Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: Interview with D.J. MacHale

Who better to get to make this discussion of Are You Afraid of the Dark? even more special than the creator himself, D.J. MacHale. His work on television and literature is astonishing to behold. From TV show work writing, producing, or directing shows like Tower of Terror, Criss Cross, Flight 29 Down, and Seasonal Differences to writing the now acclaimed fantasy book series Pendragon, Morpheus Road, and Monster Princess. 

Kevin and I had the chance to interview D.J. MacHale, so I hope you enjoy.

Patricia- What are your favorite cartoons?

D.J.- Bugs Bunny.  No question.  

Patricia- What made you create Are You Afraid of the Dark?

D.J.- I love telling stories...especially spooky stories.

Kevin- Are you or were you a fan of Tales from the Crypt comic book and TV show?

D.J.- I watched it but I wasn’t what you’d call a fan.  I did read the “Creepy” and “Eerie” comic books when I was a kid though.

Patricia- What inspiration did you get to creating Are You Afraid of the Dark?

D.J.- Dark? was very much an homage to one of the greatest shows of all time: The Twilight Zone.  Also, I read thousands of supernatural stories...long and short...when I was young.

Patricia- What was your favorite Are You Afraid of the Dark episode?

D.J.- The Tale of the Midnight Madness.  We were firing on all cylinders with that one.

Patricia- Who was your favorite Midnight Society character?

D.J.- Hard to say because they were all so different.  But Gary was the ringleader and the most like me so I guess I’d say...Gary.

Kevin- How did you feel about Zeebo the Clown?

D.J.- I’m terrified of clowns.  No joke.  Ever since a “clown incident” when I was very little.  As I called it in that episode, it’s known as Bozophobia. 

Patricia- How did you go pitching Are You Afraid of the Dark to Nickelodeon?

D.J.- They didn’t want it at first because they thought parents would go crazy if we tried to scare little kids.  So they turned it down at first.  But a great guy was hired there afterward, found the three-page pitch in a file, pulled it out and said:  “Why aren’t we doing this show???”  If not for him, the show would not have been made.

Patricia- Do you still keep in contact with any of the cast members?

D.J.- Not face to face but many of us have found each other through Facebook.  Not just the cast, but the crew as well.  We call ourselves “Darkies”.

Kevin- What was a typical day of shooting?

D.J.- Making that show was grueling.  Long, long days.  And often we had to shoot into the night because it was Are You Afraid of the DARK?”  Sometimes we’d get to work at 6pm and finish at 6am.  When you shoot scary scenes, it takes a long time because you need lots of shots to be able to build tension.  So it wouldn’t  be weird to be working 14 hour days.  Then of course for me I’d have to go home and work on scripts or look at edits of the show or meet with was challenging.  But I loved it.

Patricia- What was that white stuff that they threw on the fire?

D.J.- Non-Dairy creamer.  That stuff is petroleum based...and burns.  But we also added a little pyrotechnic charge for some oomph.

Patricia- Who were your influences in writing your books?

D.J.- I always write about real life...even if I’m writing fantasy adventure.  I look around and write about stuff that I know, though I build it up to fantastical proportions.  It’s fun.

Patricia- How did you come up with the idea of the Pendragon books?

D.J.- I actually had lots of ideas for different stories and couldn’t decide which one to write.  So I decided to write them all...and tie them together with the story about Bobby vs. Saint Dane.  That’s why I then pitched it as a book series because it was too long for a movie and too big and expensive for a TV show.

Patricia- In the Pendragon books, each of the characters go through a series of adventures and has an aesthetic feel of friendship and making the right decisions. How did you go when creating each obstacle for each character that can relate to the readers?

D.J.- Again, it’s about real life.  People are faced with decisions all the time, and the right decision isn’t always obvious.  Also, often times there IS no right decision.  So I tried to create as many moral/ethical/difficult challenges that would make the characters (and the readers) really have to think about what the right way to go would be.

Patricia- Movies based on books for teenagers and young adults are becoming quite the rage ever since Twilight and The Hunger Games. Will we see a movie adaptation of Pendragon?

D.J.- They’ve been quite the rage for about a hundred years now!  I’ve been having trouble setting up Pendragon because I think the story is just too big and expensive to get a studio to want to take a chance on.

Patricia- Now that your last book in the Morpheus Road trilogy has been released, what will be your next projects?

D.J.- I’m writing a science-fiction thriller.  First draft already complete.  I’ll reveal more info about it as it gets closer to reality.

Kevin- What were your favorite shows as a kid?

D.J.- Yikes.  Too many to name...and it depends on what age you’re talking about.

Kevin- Do you feel that Are You Afraid of the Dark should get a proper DVD release?

D.J.- Absolutely!  Most of the episodes from seasons 1-5 are available on DVD but through a Canadian company and they are very expensive.  I wish Nickelodeon would do a proper U.S. release.

Kevin- What is your favorite Nickelodeon show?

D.J.- Ren & Stimpy.

Kevin- What is your favorite movie?

D.J.- The Guns of Navarone.

Patricia- What advice would you give to someone who wants to pitch an idea for a TV network?

D.J.- First get a job writing on somebody else’s TV show.   You won’t sell a show of your own until you’ve proven you can do it for somebody else.

Kevin- Are you a huge fan of the horror genre?

D.J.- No.  I don’t like the gory violence.  I think it’s too easy.  The scares come from the fear of seeing something disgusting.  But I DO love ghost stories.  Whole different ballgame.

Kevin- What episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark scared you the most?

D.J.- Well...none.  Because I made them!  It’s hard to get scared when you know what’s coming.

Kevin- Did you go on the set on any of the episodes?

D.J.- Of course!  I directed a few dozen and I supervised the making of the rest.  I was what was called the “Show Runner” which means I was responsible for every creative aspect of the show...from scripts to casting to hiring crew to locations to art direction/costumes/make-up to editing to music...  So if you liked the show you can thank me.  If you don’t like can blame me.

Kevin- How do you feel about Nickelodeon now than it was before?

D.J.- I don’t know much about the animation stuff, but with the live action I feel that it’s gotten too one-note.  So  many of the shows look alike.  There isn’t enough variety.  And I can’t tell the difference between Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel.  I call it Disnelodeon.  It didn’t used to be like that. 

Patricia- What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?

D.J.- Learn about everything that you can and then write about it.

Patricia- That's all the questions. Thank you so much, D.J. Take care.

D.J.- You are very welcome.

For more information about D.J. MacHale and his books, you can check out the website You can also follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @DJMacHale. 

Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Take care.

-Patricia and Kevin

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised there are no comments yet! I absolutely adore D.J.'s work. I still have to finish the Pendragon series but it is one of my favorites. As much as a movie would be awesome I understand D.J.'s concern about the cost being more than a studio would take on...but we can still dream!