Director Jan Pavlacky Talks Haunted, the Supernatural, and Becoming Netflix’s First Czech Director
Jan Pavlacky is an internationally accomplished director who has made a name for himself throughout his leading efforts for a number of highly renowned and critically lauded film, television, music video, and commercial productions including Bka 49-77, which earned him the Best Script Award from the UK Film Festival, as well as commercials for household names Nivea Mem, Theraflu, Pilsner Urquell and GS Enerix. His standing as a go-to director for numerous production companies including Milk & Honey, ATSwim TV, and others has established Jan at the very top of his craft. Noting these achievements, Netflix tapped Jan to direct the streaming giant’s new horror series Haunted, a uniquely inspired production that brings real horror stories to the small screen. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Jan spoke to us about the inspiration behind the series, how his work on Haunted differed from his past projects as a director, and what it feels like to be the first Czech director to work with Netflix.
With titles like The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, it really seems like Netflix is establishing itself as a go-to source for horror and suspense content for fans around the world. While these titles are clearly works of fiction, Haunted is staking a claim as one of the first reality docuseries of its kind by translating real horror stories into episodic depictions of real events. From interviewing witnesses to directing the actors throughout the recreation of these stories, can you describe the process of bringing these stories to life on screen?
I believe Haunted helps to fill out the spectrum of Halloween shows on Netflix. As you mentioned, besides the “big” fictions, Netflix wants to have shows like Haunted, which operates on a smaller scale. Haunted is a docudrama where the real-life elements play a crucial role. In the re-creations, the viewers get their dose of scary and entertaining moments, but at the same time they also get to witness real emotions in a circle of family and friends – something everybody can relate to. Seeing real people, not actors, can a create stronger bond and identification with the story. The tension between “unbelievable” and “believable” creates an interesting dynamic. The spectators have a strong connection to the storytellers, and experience their stories in a more direct way while seeing them in full force in the re-creations.
As for my involvement in the project. I was approached by Propagate Content, a US production that originated the idea. The initial contact went through Milk and Honey Pictures – which produced the re-creations in the Czech Republic. The interviews were shot here in the USA. My process started in picking the visually and dramatically most interesting pieces from the interviews and creating an overall script for the show. Although Haunted is an unscripted show, we did have screenplays — on which I closely collaborated with the showrunner, Jordan Roberts — for every episode. After the scripts were finalized, a standard production process followed, and my approach was not much different from directing any other fiction, be it a movie or TV series.
How was working on Haunted different than other projects you have worked on? How did the reality of these stories affect the way that you approached telling them?
Haunted is my first show for Netflix. I come mainly from TV commercials, an environment which gave me a great deal of experience in working in different parts of the world with international crews. This background helps me to work in all sorts of genres and styles. Also, I’m used to sharing and creating my visions in collaboration with others. While, on commercials, these would be people from the creative agencies and the client itself, here it was mainly the showrunner and the other executive producers. Regarding my directing approach, each story had to be treated in a slightly different fashion. In general we wanted the re-creations to be very scary, dramatic, and cinematic, so that when we cut back to the interviews the spectators can (and will have to) take a deep breath, relieve themselves a bit, and get ready of another dose of scary stuff.
Haunted was partially filmed in the Czech Republic, and you are the first Czech director to directly work with Netflix. Did working on Haunted in the Czech Republic shape your approach in the style or direction of the series? How does it feel to be the first Czech director to work with Netflix?
Obviously, we had to take special care when choosing locations and sets, since the stories take place all over the USA, from upstate New York to Louisiana to California — and we shot everything in winter in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, the Czech Republic offers a great choice of scary locations, dark woods, abandoned buildings and – most importantly — very skillful filmmakers accustomed to creating other worlds. Sometimes we were confronted by the classic dilemma of “truth vs. beauty” – but thanks to the genre of Haunted we could allow ourselves to take some liberties when needed.
Another challenge was the mix of foreign and Czech actors. For the “talking” roles I cast US and UK actors living and working in Czech Republic. So even if most of the cast and crew were Czech, on the set it felt like an international production, and I was mostly directing in English. It clearly feels nice to be first and I hope that what we have done could serve as a kind of leading case for future projects since we have successfully proved that foreign production can be shot in Czech republic with Czech crew members at top creative positions.
Did these stories shape the way you think about supernatural events?
Not particularly. I already have my set of beliefs that are quite strongly established.
Are there any exciting projects you are currently working on that you can share?
I do. It’s amazing and super exciting! But unfortunately I can’t tell you more beside that it is a pilot for a major US TV network and it will be shot by the end of this year.