Exclusive: Jeff Davis on MTV's "Teen Wolf" Remix

Exclusive Interview with Jeff Davis
Interview by Jamie Ruby and AJ Grillo
Written by Jamie Ruby

Teen WolfMTV premieres it's newest remake this summer, Teen Wolf. The series stars Tyler Posey as new werewolf Scott McCall in the adaptation. He is joined by his potential love interest Allison Argent, played by Crystal Reed. Dylan O'Brien plays Scott's best friend, Stiles, and Tyler Hoechlin plays Derek Hale, the wolf who tries to help Scott with his new lifestyle. Other cast includes Holland Roden as Lydia Martin and Colton Haynes as Jackson Whittemore.

Creator and executive producer of the series, Jeff Davis, who is probably best known as the creative mind behind the television series Criminal Minds, sat down for an exclusive interview with Scifi Vision to talk about his newest series.

Davis first started writing screen plays when he was only sixteen. "I always said if I had a social life in high school I probably wouldn't be a writer. I started writing scripts, I actually wrote a novel in high school, which is bizarre. I went to USC for grad school, starting off in directing, and realized I didn't have any time to do what I really wanted, which was write. So I switched over to the screenwriting program at USC. Got my masters in screenwriting and was lucky enough to get a feature script optioned pretty much right after leaving. I worked and slaved in IT as a computer specialist for awhile, and then sold a couple of scripts to movies, was getting caught in development hell...

"But I was getting very frustrated that nothing was getting made. And I said to my agent, "Well they make stuff in TV. They have to; they have deadlines and air space to fill on their channels," so I had an idea for a TV show, and that became Criminal Minds. I've just kind of taken off from there."

Davis did not have trouble switching gears to work on Teen Wolf. "The funny thing is is I did Criminal Minds and that was a show about monsters as well, they were just human. And its moving from the suspense genre to a more horror comedy thriller type story. It's actually been a lot of fun for me as a writer to be able to transition from something pretty serious and dark to something a little more fantastic."

Teen WolfDavis is glad that these types of stories are popular now. "As a writer, I consider myself an entertainner, first and foremost, but as a writer, it's so nice to see that generation embracing genre stories. I mean, I love horror movies, I love thrillers, I love suspense, I love sci-fi, and it's nice to see genre really making a comback in TV...

"On network TV a lot of the sci-fi shows, the writers are actually told, "Can we make it less sci-fi?" or "Can we make it less about monsters?" I was told during one pitch season that the networks did not want to hear any shows about monsters. Well, what happened that season? The Walking Dead came out and did six million viewers, and it was the biggest hit on cable, and now everybody wants a zombie show. It's nice to see that audiences are embracing it, hopefully they'll embrace us too."

Luckily MTV was one of the networks interested in that type of series. Davis was first approached by MTV about Teen Wolf. "It was the idea of the former president of programming at MTV. Tony DiSanto and I were working on another TV project with one of the other producers who was being brought in, Marty Adelstein and Michael Thorn, with whom I was doing another show. They said to me, "Looks like we're going to be attached as producers to Teen Wolf for MTV, we're starting to get in to script it, would you be interested?" And I said, "I love the original movie, so I'll ask them how they plan to proceed with it."

"So I had basically a general meeting with MTV and I asked them, "You know the original movie's really a comedy, and it's actually a basketball movie," and I said, "Is that how you want to go with it?" And they said, "Actually we want to do something a little darker, a little sexier, and a little scarier; update it for a little more modern audience." So the first thing out of my mouth, I said, "Well what if we do it like The Lost Boys?" Which is sexy, scary, but still funny as well. And they said, "That's exactly what we want to do." So it kind of proceeded from there. And I came up with a few ideas and wrote the pilot, and here we are now."

The first season will span twelve episodes which is standard for MTV. The trailer did really well. "We've been really lucky so far. Our trailer itself, the trailer they played during the MTV shows Real World, Teen Mom, and Jersey Shore Reunion...the trailer was the most watched show. Three minutes in cable for 18-49 demographic, which is kind of extraordinary. In fact, four million people were watching Teen Mom 2, the finale, and it went up to five million during our trailer, and then back down to four million, which is quite, quite nice, so a lot of people tuned in."

MTV is being very careful about what is released in the trailers so that they don't give too much away. "It's a very calculated PR marketing campaign, and I think they've been pretty smart so far. I think the initial trailer sells quite well the romance and the drama of the series, but there's actually quite a bit of humor as well. And what we've really gone for in this show is a kind of a wish fulfillment type story, but with action, thrills, and mystery as well. So I think audiences will actually be pretty surprised at what they see."

The new series does share some similarities to the original. "It is still the same story. It's about a teenage boy who discovers that he's a werewolf, and how the new abilities and powers that he has changes his life.

"And we actually do play very great homage and reverence to the original movie. We still have the character Stiles. We have the character of the coach, in scenes that actually almost perfectly mirror scenes from the movie. There's a scene in episode two in particular, and there's one in episode eight, that gives the audience a very specific reference to the movie that I think they'll enjoy. So we do pay a lot of reverence to the movie."

Still, the series will stand on its own. "You can call it a reboot, a reimagining, or a remake, I guess at MTV a good word would probably be "remix." Take the original song and give it a new beat. So, that's kind of what we are trying to do, take the original movie, give it a new beat. Make it a little darker, a little sexier, but keeping the fun of it as well.

"One thing the initial trailer doesn't show is that there is a lot of adventure to the show. I think the other TV shows out there with the many vampire stories and the zombie stories, they take...an almost absolutely realistic point of view...This one, we have a little more fun with it. I think we ride the border of crossing into a world kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But the original idea actually was to go for something kind of like The Lost Boys, which is a favorite movie of mine as a kid. I grew up with Teen Wolf too as well, so I wouldn't want to damage the original movie."
Tyler Posey as Scott McCall
Photo Credit Dewey Nicks/MTV

The new series will feature more traditional werewolf lore compared to the original Teen Wolf movie. "The decision was made because of dramatic conflict. Really, a ninety minute movie has a lot less time in which to tell its story, we have 8 1/2 hours. So we've got to stretch the conflicts over twelve episodes in one season. So you want to pack as much dramatic conflict as possible. And in reading up about werewolves we found that the mythology out there kind of lends itself to better conflict because a bitten werewolf is considered the more monstrous one, the one that's more out of control. Whereas the werewolf who was born into it has more control - can control his transformations on the full moon and is less of a monster. It seemed like it would give us just more room to play with conflict in stories. To make Scott McCall our main character less in control. And we do have the one who is born into it, we switch that to the older werewolf, Derek, so at a certain point in story, he actually says to Scott, in this kind of master-apprentice relationship that they have, he says, "I don't know if I can teach you; you were bitten, I was born into this."

Davis was inspired by other stories in the genre, but Teen Wolf will be different then what fans of other recent series and movies are used to. "As a fan of the genre it is nice to see so many stories like these coming out. I grew up on horror movies. I remember sitting at home watching Abbott and Costello meets Frankenstein on tv in the afternoons, and just loving the old horror stories...

"We were definitely inspired by American Werewolf in London, by The Howling, by all of those. And I think one thing we wanted to make sure that we did was, we wanted to use real makeup effects, combined with CGI, but real prosthetics. We wanted fake teeth; we wanted lenses. A lot of the other TV shows or projects have werewolves, but they turn into wolves.

"And it always, I'm a fan of Twilight myself, I actually read the first two books in preparation for writing this, because I wanted to make sure there was no real crossover between the two projects. And it was funny, because in the third movie, she (Bella, played by Kristen Stewart) pets Jacob (played by Taylor Lautner) when he's turned into a wolf. We always say now that the other werewolves from other movies have werewolves you can pet; we have one you can kiss. We wanted to go for more of a Beauty and the Beast type story, so it was important to us to retain some humanity in the face of our werewolf.

"But we just get all kinds of werewolves in our show. We have what's called the Beta and the Alpha, and the Beta is the younger werewolf, a kind of a more sleeker version of the standard werewolf image you've known. So we are trying to differentiate ourselves in that way, definitely.

"We also did do quite a bit of research, and there is so much great werewolf mythology out there, it seems that every single society or culture out there has some sort of shape shifter stories. And the wolf is always ever present. Partially because wolves are such fantastic predators, I think. They're singularily good at being predators, and one of the reasons they actually hunt in packs is because their favorite prey is always larger than themselves; they have to take down a number of them. Which is fascinating to me. So it makes them very scary. I think that's one of the things we like about wolves. They're the more deadly version of man's best friend, so, and the idea is that your best friend is deadly. That's kind of a thrilling story to tell. And that is kind of our story."

There may be more than one kind of werewolf, but the series will not follow in a lot of the similar supernatural series of its kind by bringing in other paranormal creatures, like vampires, for example. "For the moment, it's going to focus on the werewolf. We want to make sure that we pay very good attention to the many werewolf mythologies out there. There's so much out there that we have plenty of room to play. But I've always said, if we do introduce other supernatural creatures, they definitely won't be vampires. And ask me that question in season five again when we've completely run out of ideas...I always think that if you give your characters enough struggles and enough hopes and fears to battle with, then you can tell as many stories as you want."

For the series they were able to get talented makeup and special effects artists. "We have...several Academy Award winners. K.N.B. is one who designed our main werewolves, and we also have a fantastic guy named Greg Funk, who has done a lot of the applications. He was nominated for an Academy Award this year. So we have really detailed prosthetic work being done, appliances that our poor, unfortunate actors have to sit through for several hours. But then we also are [blessed] with some really state of the art CGI brought to us by Eden FX, guys who worked on Lost for quite awhile. They most recently did the special effects for The Cape. These are, I think some of the best CGI is when it really just supplements a show, and you don't really notice it, and they're also really good at creature effects as well, which really helps us. So we've got a lot of talented people working for us."

Even with the special effects, not a lot of green screen was used. "One of the things, green screen I find is great for getting locations, but we actually found great locations, great forests, great distance, really, in Atlanta where we're shooting. It's a beautiful city. Georgia is gorgeous, and we're able to get quite a bit of real location value out of it. And lucky enough to as well have Russell Mulcahy who directed Highlander, directed one of the Resident Evils, really, really talented filmmaker. And also someone who came up through MTV having done the famous Duran Duran videos that I loved as a kid, like "Hungry Like the Wolf" he directed. He has directed six episodes, and is coexecutive producer on the show. He's helped bring it a really filmic look. So we have that going for us as well."
Tyler Posey and Crystal Reed as Scott and Allison
Photo Credit Dewey Nicks/MTV

Davis is working with a younger cast this time compared to Criminal Minds, but he loves it. "They are all such good people, and working on Criminal Minds, these were very talented professionals who've had quite successful careers. There was only one or two really new people to the business...and it was new to them, but the others were quite seasoned...So they took it all in stride. When you come with a new cast who hasn't had that kind of level of success yet, it's interesting to see them grow, and it's exciting. And I tell them all the same thing before a huge hit, "Please don't become monsters in the second season, when you become famous, because I'll fire you." [laughs] Anyone on this show can become werewolf food [laughs]."

One cast member that Davis enjoys working with is J.R. Bourne. "[He] is a phenomenal actor. It was funny how he was cast, because we were down to the wire in getting this character. We brought him in several times, and he was just phenomenal. He has such gravitas and presence on screen. And he actually just got booked in a pilot for Michael Patrick King, and I had dinner with him the other night, and I said, "I hope you don't hate me for saying this, but I hope your pilot completely fails." [laughs] Because I want him back for just about every episode of the second season. He's an amazing guy, an extraordinary actor, and I think he's really on the cusp of breaking out, as a star."

The thing that Davis enjoys most about working on the series is the people. "I'm working with such extraordinarily talented people and we have an amazing crew. A fantastic panel of producers I work with are incredible. The best is coming to work every day is to do something you love. That's one of the real joys as an executive producer is to be able to have the power to surround myself with people I enjoy working with. That's a gift, and I also get to work on a genre show and tell exactly the kind of stories I want to tell. I mean I'm telling stories about werewolves. We have action scenes, we have fight scenes, we have suspense, we have romance. It's really fun."

Davis enjoys all aspects of the work, and he's involved in just about every aspect of production. "I'm involved...all the way down, I'll annoy the make-up artist by taking a scissor or a brush out of their hand and doing it myself. I will actually run past the camera onto set to fix Tyler Posey's hair. I'm there annoying everyone with my fastidiousness and particularness. The writing, producing, everything."

Davis is very particular when it comes to the dialog as well. "To me it's almost like music, it has a certain rhythm and cadence. So I'll often ask them to stick to the script. But there is one actor who I definitely allow improvs: Dylan O'Brien, who is such a natural comedian and whose lines, whose improvs do show up in the show. There are a few others, we actually have a stand-up comic playing the coach, his name is Orny Adams, and he's incredibly funny and he'll come up with new lines with me. But a lot of the time we stick to the script."

Davis's favorite is the grave digging scene. "It involves Dylan O'Brien as Stiles and Tyler Posey as Scott McCall. And in certain movies and TV series I think actors find their characters and it's this scene where they seem to have found theirs. It's funny, it's surprising, it's scary all at the same time and they have such chemistry. When we were in the editing room I looked at my editor and said they're the new Coreys. They just feel like they have such good chemistry together. And that's one of my favorite scenes of the whole show. Basically they're going to dig up what they think is the other half of the body they were searching for in the pilot, so you'll see it in the second episode."

Teen WolfOne thing Davis is often asked about, is the possibility of Michael J. Fox, the star of the original movie, appearing on the series. "We've been asked that actually a number of times since we've wrapped, and the idea we always had was, we really would love him to say yes, and he probably only would if we're a hit. So we're kind of waiting, hoping, and praying that we're a massive hit, and he can't say no. So that was the idea of how to approach him. So maybe someone is reading this that knows him and will talk to him. So we'll grab him in for second season."

Another person that Davis would love to have guest star on the show is Andrew Garfield. "[He] said in an interview recently that he would guest star on Teen Wolf. In Empire Magazine, Andrew Garfield, has said that his original inspiration came from Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf 2. He was asked about the new TV series, and he said he would absolutely star on it. I would love for him to do a cameo on the show."

Davis has some advice for someone wanting to become a writer for television. "My advice is A: move to LA immediately, and B: write. Tell the stories you want to write. Don't write stories that you want to sell; write the stories that you want to see as a viewer yourself. And hopefully you have tastes that are similar to most audiences. If you write the stuff you'd love to see as your own, you or yourself, you'll be a success. I actually remember a James Cameron quote that has stuck with me for a long time. One of my absolute favorite movies of all time, if I'm flipping through TV and it's there, I can't not watch it, which is Aliens. James Cameron said that when he sat down to write it he said that he just wrote the movie that he would die to see as a thirteen year old and that's a lot of what I do when I sit down to write, is, write the movie or write the TV show that I would want to see."

For now, Davis isn't worried about his future beyond Teen Wolf. "I have several producers asking me if I want to develop for next season and it's hard to say yes to that until I hear about a second season of Teen Wolf. My whole life right now is Teen Wolf, Teen Wolf, twenty four seven. So I'm pretty much holding a few things at bay, because this is where my heart and soul lies for the moment."

With the popularity of these types of stories today, Teen Wolf has a great chance of getting that second season.

Teen Wolf will debut on MTV on June 5th following the MTV Movie Awards at 11/10c and continue June 6th at 10/9c, in its regular Monday night time slot.

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