While Nelson Cragg has primarily worked as a cinematographer, in recent years he has dipped his toe in the directing pool. After directing episodes of shows like “American Horror Story” and “Pose,” Cragg faced his biggest challenge yet with the Amazon horror anthology series “Them,” for which he directed four episodes including the pilot. The series centers on the Emorys, a Black family living in the 1950s who experience virulent racism when they move to a white neighborhood in Compton. “What does it feel like to experience institutionalized racism everywhere you go, every moment, there are no safe spaces?” says Cragg in an exclusive new webchat for Gold Derby. “How do you translate that into a TV show?” Watch the full video interview above.
“Them” viewers experience not only the terror of racism but the supernatural spirits that haunt the Emory family. It was important to establish this unrelenting tone in the pilot, which Cragg directed, alongside the season’s second, fourth and eighth episodes. “I wanted the viewer to feel a sense of tension and dread throughout the whole thing, even in the happier moments which are very few and far between,” the director explains. “We really tried to put you in the experience of that family and try to make the viewer feel like what it would feel like to be in that situation.”
The series evokes horror films of the past in its cinematography and visual palette, as part of creator Little Marvin‘s vision. “I drew on a lot of ‘70s horror movies to bring a lot of grittiness to it,” reveals Cragg. “We wanted the space to be polished, but as we get into the story, we break it down and we’re playing with that idea of safe spaces.” Primary references included the films of Alfred Hitchcock, especially “Vertigo,” and the ’70s classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
This TV season, Cragg also directed an episode of “Ratched,” another dark period piece. “I always keep doing these darker things,” he laughs. “I’m half-Korean and I think otherness and being on the outside of things, I’m just interested in those kinds of stories.” While he finds the horror and thriller genres to be good opportunities to tell unique stories, he doesn’t want to limit himself too much. He quips, “I’d like to maybe do a comedy at some point.”
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