An Interview with Chris Russell, Creator of 'After the Apocalypse'
I love a good serial drama, and one that I’m recently hooked on is After the Apocalypse. It’s this gritty, captivating story set in a world wiped out by a pandemic (too real, right?) and the existence that the survivors have to eke out for themselves. It’s, at times, both a slow burn and an edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster. Obviously, I can’t get enough of it.
I recently had the chance to catch up with the show’s creator, Chris Russell, and talk to him about his vision and his creative process. Here’s a sample of our interview. Stay tuned for more of our conversation coming soon!
I’ve been listening to the first two seasons of After the Apocalypse and loving it. When you tell people about this and they say, “What's it about?” how do you like to pitch it to them?
It’s actually changed over the last couple of years. I say, “I have a podcast—I have an apocalypse story,” and depending on who I’m talking to, I get different reactions to that. I get everything from, “Oh, cool, tell me about it” to “Haven't we had enough of that? Are you seriously writing a story about a viral pandemic right now?”
I took a breath to do a trailer recently to seize a zeitgeist of the characters and the situation, because before, when you’re starting it, you have to put a description together when you haven’t done anything with it. And my original description was very mechanical around the universe: Here’s a universe where there’s been a plague and 95% of the people have died and they’re struggling to survive. So it ends up sounding really generic, but now if you’ve been listening to it, now we know who the characters are and what they’re doing. We can pull those characters in and have the trailer be a narrative in itself.
When did Season 1 launch? Was it 2020?
It was the beginning of 2020. I originally planned five seasons. I mean, I just started my third season. I'm dropping episode two for the early release people this Friday. And so it's 20 episodes per season, and each episode is somewhere around 15 to 20 minutes of the narrative. And then I do some self-serving commentary on the backend of that, or I talk about something that's interesting to me. I'll give you the preview this week—I'm talking about the creature double feature movies in the ‘70s. And one of them in particular about giant ants. So, you know, I talk about science fiction, that sort of thing.
Tell me a little bit about your creative process. It sounds like you had this whole plot planned out from the very beginning. Was this the sort of thing where you’re developing as you go, or do you have a very loose outline?
So it's pretty loose. I had a general idea of the full arc, of your basic plot elements like who's going where and doing what. Who were the protagonists? Who were the antagonist? And each season needs to have a point. It needs to have a struggle of some sort. It needs to have that journey where there is essentially a three-act play. So you're going to find that challenge of that season and then move through it to the end and have the resolution.
And then at the end of all five, there's a big resolution that results in a whole series. And hopefully I won't get trapped in that thing that I always see the indie authors get trapped in where they try to write a trilogy and it ends up being ten books.
So I have a loose idea of what the major plot points are. And then I sit down and try to lay out, in general, the flow of the season, and then the flow of each episode within that. But I don't overly structure it.
Do you enjoy the part of the process when it feels like your story is taking on a life of its own? Or does it does it ever make you a little bit nervous?
No, I do, because it makes the writing so much easier. You don't feel like you're doing homework. Instead, the characters are leading you. And that's way better.
Because that's the challenge of laying out the script ahead of time and saying, “Here are the beats.” All that stuff then starts to feel like homework when you're writing. And I want to leave enough room for that creativity.
We’ve talked before about how you and I are both runners. What made you want to make the protagonist of your story a runner?
You know, a couple of things. Write what you know. I thought I could do a real good job of describing the chase scene from the mind of a runner. If you're chasing somebody or you're being chased, you have a whole different set of data than the rest of the world. But specifically, at the time, it was I'm an old guy and I would line up these races and see a lot of hubris from the other younger athletes. And the old guys may not have the physical talent anymore, but they've sort of cracked the code on pain management. I wanted to insert a little bit of that, especially in that first episode where the where the kid tries to chase them down.
So it sounds to me like you feel pretty confident that your own training would equip you to survive very well in a post-apocalyptic world.
I think that's one of the fun questions to ask. Right? Who's gonna survive? I think there's going to be a mix of people who you think should survive. Should it be people with survival skills, for lack of a better word, people who are physically fit? Yeah. But I think there's probably going to be some other people who you wouldn't expect to survive, are going to survive. Just because nature's chaotic.
Tune in and listen to After the Apocalypse here!