Anthony King - 'When you're Googling Semaphore you know you're in the weeds!'

18 Mar

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Anthony King has an envious list of credits to his name. From Broad City to Search Party to Wet Hot American Summer, he's worked on some of the funniest and most ground-breaking shows of recent years. His latest is the hit Apple TV+ murder mystery-comedy, The Afterparty. He joined the show as the executive producer alongside series creator Chris Miller and his creative partner Phil Lord. Together, the duo have been responsible for some of the most genre-defying movies of recent times such as The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. We sat down to chat with Anthony about the complexities of creating a murder mystery, working with such a talented cast and a little tease of season 2.

Screen Times: I'm really happy to be joined here today by Anthony King, executive producer of one my favourite recent shows, The Afterparty. Anthony, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.

Anthony King: Thanks for having me.

ST: So the exciting news is The Afterparty has been greenlit for season two. So congrats on that!

A: Thank you.

ST: We can talk about that a bit later on first, I want us to kind of start at the beginning. How did you come onto the show? You've worked on some of my favorite shows: Broad City, Wet Hot American Summer, Search Party - definitely one of my favourites of recent years! How did you come on to the show and what was your role in bringing this whole big ambitious project together?

A: So, Chris Miller of Lord and Miller, this was originally a movie idea that he had. And I think he had written a full script for it and then had gone off to work on other things. And when he revisited it, he kind of realised that it would probably work better not in 90 minutes to have all the genre switching that happens in the show. So he just started to turn it into a television show and that's when I got involved. I met with him and just, I loved the idea of the the genres switching and the Roshomon idea and the mind numbing approach to that of having to keep all those things straight as you're repeating scenes from all these different points of view and the fun of how to connect those together and make it all make sense. So we met and kind of talked about that. And then I got on board to do it with them.

ST: So, what was your role , within the show as the executive producer?

A: Yeah, I'm a writer. I was a writer on the show and then on set with Chris to throw out new jokes and rewrite scenes that felt like they could be better and things like that. So I was kind of his number two through the whole thing.

ST: I read that you really responded to the puzzle nature of it. Was that what really drew you into the show more than anything? Are a big puzzle fiend?

A: I did like that because I think there's been so many murder mysteries, but he had this approach that he wanted to hide all the clues in plain sight. And then even add extra clues that were not even in the narrative and that was appealing to me. So I just thought that was kind of a unique way in, and then I also really liked how character-driven it was instead of being kind of driven by only the detective having a murder mystery, that it was really driven by the different characters felt exciting.

ST: So, it's fair to say this show is very immense, there's a complexity to it all. I honestly can't fathom how you guys all put this together. I imagine there's lots of boards on walls with notes and lines between them and stuff like that. How complex did it get? Was there any point where you were just like, "ah, let's maybe pull that back in a bit. That was getting a bit too insane."

A: If anything, we tried to make it even more complex! So, we had spreadsheets and Billboards and the really complex thing was when you would want to change something in an episode, and you would realize the ripple effects that had through multiple other episodes. And so we were constantly having to go back and be like, "oh, well, we can't do that because if we do that, then it changes this thing back in episode two." And so that was a lot to kind of hold together, but also really fun.

ST: Were you surprised, or did you expect the amount of investigation that was going on on Reddit? I don't know if you went on the the subreddits?

A: Yes! That was like an hour after the episodes come out, they would just have all the clues out. It was really with the, the puzzles that were hidden in the show, we were really hoping [people would respond to]. I was worried. I was like, are people gonna even notice these are here? So it was exciting when that showed up on Reddit, them noticing them and then figuring them out. We're going to have to make them even harder in season two!

ST: Yeah, that's what I was going to ask actually: does this now set a bar? These Redditors right? Come on! It's now a challenge!

A: I know. Yeah, we have to do even more difficult clues for sure.

ST: Absolutely. Yeah. There was some definite cheeky red herrings in there, I must admit. I fell briefly for Walt using an Android phone.

A: That was a fun one! We realised that Apple didn't let bad guys use their phones and you're like, "Ooh..."

ST: Yeah, that was super clever. I'm a bit of an apple nerd myself, and I'd heard about that ages ago. So I saw that and I thought, no, I can't believe that that was going to spoil it for me. But then after a few more episodes, I realised you guys were just messing with us. So that was a good one. I liked that!

A: So much of writing a murder mystery is you're not only planting things that are clues that can lead you to the right answer and red herrings, but there's so much discussion about, well, if we do this, this makes this person look guilty. And then is that good? Or is the fact that we're making them look guilty bad? I mean that the audience is going to go well, it's not them. And so it's just a constant mind game of trying to both write the show and also imagine the response to the show at the same time and how to counteract that.

ST: Was it always going to be Yasper or was there potentially other choices?

A: Yeah, that was kind of decided early on I think in Chris' original screenplay, that was the gist that was decided. So we knew that going in.

ST: So the shooting process again, super complex! Just the different angles, different scenes. I even noticed certain things like when Chelsea, Yasper and Aniq are walking into the party, the one who's telling the story is leading the three of them! Which was one of the things I only caught on the second go around. How complex did that get? Did that become a bit of a headache to really plan out very particular shots to make sure that they were really capturing a key moment

A: Yeah it was an immense amount of planning ahead of time. And a lot with Chris and our wonderful DP, Carl Harris who really just revelled in all the different genre things he got to do. There's a thing in the finale where you're seeing this kind of wide shot of the whole group and you see it in every different genre and staging that took an immense amount of time because you needed everyone to be in the exact same spot but you're changing everything. And there were a lot of very technical things and many days where we're doing a scene and then telling the actors like, okay, we're going to re-dress now, and now you're gonna do the same scene, but then a different genre. And it's an acting challenge for them as well. So all very fun challenges, but definitely challenging.

ST: I think, well, in my view, the strongest part of the show is definitely the cast. I'm a big comedy nerd and these guys are just like off the scale. They're all really good improvisers as well and quite a lot of them actually have their own shows that they've created. Do they bring anything to the show, like on set or in table reads or anything? Maybe that changed their characters in a certain way?

A: Oh, yeah, they brought so much! You know, often on a set, especially in comedy, you're getting what's on the page or making a change, but then if you have good improvisers, you're letting them run as well. And we did. So much of that on set. We could also just throw notions and new choices at them and then they would run with it. You know, sometimes when you're working with an actor, if you have a new idea, you have to really script it down because if they're not comfortable with improv, they really need the line. And with all of these actors, we were able to go, "Hey, what if we played with this idea?" And they could just run with it. Like In episode two, there's a showdown in the bathroom between Brett and Xavier. Side-by-side at the urinals. And there's like a 20 minute cut of that! Just so many insane things being thrown around.

ST: I actually wonder, were any of the characters written for the actors? An obvious one would be Yasper for Ben Schwartz. I think it's so Ben Schwartz that character, and with lots of the other characters they seem very written towards the actors. Were any of them written for specifically for the actors?

A: I don't think anyone was written for a specific actor. We had people in mind. And a lot of the time, I think the people that we did have in mind, that's who ended up being cast. They just all inhabited the roles. And then of course, once they were cast, we rewrote toward them as well, just to knowing their strengths.

ST: What sort of mysteries have you enjoyed watching or reading? Do you have any particular favourites?

A: Yeah. I've always Poirot and Agatha Christie and all of those. I love the kind of in-one-room mysteries as well. I've always found those kinds of puzzle box mysteries very fun. And I really love mixing that stuff with genre as well. You know, on Search Party - especially in the first season - it was a real kind of meta mystery box. Not to spoil anything, but... can you spoil a show that old?

ST: I mean it's finished now! So I think you can!

A: But, now under the meta thing of all of it being kind of like an actually a mystery. It was even more of like, "how do we try to crack this code?" So it's always fun.

ST: Yeah, that that season one ending was, a really good ending! I'm very, very fond of that show. Is that how John Early came on this show?

A: That was the first time I worked with him, for sure. And then when we were looking for someone for Culp, and I think he's just so funny and so original and just very specific with what he is. And so bringing that energy with him and Tiffany felt great.

ST: Well, I guess that's maybe a subtle link to season two because, Tiffany Haddish is going to go back. Can I make a formal request that John is back, too? Can you confirm he's going to be back?

A: Haha, I cannot confirm. I cannot confirm! But I would hope we can. I hope we can bring him back. That would be fantastic.

ST: Yeah, absolutely. How are you doing on production for season two? I'm sure you can't really spill too many details. Do you have a story? What's the state you're at?

A: Yeah, we're just kind of ramping up and we do have a story and we know who's dead and who the killer is. So we're moving forward now. It's going to be very different, obviously.

ST: Chris Miller tweeted that it was going to be 'WILD'. Is that a hint?

A: It's bigger and more surprising. It's a different... It's going to be wild, yeah!

ST: Absolutely! And I guess the big challenge for you now is to try and to out-fox those Redditors?

A: Yeah, we have to come with new ways to fool everyone and new ways to challenge everyone and also a lot of new genres.

ST: Absolutely. Well thank you so much for chatting with me today. Really loved the show. Congratulations on the whole show and congratulations on season two. Can't wait to have some more mysteries to decode and figure out! How many codes can you fit into this one? I found myself doing binary, which I've never done before, and Morse Code - never done that either!

A: When you're Googling Semaphore you know you're in the weeds!

ST: Yeah! Semaphore too. Yes. That's a first as well! Thank you so much for chatting with us and good luck with season two.

A: Thank you so much.

'The Afterparty' is now available in select theatres and streaming globally on Apple TV+.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

‍Jonathan Reed
Jonathan, ScreenTimes’ Contributing Editor has been lucky enough to work on Apple products his whole life, ever since his Dad brought home a Mac Performa aged 11 (him, not his Dad). Apple is just engrained in his life, especially nowadays, as a graphic designer. His nerdy enthusiasm for Apple is only matched by his love of TV and film. Whether a buzz-worthy new show or blockbuster, a small cult show or an indie film, he’ll watch it. So Apple TV meets right in the middle of that Venn diagram! He also writes on his personal site, He lives in London and is writing his own bio in the third person.