING BAD and BETTER CALL SAUL. I knew his storytelling mind, and I felt he’d be able to knock it out of the park, which he absolutely did. It’s funny—he had a couple of suggestions about the scripts as well, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not my boss any more…but, oh wait, those are good ideas!’ He helped us move the story along.

“And then we had a gentleman named Tim Southam, who did episodes five and six. I had worked with him on HELL ON WHEELS before—in fact, there were a lot of HELL ON WHEELS folks involved, like Jeremy Webb, a director I also worked with on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. And then a director who was new to me, Hanelle M. Culpepper, did the penultimate episode and did an awesome job. She also directed the new STAR TREK pilot, so I’m very excited for her, and I’m glad we were able to work with her before she got too busy. And finally, Stefan Schwartz, also from FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, directed our finale and did an amazing job.”

When it came to putting together the writers’ room for NOS4A2, O’Brien also tapped a number of past collaborators. “Having worked for so long on HELL ON WHEELS, I had kind of a family over there, some of whom came over to this series with me. Tom Brady was our co-executive producer and my right hand, and I don’t think I could have done a television show without him. Mark Richard was an executive producer and upper-level writer—my boss, really—on HELL ON WHEELS; he was a mentor to me, and I was lucky that he came over and joined us in the NOS4A2 writers’ room.”

A couple of playwrights also helped translate Hill’s novel to the screen: “Lucy Thurber is someone whose work I’ve been a huge fan of for years and years, but I had never actually met her, and she was excited to join us. Marcus Gardley, on the other hand, is someone I’ve known for a while. I actually went to grad school with him, and he came and joined us and wrote episode three. And then Megan Mostyn-Brown was a new writer to me; AMC were fans of hers and had me read her stuff, and it was amazing. She became a supervising producer on the show, and came to Rhode Island with us, and I was like, ‘Thank God I met you,’ [laughs] because she brought so much of herself. She wrote two episodes, and they were both great. I felt very lucky to have such a strong writers’ room.”

With a new filmmaker coming in to guide the series every couple of episodes, maintaining a unity of style and vision was an important part of the NOS4A2 process. “We also had two different directors of photography,” O’Brien reveals. “One was a gentleman named Martin Ahlgren, and the other was Marvin Rush, whom I had also worked with on HELL ON WHEELS. But in the first two episodes, Kari and Martin established the look and feel of the show in a very strong way, and they were generous enough to type up their thoughts on how they accomplished that, as a guide for the directors and DP who came after them. When Marvin took over, he definitely had the opportunity to experiment a bit and bring his own flavor to it, but he also had this road map to follow, and so did the directors. Plus, they all had the first two episodes to watch, and everybody responded to the look that had been created, and they were happy to play in that sandbox.

“I’ll be completely honest: I was a little worried going from the first two episodes to a whole new team for the next block, but if you watch it, it’s actually pretty seamless. Everyone was able to maintain the quality and vision, and it really feels like the same show throughout.”

For a lot more on NOS4A2, pick up RUE MORGUE #188, now on sale!

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.