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Sam Raimi on 50 States of Fright, The Golden Arm and Doctor Strange 2

The new entertainment app Quibi launched on April 6, and this week we got the first offering from the horror series 50 States of Fright. This one is called The Golden Arm and consists of three episodes, co-written and directed by horror legend Sam Raimi.

We got a chance to chat with Raimi today about his work on 50 States of Fright, which he executive produces, and his chapter, based on a legend from his home state of Michigan. He also gives us a bit of info on directing the upcoming Marvel film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The Golden Arm stars Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Travis Fimmel (Vikings) and John Marshall Jones (The Last Revolutionary).

Raimi told us about working within the strict time limits for Quibi, making each episode five to 10 minutes. He said that one of the big challenges was, “limited time to shoot, like any television program would have… limited resources. These are not big budget films. They are fairly precise with the budgeting. You have a TV budget, and with ’50 States of Fright,’ the budget was really put upon. For us it was like making nine independent films.”

He explained that they didn’t have a lot of money for things because it’s a different cast, wardrobe, etc. for each story, which made it more expensive. “It came down to not relying on visual effects, or big budgets…” He told us that it was about simple story construction and simple tales to please the audience.

With Quibi, you have both a vertical and horizontal format, though Raimi told us that his version was not shot vertically. He said it was cropped in post. Raimi explained that his chapter was shot before Quibi had perfected its turnstile technology. He said it was all his editor in terms of cropping. He also said they really had no limitations about how gory or bloody his chapter should be.

Each chapter of the series is based on a local legend from a specific state. Raimi said the producers from Gunpowder & Sky came to him with the idea. He remembered ghost story books in bookstores in Michigan. “I realized… there must be stories and writers for every state.” He pitched it to Jeffrey Katzenberg, though he did say he originally thought this would be a regular TV anthology.

In terms of working with Brosnahan and Fimmel, Raimi said that both actors had really great ideas about the script. He’d met Fimmel before on a project that never got made, and said that he had a “great take” on the script and thought he’d be “a great collaborator.” As for Brosnahan, Raimi said, “I loved her on that show… I know a lot of it is the writing and directing, but a lot of it is powered by her incredibly realistic and fun, light… performance.” On the first day, he said, “they both had great suggestions,” and that they were great collaborators.

Raimi added that this was one of the urban legends that terrified him as a kid, though he also mentioned the story about a couple necking in a deserted spot when the car dies. One of them says he’ll go to the gas station and the guy doesn’t come back. The woman hears a tapping on the top of the car. The tapping is coming from blood dripping from her partner, who has been murdered and is strung up over the car.

Raimi also spoke about some of the visual and audio tricks he used to keep audiences riveted and keep the story dynamic. He said, “I don’t want to keep things on a monochromatic level, certainly not when I am not trying to lull the audience into a state of complacency. I’m trying to shock and scare them… myself, the sound designers and the mixers and the editor were using, let’s just say volume, as a device, a tool to lull them into a state of suspense, and then try to push the audio gain in those moments.

“Other times we want them to be taken into the story, to let them feel the love of the characters, for instance, so we’ll drop a wave of realistic sounds,” and have the music play. He also mentioned mixing a breathing sound that Brosnahan’s character makes into the wind later in the story. He actually made the sounds for us over the call, then joked about how we probably couldn’t put that in our stories! 

Raimi was asked about whether or not he found it funny that he’s going to be taking on the Doctor Strange sequel for Marvel Studios after mentioning him in Spider-Man, and whether or not he had an itch to explore that character. Raimi said, “I loved Doctor Strange as a kid, but he was always after Spider-Man and Batman for me. He was probably like number five for me of great comic book characters. He was so original.

“But no, when we had that moment in the first Spider-Man movie, I had no idea that we would ever be making a Doctor Strange movie, so it was really funny to me also, that coincidentally that line was in the first Spider-Man movie… I wish I had the foresight to know I was going to be involved in the project.”

Now streaming, the first season of 50 States of Fright explores stories based on urban legends from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon and Washington. The series takes viewers deeper into the horrors that lurk just beneath the surface of our country.

Also starring in the series are Christina Ricci, Jacob Batalon, Ming-Na Wen, Taissa Farmiga, Asa Butterfield, Ron Livingston, Victoria Justice, Karen Allen, Colin Ford, Alex Fitzalan, James Ransone, Emily Hampshire, Elizabeth Reaser, Rory Culkin, Warren Christie, Danay Garcia and William B. Davis.

In addition to The Golden Arm, you can now watch the first episode of the next chapter, Ball of Twine, starring Ming-Na Wen (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), directed by Yoko Okomura.

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