Jeff Schechter is the Executive Producer of ABC Family’s hit new series Stitchers. He is also the author of the bestselling novel My Story Can Beat Up Your Story.
Read our interview with Jeff below!
Where did the idea for Stitchers come from?
“A few years back I was pitched an idea about some kids in middle school. They were in the computer club and would create virtual reality worlds to go into and solve crimes. I was doing a lot of teen/tween shows then and sparked to the idea, but I wanted to age it up and make it something edgier and more adult. Also, I felt that going into the VR world was a bit done. One of the early suggestions was changing the hook to going into the memories of the dead, which was a much cooler idea.”
Do you think the science of Stitchers holds real world applications?
“Absolutely! There are over 6 billion brains in the world, and we don’t fully understand even one of them! Stitchers technology is an amalgam of real world technologies and represents some of the research going on now in brain function. Scientists have implanted false memories in mice, have started mapping memory centers in the brain. I just read an article on electronic mind reading in Smithsonian Magazine. These are real world applications of associated technologies. It all leads, eventually, to being able to understand and harness the power of the brain.”
What is an average day like for you?
“I have several types of average days. During pre-production of the series an average day is generally a regular 8 hour day with the writers. As soon as we get into active pre-production of the first episode my average day turn into 10 to 12 hour days. As soon as the cameras start rolling I’m rocking 14 to 16 hours a day. But it’s energizing rather than exhausting. The toughest days are towards the middle of the season when I’m involved with the writing of whatever upcoming episodes are still being written, the pre-production of the next episode to be shot, the production of the current episode that’s shooting, the editing of the previously shot episode and the effects and mixing of the previously, previously shot episodes. Those are the days where I am literally at the maximum of what I can accomplish in a 24 hour period. Fortunately, that period doesn’t last more than a few weeks before things start to de-escalate as we get to the end of the production cycle.”
How do you balance constructing the story you want to tell versus feedback from fans and the studio?
“Season 1 was completely shot and edited before we aired, so there was no fan feedback at all. For season 2 we’re going to have some hard data from fan engagement, focus studies, and social media as to what our fans really respond to and want to see more of. And of course, the studio is writing the checks, so they have the ultimate veto power over stories. That being said, ABC Family has been wonderful to work with and creatively I couldn’t hope for better partners.”
What did you look for when you hired the writers?
“Filling out a writers room is like casting the show. It’s even called casting the room. We look to make sure that people in the room are expert at least one of the check boxes we mentally keep about what the show needs: millennial relatable, procedural cases, comedy, banter, intriguing relationships, etc. Most writers check off several boxes. It’s like assembling a strike team: we want to make sure that whatever our stories need, there’s someone in the room we can rely on to deliver in that area when all else fails. That’s on the professional side. On the personal side, I look for writers who are non-toxic. We have a “no a-holes” rule, and the writers become an extended family to each other. There’s no greater work experience than showing up every day and hanging out with a dozen people you’re crazy about.”
What did you look for when hiring the cast?
“We wanted the best actors we could get. Great talents who can not only play the seriousness of the concept (dealing with the dead) but who also have a particular lightness of touch. The role of Kirsten was the trickiest because she starts off season 1 as being completely emotionally cut off. Those types of characters run the risk of alienating the audience, so we needed someone who was tough and snarky, but not distancing.”
How much time was spent on Stitchers before it was released?
“We shot a pilot for the series in June of 2014. It was ordered to series in late September, we started shooting in January 2015 and premiered in June 2015, almost exactly 1 year to the day from when we started shooting the pilot. I wrote the original pilot script a little less than a year before the original pilot, so from first words on computer to today it’s been about 2 years.”
How are you feeling now that the show has been picked up for a second season?
“Elated and grateful. ABC Family has, literally from day one, been hugely supportive and enthusiastic. They understand their audience better than anyone and have confidence that the show will continue to build the fan base. We’re already the #1 scripted cable show in the time slot, and while our live numbers might seem low, they don’t tell the story of our viewership. Our audience, in shockingly large numbers, don’t watch the show live; they DVR and watch it later, or stream it online, or watch on Hulu or iTunes. We have a growing fan base and we’re jazzed to be able to deliver to them a season 2 that builds from and expands on the stories we told in season 1.”
How much of a difference is it when you direct or produce versus writing?
“In television, directors have a huge responsibility, and they are the captain of the ship on set. Directorial authority is real and not to be messed with. That being said, visiting directors know that they’re there to fulfill the vision of the show runner/producer. Writers live in a world of constant compromise, so they’re used to seeing their vision ‘managed’ to one degree or another. Many writers aspire to being creators and show runners. And if they don’t, and they want to protect their writerly vision, then they should!”
How difficult or easy was it to pitch Stitchers?
“There was no real pitching involved. I wrote the script completely as a spec pilot, and as soon as it started making the rounds there was immediate interest. Once it got to ABC Family however, things moved very quickly. There was no development on the script, and we basically shot it as written about six weeks after my first conversations with the network. It’s the type of writer story that makes people think that’s how the business works, but it doesn’t. It’s uncommon for something to move that quickly. It was a case of the planets lining up at just the right time. I’ve been on both sides of lucky and unlucky with getting projects going. I prefer lucky.”
Do you know how the show is ultimately going to end? Or are you waiting to see the response from audiences?
“I have a very clear understanding of the whole, epic mythology and story. Does that mean it’s a done deal? Not at all! The beauty of Stitchers is that as creators we’re on as much a journey of discovery as Kirsten is.”