It's hard to believe that Channel Zero's latest chapter, Butcher's Block is coming to an end so soon, but with only six episode to tell a full story every person involved has their work cut out for them.
I recently had the opportunity to chat by phone with the director of Channel Zero Season 3, Arkasha Stevenson. She was plucked from the festival circuit as a relative unknown, but she made her mark on this incredible series.
Please enjoy the Q&A we had below, which has been slightly modified for readability and content. I cannot wait for her next work!
Butcher's Block has been a thrilling ride. It's highly emotional. The stories are deeper than just horror. And yet, it's also beautiful in its conception, and it's downright scary. So how did you pull that off?
That's very, very kind of you. Thank you for saying that. It's so exciting to hear that people are enjoying it. I love the first two seasons of Channel Zero. I was fairly inexperienced and was very nervous about coming on board and pulling off the season. So thank you for saying that.
Oh, you bet.
Sorry, so back to your question. Nick and Tosca, and the writers for Channel Zero, I think, are really interested in ... obviously, it's a horror show, but also going a little bit deeper than what you initially expect from the tropes of horror from the genre. And it's very easy. Nick is very interested in the idea of a loss of control.
And I think that's such a relatable and resonant fear. I think there isn't a person in the world who doesn't worry about losing control of their environment, their body, their mind, their soul. So it makes it quite easy as a director to go deeper with every character.
What were your two favorite scenes to film so far this season? And I want you to pick one from the real world, or what I'm considering the real world, and one from upstairs.
Right. Okay. Well, my first absolute favorite scene that we shot was when Robert Peach eats his cellmate. And, the reason for that was that it was kind of the first ... So I'd come off of only doing small indie low-budget guerrilla film-making. So this is very much like a Cinderella story.
I feel like Nick really picked me up out of oblivion and put me in a dream scenario. And that dream scenario is having the resources and the crew to make the shots that you've always been dreaming of as a young filmmaker and having the equipment and having the time.
And so there was a shot that I wanted to do when I was reading the script of the scene. And I was talking to our production designer, and saying I want to do this really wide shot where we kind of come in low and just push into the image. But the cell should feel much larger than it initially felt in the previous shots as I'm walking down the jail cell corridor.
So to do that, we would probably need to build another set. And then we need to do almost a trap door so that we could place somebody underneath to be the legs of this man who's being eaten. And we would have to be able to hide the rest of his body under the floor.
Then we would need to fit the second man, with just his torso sticking above ground in there. Obviously, we can't do that. Just assuming that we didn't have the time or the money.
And he came back the next day, our production designer, Rashon, came back the next day and showed me sketches of this separate set that he was going to build. And he told me it was going to be ready within a couple days.
And I ... This sounds really dramatic. But I almost started crying because it was ... At that point, you're literally taking something out of your brain and making it into an image that isn't being compromised. And, the people took me seriously when I said this is what I'd like to do.
They were like, "Yes, of course. We will build an entirely different set for your one shot that you just kind of talked it out offhand." It was the most ... I'm always going to remember that.
I'm almost crying for you.
I know right! It really ... It was my favorite thing filming. It's still my favorite shot of the season, and it just came together. There are other things that Nick and I talked about. Robert Peach being naked so it just would be even more of a shocking image of having skin intact next to skin being destroyed, and the studio was fine with it. Like all these things lined up for the shot. It's ...
It was very memorable.
No, it was very memorable and shocking. And it worked very well.
Oh, thank you.
What about the upstairs? In that bizarre world?
Okay. Gosh, there's so many ... There's so many different ... The one that's just coming to the top of my head immediately is the dinner scene in [Channel Zero Season 3 Episode 4], where Edie Peach is talking to Zoe and trying to convince her to eat human flesh.
The reason why that was one of my favorite things to film is because Diana Bentley, who plays Edie Peach, was so charming and so funny. That was mostly ad-libbing. We kind of designed this dining room to look like the scene from Barry Linden. It shouldn't be warm and inviting. It should be very grandiose and very off-putting and stiff and intimidating.
And, she made it so ... All of a sudden ... There was something ... Butcher's Block was ... I have like a very inappropriate, strange sense of humor, and Butcher's Block was an invitation to share that. I wasn't sure if that was really, totally appropriate or not.
And, with Nick, it is, because Nick has so much fun with these shoots. But Diana just brought that even to a whole 'nother level to where the dark humor became part of the invitation to join the Peaches.
Yeah, I was just saying, if I were Zoe, of course, I would be eating my human flesh if Edie Peach was trying to feed it to me on a spoon. Like she's lovely. She's radiant. Look at her, you know.
I was thinking, I want them to be best friends!
Exactly. So it was just like this is so much fun and this is so funny. But gosh, how frightening it is actually underneath you know?
It's crazy. It's just off the wall macabre.
Yeah. She poses such a new and different danger to Zoe that I hadn't really anticipated before.
As you said, you were just starting out in this business coming off of your TV pilot, Pineapple, and then you were tapped to direct Channel Zero. What challenges did you face coming into the series with such a small body of work?
And at the same time, how did that allow you to come into the series with a fresh perspective? And how do you think that allowed you to offer something that nobody else would've been able to do?
I think the biggest obstacle is kind of my own confidence, being worried that I wouldn't be able to pull this off. There was another Arkasha Stevenson who had made a Pineapple somewhere out there in L.A. and that's actually who Nick Antosca wanted to hire. And I was just worried it was a mistake.
You know, Nick was really so supportive and negated that constantly. But I was able to bring my creative producer, Jen Smith with me. And she was my second brain. So together I felt like a very confident team once we got the hang of it.
I think it was nice being so inexperienced. I had never had a crew that large before or with so many experienced people. So it was really nice being able to have an idea, not be exactly sure how to pull it off, and not be expected to know how to pull it off.
There were many days I would go to set and I'd get the camera ops, the gaffer, and the key grip together and be like, "Hey. This is what I want to do. But I don't know how to do it. What do you guys think?" And they would come up with something that I would never in a million years imagine.
Going in with ... I don't wanna say this. I don't wanna say going with low confidence ended up being a good thing because that's not what I mean. But, going in with not as much experience allowed me to really lean on everybody else's experience without having an ego problem.
It allowed you to bond with everybody, and give them a chance to grow with you, kind of.
That's a perfect way to say it. Yeah. And then you end up coming up with way better shot ideas and faster shot ideas that way. I think that was a nice flip to my low self-esteem coin.
Oh, that's really great. Now looking back at the first installments, are there any scenes you would have done differently now that you've seen them roll out to the audience?
Yeah. Of course. We were on a pretty tight schedule. We were ... There's always something I would do differently. But, I'm really ... It was a difficult shoot. I'm just really proud that it came together. I think it came together in a way I wasn't expecting. And, I'm really happy with that. It's a lot funnier than I thought. I hope everybody else thinks it's funny.
Yeah, I think they do. I think everybody gets the gist of it, at least from my readers.
My last question, is we haven't, we being the press, haven't had screener of the final episode yet. And all of the ... Well, the finales of the other two chapters of Channel Zero have had really a WOW of a surprise.
And without giving anything away, does it come at us with any kind of change in direction from your aspect? Or, will it remain relatively similar to the rest of the chapters so far?
It's following the same logic, which is kind of an Alice in Wonderland logic. Episode six is still in this family of one, two, three, four and five. I would just drop expectations I think.
Hmm. Drop all expectations. That sounds good.
But, my favorite shot that I couldn't list-
Comes up in the finale?
You guys, my conversation went a little further than I am going to share with you.
I heard one sentence from Arkasha that I didn't even understand if you can believe that (but she didn't spoil me!), she gave me a little more detail about her favorite scene coming up (what character will be involved), and I discovered I might be on the right path about one of my expectations.
And that's all I'll say about that, other than words on a page cannot do the interview justice. This young woman was so excited about her craft, and there is nothing more satisfying than speaking with someone that involved and joyful about what they're doing.
Arkasha Stevenson's going places!
Tune in Wednesday, March 14 at 10/9c for the finale of Channel Zero: Butcher's Block. I'll have a review up for you as soon as I can afterward!!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.