Timing is everything, especially where a pandemic is concerned. At the beginning of 2020 the CW and Stage 13 horror anthology series, “Two Sentence Horror Stories,” was just starting production on Season 2. Just three weeks into prep, the show was greenlit for Season 3. But the confidence of already having the go-ahead for another season was tempered by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was in the writing room, briefly, in L.A. in mid-March and flew back to Canada about 24 hours before the travel ban and quarantine was put in place,” the show’s executive producer, Liz Levine, told IndieWire. But arriving in Canada in the nick of time to start production was more than an added blessing; for Levine and the writers room, it gave them an opportunity to use the uncertain times to refine and strengthen their scripts to talk about more than just what goes bump in the night.
Moving with all the speed of a bullet train, as Levine said, “Two Sentence Horror Stories” utilized the nation’s fear and uncertainty to create a season that accurately reflected the day-to-day horror of everything. The first two episodes of Season 2, “Bag Man” and “Elliott,” thrive on isolation as both a matter of necessity and storytelling. The former is a dark tale about a group of high schoolers trapped in detention with more than just their irritable principal, while the latter tells about a trans student who gets the opportunity to seek revenge against those who’ve wronged him — but for a price.
By focusing on a small core of individuals, Levine said there was an opportunity to keep the stories grounded while adhering to medical guidelines. The series has never aimed to be grandiose, with stories being encapsulated in bottle episodes, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t come with a hefty dose of on-set inventiveness. In the end, the show filmed its entire season without a single positive COVID test among those on its Canadian set.
“Can we build that art closet that’s big enough for three kids to hide in? And what kind of power do we have by taking it out of a live location and away from some of the concerns connected to COVID [while] increasing our creative control and allowing the builds to be really specific,” Levine said.
“There’s a lot of complication behind the scene, in terms of mask wearing, and how you fit a camera, a director, those five kids and a principal [in “Bag Man”] all within four walls of a room and maintain your social distance,” she said. Because of the constraints, certain concessions had to be made, particularly with background performers.
In the case of “Elliott,” Levine said they’d have loved to have filled the halls with 50 teenage extras to make the high school look like an actual school day. Unfortunately, because of the need to test everyone — and the inability to plan for how extras will spend their time after the end of a work day — it wasn’t worth the risk.
A key element of Season 2’s success was working in Canada, where a majority of The CW’s series are filmed. Levine said it felt like there was a different, more urgent response to events in Canada in comparison to the United States, and with so much of the crew having connections within the U.S., it was hard for them not to have concern for those across the border. “I have a world, and a home, and friends, and a life there. Mostly, we feel worried about our friends and we feel sad for America, particularly [with] COVID,” Levine said. “Los Angeles feels very scary to me, for the people I love there, but we’re thankful to be in Canada.”
“We feel really privileged to be working,” Levine said, and with preparations for Season 3 underway she says she is planning for all possibilities, including vaccinations. “A good EP [executive producer] always plans for the worst and hopes for the best,” she said.
The crew will go into preparation on the next season in March and, Levine said, since vaccines are being dispensed by age group, the assumption is not everyone will have access by the time cameras roll. So, in the meantime, the show will continue to prioritize working with Canadian directors, actors, and crew, to protect against all eventualities.
“Two Sentence Horror Stories” airs on The CW Tuesday nights.