In just the past decade, Mike Flanagan has steadily risen to become one of the most lauded filmmakers and distinct voices working in the horror genre today. Alongside producing partner Trevor Macy, the two have turned their company Intrepid Pictures into a force to be reckoned with thanks to a string of critically acclaimed films like Oculus, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep as well as hit Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass.
There’s a certain romantic kind of despair that hangs over their work; a melancholy that makes its scares feel all the more poignant and real. Their latest Netflix project sees them taking on the stories of beloved author Christopher Pike, whose tales of supernatural thrills and mysteries have been capturing the imaginations of young readers for multiple generations.
The first of many planned adaptations of Pike’s work is The Midnight Club, based on the novel of the same name. The series follows a group of five terminally ill patients at Brightcliffe Hospice, who begin to gather together at midnight to share scary stories. The group forms a pact, that whoever dies first would make the effort to contact the rest of the Midnight Club members from beyond the grave. Needless to say, things get frightening fairly quickly.
We sat down with both Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy just before the streaming premiere of The Midnight Club on Netflix to talk about adapting Pike’s work for a new generation, childhood fears, and the art of the monologue.
Exclusive Interview with Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy for The Midnight Club on Netflix
What drew you to Christopher Pike’s work? What excites you about, not just The Midnight Club, but having several different projects based on his stories coming up?
Mike Flanagan: Christopher Pike was hugely formative for me growing up. I started reading his books when I was in grade school, through the Scholastic Book Club. I always felt like I was getting away with something. I always felt like there was no way my parents knew what was in these books or I wouldn’t be allowed to read them! It was my gateway into genre in a profound way and it led me to Stephen King. You kind of graduated from Pike into that world.
So I’ve wanted to see Pike’s works adapted since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to adapt his stuff myself since I was in college. It’s just taken a long road to get there, but this was a chance for me to dive back into work that meant a ton to me when I was growing up and to celebrate, not just one story from this author that I love, but a pile of them. You know, with 80 books under his belt, there’s no shortage of Pike stuff. This just felt like a real chance to make an honest celebration of his work for a whole new generation.
Part of the greatness of The Midnight Club is that it’s geared toward a younger audience without talking down to them or dumbing things down. I think that’s especially important for horror. How do you go and make that approach in adapting the work, especially when it’s for a current generation?
Mike Flanagan: Well, that’s the question.
Trevor Macy: I mean, you said it. Something that is inherent in Pike’s work is that he always treats his young protagonists with respect, he gives them agency. He doesn’t talk down to them, doesn’t pull punches. That’s one of the big things. We took some liberties here and there with some of his work but that was the ethos of the show from the start.
Mike Flanagan: We hoped that, while the world has changed so much – certainly since I was a teenager in the 90s – the experience of being a teenager and a lot of the emotions remain universal. And while the details, and the technology, and the specific pressures and anxieties will shift over time, hopefully, there was enough common ground that this story could be relevant to kids today too. A lot of that was talking to people who are closer to that generation than we are. You know, having younger writers in the writers’ room, talking with our cast as they filled out, making sure that the experience felt authentic to them.
Also, even talking to our own kids. Trevor’s got a daughter who’s 12, I have a son who’s 11, and they became very important to this too. So I certainly won’t represent, and I would never represent that I understand what it’s like to be a teenager today. I have no idea. But if it was frightening in some of the ways that it was when I was a teen, then hopefully there’s something in here that can resonate.
What are some of the differences to you in addressing what’s scary to children versus what’s scary to adults? Not just from an audience perspective, but from a character perspective as well?
Mike Flanagan: Most of the things I find scary are holdovers from my childhood. The things that scare me as an adult today, range from the practical and kind of boring scares of life – where you worry about money, worry about politics, you worry about things like that – to the existential things like climate change, school violence… what happens to your children when you send them out into the world on a daily basis?
All of that is difficult to turn into visceral genre moments, though, you can still touch those themes. A lot of the scares, a lot of the anxieties that find their way into our work, for me anyway, is stuff that still echoes in me from when I was a kid.
Trevor Macy: Fear is inseparable from childhood.
Mike Flanagan: Yeah, and as long as I’m tapping into that, I feel like we’re on to something. It also doesn’t mean that the more grown-up fears that I’ve developed over the years aren’t coming into play; in these, they always are. But the heart is always, always digging back, all the way back. Sometimes as far as we can remember.
When it comes to writing, you utilize soliloquies and monologues in a lot of your work. What inspires you to bring such a theatrical element to modern storytelling?
Mike Flanagan: I think it’s a dying art, unfortunately. I was a theater minor so I have always loved theater. I’ve performed in theater, I was terrible at it but I loved it. Soliloquy and monologue, I think, are art forms in and of themselves. I respond to them when I see it done well. It makes an incredible impact on me. When I watched Paris, Texas for the first time and saw Harry Dean Stanton drop that eight and a half minutes at the end of that movie, it was revelatory and immersive and immediate for me in a profound way. I love an opportunity to employ those tools and to see an actor, if an actor is capable of it, really grab the audience by the hand and walk them through a full journey.
My favorite version is when there aren’t cutaways. It’s very theatrical. [The Midnight Club] isn’t lent to that. That was one of the big differences in the way we approached the writing on a show like this. It was way more dialogue intensive than it was monologue intensive. So some stories lend themselves to that very well, I wouldn’t change a word of Midnight Mass, for example, but this was different.
I hope I still get to do [soliloquies and monologues]. I get constant pushback about it because, I think, the executive world and the marketplace have short attention spans. And we were conditioned by a lot of entertainment, to go from thing, to thing, to thing, to thing, and faster and faster cuts, and less and less rewarding of patience. I will always push back against that trend. That is the hill I’m willing to die on, and I may end up dying.
Trevor Macy: We call those Flanalogues.
I’ve seen two films this year – Resurrection with Rebecca Hall and Pearl with Mia Goth that both have these long, pivotal monologues with no cuts. So, hopefully, we’re seeing a revival.
Mike Flanagan: Come on back, monologues!
Trevor Macy: Keep putting it out there.
Mike Flanagan: Yes, and I’ll keep pointing out examples like that when they come at me. I’ll say, “Ti West did it! And that movie made a lot of money, see it has monologues!” But yeah, when done well, I think it is its own art form. And there’s nothing that makes me happier. I’ve heard that there’s a terrific monologue in Pearl. I’m dying to see it.
You have such frequent collaborators in your projects, to the point where your Wikipedia page actually has its own little section for it. There are familiar faces in The Midnight Club as well. But as opposed to something like Midnight Mass, where you directed every single episode, you only direct two here. How does it feel to let go of the reins a bit and bring in different directors?
Mike Flanagan: It’s at once thrilling, nerve-wracking, and incredibly rewarding. It’s something that’s very necessary as our company has grown and as our shows have grown. It was impossible for me to direct every episode of the show and it was inappropriate. One of the things about The Midnight Club is that it celebrates different storytellers; it’s baked into its DNA. And in so much as it was exciting to have different characters take the head of the table on the show to tell their stories.
If I was directing all of this, we would have missed out on having these different points of view, these different visions come from these different storytellers, who were excited to dive into those stories in particular and put their own stamp on them. If anything more than any of my other shows, The Midnight Club is about collaborative storytelling. If I had tried to hold all of that for myself, I think I would have done the show a great disservice.
Trevor Macy: That also taps into something that we share, which is that we love finding and supporting other filmmakers. It’s fun for us to do that. In this context, in particular, it’s like the pitch is, “Okay, keep the story consistent. We’re going to set the tone for that, but go play in the B stories.” When you’re working with some wonderfully creative people like we did, it was a pleasure to kind of see your work reflected back at you in a way that you wouldn’t have done or, you know, Mike wouldn’t have done.
Mike Flanagan: And when you talked about frequent collaborators – some of those directors, like Michael Fimognari, directed two episodes – he’s been my director of photography for my whole career. Axelle Carolyn directed two episodes, we worked with her on The Haunting of Bly Manor. Morgan Beggs directed the finale, he was my first AD [assistant director] for all of Midnight Mass. So we’ve had the joy of also being able to work with creative collaborators in a new capacity and to say, “All right, this is yours now take it and run.” And I trust those people with my life. It’s just another way to collaborate really.
Other people like Viet Nguyen, who I had not worked with before, I’m madly in love with and we became immediate fast friends because I respect his work. He did such a good job. It’s a real pleasure to be able to meet and interact with other storytellers this way. Some shows, like Midnight Mass, were so close to me that I felt that I had to do it all. That’s going to be a rarer and rarer thing, I think, because the collaboration is way more fun, to be honest.