We here at When Nerds Attack were lucky enough to visit the set of IFC’s Stan Against Evil while it was filming it’s second season in Atlanta, Georgia. We were able to interview the cast and crew, tour the Miller household, and see a scene being filmed.
For those of you who don’t know, Stan Against Evil follows Stan Miller (John C. McGinley) and his very, very reluctant struggle to deal with his cursed town. Janet Varney plays Evie Barrett, the new sheriff in town, who is also brought into the fight. Deborah Baker Jr plays Stan’s daughter, Denise, and Susan Williams plays Claire Miller, Stan’s (currently) dead wife.
We start the season two with Stan facing challenges that he’s never faced before, because the season ended with Evie trapped in 1692. Showrunner Dana Gould explains,
“When we open up the show in the first episode of the second season, Stan doesn’t know who Evie is- she died 400 years ago. She’s not the sheriff and still he’s retired, but he’s living in an alternate universe. He’s haunted by these images of this person that he should know and doesn’t.” He said that the concept was inspired by The Search for Spock, and McCoy’s memories of Spock.
“Stan knows there is supposed to be this person in his life, but that person isn’t there. So when we open the show in season two, Stan is like the town crazy person. Finally he bumps into people that know what’s going on with him, and that opens up the possibility for him to find a way to go back in time and save Evie’s life.” However, things aren’t that simple, because, “what Stan takes from that is the opportunity to go back in time, just a little bit, and possibly save his wife’s life. That’s the arc of the entire season.
When you think about going back in time and changing the course of events, it never works out the way you want it to. That’s really what the second season is about. It’s a pretty serious arc– it’s about a grieving man trying to go back in time and save his wife’s life.”
There are going to be some interesting guest stars this season, as well. Denise Boutte plays a woman named Lara Bouchard who was the descendant of a real witch that lived in the town. David Kettner from Anchorman plays Evie Barrett’s ex-husband Kenny, and Steven Ogg from the Walking Dead plays a mysterious figure that comes into town. Jeffrey Combs from Re-Animator plays a demon that’s very different. Dana says he’s very charming, “and he’s addicted to gambling. So he tortures people through a series of bets.”
Dana also told us about some new monsters that will be coming to the show. One is an homage to his favorite horror movie, An American Werewolf in London. “We have an episode where someone turns into a murderous Shetland pony. That’s episode three, Curse of the Werepony.” There is also going to be a monster sure to give some parents nightmares, an evil baby. “I will just say it is the infant-based homage to James Cameron’s Aliens that the world has been waiting for.”
There is something to be said about seeing a set like this–unlike a backlot in Hollywood, if it weren’t for the industrial lights and the trailers hanging about, it would be like any home on some back road in the south. The house especially has a ‘lived in’ feel, and even smelled like many old houses I’ve visted. One of the technicians informed us that everything in the house is decorated for the show–and is removed after filming.
The attention to detail is astounding; there is discarded cross stitch in the living room,
and every bookshelf is covered in books and other knick-nacks. Stan has lived in this house for a long time, and it’s easy to imagine from all the details.
The true star of the house, though, is Claire’s witch hunting room. The weapon wall and the scrap-board, especially, were intricately detailed. The show never lingers on either for very long (ten-twenty seconds, at most), but it’s clear that everything there exists for a reason.
The dedication to make this room (and the house) so immersive is a credit to how much the cast and crew care about the show–and it shows on screen.
After we were finished touring the house, our press group was given the chance to interview the cast on set, including John C. McGinley, Janet Varney, Deborah Baker Jr, and Susan Williams. Dana Gould came, of course, to chat as well.
One of the first things that was brought up was the character and history of Atlanta itself–and why it’s great to be filming there. While all of the cast mentioned having many friends in the area and enjoying the history in general, John brought some interesting insight,
“We home school our two daughters, and so when we knew we were coming down here last year, we switched their history curriculum; they were on the Revolutionary War and since Atlanta didn’t figure into that war, we switched to the Civil War. My oldest became really interested in civil rights and so we it switched to the late 1960s and the civil rights movement.” He spoke of taking his girls to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the conversations that were provoked. “These are things about the civil rights my daughters will never forget.”
I brought up Denise, and the levity she brings to the show, asking if she is going to have any transformation in season two, or if she will remain more or less the same.
Deborah explained that she feels Denise is forever changing. “Every day is an adventure for her–what an amazing, wonderful world that is. Dana has done such a good job– he knows that Denise and I are not that dissimilar, so it’s really easy for me to tap into that quirkiness. I think this season is even better than last season–if that is even possible–and you get to see so much more of her.” She went on to say that while she doesn’t change, we do get to see more of her personal life. “I mean, will there be love for her? I don’t know! [Laughs] I hope so.”
Janet also spoke about her experience in episode one of season one, and how working with practical effects can be a challenge at times. “There was projectile vomit from the demon that I was told was going to last couple of seconds– but apparently they just made so much and wanted to use it all, because it just felt like an eternity passed of just goo. You can’t breathe, either, because I was lying mostly all the way horizontal; it was a very powerful jet of vomit. It went up my nose, into my ears. I was holding my breath, and I think there was a little a moment where I thought, ‘am I ok?’ [Laughing]”
The cast has nothing but praise for the crew, including physical effects, and wardrobe, hair, and makeup. “We shoot these episodes in a very condensed period of time and we walk-shoot, which means we’ll be working some days on three to four different episodes at once,” Janet explains. “For my character, typically it’s pretty easy– that’s why she always has the same outfit on. But any time something might blow up and spatters all over us, then two weeks later our makeup, hair, and wardrobe people have to pull up references up to recreate the exact look–and then sometimes they have to immediately take it right off. People on our crew are really really amazing in turning things around and keeping continuity.”
Dana brought up the importance of practical effects. “The great thing about practical effects is that you get to think of these things, and then drive up to Autonomous effects and go, ‘Well this is what we’re thinking!’ And they go with it. It’s the reason to do the show.” He continued, “There are horror movies that I love, like John Carpenter’s The Thing, and they’re timeless because the effects are real– there’s nothing fake about them. Those movies are eternal because your eye is seeing what’s really there. There’s a folk art sense and a theatrical sense to it, that I like, as well.”
[Note: We’ll be covering more about the show’s practical effects in the second part of the set visit!]
Given how many comedians are in the cast, we were curious about how much improv was involved in the show. Dana said there was a great deal, “Every person on this panel is a brilliant, off the cuff improviser. I can sit at home and struggle over a line, and nine times out of ten, the funniest line is the one you come up with right in that minute. It’s just the nature of collaboration.”
Janet added that the scripts themselves are gorgeous. “Dana’s very humble, and he’s an amazing collaborator, but the truth of the matter is that we get these–what seem to us– to be fairly perfect scripts. I think if I walked into a situation where I felt like it was my responsibility to fix something that was wrong with the story or wrong with my lines, every time I walked on set I’d be terrible because I’d been so anxious. But he gives us permission to be comfortable to play, because we know we have this incredible foundation laid out for us that is extremely good. I mean, Dana wrote for the Simpsons, let’s not pretend that we’re doing all this work and that he’s just showing up.”
Laughing, Dana cuts in, “Look, from the ego point of it–if you’re precious about your words, don’t work at the Simpsons.” Apparently every first draft is thrown immediately out. “If you’re in love your words, go write a book. If you want to work in television, its collaborative process– and that’s the nature of the beast. If you’re on a really funny show, everybody gets to share the credit. You’re all on the team, so why would you not want everybody to bring their ‘A’ game?”
Janet added that the network IFC also sets a positive tone, “There are not a bunch of people from a network who don’t trust the showrunner– who don’t trust the writer. To get to feel trusted in this way is unique. I think that’s why their kind of programming works, because it feels like it has a point of view.” As Dana says, all shows on IFC seem to have the same sense of freedom–that each is allowed to do their own thing.
We then got to see a scene with John being filmed, where Stan is speaking to the ‘Devil’ (aka a Voodoo Priest who died in the 1970s). It was a great experience to see the collaborative process in action, with lines being added on the fly (John did ad-lib a line), and adjustments being made to the script as the scene was shot and re-shot to make it flow better.
Part two will come soon where we spoke with the Autonomous Effects and Mick Ignis, one of the actors who is under all the demon/witch makeup we see on screen, and talk about the special/practical effects in more depth, so look out for that!
Thanks again to IFC for this opportunity!