Christian Taylor (the former head writer for Clone Wars) talked about how he came to the show in Season 2, how the super-sized Season 3 is being approached as two sets of 12 episodes, how he came to write and direct this particular episode, that it’s more of a stand-alone episode that feels like a ghost story/horror movie within the show, how difficult it is to kill off characters, the biggest challenges in pulling off this show with the budget they have, and how he’d like to continue his partnership with Jeff Davis. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
When did you come to Teen Wolf?
I came on in the second season. I’m good friends with Jeff Davis, and he was like, “Why don’t you come and help me on the second season?” I was actually working on Clone Wars, up until then. It was a part-time job, but I was the head writer on Clone Wars. So, I went to work with Jeff and it’s been amazing. He’s an amazing person to work for. And he left me direct this episode that I wrote, which was a really incredible experience.
After having a season to find your footing, has Season 3 gone smoother, or is it more challenging because it is so much bigger this season?
The first season was exactly what it should have been. It was a smaller story that helped set up all of the characters. The second season was bigger. And then, the third season is even bigger. Jeff and I just click together, story wise. I had come out of a room where, when you’re working with George Lucas, it’s incredibly intense. You’re sitting in a room with George Lucas and you have to be able to come up with ideas, all the time. One of the greatest things that that taught me was to come up with lots of ideas. On Clone Wars, we would do three stories a day. You’d go off for 10 days and work with him, building three stories a day. I would joke with him and be like, “There’s just as much story compacted into this 22 minutes, as there is in a 40-minute show.” It’s just that because it’s animation, it’s so much quicker. It’s not like it’s any less story. And we did three of those a day. In a weird way, it was great training.
Has it been way more challenging to do twice the episodes this season?
Well, Jeff [Davis] is very specific about doing a stand-alone story of 12, even though we’re doing a 24-episode season. That stand-alone story of 12, which everybody is watching now, is going to be not really related to the next story of 12. He views them as a movie, with a three-act structure. The first three or four episodes is the first act, and then the middle bunch are the second act, and the last three are the third act. I think we’ve made it manageable. Network television has this crazy structure that is really unrealistic, in the sense that it’s 22 or 24 episodes. We’ve been in the writers’ room for six weeks now, and we’re going to be in there for another six months, before we start shooting, to build a whole new storyline with these characters for the next 12 episodes. It’s really exciting. We’re taking it a little slower in this next 12, which is good. We’re going to ease up a little bit and give a bit of an emotional mystery to it.
How did you come to write Episode 6 for this season?
Luckily, because I’m second in the writers’ room, I was like, “I want to do that one!,” as we were building it. For my first time directing on the show, I wanted to do something that would stand alone, a little bit. If you watch this, you wouldn’t actually have to know the show to know all the ins and outs. I pitched the idea of doing a haunted motel. We often think about how what would be the least complicated to do. So, if we can get a cool location, like a motel, then that episode would be its own thing. I also wanted to do an episode that would be like a complicated music box, where all the pieces thread together, but I don’t have to shoot huge werewolf fights. I didn’t want to do that for my first episode. A lot of time gets eaten up by those fights, and you don’t get the time to construct and work on the nuances of a scene. This is an actor’s episode. Holland [Roden] really shines through. Dylan [O’Brien] really shines through. Tyler [Posey] really shines through. Daniel [Sharman] really gets some great moments. There’s some great, great stuff. They all get their moment, so it’s really nice. We shot at the motel location for the exteriors, and then we built one room that was the motel room. We redressed it and moved a window and a door, and made that into five different rooms.
When you wrote the episode, did you already know that you’d also be directing it?
I actually knew that this would be the one I would direct, and it was really nice to know while I was writing it. I had that in mind, in terms of the stuff that would happen and the way that I wanted to do things. It’s one of the most stand-alone episodes. So, I could really wrap my hands around the whole thing, as a piece, rather than just one episode in 12. It feels like a small ghost story/horror movie within the show, which is great. And for the first time, in the history of Teen Wolf, we come with a viewer discretion banner. It will be fun!
What can you say to tease this next episode, and how it will set things up for future events?
Well, you may see the face of one of our bad guys, of the big threats of the season, which is really cool. There are some ghost voices in the hotel, and I asked Jeff Davis to do one, which was great. He was really, really good. And then, I also thought it would be fun to do an homage to Clone Wars because the hotel is a suicide hotel. So, I got a couple of the Clone Wars actors – James Arnold Taylor and Ashley Eckstein – to play some of the ghosts, as well. That was really great. They were both working in Orlando on some Star Wars thing, and I was in Los Angeles, so we recorded it remotely. I got them to act the scenes together, so it was great. And we had Isaac’s father come back, and we recorded that remotely, as well. I knew that the episode was strong, but I didn’t realize how strong, until we had put all the sound in, all the voices and the creepy music. It suddenly all came together, as a cohesive piece. It’s scary.
Is there one character that you find most fun to write?
Lydia is one of the most interesting to me, as she’s grown through the seasons. I think a lot of people trivialized her as the bitch girl, at the beginning, but now she’s becoming a person with power. She’s owning her own power and discovering what it is. She really drove this episode because she’s cuing into the energy of the motel. She’s the person that really drives the episode. It was great working with her because she’s a really fantastic actress, she’s really committed and she really brings her A-game in this episode. And there’s an incredible scene, at the end of the episode, with Tyler and Dylan. They’re both fantastic actors, but I think it’s some of the best acting they’ve done on the whole show. It’s really scary, what’s gonna happen, and they really pulled it off. So, I find Lydia one of the most interesting, along with Stiles. People love that character. It’s always a great place to go, within scenes, because he brings the levity and comedy, but he’s also incredibly truthful, as well.
Do you find that writing for an ensemble show is easier because you have so many characters that you can pull in, or is it more challenging because you have so many characters and have to figure out who to focus on and who to pull back from?
This season is very hard because we have so many characters to write for, and some characters are not who you think. There are a lot of games in play, within the season. It’s a very complex thing to do, but it’s also very fun because you have a wealth of places you can go and emotions that you can create. It’s good and it’s bad. You have to decide that this character is going to take a bit of a backseat in this episode, but they’ll be a bigger component in the next episode. It’s a constant struggle, but Jeff does a great job of keeping the storyline focused, and also balancing those characters and giving them their moments. This episode is definitely Lydia’s moment, and then we gave a moment or a great scene to everybody within the episode.
As a writer, when you have a great cast of actors and characters, how difficult is it for you to put them in danger or kill one of them off, if necessary?
You fall in love with characters. I don’t even know how many characters we’ve got this season, but it’s a lot, so you have to kill some people off. Some people will die this season, absolutely. I think that also keeps the audience on their toes. They’re like, “Oh, my god, what’s going to happen?!” Game of Thrones does it incredibly well, and we have to do it. Everybody is replaceable, even me. The only person who isn’t replaceable is Jeff Davis ‘cause it’s his voice, and people love that voice.
What are the biggest challenges in pulling off this show with the budget that you have?
The biggest challenge is the budget. Jeff really wants to maintain a standard, and I’m really invested in making a show that’s very filmic and where the actors are really giving good performances. The budget means time and locations and sets. You can’t have too many sets. What (producer) Joe Genier and Jeff Davis pull off, in terms of making this show on what we get budgetarily, is phenomenal. The thing that frustrates me the most is that now people look at the show and they’re like, “Oh, we want more of that show, on that budget,” because it’s such a great show and it achieves so much. A lot of people are working for less than they would make on a network show, but Jeff has created a place where you can really give your A-game and be rewarded for it. You feel like you’re in a healthy, productive environment. For example, he let me direct. I came out of film school nominated for an Oscar, and I’ve directed stuff on the way, but it’s taken me 20 years to get into the Director’s Guild, and Jeff has given me that opportunity. MTV has been very supportive in letting Jeff do what he wants to do, and I think the show really reflects that. People are like, “This is a really cool show!”
Are you hoping to stay with the show now, for future seasons?
Yeah! I’ll stay with Jeff. Jeff and I talk a lot about doing other stuff, as well. I’ll stay with Jeff because I think we have a really nice partnership. I’m getting to direct and write, and be with a wonderful and really creative crew, and really great actors. It’s very stressful because of the way the show is made, but it’s a very good, positive environment. It’s really fantastic!