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Writing as Solace: An Interview with Rebecca Sonnenshine

'Archive 81' writer and creator Rebecca Sonnenshine speaks with Script about her new Netflix horror series.

The first season of Archive 81 dropped on Netflix on January 14 and what a pleasant surprise it was. It was like a care package of necessary goods for the horror aficionado. Diabolical cult. Check. Spooky medium. Check. Sinister building. Check. Creepy kid. Check. Isolation. Check. Dark woods. Check. Insidious music. Check.

The eight-episode series revolves around Dan, played by riveting Mamoudou Athie, who’s an archivist hired to restore some damaged tapes. He gets sucked into his subject’s world, often unsure of what dimension he’s in. The soft visual canvas of the show, coupled with subtle music that gets under your skin and convincing characters, has made this the go-to show for a late-night fright.

Rebecca Sonnenshine is the creator of the show. No stranger to scares, she’s written for The Boys, Outcast, and Vampire Diaries. As Emmy nominated writer/producer had a say in many of the elements of Archive 81 that make in catnip for horror buffs.

(L to R) Julia Chan as Anabelle Cho, Dina Shihabi as Melody Pendras, Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in Archive 81. Photo credit: QUANTRELL D. COLBERT/NETFLIX

(L to R) Julia Chan as Anabelle Cho, Dina Shihabi as Melody Pendras, Mamoudou Athie as Dan Turner in Archive 81. Photo credit: QUANTRELL D. COLBERT/NETFLIX

What first got you interested in writing?

Books, books, books. Reading because it transported me to other worlds. I grew up in the small town of Orville, CA, so reading was a great escape.

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What was your first paid gig?

I won the Nicholl Fellowship, which was great.

How did that change your life?

It opened many doors and gave me some money to work with to get my project done.

Rebecca Sonnenshine

Rebecca Sonnenshine

How would you define horror?

Horror is something that makes us confront our fears. Watching a horror movie is a safe outlet for confronting certain fears, as opposed to actually experiencing those situations.

What are some of your favorite horror films and television shows?

I’d have to say Don’t Look Now. Hereditary. Rosemary’s Baby. Midsommar. X-Files. They were all influences for Archive 81.

How did you get involved with Archive 81?

I was actually brought in by Netflix and Atomic Monster to develop the project, loosely based on a podcast of the same name. It was something already set up at the network and they thought I might be a good fit. So, it wasn’t so much me finding them, they found me.

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What was your writing schedule like for the show?

We had a small writer’s room — just myself and four other writers. We broke the entire season up front, then went back and fleshed out the individual episodes. It’s amazing how close we stayed to the original document we pitched to Netflix.

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What was the most interesting piece of research you came across?

I did a deep dive into the history of spirit photography. It was obviously all a hoax, but the reasons that people believed in it were tied up in grief and loss and a longing to connect with loved ones.

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What was the last film you saw?

I’ve been watching the online Sundance Festival and I really liked Resurrection. Thought it was phenomenal.

That’s with Rebecca Hall , right?

Yes, yes it is!

What do you enjoy the most about writing?

I love getting lost in characters. Sometimes they surprise me!

Watch Archive 81, only on Netflix.


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