One of the first things that Cody Meirick would like you to know is that he, in fact, did not direct the big screen adaptation of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
That film is produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by André Øvredal.
Meirick, on the other hand, spent the last five years of his life creating a documentary called Scary Stories about the the trilogy of books that opened doors for an entire generation to the world of things that go bump in the night.
When he first decided to begin work on Scary Stories, his first full-length documentary, he admits he wasn’t entirely sure how to get from point A to point B. He only knew that it was going to be a lot of work and he was ready to commit.
“I had a background in producing web content that had to do with children’s literature,” he said. “I could see that this [Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark] was a title that had a huge following. People talk a lot about the books, but I could see they didn’t know a lot about how they were created. They also didn’t know how much the books were challenged in the 90s. When you juxtapose those things, that’s a great story!”
How to go about telling that story was the real task, and he admits one of the challenges was to not over-simplify it. He also freely admits that it’s not a totally balanced film.
“A percentage of the documentary is a celebration of the books,” Meirick pointed out. “I also wanted to point out that books, in general, are still being challenged. It’s something that’s still going on and we should be talking about that.”
To spotlight the challenges that this particular set of books faced, Meirick went back to the 90s and one particular case that made national news.
As a final element, he also began to reach out to artists, musicians, and other creatives whose work had been inspired by the books and who continue to create based on Scwartz’s storytelling and Stephen Gammell’s illustrations, and he says that this was one way that stretching the project out over five years actually aided him.
“I really started building an audience on social media from the beginning,” he said. “People have followed the project. They’ve reached out to me about it. They’ve shown me their work. I really got to know my audience, and I was able to naturally frame the story of the documentary with three things: the illustrations, the stories, and the controversy.”
It was also during this process that he contacted Shane Hunt to create animations for the documentary, though he wasn’t sure at first what to animate. There was no way for him to fully animate the stories, and he wasn’t sure that shorter animations would benefit the film ultimately.
The spark of inspiration finally came when he heard a story from a particular librarian whose school had asked her to remove the books from the library’s shelves, a decision which she disagreed with wholeheartedly.
“Telling that story was pertinent to telling the story of the documentary,” Meirick explained. “And I suddenly thought we could animate her story! So, we segmented it out and it turned out to be a great way to give our audience a story that they probably didn’t know that was still important to the project.”
Hunt’s animation perfectly evokes Gammell’s illustrations with creepy overtones to what might otherwise be straightforward storytelling making those animated sequences compelling and tonally perfect for the documentary.
With all the pieces in place, Meirick was able to create a documentary that is more balanced, I think, than even he realized.
Scary Stories is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, and is also available finally on DVD. CLICK HERE to order a copy and get ready for the journey into Cody Meirick’s brilliant documentary.