Teen Wolf has been something of a breakout hit since debuting on MTV in the summer of 2011. Based on the 1985 film, the show premiered to good critical response and steadily growing ratings, capturing a key female demographic for the network. Season two ran this past summer, and season three is already on the horizon for 2013.
Film Production alum Angela Harvey isn’t the first alum of the program to begin a writing career but she’s one of the latest. Although screenwriting isn’t one of the key disciplines in the VFS Film curriculum, storytelling and script development are still big parts of what makes the program tick.
Angela, whose affinity for the craft goes back years, has been on Teen Wolf since nearly the beginning, first as an assistant and now, for season three, as a staff writer. She was the writer assigned to the Teen Wolf: The Hunt, a game that ran on Facebook throughout season two. The response to the interactive “two-screen” component was huge. Consider this: An MTV rep told Mashable this summer that “the success of the game, along with the show’s ratings, has ‘definitely played a role’ in Teen Wolf getting renewed for a third season.”
We caught up with Angela, now based in LA and a staff writer on the show, to hear more about her path to Teen Wolf and, especially, her role in shaping The Hunt.
Hi, Angela! Tell us the story of how you came to be working on Teen Wolf. You’ve been on the show since season one, right?
Angela: I got on the show when season one was in prep. It was pretty random, actually. After VFS, I moved back to Atlanta, where there is fortunately a lot of production happening. After a while, I landed a job as an office PA on the action-comedy Killers. I became good friends with the production secretary on that movie and we stayed in touch after wrap.
Several months later, she called me to see if I wanted to take over her job as assistant to a producer at Tyler Perry Studios. I interviewed with that producer and got the job. While we were wrapping up the Tyler Perry movie, [the producer] was also gearing up to produce the first season of Teen Wolf. I continued with him as his assistant for seasons one and two of Teen Wolf before getting promoted to staff writer in season three. I was also writers’ assistant for season two.
When we last spoke, you said that one of the things you liked about screenwriting was that “writing is the foundation on which everything else is built.” And TV is definitely a writer’s medium. Did you imagine yourself working in TV or did it just work out that way?
Angela: Looking back on the path that brought me here, I could say that I just ended up in television, but it doesn’t feel that way. Once I realized that writing for television was what I wanted, I went after it with all I had. Before I started working on Teen Wolf, I’d actually put writing itself on the back burner in terms of career options. I’ve always loved writing and I was still writing my own movie scripts with a mind to produce them. But somehow in my mind, it seemed more practical to pursue a career in producing than in writing. When I started working closely with a very talented and successful producer, I began to realize that I didn’t love the work of practical producing enough to throw myself into it whole-heartedly. What I really loved was writing and creative producing, and I needed to go for that.
It was during season one of Teen Wolf that I really started to understand the benefits of working in television. In television, the story can go into a much deeper level of nuance and detail than in film. The characters get a lot more time to grow and develop – or devolve – as necessary. And viewers really get a chance to enter the world that’s been created for them.
Before Teen Wolf, I knew in theory that television was a writer’s medium, but it wasn’t until I saw it unfold before me in real life that I truly got that. I learned a lot of it from watching Teen Wolf showrunner Jeff Davis. He’s an amazing visionary. And watching him guide his vision to life was incredible. Of course production is always a collaborative effort. But at the end of the day, a symphony is only as good as the conductor.
The Hunt was a huge success and part of that seems to be the integration, that it’s not just pop-up video style trivia or behind-the-scenes content. It doesn’t feel tacked on. It feels like it’s part of the world of the show. What went into creating that integration?
Angela: I’m particularly proud of The Hunt! The concept itself was pretty groundbreaking. We were in the thick of production on season two when the network and Social Samba presented the idea to the show team.
Essentially, Teen Wolf: The Hunt is an app that’s run through Facebook. The viewers who want to participate log in through Facebook and then go into simulated instant message sessions where they interact with characters from the show. The concept was so new at the time, no one really had a clear definition or explanation for what the experience actually was. We left that initial meeting thinking of it as a game that viewers could play to enhance the content of the show.
Because the showrunner and the head writer were totally swamped with production by the time the idea for The Hunt was presented, I was tapped to tackle the new project. I had been in the writer’s room as an assistant when season two’s story was being broken, and Jeff had actually let me participate in that process. Because of that experience, I was intimately familiar with the show and I was able to craft a new but deeply intertwined story.
I had several meetings with the digital producer from MTV where we wrestled with the concept of what we were truly trying to create. It turned out that thinking of it as a game was actually very limiting for me as I was writing. In a game, the world is entirely self-contained and it’s the player’s job to figure out how to conquer that world. Usually the player is seen as some sort of intruder in a dangerous place. With a near-infinite series of choices to make and actions to take, the player tries to change that world in order to win the game. With Teen Wolf: The Hunt, the choices are very limited, there’s no world to conquer, and there’s really no way to “win.”
When it finally clicked for me was when I stopped thinking of it as a literal game and started thinking about how to make the user feel like an unseen character in the show. My goal became to craft an experience that would make the users feel like their participation was directly connected to the narrative they saw on TV each week. Sometimes that meant getting a show character to open up a little more about their motivations in intimate conversation. Other times it meant giving the player a task within the experience that would seemingly change the course of the next episode to air. The fans really engaged with it and had a great time, so I feel like that strategy worked out really well for us.
Do you think that kind of social engagement with viewers is with us to stay?
Angela: Absolutely. Fans take a much more active and personal role in the viewing experience now. They don’t just watch a show and then forget about it until it’s time to watch the next episode. They dissect it and re-shape it into elaborate fan fiction, creative videos, and intricate art work. They want to be heard and even to be treated as participants in the creative process. I think maybe these flexible interactive pieces in which fans can feel like real story participants could go a long way toward meeting those emerging needs.
What’s the status of season three?
Angela: The writers’ room is in full swing for season three and production is gearing up to begin before the end of the year. I’ll be writing episode five this season. As a staff writer now, I won’t necessarily be on set very often, which will be a very different experience for me. I’m not saying that I’m going to miss those long, cold overnight shoots in the woods. But really, I just might miss those long, cold overnight shoots in the woods. I see a few set-crashing experiences in my near future.
Thanks, Angela. Readers can check out The Hunt on the official Teen Wolf Facebook page. Want to know more about the show? Americans, roll on over to MTV.com, while viewers in Canada should check out the show’s section on MuchMusic.com.