Robert Kirkman and Chris Black Talk Cinemax’s ‘Outcast’


Cinemax’s new horror series Outcast premieres this Friday, and we’re in official countdown mode! We’ve been able to check out the first four episodes, and saying that we have our new favorite series is a bit of an understatement. Outcast, which films in South Carolina, has in fact already been renewed for a second season.

We were able to sit down with creator Robert Kirkman and executive producer Chris Black a few months ago at SXSW to chat about what fans can expect with the first 10 episodes – take a look below!

When Outcast was being created as a comic, how did it make the leap from we’re going to do a comic to we’re going to do a show?

Robert Kirkman: It was a fairly unique situation. Sharon Tal Yguado, who runs Fox International, heads up the international side of The Walking Dead, so outside of US – Walking Dead is a Fox International show. It’s on all the Fox channels, and they do these really cool worldwide launches where they launch their shows like a movie where they launch it in countries.

Chris Black: Like a hundred twenty countries around the world.

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, all at the same time, and it’s great. We were at some Walking Dead event in between Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, and she just casually was like oh, what are you working on now? You got any new things that you’re cooking up? I thought I was at a comic book convention talking to a fellow comic professional. And so I was like I got this thing I’m doing, it’s about this guy Kyle Barnes, and it’s an exorcism thing, but it’s not really, it’s got some cool elements to it. I did this and blah blah blah. She interrupted me and went, “Well, I’ll buy that.” I was like, “Well I don’t know what’s that’s all about,” and then the next day my people, as they say, called me up and they were like I got this call from Fox International. They want to do this deal, what’s going on, what is this thing they’re talking about?

So even before I had really developed it much as a comic, I just casually sold it which was very strange.

How did that inform writing the comic knowing that was already sold as a show?

Robert Kirman: From then I was just left to my own devices to do what I normally do. I started developing it as a comic book while starting to write it as a pilot. It was weird, because I was writing them both concurrently so there would be times where I would be writing the comic, and I would say, okay well I want to do this scene, but I only have four pages to do this scene… so I’m going to have to take this element and this element out. On the pilot script side, I could put that stuff in.

There were things where scenes ended up being very different just because there are things that work really well in comics and things that work really well in TV, and those are not the same things. It was pretty cool.

They’re in the same vein, but very specific to their medium?

Robert Kirkman: Right, just the fact that there’s motion and sound, took me a long time on Walking Dead to get used to the fact that in television, characters don’t have to say things. In comics, people have to say I feel this way, or I want to do this, and you can do so much with gesture and movement and facial expressions that you can do sometimes facial expression stuff in comics, but you can do so more if somebody can move around without actually speaking. That leads to a different style of writing between the two mediums.

We’ve seen possession stories a lot in the horror genre, and especially within the last five to ten years. Is that the biggest challenge doing a project like this to find a way to keep it fresh, make it new, make it exciting for people where they don’t feel like they’re seeing what they’ve already seen?

Robert Kirman: It’s a great challenge that we knew going into it, and that I feel like we rose to the challenge greatly in the first season and going forward. Knock on wood, I guess. Going into it we knew that like the zombie genre, this is a very well worn, there’s been dozens of movies based on this subject matter, and we kind of know what the audience sort of expects from these stories, and I’m very excited to say that we’re not doing any of that. We’re taking a very different tract with this story line and we’re doing some very cool, very different things, and we’re very much looking at this as a solvable problem. I don’t think anybody’s every really handled exorcism the way that we have. Most exorcism movies you watch, somebody calls in the priest, the priest comes over to the house, he’s like I know what to do here, this guy’s got a demon in him, and he takes the demon out, and then he goes all right I’m going to go home, you guys have a good time. That’s the movie.

Chris Black: Done and done.

Robert Kirman: Well, there you go. You know, watching those movies I always thought, you don’t tell them how to keep it from happening again, and you don’t do any work to figure out why it happened and if it can be prevented, or if it can be stopped, or if you could make it to where this doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again. The fact that the priests in these movies are like well, it’s going to happen again and I’m going to get called and that’ll be great. Is it job security? Is that what they’re after? I don’t really know.

Chris Black: Here’s my card.

Robert Kirman: Over the long form, this is a show that’s going to evolve. The exorcisms are going to be very different. The tactics that the characters use in order to exorcise the demons will evolve and change as they learn more, as they figure out what this phenomenon actually entails, and how to better address it. This is, over the course of many, many seasons, somewhere between ten and a hundred, I’m not nailing it down, you’ll be fine …

Chris Black: Wait, what?

Robert: Okay, just fifty. We’ll actually be looking at the phenomenon of demonic possession as if it might be a solvable problem. Could we eventually get to that point? That’s what our characters are invested in.

I saw an interview when you had said that Outcast was one of the first things you written where you knew the ending as you were already writing it. In terms of the show then, is that the ending of the season, or is that the ending of the series?

Robert Kirman: That would be the ending of the series. The length of it varies, and I don’t exactly have it issue to issue blocked out for the life of the series, but I do know what I’m working towards, and I know, you know, Chris and I have been able to talk about it, and we know what the end game is for both the show and the comic. I know that I have to make Paul Azaceta, the artist on the comic, draw fast enough to where it happens in the comic before it happens on the show so the show doesn’t spoil the comic. These are the things that keep me up at night.

Chris Black: It’s not a competition.

Robert Kirman: No, I tell you.

It’s no Game of Thrones situation where the show catches up.

Robert: No, we don’t have to worry about anything like that.

You don’t read stories about George R.R. Martin being like I can’t make a deadline and have a panic attack?

Robert Kirkman: No, although, he is a much better writer working on a much more complicated project. I don’t consider myself to be in any competition with him, because I would lose.

Chris Black: I think that knowing where you’re going is important, and it’s not like, when Robert says that, it’s not like we know what every episode of the next five, four, five, six seasons of the show is going to be. I think Matt Weiner knew how Mad Men was going to end. Vince Gilligan knew how Breaking Bad was going to end. Marc Cherry knew how Desperate Housewives was going to end. Along the way, the process of crafting those stories … You don’t know what the road, what twists and turns that road is going to take to ultimately get you there. That’s the fun of it, that’s the fun of writing a comic and a …

Robert Kirkman: Yeah, and we’re open to those twists and turns and those new things that come in. Actually, now hearing you say that, I just realized how much of an idiot I sound like in an interview, because I write comics, which is a very long form story telling medium where you don’t necessarily have to have the end game in mind, when anyone who writes a novel or a TV series or anything definitely has to know what the end is.

Chris Black: Not that I think …

Robert Kirkman: You stop it, you stop it.

Chris Black: No, no wait, but it is a new paradigm. It’s this new golden age, it didn’t used to be that way. If you were doing … Like the guys who created CSI, you just keep doing it week after week. You don’t have an end game. It’s an episodic procedural, you don’t need an end game.

Robert Kirkman: But I realize now most writers probably hear me go, this is the first thing I’ve ever had the ending in mind for …

Chris Black: Wait a minute.

Robert Kirkman: And they’re like what the hell is this guy’s problem?

Chris: You know, Vince always said, the pitch for that show was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. He knew what the big arc of that show was.

But that’s still very vague …

Chris Black: Exactly.

Robert Kirkman: Oh, trust me, the ending of Outcast is very vague.

Can you talk a little bit about the boundaries you guys are pushing, because I’m assuming you’re able to get away with a little bit more on Cinemax than AMC.

Robert Kirkman: Yes, I don’t know, you want to riff on that for a minute?

Chris Black: Yeah, it’s nice to not have to be held back by broadcast standards and practices, and I’ve done a lot of broadcast network television where it’s sometimes the limitations seem insane, to really be in terms of violence, or the graphic nature of the violence, or sex, and there’s not a ton of sex on our show, or cursing. We can do all of that, but to me those aren’t the boundaries that are fun to push. To me, it’s storytelling boundaries. It’s being able to tell stories that would make a broadcast network executive nervous. We can’t have our lead character do that. That’s going to offend people. People will be too shocked. You’re damaging this character in a way we can’t get him back from, that we’re not going to allow that kind of storytelling. Then in a premium cable channel, they’re like great, that sounds really like a bold choice. Let’s do that. To me, that’s the great, what’s truly liberating about working in a place like Cinemax, even more so than we can show as much nudity and gore as we want, which is a nice bonus, but that’s not really what we’re trying to do.

Outcast premieres June 3, 2016 on Cinemax! Will you be watching? Let us know your thoughts on the new series below!

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