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Jeff Lemire, Jim Mickle, And Beth Schwartz On How Sweet Tooth Became A Reality - Exclusive Interview

"Sweet Tooth," the post-apocalyptic comic book series both written and drawn by Jeff Lemire is a stunning, brilliant work of fiction — but it's also very stark and grim at times. And while that can be good (great, even), there's a very thin tightrope to walk when adapting a story about a deadly pandemic that irrevocably alters human civilization while, in real life, there is a deadly pandemic literally irrevocably altering human civilization at the same time.

How do you keep the heart and the truth of "Sweet Tooth" while also providing some much-needed hope for the people watching it who have been in real, extended despair for well over a year?  That is the question executive producers Jim Mickle and Beth Schwartz had to work out with the help of Jeff Lemire. The team had help coming from elsewhere, too, in the form of husband and wife team Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey.

What changes were made? What was the essence of "Sweet Tooth" that had to remain? And what moment resonated most for this creative team once the rest of the world was able to see the fruits of their labor? Looper sat down with Jim Mickle, Beth Schwartz, and Jeff Lemire to get the story behind the story of "Sweet Tooth."

Team Downey and Jeff's rules

I was talking to James Brolin and he told me that Robert Downey Jr. and his wife, Susan, basically said "You're doing 'Sweet Tooth.'" What other ways were they really deeply involved in this project where they made stuff like that happen?

Jim Mickle: That's how we all got involved. We just got a call from them one day. They said "You're doing this."

Beth Schwartz: That is actually true. They were heavily involved in every aspect of the project, from pitching to giving notes on our pitch, our Season 1 pitch to the studio and to Netflix and in all of our scripts and in post-production. And there were a couple of executives from Team Downey that were in New Zealand on set.

Jeff, what were the guideposts that you gave them? What were the things that you pointed to and said "This is the stuff that must remain"?

Jeff Lemire: It was more like Jim coming to me and telling me his vision for the show and just really loving what he proposed. It was more that than me demanding things be a certain way. And I think early on, Jim and I talked about how there's been a ton of post-apocalyptic fiction since I first did the comic and maybe we needed to find a slightly different visual language. And some of that too comes from my drawing style, which can be pretty stark and minimalist whereas New Zealand, where they shot, is so lush and it creates this visual contrast between the book and the show right away. I don't think we ever really had that conversation where I made demands of Jim. We should have, but we didn't.

Jim Mickle: Now we're going to get Jeff's rules.

Jeff Lemire: Jim laid out his vision for it early and I was totally on board because I just, I knew that he got the story and got the characters and he knew the heart of the piece. And then if any aesthetic things or details change, that's not so important as long as the core of the thing stays true, which it did.

Why the horse scene is so deeply resonant

Now that 'Sweet Tooth' is out in the world and people have had a chance to really see it, is there something that sticks out from the whole season where you feel like you really achieved what you wanted for the series so far?

Jim Mickle: Yeah. There's a lot, but one in particular, one small one was the end of Episode 6 when the horse runs out of the suburbs in slow motion. I remember loving that on the page and we shot that and it was like we were trying to get sunrise. So you woke up and it's dark and it's five in the morning and you go out to the suburb in the middle of nowhere and we had a drone flying, we have horse trainers out in the field and it was just a weird thing and you're sort of waiting for it.

And then when we actually got the shot, we only got like one take of it but when you got the shot perfectly timed and the drone flew over the horse and the horse ran towards the sunset and you get through those rays and stuff. I remember choking up and just thinking everybody back home in the US is still stuck inside, still stuck quarantining, and here we are shooting this horse in slow motion, sort of escaping from the suburbs. And just thinking months from now, this will come out and will probably have a really deeper resonance. And I felt that watching it over the weekend for the first time.

"Sweet Tooth" is now streaming on Netflix.