Guillermo del Toro & Carlton Cuse Talk About THE STRAIN, Upending Sad Vampires, And How Your Tweets Can Shape The Show

I haven’t been this excited about a new show in quite a while. The Strain on FX looks to be a perfect summer horror series, and I can’t wait to see how far the push the envelope in gore, scares, and special effects.

I was able to be a part of a conference call interview with director Guillermo del Toro and writer Carlton Cuse. Here are a few of the highlights:

How did you first get involved in this project? 

Cuse: I had read the first Strain novel as his work and I knew Chuck Hogan so I was intrigued what it would look like. I read it first in 2009 and really enjoyed it. Basically 2 years ago my agent called me up and said there was some interest in doing The Strain as a TV show. I met with them and  decided to get involved because I have a lot of respect for Guillermo. He’s one of the most imaginative and creative person and creates worlds. It would also be a way to upend vampire genre. Right now it’s overrun by romance. We’ve had our fill of vampires we were feeling sorry for. They’re scary dangerous creatures.

How closely is the mythology going to follow the book?

Cuse: Book one is season one, we basically follow the first book. The whole series won’t be more than 5 seasons; we’re writing to an endpoint. Obviously there’s a lot to being added. The show and book can be each separately enjoyed. We just wanted to make the best television show that you can make. We’ve all said “ok here’s the book, how do we make the best show?” But we view the show as its own creation.

Guillermo: We had the book to plunder, but also had milestones to be hit. It will not alienate someone who likes the books. It will feel seamless.

Since this is on cable instead of network TV, has this opened what you can do?the strain 2

Cuse: Oh absolutely. Look, I can’t speak broadly to all cable but I will say FX has been fantastic. This show really represents mine and Guillermo’s version of the story. It’s unadulterated. Of course you can’t drop F bombs, but that’s about it. FX is very supportive and aware that when you’re competing against films and pay cable you don’t want an adulterated version of the story. There are pretty extreme moments but that’s what makes it. We really could give the version we wanted to make without much censorship.

Does this mean you haven’t gotten a letter saying to change anything for being too graphic or anything like that? 

Cuse: No, I mean, honestly whatever aesthetic limitations that exist are the show are the ones we came up with ourselves. We’ve had full support from FX in creating the show.

Guillermo: I think one of the important things in creating this is the genre requires you to cross at some point where you need to show your audience that you’re not kidding. Either by creepy moments or visual punch, hopefully both, you’re able to deliver the goods. Things that make you feel creepy and unsafe. We also have moments of really really sick humor. Like one of the most intense scenes with a pop song.

What make people drawn to gore, violence, and death so much?

Guillermo: From my end, socially we’re territorial. We’re built to fight and fend off territorial. challenges, reproduce sedentary life. That’s the way we’re socially geared. Yet we live in a society where the more it isolates itself from natural instincts, the more it seeks them in entertainment. Your brain needs to be exposed to fight or flight instincts. You seek it through roller coasters or extreme sports or genres like crime, horror, adventure, etc. It’s literally biochemical feedback through how were are in our life.

These days, so many people view TV as an online social event and are constantly reviewing and tweeting about shows in real time as they happen. Will either of you be following along with conversations on Twitter, or how will you measure the audience reaction?

Cuse: I think both Guillermo and I are hopeful that fans are going to enjoy the show and we’ll be looking to see how people react. I think it’s instructive as we’ll be looking forward to the second season to see what people like and don’t like. The advent of social media has created a real conversation around the show and there were positive aspects that I expierenced in LOST and I expect the same in The Strain. I’m personally enormously curious to see how people react to all sorts of things. It’s fun too, because when you create something on film and put it out there you have certain expectations. Sometimes you get exactly what you’d expect and sometimes you get surprising reactions. We’ve been working on this for almost two years so the idea that we’re going to see what people think of it and get their honest, true feedback is very exciting to me.

Guillermo: I think when we started the journey in The Strain it the novels back in 2006, you don’t get an immediate reaction that fast with the books or the comic adaptation. I think when you can see the audience react in an immediate way it’s going to be extremely useful. I’m a social media shut-in, I don’t use Twitter or Facebook or any of those things but I’m certainly aware of the internet reaction. I don’t respond because I don’t have the means to respond but I do read the feedback and I do think you have to be able to feed on it and react to it in the proper way. Ultimately as the first season plays out and they’re listening to the true voice of the series we can find things we did right and connect it and we can find things we did wrong and learn from it. The main beauty of television for me is a version if “take it slow.” I come from a world where the first three days of a movie hitting its audience you have defined the reaction, and then the release of the movie is gone. With Carlton it’s been “With this you can always learn and adapt.” None of the traits of the show are set in stone. And that’s really captivating and unique to television. I do expect great feedback either way that will help us create a show that delivers the unique experience of the strain.

Cuse: What Guillermo said is exactly right. Television is a very organic medium and you have a long term ongoing relationship with your audience and we’re just now entering that phase with the show but hopefully we’ll continue that dialogue for a long time to come.

Guillermo: I always say jokingly about myself that I don’t like the idea of film making as a brand. I like filmmakers to be an acquired taste for an audience. I myself think I am an acquired taste and I love being that because I enjoy a relationship of over two decades with my audience. I always pay close attention to their reaction.

If the show was insanely successful, would you ever go past five seasons?

Cuse: No I don’t think so. Audiences are really embracing stories with a beginning middle and end. If you look at True deactivate, Fargo and the end of Breaking Bad you have to recognize the audience wants stories that come to a conclusion. TV has been a first act and endless second. The best is a three act experience.

Guillermo, after directing the pilot would you direct any more in the future?

Guillermo: I want to direct opening one if there is a second season! Directing tv is like doing cardio (which if you look at me in any picture you know I don’t do cardio!). The beauty of the show is that we have a fluid relationship with Carlton, Chuck and myself. We might jab each other into coming up with sick ideas in the middle of the season. I’d really like that. You come in and it’s incredibly intense. Each day on TV series seems like a week on a feature. I’ve made it a point to stay obsessively  involved. I feel this is our baby. Not just mine, it’s the three of us, like three men and a baby (laughs) for vampires.

the-strainWhat do you think about the reaction of some of the “eye worm” billboards? 

Cuse: Think the advertising was bold and imaginative and clearly not for everyone. I think that FX does an incredible job marketing their shows and they wanted to convey that the show was edgy and bold and out there. I certainly understand that it might have been too far out for some people but I personally liked it but I understand it was necessary to make some accommodations.

Guillermo: Same way, I trust FX and they understand who their audience is and the type of advertisement. They’ve generated some extreme and chilling images in the past. Much as I think the show has many layers, we do go to territories that are pretty extreme and graphic. We’re talking about a viral takeover and body takeover series. It’s not a knife slashing someone open; it’s the concept of the worm with the eye. It’s very powerful.

The Strain premieres this Sunday, July 13, at 10:00pm EST on FX. This is one you don’t want to miss.

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Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and movie-geek. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son, writing about movies and beyond. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington or check out his blog,