When the producers at Gunpowder & Sky approached legendary horror director Sam Raimi with a series idea called 50 States of Fright, the concept just made sense. There is a universal appeal to urban legends and campfire stories, and if it was handled correctly, the concept could really speak to a larger audience.
“I had seen in the state of Michigan these books. You see them in tourist spots,” he said in press call interview yesterday. “You would see these little Ghost Stories of Michigan pamphlets that local authors write. It’s similar in the state of Illinois. When they presented [the series] to me, I knew there must be writers and stories like this in every state. I recognized they had a great idea.”
They had no thoughts of taking the series to Quibi, however. As it stood during the pitch, 50 States of Fright would be a weekly anthology series.
In fact, it wasn’t until they presented their ideas to Jeffrey Katzenberg that the format changed. The former Disney exec and co-founder of Dreamworks had a new streaming service in mind featuring five to ten minute episodes and he thought the new series was a perfect fit.
The format brought its own unique challenges. They were working to create the equivalent of nine short independent films with the time and budgetary constraints of a regular television series, and each story would have to broken down to about three parts to fit the time constraints. Ultimately, however, Raimi says this worked in the show’s favor.
“It came down to not relying on big special effects or big-budget spectacles,” he explained. “It came down to getting back to the basics. Telling a simple story. It was both a challenge given the format and the limitations of budget, but also an advantage. Characters, plot, simple story construction to try to please the audience.”
Raimi not only serves as executive producer on 50 States of Fright, he also directed the series premiere which he co-wrote with his brother, Ivan Rami. It’s called “The Golden Arm” and it’s based on an old folktale he remembers hearing as a child in Michigan.
It has everything one needs for a great horror story: obsession, vengeance, and that slight touch of realness that slips like ice down your spine.
The story stars Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Travis Fimmel (Vikings), both of whom, he says, were great collaborators bringing suggestions to the storytelling that elevated the material from page to screen.
“They personalized the roles in a really great way,” Raimi said. “I wish we had more time together. The whole thing was shot in a handful of days but we really got to form a very close relationship and left there wanting to work together again.”
The process also reminded him of the value of brevity in this type of storytelling and the way they can dive right into the thrills and chills of a good story.
“For me, I’m not a great writer, but I do love ghost stories, the kind you tell around a campfire,” he said. “So for me, yes, I think it works beautifully to have a 15 minute type of story. It’s like a roller coaster ride. You don’t want to be on it for an hour and a half. A five minute or ten minute thrill experience with its ups and downs. Thrills and chills and little ghost stories. ”
He’s not the only filmmaker and writer who feels this way either, as he has discovered on this journey.
When word got out about the series, he says writers and directors from all over the U.S. began to contact the producers, and he’s excited that–if the series is successful–it can grow in a very organic way with stories from all over the country from creatives with their own diverse childhoods and backgrounds.
The Quibi app is available on both Android and Apple devices. The cost is $4.99 per month but they are offering a 90 Day Trial if you sign up by April 30, 2020. Download the app today and check out 50 States of Fright!