“At no point did I think, when I was little, ‘I’m gonna grow up and have a TV show,'” artist Christine McConnell says, taking a break from working on her latest project in the uncharacteristic autumn heat.
McConnell’s childhood lack of a belief in receiving a TV show is part modesty but also part practical. There haven’t been many TV shows quite like McConnell’s upcoming Netflix series: The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. On the show, McConnell plays a fictionalized version of herself that lives in a spooky mansion along with some friendly, Halloween-themed puppets. In each episode McConnell embarks on a different craft idea or baking project, all centered on her own cheerfully dark aesthetic.
The show is specifically built with her talents and interests in mind. McConnell is a new kind of “multi-hyphenate” with her popular Instagram describing her as an “Artist – Photographer – Baker – Author.”
Through the magic of social media, McConnell basically built a career being herself – taking dark, lovely photographs, and creating Halloweentown-esque recipes and crafts. In 2016, she published the well-received book of recipes and crafts, Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad!
Despite all of the social media and publishing success, McConnell is just as surprised as anyone that her unusual Netflix show is actually becoming a “thing.”
“There were so many opportunities for somebody to say no and stop this whole thing in its tracks, and they just… people just kept saying, ‘Okay.”
We caught up with McConnell to discuss her unique career, upcoming Netflix series, and why Halloween is the best time of year.
Den of Geek: We’ve seen the trailer now and taken in the aesthetic but what from your perspective, what is The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell all about?
Christine McConnell: Good question. I’m not entirely sure I know. It’s basically like a fantasy version of my whole life where I do all of these weird, creepy projects. In the show, I actually show how to do all of these projects, so it is kind of a scripted show, kind of not. The “plot” starts with the arrival of a new guest in the house and the season ends on Halloween night. It kind of is a weird mish mash of the Addams Family and like a Martha Steward how-to show. I don’t really think that there is something completely to compare it to, but I think that’s the rough draft of it.
The show seems difficult to describe. I also think, your career in general, seems difficult to describe. How did you get your start in all of this?
At no point did I think, when I was little, “I’m gonna grow up and have a TV show.” I’ve never even acted before this show. That’s something else I’m a little concerned about, but we’ll see. I’ve always been creative. I’ve always been making weird projects just for fun with no real ambition for any of this. I’ve always been drawn to things that were dark and spooky, but at the same time, I loved that pastel world of the 1960s. This is just a very odd mish mash of all of the things that I like, and I’ve just collectively gotten better and better at as times gone on, at figuring out how to do these projects and make them real.
I was doing secretarial work in my 20s, and not very well. I decided to stop doing that and I went to hair school. I was thinking, “Oh, maybe I could end up doing hair for people who are on TV, or in movies, or something like that.” While I was doing that, I started doing these photo shoots. Once I got out of that school and actually started practicing it, I just, in all of my free time, started baking. A girlfriend told me about Instagram and was like, “Oh, you should get that.” So I did it and its just been this really slow trickle towards where we are now. But I would say, maybe like 10 years ago, I was going in a totally different direction and then just completely realigned everything. It’s just been a weird roller coaster to this point.
Where were you geographically through all of this?
California. I grew up about an hour and a half outside of L.A. It’s kind of a … I mean, I think everybody thinks they come from a podunk town, but it’s a little bit like that. I lived in Orange County for awhile. I lived in North L.A., like the Pasadena area. And then, once momentum started happening and I got a book deal, I bought a house in the mountains of Southern California. I bought this house and totally made it over. Actually, the entire show is designed after my house. Obviously, it’s a much prettier house than the show. They’ve done a lot more intricate, fun stuff with the set, but it’s all basically based off the actual house I live in.
Gotcha. I’ve actually, weirdly, never been to Southern California. Do you think anything about the area influenced your aesthetic and your interest?
I don’t think so. I don’t know if this is a terrible thing to say, but I’m not that crazy about California. I’m a huge, huge fan of back east and I just love the old architecture. I think people strive to go towards the things they’re not familiar with. I grew up, obviously, in Southern California, where most buildings are new. I love the East Coast – the seasons and everything about it, so no is the answer.
If you moved to Ohio (Ed Note: The interviewer is from Ohio and can’t shut up about it.), you could probably buy the equivalence of the mansion from your show.
Completely. Completely. That’s actually my next step if things work out the way I hope, I would love to buy a big, creepy, old Victorian house and completely remake it into something magical and spooky.
That’d be wonderful. I guess moving forward a little bit, how did the Netflix show come about? I mean, I know you had the book deal and your Instagram’s been going strong, I’m just wondering what the process was like to bring it to the screen.
It was weird. Like I said, it’s still, when people say it to you, and you’re like, “Oh, this is actually really happening.” Super surreal. I had been approached by, I don’t know, about 300 different production companies wanting to do a show. They all wanted to do a reality show, just come film me at my house doing stuff. It just wasn’t my thing, it just wasn’t what I was into. Then somebody from Wilshire Studios, which is attached to NBC Universal, reached out and wanted to have a meeting. She had a crazy idea. She was like, “What would you think about getting together with Henson?” Obviously, I freaked out. I was like, “Is that even a possibility?” She said, “I don’t know. Let’s have a meeting.” A week later, we were meeting with them. They were so excited.
It took a year to shoot like a sizzle, basically. I really worked out the guidelines of what this world would be. We shot it, and I knew I really wanted Netflix just because their programming is so racy. It’s not like a normal network where you have all these restrictions, and you can’t say this, you can’t do that. Though they have some – I didn’t get away with everything I wanted in the show. I asked the production company, “Is it possible that we could get a meeting with Netflix? Is that doable?” They said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.” It turned out to be our first pitch and they were the one … I think they called right after we left. It was super. There were so many opportunities for somebody to say no and stop this whole thing in its tracks, and they just, people just kept saying, “Okay.” It was very strange, like I said. They told me the statistics going in, but out of all of these sizzles, I think, I could be wrong, but I think they said something like 99% get a “no” here. I went in assuming this was gonna be a no, and it just kept being yes.
Well, you told me a little bit about, I guess, the concept behind the show. I was wondering, in the nuts and bolts of it, what is the format of each episode? Are they built around recipes or concepts? How did you pursue it?
Essentially, there’s a multitude of projects that cover several different bases, like baking, crafting, things like that, home decoration, dress-making. A lot of different things we touched on each episode that’s then based on the theme of that episode. What I did was, I rough drafted a couple paragraphs for what each episode could be, and sent it to them. They retooled it and made it work into, there’s like a whole story arc that starts from the beginning to the end. Each episode is its own kind of special story.
I wanted to talk a little bit about your influences for horror, photography, and cooking. Starting off with horror and a spooky aesthetic, when did you first realize you were into that? What kind of influences did you have in terms of movies, or images, or anything of that nature?
Geez, so many. I’ve literally been into this whole thing for as long as I can remember. I used to watch old Vincent Price movies when I was little. My Mom loves Dark Shadows so I used to watch that. Addams Family,The Munsters – I just was always drawn to that. If I had an idol, Marilyn Munster from The Munsters might be it. I loved that she looked pretty and normal and then she lived in this bizarre world. It was all normal to her. I almost wanna say the show for me, is based off a growth of Marilyn Munster. I’m trying to think, I started reading Goosebumps, which sounds silly, in elementary school. That sort of like really got things going. Then I bumped up to Dean Koontz and Stephen King by high school. It’s just kind of always been a huge draw to me. My aesthetic and style, kind of falls into a … I don’t like going too bloody and dark with what I do, for the most part. I have occasionally. It’s sort of walking this playful line and I think that probably stems from The Munsters, or something like that.
How about in the sense of, say, photography?
That’s such a funny thing because I am a photographer, but I almost think of it as just a means to an end. I started doing, obviously, the Instagram thing, for effort though. Then I got bored with that and was like, “Okay. Let’s start telling a story with theses pictures.” I do really like Annie Leibovitz’s work. There’s like several others that I’m fond of but she stands out the most as far as her style goes. If you want to compare my stuff to somebody, it would probably resemble hers the most. I never went to school for photography. I never went to school for photo editing. I just started practicing on the cheapest camera ever. Then as work came in and I was able to afford it, I just started getting better and better at it, and creating all the sets.
When I first started, I was asking my mom to take all of these pictures for me. I was probably like 18, or 19, or something. Obviously, she got bored with it. I sensed that she was bored taking pictures. I was like, “Okay, I should just get a tripod, and set this up, and start doing this.” From that point, I really just started figuring out how to do everything myself. I think I prefer that environment where you’re not asking anybody for anything because you know you’re willing to do anything that it takes to get what you need.
What are some culinary influences? When did you first like to bake, and cook?
Actually, this sounds really silly. I saw that movie Django Unchained. I had never baked before really. I think I made brownies, or something. They kept talking about white cake in that movie. I like, “Oh, white cake sounds good.” I was like, “I think I’ll bake a cake. I’ll see how this works.” I followed some super old recipe. It didn’t taste good, but it was pretty. It kind of just started this, “Oh, I like this medium. This is a fun medium to work in.” I’m not crazy about fondant, so I just immediately started sculpting butter cream, and doing things like that. Then I found more icing, and it just opened up all of these cool doors, to basically, to create the art that was in my head in something that I also love ’cause I’m a huge sugar fiend.
Yeah. I get it.
I can’t have a ton of it, but I pretty much, every time I don’t have to go to a meeting, or don’t have to go somewhere for a week, I’ll have a day where I just go crazy and get a bunch of donuts and whatnot.
Yeah, that’s good for sanity.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever made? It could be a recipe or just some piece of art. Does anything jump to mind?
You know what I find is that I keep getting better at everything I do, so it’s always usually the most recent thing I’ve done. I just recently did a Freddy Mercury birthday cake for 20th Century Fox. I tried sculpting a face and I was so happy with how it came out. I was so happy with the design and everything, so I wanna say, at the moment, that’s my favorite. But in a month, it might be different.
That makes sense.
I think what I’m working on right this second, might end up being my favorite.
Any hints on what you’re working on right now? You’re outside it sounds like.
I’m outside. I mean, I’ll tell you. I haven’t told anybody what I’m up to. I decorated my parents’ house for Halloween before, and I’m doing it again this year. It’s considerably more over the top than I’ve ever done before. I’ve recreated the entire façade of their house, that is foam core, shingle by shingle, and I’m doing something pretty spooky.
Nice. Thank God it’s almost Halloween again.
I know. I’m so jazzed. I love this time of year.
What are you most excited about for people to see your new show?
I think the fun, and the darkness, maybe. I just really love my brand of marrying these two things that are dark and scary with things that are silly and fun. I feel like the show is kind of like a window to my life that I really don’t get to show very much. I’m excited for people to see that, and hopefully, enjoy it.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell debuts Friday, October 12 on Netflix.