EXCLUSIVE: This is a pivotal moment for Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy’s Intrepid Pictures, which the duo launched in 2004. After six years creating and producing for Netflix, including the last four under an overall deal, the duo behind The Haunting TV franchise and Midnight Mass are moving to Amazon Studios. Additionally, they are taking on their most ambitious project to date: a screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, which creator Flanagan envisions as a TV series to run for five seasons, followed by two stand-alone features.
In an interview with Deadline, Flanagan and Macy, known for their extensive film and TV work in the horror genre, break the news that they have acquired the rights to the mammoth book series, which draws from multiple genres including dark fantasy, science fantasy, horror and Western. Flanagan reveals that he has written a pilot script and season outlines for The Dark Tower, which he has described for years as his dream project. He has even shared in interviews his vision for the opening shot, a black screen with the words “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” leading to a landscape with a silhouette in the distance.
Attempts by multiple studios to bring The Dark Tower to the screen as a film/TV adaptation over the past decade and a half have resulted in the 2017 Sony/MRC/Imagine movie starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, followed by an Amazon/MRC pilot, written by Glen Mazzara, which didn’t go forward.
Flanagan and Macy, who carved the rights to The Dark Tower out of their Netflix and Amazon Studios overall deals, are taking on the famous property having previously done two feature adaptations of King novels, 2019’s Doctor Sleep and 2017 Gerald’s Game (based on The Shining and Gerald’s Game, respectively), both directed and written/co-written by Flanagan.
In the interview, Flanagan and Macy also speak about their tenure at Netflix that spanned a regime change as well as a reset after the streamer’s stock plunge in the spring, the decision to look for a new TV home and landing at Amazon Studios. They address the cancellation of their most recent Netflix series, The Midnight Club, which came shortly after their new Amazon deal was announced, and tout their final Netflix show, the upcoming limited series The Fall of the House of Usher, an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation whose lead was recast with Bruce Greenwood halfway through production when original star Frank Langella was fired after a misconduct investigation.
The two also talk about their development plans under the Amazon Studios deal, genres beyond horror they would like to expand into, current Prime Video series they admire, as well as a desire to return to features (not part of the Amazon deal) after shifting their attention to TV for the past six years.
DEADLINE: Talk about the decision to make a change, to meet with other studios and ultimately move to Amazon Studios after years at Netflix?
FLANAGAN: I think it’s safe to say that a lot has changed in the industry and Netflix in the four years since we started our deal. So, as this year started and we knew we were coming up to the end of it, we thought it would be very prudent to stick our heads out, look around and see what else may be there for us. Given how much change everything’s gone through in the last few years, we were feeling like there might be a better fit for us, and we’re very much feeling like Amazon is that.
MACY: We’ve had some success with Netflix but they’ve had quite a year. And, they’re exploring how they’re going to respond to that as a company. We’ve noticed changes in our relationship with them — not all bad but we’re in a different place, and we felt earlier this year that we should look around for somebody on whose service our stuff might be a better fit.
FLANAGAN: When we came to Netflix, Cindy Holland was still heading it — I think we felt a real alignment in our priorities. I don’t think we were feeling as strongly for the last year for sure, but the last couple of years really. It’s amazing how much has changed; the whole town feels completely different since then. I think it was definitely inevitable that you’re going to look around.
DEADLINE: Shortly after Deadline announced your new deal with Amazon Studios, word got out that your latest series at Netflix, The Midnight Club, has been canceled, prompting you, Mike, to reveal your Season 2 plans with fans on social media. How did you both feel about the cancellation? Was it unexpected; was it a response to you leaving?
FLANAGAN: Oh, no, I don’t think was a response to us leaving. We’re very disappointed. Of course you always want a show that you designed to be ongoing to go on. As part of a lot of the changes that happened at Netflix over the last few years, we noticed in particular that the strategy with which they roll out new shows has undergone a lot of change.
When we agreed to do The Midnight Club, the entire company was very different. I think we both feel it’s safe to say that a show like that, which we thought was innovative and harder to classify, requires some pretty robust promotion to get off the ground properly, and Netflix’s strategy for promoting new shows has changed quite a bit. So we weren’t entirely surprised at all.
I think we were absolutely saddened. I love so many shows that have been canceled over the years, and I never got that closure with the story, I never got to see how they ended. So it was very important to us that we put that out for the fans to see what we would have done.
DEADLINE: Was there talk with Netflix at any point to do a movie or something else to close out the the series?
FLANAGAN: There’s really never been any talk about that, and the way the rights deals work with the various Christopher Pike titles that had to be licensed for that show. … This is a show that is supposed to play in a relatively short order, and our young cast is getting older and older. It never really seemed feasible to try to pull all those elements back together in time, and with us making a move to Amazon, as well, it’s even more fraught of an idea to try to get all those plates spinning again.
DEADLINE: You have one more show at Netflix, limited series The Fall of the House of Usher. How do you feel about it? Obviously it went through some turmoil during production and a lead casting change, with Bruce Greenwood replacing Frank Langella.
MACY: We’re as thrilled as we could possibly be with how that turned out. We’ve just locked picture on all episodes, so we’ve been living with them a lot lately. And in a lot of ways, I think it’s one of our shows that could connect with the biggest audience. I love it for that reason but it also feels different than anything else on TV, and I’m proud of it for that reason. We’re very optimistic about it. And Netflix says they are too, so we’re counting on them to do right by it.
FLANAGAN: In a lot of ways, I feel like it’s the perfect bow for that Netflix era of Intrepid to pull so many cast members and elements and themes from all of the shows that we did there. It really is kind of a grand curtain call for the Netflix type of work that we did. I can tell you it’s my wife’s favorite of all of the shows, and she is always right. I’m still too close to it to say that I love the show; I’m so excited about it. And, for the tumultuous periods and events during production that you’re talking about, Bruce Greenwood really obliterated any memories of that for us and delivered this incredible performance on a show that we’re really thrilled with. So I have very high hopes for when it finally sees the light of day.
DEADLINE: At Netflix, you have been very much in the genre space. As you are closing that chapter and move to Amazon, what are your plans for the kind of projects you would like to tackle?
FLANAGAN: We very much intend to stay within genre to start, and I think that’s one of the reasons Amazon was excited about us. That’s an area on their service that they’d like to really, really bolster, and we’re thrilled to be on their minds as people who can help with that. There’s this really exciting period right now where we’re putting our favorite ideas up on the table, and they’re coming to us with some really exciting ideas that we wouldn’t have been able to come anywhere near outside of this deal. So it’s going to be about trying to do what it is that we love to do but trying to do it even bigger than we have been able to do in the past.
MACY: Amazon, I think they have an aspiration for genre that is both bigger and broader. I don’t mean that creatively. It’s the same kind of character-forward genre storytelling that we love. They’ve made those bets on more shows and bigger shows, and those are both very exciting things to us.
DEADLINE: Are there any current shows on Prime Video that fit your palette of tone, genre treatment and budgets that you’d like to have for your shows?
FLANAGAN: I’m floored by what they did with The Lord of the Rings on a scale that we’ve never gotten close to. It represents, I think, a very innovative approach to an iconic IP with the full weight of studio support behind it, their confidence they put in a show, the resources they poured in the show. I think we both find that very exciting, because it’s long been on our list of goals to try to stretch into some of that event genre space. And that’s something that we’re optimistic we may be able to accomplish there.
MACY: I would also call out The Boys which has done very well for them. It’s a really, really well done show. I enjoy it, and it’s a great example of how they’ve been able to innovate and maintain a certain level of quality. That stuff we hear from them a lot.
FLANAGAN: The Boys is a great example for us as well because it is so difficult to hold to one genre. It’s something that very confidently stretches the boundaries of the genre that it’s identified the most with, a superhero story, but it does so in such a subversive and fun way that is entirely character based. And that for us is music to our ears; I love that show. I also love the way they’ve made it appointment television. I love the way they roll that show out weekly. I love that they’re leaning back toward that, that weekly release model on so much of their stuff. It’s very cool.
DEADLINE: Speaking about projects based on well-known IP, is there something you have in the works in that area?
FLANAGAN: You’re the first person we’re saying it to, but yes. Predating our deal with Amazon, we acquired the rights to The Dark Tower, which if you know anything about me, you know it has been my Holy Grail of a project for most of my life. We actually have those rights carved out of our Amazon deal, which doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t get behind it at some point — you don’t know. But that’s something we’ve been developing ourselves and are really passionate about finally getting it up on its feet at some point.
DEADLINE: How far along are you in the development? Mike, you have shared your Dark Tower vision in interviews, so you must have at least a synopsis in mind. Are you planning to pitch the project around town?
FLANAGAN: I wrote a pilot, we view it as a as a series that’s going at least five seasons. And having lived with this project as long as I have, I have an enormous amount of it worked out in my brain. But I have a pilot script I’m thrilled with and a very detailed outline for the first season and a broader outline for the subsequent seasons. I think eventually, if we’re able to get it going, there are some other writers I want to fold into that process whom I’ve worked with before; I think they would be really fabulous for a very small, intimate writers room where we can continue to break it.
I’ll tell you, more than half of my life, I’ve closed my eyes and been able to watch a lot of this play out, I’ve dreamed about this. That first shot which comes right off at the first incredible sentence of the first book, The Gunslinger, I’ve had that image just rattling around in my head since I was an undergrad. It’s going to have to get out of there eventually, I really need to get it out of my head.
The pilot script is one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to work on. It’s been surreal working on that. So we’ve been floored and grateful that Stephen King trusts us with such an undertaking, something so precious to him, and we hope to find the right partners to realize it.
DEADLINE: Have you had conversations with Stephen King about The Dark Tower over the years and more recently when you were acquiring the rights? Have you discussed with him your plans for bringing the books to the screen?
FLANAGAN: Absolutely. This happened because I sent him a very, very detailed outline of what I wanted to do with it. And it was in response to that, that he gave us the rights. A project like this, I wouldn’t want to be involved in it at all If we were taking it in a direction that was going to be blasphemous to the Stephen King material, but he’s been very, very supportive and very excited about what we’d like to do with it.
DEADLINE: Initially, more than a decade ago, there were grand plans for a Dark Tower integrated film and TV universe. Is your adaptation strictly a television series?
FLANAGAN: Well, to be honest, the way that I have seen it breaking out is five seasons of television, followed by two stand-alone features. But I think our priority has been trying to get the television side of it going first. We’re not going to put the cart too far ahead of the horse on such a challenging project, but that I think is the perfect way to do it.
DEADLINE: Are you a little bit daunted by the fact that The Dark Tower is considered one of the hardest pieces of literature to be adapted for screen?
FLANAGAN: Oh, of course, we are very aware of that. I think we’ve had good and incremental practice to get there because people said Gerald’s Game was unfilmable; that was daunting. When Doctor Sleep came around, people were saying, oh my god of all the projects to take on, why would you step into the crosshairs there. So I feel like we’ve been gently preparing ourselves for this along the way, but yes, none of it is lost on me.
MACY: If you don’t fell intimidated, you are not doing it right.
FLANAGAN: Yeah, you have to be intimidated by it in order to do it properly. I think that’s absolutely right.
DEADLINE: The Dark Tower MRC pilot was one of the first projects Amazon Studios Head of TV Vernon Sanders worked on after joining the studio. They ultimately passed on it but clearly the company had interest in the IP. Have you spoken with him about potentially pitching your adaptation to them?
FLANAGAN: Oh, sure. They’re very aware of it. We’re just at the very beginning of this new relationship. We were careful to keep it carved out just in case, we would be fairly understanding of any institutional PTSD off of the other attempts they made at adapting it over there. So we wanted to keep that separate. But they’re absolutely aware of it, and if that’s something that they would be interested in, we’ll be thrilled.
DEADLINE: So far, every Intrepid series has been created or co-created by Mike. Under the Amazon deal, are you planning to start working with other creators, writers on their roster or people you have been interested in collaborating with?
FLANAGAN: Oh, absolutely. This has been a priority for our company for a number of years actually, we took a few swings at this at Netflix and just weren’t able to make the rubber meet the road, but supporting and fostering other creators, other exciting writers, other filmmakers is really baked into our mission statement at Intrepid. It’s something we really wanted to do in TV.
Trevor himself also has been flexing his muscles as a creator and as a writer, and that’s an area within our company that we’re exploring expanding as well. We very much want to be in business with some other fantastic showrunners, creators and directors and help amplify them, help support them. Amazon has expressed, I think, a very genuine interest in doing that with us. So I think you’re going to see some Intrepid shows that are showcases for some wonderful new talent.
MACY: Yes, Amazon’s encouraged us to do that, and it’s something that’s really important to us because we feel like the water is warm over there for exactly that.
DEADLINE: You are known for your horror genre brand. Are there other areas that you are interested in pursuing beyond that?
FLANAGAN: We’re always going to want to go where great characters are. Trevor and I both talked about wanting to make things that our children can watch without having to wait until they’re adults to enjoy; family entertainment is something that’s been on our list. Science fiction is something that we really very much wanted to go into. We know that still falls under genre, but we feel like it’s different, it’s occupies a different space than we’ve been in, and that’s something we very much want to get into. And then down the line for us, we are very grateful to have been working in horror as long as we have but we would love to be able to just tell great stories in any space. It’s really all about character for us.
DEADLINE: Unlike Netflix, through their acquisition of MGM, Amazon Studios has access to a deep library of IP. Is there any titles that you already have your eye on?
FLANAGAN: Oh, certainly. And we’re having that conversation now, going through the MGM library in particular to see what there could be for us. There are several things that caught our eye that are probably a little premature to talk about. We’re both very excited that they do have access to some really fantastic existing IP that they’re excited to pursue and to elevate, those are very early and awesome conversations we’re having with them now.
MACY: The other thing that’s great about Amazon is that, obviously books are in their DNA. Adaptations are very exciting to them. When we find a piece of literature that’s interesting to us, they’ve been clear that they want to see it, and they want to see it quickly. They’ve been very welcoming in that sense as well. So I expect you’ll see a lot of that.
DEADLINE: Is anything else else Intrepid plans to focus on in the next few years?
FLANAGAN: Outside of all this wonderful and exciting conversation about television, one thing that we haven’t been able to spend much attention to as a company is our theatrical business. We were working so back to back on the series for the last five years, that that’s something in the coming year as well that we’re very anxious to get back to, so we’re…