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'They/Them' director John Logan says Ridley Scott and Scorsese influenced his directorial debut

After two decades screenwriting for other directors, John Logan wrote They/Them for his directorial debut which premieres Aug. 5 on Peacock. 

By Tara Bennett

For two decades, John Logan's been toiling away penning some all-time classic screenplays like Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, and two Bond films, Skyfall and Spectre. Having crafted those scripts with some of the greatest directors working today, including Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, and Sam Mendes, Logan decided to take all of the knowledge banked from his time on their sets and apply it to his first directorial effort, They/Them, which premieres Aug. 5 exclusively on Peacock. 

For the horror/thriller, Logan leaned on his life-long love of slasher cinema to tell the story of a group of LGBTQ+ teens who are remanded to a mandatory "gay conversion" called Camp Whistler. Run by a seemingly benevolent Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon) and his wife, Dr. Cora Whistler (Carrie Preston), the teens bond with one another over their shared experiences and the increasing menace felt within the camp. 

It's a premise that feels entirely suited to our current social striation, and Logan tells SYFY WIRE that it was born from his conversations with people who actually experienced "conversion therapy" run by both religious and secular organizations. "They were kind enough to tell their stories to me a few years ago," Logan says. "I was struck by the monstrousness of it. Not only the physical duress and the suffering that they endured under really unpleasant circumstances but more than anything, the psychological pressure. The way that the counselors would just try to take their identity apart, piece by piece."

After he wrote the script, it worked out that he would be the one to direct it, so Logan says he did a deep dive studying some of his favorite slasher films including the Friday the 13th movies, The Burning and Sleepaway Camp. And then he went right to his director friends to get concrete advice on how to set himself up for success. "I've worked with Marty Scorsese, Sam Mendes, and Ridley and I just asked for advice," he explains. "To a person, what they really said was it's all about casting. That's 90 percent of the job. Get a good [director of photography] and cast it right."

Logan then focused his time on finding a cast of actors who could embody the disparate campers as authentically as possible. "I wrote the part of Gabriel specifically for Darwin del Fabro and for Owen Whistler, I kept hearing Kevin Bacon," Logan shares. "But then we took a long time casting it just so it would be very, very bespoke. And that gave me a real sense of confidence."

He also got rehearsal time with the whole cast so that he could workshop scenes and weave in the experiences of the actors into the script. "It was a very open dialogue with the actors," Logan explains. "I'm not transgender, I'm not nonbinary, so I wanted to be open to Theo Germaine and to Quei Tann about transgender issues, or nonbinary issues. But I think that was open to all the characters, and all the actors in a way, in terms of what their experience was and what they could personally bring to the characters. They were all sort of expertly cast, I like to think, but then they just enhanced it through our communication and through rehearsals. Any good writer is going to watch actors work and immediately start rewriting the scenes because you realize what certain actors can do and what they can bring to it. I like to think it was a very open exchange between all of us."

Circle back after the release of They/Them on Aug. 5 for Part II of our conversation with John Logan.