Gruesome Reviews

[Exclusive Interview] Siblings Jason and Peter Filardi on Creating CHAPELWAITE

The careers of screenwriters Jason and Peter Filardi could not be more different. Peter’s been the horror guy, having scripted the successful Flatliners and The Craft, as well as TV Stephen King adaptations ’Salem’s Lot (2004 version) and Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Younger brother Jason is the comedy guy, whose credits include the hits Bringing Down the House and 17 Again.

Never having shared a screen credit, the Filardis finally teamed to create, executive produce, and write the new 10-part series Chapelwaite. Based on Stephen King’s Night Shift story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” it stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody as a widower seaman who returns to his ancestral home with his three children in 19th century New England. Inside the Gothic mansion, he finds quite a number of skeletons in the family closet…and these skeletons have very sharp teeth and a taste for blood…

 Credit: Chris Reardon/EPIX

In the following exclusive interview, brothers Filardi talk about the creation of Chapelwaite, now airing on Epix.

You two have traveled separate career paths for most of your lives. Why did you come together for Chapelwaite?

JASON FILARDI: Obviously most of our careers have been on our own. I’ve always written alone pretty much. And my brother has also. So, I landed in comedy, but my favorite genre has always been horror. I’ve always wanted to make the move over to the dark side. And the past few years, we started just on the side collaborating together on horror ideas.

PETER FILARDI: One was about a family on a haunted houseboat. We did sell that, didn’t we?

JASON: We did. I don’t remember to who, but it didn’t get made. Then we wrote another one, Santa Muerte, based on a motorcycle trip I took through the Mexican desert that was horrifying in itself without the horror elements. We really like working together, we work well together and it’s fun. Sometimes working alone can get lonely [laughs].

What led you to Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot”?

PETER: We were initially pitching Epix a horror Western idea, and they decided not to buy that, but they liked us. And the president of Epix, Michael Wright, called us and said, ‘Hey, producer Donald De Line just walked in with the Stephen King short story “Jerusalem Lot.” Would you like to take a crack at that?’ Having worked with Michael years earlier on ’Salem’s Lot, and both of us being such obviously big Stephen King fans, we just jumped at the opportunity.

JASON: The project really came to us, luckily,

Peter, you’re no stranger to adapting King. What is your formula?

PETER: My goal is to really capture the spirit of Mr. King, of the author, to channel it. Like Mr. King, Jason and I grew up in a small New England town, and it’s a world we know, and which we recognize in his material. So, it’s just marrying all our own sensibilities with his and trying to stay true to, if not every story beat of the tale, certainly to the spirit and theme of what he’s exploring.

JASON: One of the major things that I thought about in my first attempt at a guy who’s a master, a guy you’ve read your whole life and have so much respect for, was, ‘God, I just hope I don’t disappoint him. I hope the show doesn’t turn out like crap, and he hates it!’ [laughs]

PETER: Yeah. There’s always that.

What were the challenges in taking a 35-page short story and expanding it into a 10-hour series?

JASON: It was difficult. The short story is letters between two people. So, the story itself had all the great building blocks for this show. Being a short story and only so many pages, the real goal was: how do we expand on this, staying within that King feeling/theme. To have 10 hours of interesting television meant creating characters and creating a lot of different storylines.

PETER: It was a formidable challenge. We altered the main character, the protagonist, and made him a family man, a single dad. We just wanted to create a character or a protagonist and raise the stakes. Charles now had more to worry about than his own safety, but also the safety of his loved ones. And then growing up in Mystic, Connecticut, which is an old whaling town, Jason and I had always been intrigued by the world of whaling and had been raised with the history of whaling. Once we decided to make him a whaling captain, somehow it just all started to fall together. We started to really connect with the material in a personal way.

 Credit: Chris Reardon/EPIX

You’ve taken the skeleton of the story and built a whole new beast on top of it.

JASON: There are little things throughout the story that you could gloss over or you could take and expand on.

I love how you include little nuggets from the story: the rats in the wall, the death of Marcella, the Whippoorwills, etc. Was there anything else that you wanted to include, but didn’t?

PETER: Mr. King describes the people as being kind of inbred and scary that way. And we wanted to do these hybrid, bad attempts at mixing vampire and human blood. This would be their mutant offspring. But we just simply did not have the manpower to do all the special effects required on all the people’s kids, all these vampires and acolytes. We have one kid with red hair and a hair lip [laughs].

JASON: We did squeeze one in!

Why was the title changed to Chapelwaite?

JASON: Warner Bros. owns the rights to ’Salem’s Lot. And, they’re coming out with a new movie pretty soon, or they’re starting one. It was a legal thing. We weren’t allowed to use it. We could say Jerusalem’s Lot all day long in the series, but we couldn’t use it as a title.

Going back to the original story: King’s line “Blood calls blood” becomes a major theme in your series.

PETER: The story is about a man, Charles Boone, trying to escape his family curse, his own heredity, his own dark or evil birthright and travel far away to escape his destiny. It’s impossible, and he’s pulled back and forced to confront it. So, in that sense, blood calls blood, and blood will not be denied.

JASON: It ultimately comes down to the Boone bloodline. And until this curse is broken, every Boone before and hereafter, including Charles, is affected by this curse. If he doesn’t break it, blood will continue to call blood. His children will be next, then their children and so on. That’s something we definitely expanded on in our series.

Has King consulted on Chapelwaite at all? Have you had any input from him?

PETER: Stephen King read our treatment of what we wanted to do and approved it. Then he would read every script and approve them. He encourages you to find it on your own as long as he feels you’re heading in a good direction. He had some ideas for a title; he probably came up with Chapelwaite. But for the most part, he just read and gave us his stamp of approval along the way.

JASON: And he has seen up to six episodes and appeared happy, and that’s always good. So, hopefully, he gathers all of his minions and gets the word out.

How did you guys divide the workload?

JASON: I’m on the West Coast. He’s on the East Coast. So, it was a lot of Skyping, and this was before Zoom. We would just get together, break the stories together and outline together. We have the three-hour time difference, and once we’d finished our meeting, if it was later, I would do some work and then I would send him that. And then he would have the morning to look that over and do a little work. Then he’d send it back to me, and we’d bounce it back and forth. And then, once we had the outline where we wanted it, we would split it up in half, and he’d write the first chunk. And I’d write the second chunk, and then send him my chunk. Next, he’d send me his, and we’d go over each other’s work. Many people say, ‘You guys are still brothers, friends?’ [laughs] But it was a great process and a fast one. I’m not the fastest writer, and when you’re working in TV, you’re under the gun constantly. It was really a great, fun process, and we didn’t fight [laughs].

This is your first time as series creators, executive producers, and you wrote five of the 10 episodes. How did you keep up with the grueling workload?

PETER: That’s a horror story in and of itself. It’s harrowing. The demands of television show-running are superhuman in a way. We worked long hours, sometimes 17-hour days. We just scrambled to stay ahead of the steamroller of production, because production can’t be stopped or stalled. They need the next script and the next one after that.

JASON: We could never have really known what to expect. Once we got up to Nova Scotia, Canada, that machine started going, and you have no choice but to throw yourself into it. We both were pretty much feature guys. And, boy, after doing a television show, you look back at features and say, ‘Man, that is a cushy job.’ Our amazing producer, Donald De Line, was a huge part of this too. But suddenly, you’re making every decision, from the horse that Adrien Brody rides to costumes to rewriting constantly. And there’s the demands of the limitations you have. You’re constantly on the fly, changing and adapting and adjusting. Plus, locations and budget and time limitations. It’s constant long days. You get into that flow and you just keep going, no matter how tired you are. We shot many nights, because obviously this is a vampire show, and you know how those are. You just get through it, and then at the end you can’t believe you did it, and then you just want to sleep [laughs].

PETER: It’s an interesting challenge to do horror on television because horror beats take longer to film. To really do them right, they require a lot of angles. They require a lot of setup to a good scare. That’s not easily or always available to you on a television schedule. It’s how to create a scare with a minimum number of shots so it doesn’t take up your whole day.

Was Adrien Brody your first choice as Charles Boone?

PETER: He was. He was number one on the list. We were so lucky to get him.

JASON: I hate the process of casting. It’s just so hard. You rarely get the first guy you’re after. Right from day one, when we pictured Charles Boone as a haunted New Englander from that time period, Adrien just looks like that. Forget his amazing acting and how he brought the character to life, he’s perfect physically. He is the Charles Boone we always imagined. We were just over the moon when he said, ‘Yeah.’

 Credit: Chris Reardon/EPIX

To borrow a nautical term, he plays the character on a very “even keel.” He whispers most of his lines.

JASON: That was Adrien coming up with the character himself, he really brought that. We always had Charles as an even keel guy. And obviously, he’s wrestling with several things internally and then externally, but that was all Adrien creating the character for himself, right down to wanting the beard. He brought that whole voice thing to the character.

You have two of Canada’s creepiest character actors, Julian Richings [Supernatural’s Death] and Christopher Heyerdahl [True Blood] as major vampires. Did you have a say in their casting, and what were they like to work with?

PETER: Yeah, we did have a say, and it just makes me smile when you mention their names. We love those guys. We would be in our hotel room in Halifax working on the scripts, and we would look over the balcony, and there would be Julian and Christopher walking together through town, our two vampires. They’re both fantastic. Christopher has this incredible presence to play Jacob. He’s 6 foot 3 inches, and he’s just so formidable, physically and as an actor. Adrien loved working with him, loved that scene in the church in episode five when they talked to each other. Adrien came off that day just elated, so energized by the power that those two trade back and forth. And Julian, he looks perfect, but he’s also such a fine actor, just a class act. We had so much fun with him.

JASON: We didn’t know this when we started, but Julian has a fear of the ocean and waves. And we learned this on his first day where he’s in the water in Halifax, and it’s cold and freezing. Poor Julian had to walk into these rough waters, and he did it like a champ and he’s getting battered by waves [laughs]. He was just down for everything. And when you see Julian, you remember him from so many horror-type shows.

I love the look of the vampires. Is there anything that you asked makeup FX creator François Dagenais to do differently in creating the creatures?

PETER: We had François and Patrick Baxter as our monster makeup guys. We wanted to deconstruct a lot of the vampire myth and take them back to their folk roots. Jason referred to them as sort of barnyard vampires, more like vermin, more from the grave and ugly. Not glamorous, not pretty.

JASON: We wanted to go away from the Anne Rice handsome or Twilight-type of thing and go back to the folk roots of vampires. They weren’t pretty, they were death, these things were the living dead. We wanted them to look, feel and smell as if that’s what they were.

PETER: François and Patrick did a great job of giving them that ‘look of the grave,’ as well as the costume designer, Lorna Marie Mugan. Their clothes are a bit tattered and shabby.

The original story is King doing Lovecraft. That’s also carried over in Chapelwaite. Was that running through your head while you were writing?

PETER: For sure. And we didn’t want the payoff to be a physical worm, like in Lovecraft. The worm is really so much bigger than that. It’s one of the Elder Gods. And so that’s why our show goes personal horror, a person’s fear of themselves or what’s within them, and then escalates to an interpersonal horror as Boone takes on the antagonists around him. And then it kicks into a third gear, which would be Lovecraft cosmic horror. And so, the series has an ever-changing face of terror that escalates to the end.

Well, you certainly get into the cosmic horror by the last episodes.

JASON: We were definitely afraid of showing the worm. ‘Oh, man, we can’t just have a giant worm show up. We’ll lose everybody!’ [laughs]

The Nova Scotia locations add such a perfectly gloomy touch to the proceedings. Was the town of Preacher’s Corners built from scratch? Ditto, the home Chapelwaite. Were these existing historical places or standing sets?

JASON: Our art department was phenomenal and, man, did they work hard. Yes, they built the whole town of Preacher’s Corners, of Jerusalem’s Lot. They built a saw mill. They built the whole interior of Chapelwaite. At one point, we had hired every carpenter in Halifax. There were none left! Those guys were under the gun. They were still working on all those sets as we were shooting. And what a beautiful job they did.

PETER: Our production designer was a young guy named Matt Likely, who was the art director on The Lighthouse. He’s a wild talent up there, and he’s the one who honchoed all this building. And we also had the composer from The Witch, Mark Korven. So, we were hoping to evoke some of that folk horror.

 Credit: Chris Reardon/EPIX

You assembled a bunch of other horror people behind the scenes, including director Burr Steers [Pride, Prejudice and Zombies] and screenwriter Scott Kosar [Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake]. Did you seek out horror-friendly guys like that or look for the best people available?

JASON: When putting together the writers’ room, we most definitely wanted people with a good amount of horror background, and Scott Kosar obviously has much of that. He was a no-brainer. Burr has a well-rounded base of work. He’s done everything from small indie films to big films. I worked with him on 17 Again. We liked him because I knew he really worked well with actors. We thought he could bring something a little different than your straightforward horror director, and he did. He really works well with actors, and he had to work with young actors, the kids, and that’s never really easy. He was really good with them.

The “siege” episode, number eight, is pretty intense and scary. Was that the most fun to work on?

PETER: It was fun to work on. It was exhilarating to see the first cuts. It was a very challenging episode for director David Frazee to shoot, even though it is largely one location. There are so many setups and so much action and so much violence. And, David is this extremely energetic director who did a number of episodes of Orphan Black, among other things. He just threw himself into the episode and came up with fantastic shots and action sequences. Considering the resources that he had and the time constraints, what he pulled off is just amazing.

JASON: That was actually one of our favorites to write. Once we finished it, we were really proud of it. You have all that action, but you also have some good character stuff woven in there. So, we got to do both, and that was a great deal of fun.

Have you guys mapped out additional seasons? Would you bring back Boone and his family?

PETER: We are working on that now. We’re hoping we will be picked up, but we’re preparing it just in case. We’ve done a treatment, and we’re going to start trying to block it out a little bit. We would definitely bring Charles Boone back, if he would have us. From the ending, there’s no reason not to.

JASON: What’s cool about that is, you can go anywhere with it now, seeing as Charles is where he is at the end. So, you can jump ahead 20 years, 50 years, 70 years. That’s something we’re definitely thinking about.

Anything else you guys have coming up?

PETER: I directed a thriller horror short that I wrote with some local people I met in my hometown. One of them is Roger Clark, the motion-capture actor star of Red Dead Redemption II. It’s editing now. And I’m hoping to get it into Fantasia next year and find my way back up to the greatest genre film festival I’ve ever attended. That’s my dream for now.

JASON: After working on Chapelwaite for quite some time, I need to do comedy again for a second. I need a little levity back in my life. I finished a comedy script that I had owed for a while, and we’re out to cast. We’ll see what happens. But I’m really looking forward to Chapelwaite’s debut. I hope people tune in. I hope people like it. I hope Stephen King likes it. And I hope we get a season two.

Chapelwaite is airing now exclusively on EPIX – new episodes every Sunday at 10 pm. For more information visit the EPIX site.

Tony Timpone