Outcast Season 2 Featured Interviews 

Adaptation, Subtlety, and Demons: a Chat with Outcast Executive Producer Chris Black

By | July 17th, 2018
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Later this week, the second season of Outcast debuts on Cinemax here in the United States, after airing last year in the United Kingdom. The show, based on the Image Comics series by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta, will air its next ten episodes this summer, and is helmed by showrunner/executive producer Chris Black. Black took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the second season, adapting a comic book for the screen, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

In adapting “Outcast,” you are taking a comics property and turning it into a TV show. On one hand this seems very logical, especially because of the sequential nature of comics and the sequential nature of TV. But I’m wondering, do you find that adapting a comic series brings different challenges than working on another type of television series?

Chris Black: I found it’s weirdly less challenging, in that, you already had a template laid out, and as you say there is something about the sort of sequential mythology, the sequential narrative story telling of comic that lends itself very readily to episodic TV. Especially, I think the sort of new sort of golden age of television now that we have in the age of the streaming services and premium cable where we have shorter orders, 10, 13 episodes and you’re aloud to do one long continuous narrative as opposed to no needing each episode to be kind of a stand alone and calculated story. So, I think comics lend themselves really readily to that. And the fact is, that just the first dozen or 13 issues of “Outcast” that Robert [Kirkman] wrote, just laid out beautifully the first season of the show.

So, if anything it just made our jobs easier. We sat down in the writers room that first week – normally you look at each other in a bit of a panic, like, “oh my god, they ordered our show now what the hell are we gonna do?” – we felt pretty comfortable, because it’s like, “okay, we know where we’re going.” Ya know? We know where the season’s gonna end, we know where we want these characters to end up in episode 10, we know a couple of the big major sign posts along the way that we need to hi. Robert’s a wonderful collaborator in that he gave up the freedom to kind of explore things along that way that weren’t necessarily ideas he had or things that he had established in the comics.

Because you do have this template as you say to work off of, do you feel beholden to that or do you feel free to try something new at any time?

CB: Well, it’s a complicated answer. ‘Cause the answer’s really both, ya know? Because my feeling is if you’re adapting a piece of material, particularly a piece of material by Robert Kirkman, who not only is just a lovely, lovely guy but also an enormously talented writer and the creator of one of the most successful shows on television. So, you figure the guy must be doing something right, so you don’t want to just take what he’s done and just throw it out wholesale and say, “I can do better,” that would be stupid.

But even beyond that, my personal philosophy is if you’re taking a piece of existing material, a piece of intellectual property and adapting it, you should be to some degree true to it and honest about it, otherwise why are you doing it? If I just wanted to do a show about demonic possession I could’ve just made one up, ya know? I wanted to do Outcast because of the version of it that Robert did. So, in that sense, yes you definitely feel beholden to be true to at least the spirit if not letter for letter ya know, the story that Robert told.

That’s one side of the equation. The other side of the equation is Robert, having spent many years adapting “The Walking Dead,” is very aware that doing a television show is different from writing a comic. He has complete and total control over the comics, the comics are the stories that he owns, that he feels ownership of, and is empowered to tell any stories that he wants. And he understands that in adapting it into a TV series, it’s a different animal, and if he’s hiring myself or a group of writers to adapt his work into a TV show, he understands that we want to bring some of our own creativity to the process.

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Ya know, and we want to bring something of our experience and writing skill to telling these stories ourselves. And so, I would always look to Robert as our sort of benevolent overseer that he would never dictate to us, like “you have to tell this story,” or “you can’t tell that story.” It was always sort of gentle course correction. If he felt we were sort of straying off the true path of the overall narrative that he wanted to tell, he would just kind of gently nudge us back on course. It’s like, “don’t go that way guys, ya know I got plans down the road, so let’s keep it on this track.” But he was never dictatorial about it, he’s a great guy to work with.

Demonic possession, as we’ve seen in countless films and television shows, can be portrayed a number of ways. One of the things I like about Outcast is that I feel that it never goes over the top in showing somebody possessed as being this wild eyed lunatic, I feel like it’s a very subdued version. So as a writer and a producer, how important is it for you to keep the show somewhat grounded despite it’s clearly supernatural concept?

CB: I mean, you hit the nail on the head, I think it’s, if not the single most important thing, one of the most important things. And we had talked about this from the very beginning, ya know, that if you’re dealing with an extraordinary, supernatural process, and at the end of the pilot, Robert wanted to be clear, the pilot ends the way it does, with you seeing this black entity for a very specific reason. Robert did not want the audience to think, “oh maybe this is all in their heads, maybe it’s psychosomatic, maybe it’s some kind of hysterical madness.” No, he wanted the audience to know going into this show that this is real, this is a real thing, that these are real demonic entities that exist and he wanted the audience and our characters to see them, and acknowledge that.

Now, because of that, because you’re dealing with this heightened genre supernatural premise, it was important that everything else feel real, feel grounded. From the faces of the background cast, the way they were dressed, the way they spoke, the world that they lived in ya know, Robert’s from Kentucky, I’m from Ohio originally, and we shot it in South Carolina in one of these dying mill towns that the south is full of sadly. Some of the places we would walk in, and it was like no set dressing required.

I mean, it was like that was the place, the small town that you see in the first season of rural West Virginia was shot largely in and around Chester South Carolina, but that main street was that main street, that was what it looked like and you walk in there and those actors stepped out into that world, and you just felt it. That this felt like a real place and these felt like real people, and you wanted them to have real … it was important to Robert in the story telling, we never go to the war room at the Pentagon.


CB: Ya know, we never go to the secret star chamber underneath the Vatican ya know, that that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell. It was about these people dealing with this on a personal level. And we wanted the look of the show, the way it was art directed, the way it was shot, the way it was staged, the nature of the actors performing to feel authentic.

And I think you definitely pulled that off.

CB: Well, thank you, it’s a credit to the crew. We had an amazing crew and brilliant department heads. Mark Weiss, our production designer, Annie Holmes who’s our costume designer, our art director’s photography, I can’t start running through names because I’ll forget people, but it was really such a team effort. Everybody knew what we wanted to do, and everyone gave it their all.

I’m sure that there’s a bit of pressure with doing a show with Kirkman after the success of The Walking Dead. But one of the things that I really appreciated the show…and this kind of ties into my last question, is the tone of the series is just so different than The Walking Dead, it definitely feels like it’s own thing. And not just that, but right out the gate you guys were able to establish this unique tone. And I wonder how much of that is due to having that aforementioned blue print from the comic. Did that help to create a tone, and to help you create a universe differently than if you were creating something whole cloth?

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CB: Absolutely, 100%, and I think a part of that tone was very deliberate on Robert’s part. I think he wrote…I mean, he loves “The Walking Dead,” he’s passionate about “The Walking Dead,” but he very deliberately wanted to do something different ya know? That “The Walking Dead” is a global apocalypse and it is painted on a grand canvas and I think he very deliberately wanted to go the other direction and do something small and intimate and a lot of discussion and prep and planning went into months of work before we shot that pilot, before anyone stepped on the set, about what is the template we’re establishing for this world in this show. And it really started with the comics.

I mean, you would see people while we were shooting that pilot and Adam Wingard who directed it did an amazing job, and David Tattersall who’s a brilliant feature director of photography shot it. They would have, folded copies of the comics shoved in their script bags and back pockets. I mean, that was always the blueprint. That was the template. And if you look, it’s funny, if you go look at the pilot episode, there are shots that are just pulled from panels of comics.

Is there a temptation to lean on that too heavily though? I’m not saying you guys have, but ya know…in the room are you ever saying, ‘ah fuck it, let’s just steal from the comic.’ Because it’s right there in front of ya, ya know? Is that an easy, get out of jail free card?

CB: Well no, I think the opposite is really true. I think there were times we wished we could’ve used the comic more as a crutch. Because I think the fact is, we embrace the comics, we love the comics and we wanted to stay true to them as much as we could, but any given issue of that comic is 22, 23 pages? You would pull as much story from it as you could possibly find, but then you still had 60 minutes of commercial free television to fill.


CB: So, I think there were times we looked at Robert and went, “Couldn’t these comics be a little longer? Could you give us some more stuff we could use because we’re running short!”

So, season two is about to premier here in the states, it already aired in the UK. But for folks who watched the first season, what can you tease about the second season without giving too much away, and maybe what’s your personal favorite episode of the second season?

CB: Oh, my personal favorite, I don’t know. That’s a tough one. I love the premier episode, I love the way the finale ends. Ya know, that’s asking like, “which is your favorite kid?” Ya know, you love them all and they’re all brats and difficult to raise so it’s hard to pick any one of them, but I think going into the second season, we really tried to pick up from where we left these characters at the end of the first season, that we really felt we had put everyone in an extreme situation.

I mean, Megan was possessed, she finds out what happened to her husband, she is forced to accept the reality and responsibility of that. Ya know, Kyle tries to leave town with his daughter after discovering that she’s kind of cursed with the same powers he has. Ya know, Reverend Anderson has burned down Sidney’s trailer and discovers that Sidney is still alive and now panics that he’s maybe killed an innocent boy in the process. I mean, we really felt we achieved what we wanted to accomplish at the end of that first season, which was really to leave the audience wondering, ‘okay, what the hell now for these people?’ So, from a personal standpoint we really felt we start from a great place. That we have each of these characters in real emotional distress, which is a great launching point for the second season.

And then ya know, in the terms of the sort of horror component of it, we just wanted to escalate the threat. And I think that’s Robert’s arch of the narrative in the comics, which is what starts out as this very small intimate threat behind closed doors in darkened bedrooms in Rome. As you get into the second season you discover the real extent of it. That it’s spills out of those houses into the street, and it ensnares the other characters in much bigger ways.

Chief Giles, the late great Reg E. Cathey who passed away from cancer this year and we all miss incredibly, becomes a much more important player in the second season. Because now he’s forced to confront something that he’d always had to kind of…ya know, he passively supported Reverend Anderson’s efforts to fight it, but he was able to just kind of look the other way and just kind of be the sheriff of the town, and now he can’t do that anymore, because what was behind closed doors is now out in the open. So, our hope is that everything just gets bigger. Bigger, scarier, more dangerous, more emotional. Bigger, better, faster.

//TAGS | Outcast

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


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