Love at first bite: An oral history of the Teen Wolf pilot
When MTV approached Jeff Davis about creating a Teen Wolf series, he was quick to point out that the 1985 film starring Michael J. Fox wasn't actually a werewolf movie. "It's a basketball movie," Davis says. That's why he referenced a different 1980s film for the show he wanted to make: The Lost Boys. "That's not only scary, suspenseful, sexy, but it also has a sense of humor," says Davis. "More than anything, if I was going to do this, I wanted to make sure it was going to have some humor to it."
Davis had a clear vision for how the story of Scott McCall, a goofy, asthmatic teen whose life changes with one bite, would begin: "I pitched the opening as two best friends who go into the woods and, like in Stand by Me, they go looking for a dead body. But the difference here is, they're only looking for half."
That pitch landed Davis the green light to make a pilot presentation, a.k.a. a little more than half of the full pilot episode.
FINDING SCOTT'S PACK
With director Russell Mulcahy (Resident Evil: Extinction) on board, the casting process began to find Scott, the world's kindest werewolf, and Stiles, his quick-witted bestie, among others. The search eventually boiled down to a handful of actors, all of whom were asked to test for MTV during one very long day.
JEFF DAVIS (CREATOR): In one day we did Scott, Stiles, Allison, and Derek.
TYLER POSEY (SCOTT McCALL): There was another Scott there, another Stiles, and another Derek, but Crystal [Reed] was the only one reading for Allison that day so it was a sure thing she got the role.
DAVIS: There was only one role where I knew from the first audition that we had found the right person and that was Crystal Reed. She was actually the first person to audition for Allison. After every single audition after her I would say the same thing: "Not as good as Crystal."
CRYSTAL REED (ALLISON ARGENT): I deeply connected with the character. I remember getting a phone call about a week later, and they asked me to come back and audition for Lydia. I didn't have any clout at that point to even say no, but I said no, because I just didn't feel in my gut that I could do her any justice.
DAVIS: I got my way eventually.
REED: They called me back in to read for Allison again, and I read with Tyler and it was a process after that of a bunch of different chemistry reads, which is always really daunting, but Tyler and I hit it off instantly.
DAVIS: We did a scene with Scott and Stiles, a scene with Scott and Derek, and a scene with Scott and Allison. It was perfectly clear who the people should be right after that.
RUSSELL MULCAHY (DIRECTOR): I remember stepping outside before the decision was made and I saw Tyler Hoechlin, Tyler Posey, and Dylan O'Brien hanging out. They didn't know that they were our favorites.
DYLAN O'BRIEN (STILES STILINSKI): We were all saying goodbye and exchanging numbers and Russell told us to get together and he took this picture of us and he says that it was because he knew that they had already chosen us but we didn't know yet.
DAVIS: We really never had to find any chemistry between Posey and Dylan because it was instantaneous. It was like watching two long-lost brothers find each other.
POSEY: I showed up in, like, a Hurley sweatshirt and Dylan was wearing a DVS T-shirt. I immediately was like, "This guy looks really cool."
O'BRIEN: I think our first conversation was like, "You smoke weed?" "Yeah, me too. You play music?" "Yeah, me too." [Laughs] We were buddies immediately.
POSEY: Before the day was over we were fantasizing about moving in with each other if we got the show. Then less than a year later that's exactly what happened.
DAVIS: The last role we cast was Lydia. We really struggled to find the right mix for that character because it was so easy to play it as just another mean girl.
HOLLAND RODEN (LYDIA MARTIN): It was me and four straight-up models sitting in a room like, "This is ridiculous. Why am I here?" And I thought, "Okay, well, I'll put a slant on this. What if I make her a genius? Like she's a full Tracy Flick from Election type, sort of the secret popular girl." That's how I decided to play Lydia, and thank God they went for it.
DAVIS: She had this exactly right mix of beauty, wit, charm, and intelligence and she just fit right in.
FROM BITING COLD...
With Tyler Hoechlin (Derek Hale), and Colton Haynes (Jackson Whittemore) rounding out the cast, they all headed to Atlanta, where they had seven days to build the world of Beacon Hills. The first shot of the series was Scott and Stiles walking up to lacrosse practice, where moments later, Scott would show off his supernatural abilities for the first time.
DAVIS: It was absolutely freezing that day. I think it was 25 degrees. We were so unbearably cold, and we started late because one of the cameras broke on the first day and we had to get one sent to us really quickly. We were behind right from the beginning. We barely got any footage that day and it was terrifying.
RODEN: I remember a distinct moment and Crystal saying, "I don't think these are real jackets," that we were wearing on bleachers during the lacrosse scene.
REED: Holland was wearing like this cute little skirt. I remember being like, "I would love a beanie please."
MULCAHY: It was full-on winter and we're shooting just after dawn and these poor kids are in shorts. You could just film short bursts of it before people had to run on with blankets.
DAVIS: We also quickly discovered how shockingly difficult it is to shoot sports scenes. You're basically shooting a complicated action scene and there are so many bits and pieces.
POSEY: It was around the same time that parkour was really popular and first taking off so we had this really dope stunt guy named Spider who was my stunt double so he was doing all these crazy flips.
MULCAHY: We pumped up the action. You cannot go wrong with lacrosse and werewolves.
DAVIS: We thought we would get so much done in one day and we barely got anything done. It was definitely a day of heartbreak. But we survived it and then we started getting good stuff.
...TO THE BITE
Weather tried to take down the pilot in more way than one. The crucial opening scene in which Scott is bitten by a werewolf? A flash flood forced parts of it to be filmed in some unusual locations.
MULCAHY: We were filming at night. Scott's looking for the dead body, and all of a sudden it's a flash flood. We lost some equipment and miles of electrical cable in the mud. But we finished the scene inside the catering tent. Jeff and I moved the tables, we dug the hole, and we filmed the image of the dead body with people eating their salads watching us do it.
DAVIS: That pilot was done for so little money, and it was done really fast. If you look back at the opening werewolf-attack scene, parts of that scene were shot in a producer's garage.
MULCAHY: I went up to Griffith Park [in Los Angeles] with a truck and got some leaves and branches, so it was slightly illegal. [Laughs] But I don't think they were missed.
DAVIS: The moment when Scott gets dragged by the werewolf, that's me with my arms wrapped around Posey's legs pulling him away from the camera.
POSEY: That shows how dedicated Jeff was from day one. He had his hand in every aspect of the show. He got to play the werewolf for a second.
DAVIS: If you look closely, you'll notice [Tyler's] hair is different lengths in certain shots. That's how we made the show, we were always willing to do anything extra we could.
From a flash flood to a rain machine, weather — fake or not — continued to be a problem in the critical moment when girl meets boy…and asks him to save the life of the dog she hit with her car.
CRYSTAL REED (ALLISON ARGENT): Russell wanted the scene to be really cinematic, so the rain actually had to be big drops. It felt like hail.
POSEY: It's the coldest I've ever been while filming.
REED: When you're cold, your mouth doesn't really work, and I couldn't get the words out. It was my first time having to reach deep down in my emotional well for a character on camera. And I remember being really, really nervous to do that scene.
DAVIS: You can see Tyler and Crystal shivering to the point of hypothermia. When she says yes [to a date], she's saying yes just because she's so cold she wants to get out of there. [Laughs] But it was that scene, when they look at each other, where we thought we might actually have a show here.
MULCAHY: The chemistry between Posey and Crystal was electric. That scene really cemented the magic of the show.
DAVIS: We made the show on a budget of pennies and passion and the passion was there in that scene, thank God.
FIRST FULL MOON
From the moment Scott's bitten, the action is building to his transition. And when the full moon comes out, so do his fangs, a defining moment for the look of the series' supernatural hero.
DAVIS: We knew that we wanted different kinds of werewolves on the show. We wanted the monster, we wanted to do something that had the feel of vampires and Buffy and the Lost Boys, where you have some makeup but you can still see their faces underneath as well.
POSEY: The transformation was pretty new at that point and it took a little bit to get it right. I was still a kid. Our first transformation looked a little bit sexual. [Laughs] We figured it out on the spot.
MULCAHY: I'd be screaming out "doggy cam!" and that was a camera that was attached to Tyler Posey with rods. It looked awkward but gave us fantastic shots.
POSEY: I think we did a good job but you can definitely see the progression of the transformation throughout the years.
DAVIS: It was really difficult to do Tyler Posey's makeup. I wasn't satisfied with it until season 3 and I was constantly making them reshoot scenes with him to get the makeup to look better.
Beacon Hills would become known for its shocking twists, and the same could be said for the shoot, which featured one particularly dramatic moment.
DAVIS: There was another day where the hair and makeup trailer burst into flames.
POSEY: I looked up at one point and saw what I thought was hairspray, but it was smoke.
RODEN: Massive black smoke. It was a legit fire. Firetrucks and all. It was in flames. I was in the trailer when it happened, and they were like, "Get out, get out!" We did smell some kind of burning, but you'd think it's a curling iron or something. No, no. It was not.
POSEY: We all ran out of the trailer, and the generator or whatever it was in the back of the trailer was on fire. But we were all laughing about it. That's just kind of the tone of the entire thing — the show was really dark, we had a lot to do, but we just had the most fun.
And somehow, despite its many disasters, the shoot produced a pilot that launched a six season-long story.
DAVIS: I was surprised when we actually got a couple of good reviews online and people seemed to like it. I remember seeing the trailer for it and thinking, "Oh god, MTV is selling it like Twilight and we're really not Twilight."
POSEY: I think people were super cautious to like the show because the 1985 movie had a huge cult following and at first people were like, "I can't believe they would remake this classic movie into a TV show. It's going to be like Twilight, these kids all suck at acting." Perez Hilton called us a bunch of nobodies. [Laughs]
O'BRIEN: This was not a highly anticipated show. No one gave a f--- about this show. In between every season, we were saying goodbye. But the second time we went to Comic-Con after the show had aired, we had to be ushered in with security. We almost felt stupid. It definitely didn't feel like it was a thing.
DAVIS: At the season 2 Comic-Con, I was really taken aback by how much people loved it.
POSEY: Three months into the show airing Dylan and I couldn't walk anywhere with each other or alone. That's when we knew.
Much like Scott McCall, the show proved to be resilient. No flood or freezing rain or fire was going to stop it. Nor was disaster going to stop the cast from having fun.
POSEY: Even though the conditions were s---ty and the weather was really cold, nothing was really going right, we had the greatest time ever.
REED: The pilot was such a wonderful experience. It was one of the most profound memories that really shaped who we are. It just felt like we were all in some kind of acting summer camp.
RODEN: It was a blast. I have only fond memories.
O'BRIEN: The nights and the hours and the weather were a total s---show, sort of foreshadowing the entire miracle that the show ended up being. It was a horrendous shoot, and I was completely unaware. I was in heaven. It was the first set I'd ever been on, I was over the moon to be there. I have nothing but the fondest memories, even for the disaster aspects of it, which there were many.
DAVIS: When a pilot goes really well, you're doomed. When it's one disaster after another, you know you're going to series.
Read more from I Want My Teen TV, EW's summerlong celebration of teen shows past and present.