[Interview] Pavun Shetty and Conor Welch for GOOSEBUMPS

In the new GOOSEBUMPS series coming to Hulu this Halloween, we follow a group of five high schoolers as they embark on a shadowy and twisted journey to investigate the tragic passing three decades earlier of a teen named Harold Biddle – while also unearthing dark secrets from their parents’ past.

For the upcoming release of GOOSEBUMPS, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with executive producers Pavun Shetty and Conor Welch. During the interview, they discussed everything from how the show differs from the anthological Goosebumps book series to the deciding factor of which books to focus on, and wrapping with which Goosebumps book is their favorite.

Thank you both so much for speaking with me today! As a lifelong R.L. Stine fan it’s exciting to see a new Goosebumps series come to life. For those unfamiliar, can you describe the central premise of the show and the inspiration behind creating it?

Pavun Shetty: Goosebumps is beloved and so we wanted to take the stories and update them a little bit. So in our version of GOOSEBUMPS, it’s a slightly aged-up version comedy/thriller that follows these five high school kids who usually wouldn’t be friends with each other and they’re in the fictional town of Port Lawrence. They go to this Halloween party at a creepy abandoned house and they find themselves at the center of a haunted mystery, and that forces them to unearth these dark secrets about their town and about their own parents, and they have to come together begrudgingly to basically survive and save everyone.

Conor Welch: Opposed to the anthological nature of the original book series and of the original television series, ours is a serialized mystery. Our five main characters each have their own episode of the first five episodes, which surround a certain totem from five of the more popular books. As Pavun mentioned about halfway through the series, or through the season, rather, they realize these hauntings are probably connected and they get together to try to save the day.

The series does a terrific job of being relatable for both kids and adults while also toeing the line between horror and comedy. How did you navigate that?  

Pavun Shetty: We wanted to honor the original, but also make it feel contemporary. We wanted all of the issues that our high school kids were facing to feel really authentic and we wanted the issues that their parents were facing to feel authentic to adults and a lot of times those issues are absurd and messy and crazy. So we embraced those and made them a part of the story. Then we threw a bunch of crazy, scary stuff on top, and mashed it all together, and made it an insane piece.

Conor Welch: For something to be scary or funny, it doesn’t have to be adult only. They share a similar rhythm and cadence in that it’s set up, set up, surprise. For something funny, it’s set a punchline and if it’s scary, it’s set up a jumpscare and those can be enjoyed by people of all ages. We tried to toe that line of things that were funny and scary, but never inappropriate.

Courtesy Disney

How involved was R.L. Stine and what was the deciding factor behind what books you chose for the series? 

Pavun Shetty: We wouldn’t have done the series without his blessing. That was the most important thing to us. We wanted to make sure that he was on board and supportive of us doing it. And also Scholastic, who publishes the books, at the same time, gave us access to all of them. We were thrilled to find out that he loved the first episode that he watched and he’s continuing to watch episodes. He read the scripts and he generally was a part of the show as we developed it and he was a part of every conversation when we were talking about what the show could be.

Since we had access to all the books, it was difficult to pick which ones we wanted to feature, especially for the first five so we picked popular ones. But we also picked ones that really tied in with the issues that our characters were going through in that particular episode. So in the second episode, for example, our character Isabella (Ana Yi Puig) is an internet troll and she’s sort of a wallflower and no one knows she’s there. She finds the haunted mask that gives her courage and confidence but it also changes her into an actual troll so those things kind of tie together. We also found stories that really linked up with the emotional dynamics of our cast.

Conor Welch: The North Star for us was that everything [needed to] be tethered in very relatable, very emotional issues that kids deal with these days and when we grow up too with alienation, identity, heartbreak. These are not 2023 issues; these were forever. So it was important to us that all of the scares, all of the hauntings, all of the totems from the books are ground very specifically in real feeling issues.

The relationship between the cast is what really elevates this series. What was the process like in the development of the high school characters and their arcs? 

Pavun Shetty: I think we wanted to update the archetypes of these typical high schoolers. In the past, you’ve had the jock and you’ve had the nerd and you’ve had the outcast and we have those things but they’re not necessarily in the high school group that you would think they’d be in and they’re actually dealing with issues that are much more nuanced. When we were casting, we went through hundreds of people to find this group and we were lucky enough to get a bunch of actors who were age-appropriate but also brought a lot of their own personal experience to what the characters were and that influenced who they were on screen as well.

Conor Welch: I think our intention was, as Pavun said, to subvert expectation with everything starting with the characters and the tropes of those high school archetypes. In the storytelling itself, we wanted the mystery to take unexpected turns. We wanted what you thought were going to be scares to turn into jokes and what you thought were going to be jokes to turn into scares. That was sort of a guiding light for us to go the way that was most unexpected.

Courtesy Disney

Do either of you have any memorable or behind-the-scenes moments that were your favorite from doing this series? 

Pavun Shetty: I remember when we first saw the design of Slappy. I’d gone through a bunch of iterations of what that should look like cause we knew that everyone had a version of Slappy in their head from all the different versions of Goosebumps. So, seeing the final Slappy in physical form was thrilling, but also scary, which I guess is the idea behind the whole show [Laughs].

Conor Welch: For me, it’s an on-set moment I’ll never forget. Justin Long plays Mr. Bratt, a high school teacher new to town who inherited the old Biddle House, which is the haunted mansion that’s long abandoned that all the kids actually overlap in the pilot episode at a Halloween party there. By the end of the pilot, he’s possessed by the ghost of a 16-year-old boy who died 30 years ago. There’s an unbelievable physical comedy that comes from him fighting the possession of the 16-year-old boy.

What ended up on screen is the best, but what happened on set was so much more. To watch that man toss himself around and fight himself on the ground was just really, really, really fun. We were super lucky that he has the resume and experience of some iconic comedies and some iconic horror films which really is the perfect sweet spot for this show and for specifically that character of Mr. Bratt.

I can’t tie up this interview without asking the most important question of them all. What is your favorite Goosebumps book?

Pavun Shetty: Mine is The Haunted Mask because I actually remember reading that growing up. The idea of putting something on your face and not being able to take it off and it actually melding with your skin is super scary to me. Even just talking about it now kind of creeps me out so that one always stuck with me because I remember the cover and I remember the stickiness in the side, and so recreating that was really fun.

Conor Welch: I will never look at spaghetti or worms the same after having read Go Eat Worms! It’s just one of those visceral, disgusting, horrifying things that is born of an everyday critter that you see anytime it rains. It was really exciting to expand from that book into the monster episode that we have in this first season. It was really exciting to watch.

GOOSEBUMPS will premiere Friday, Oct. 13, on Disney+ and Hulu. The first five episodes will debut as part of Disney+’s “Hallowstream” and Hulu’s “Huluween” Celebrations.

Shannon McGrew
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