INTERVIEW: Making ‘The Dead Lands’ with Tainui Stephens and Glenn Standring

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The Dead Lands

The Dead Lands is the Shudder Original co-production between the AMC genre streaming service and New Zealand’s TVNZ. The series is an immersive fantasy grounded in Maori belief and culture. From traditional martial arts to rituals, The Dead Lands blends the horror, fantasy, and adventure genres by building this traditional hero narrative and Maori traditions. In this interview, I got the chance to sit down with producer Tainui Stephens and executive producer, writer, and co-creator of the series, Glenn Standring and discuss the inspiration between the series and the process of translating sacred rituals and ideas to the screen.

Throughout The Dead Lands, and the interview itself, Stephens and Standring’s dedication and passion for creating not only an interesting story but an authentic one jump out as you. Standring mentions that when he created the series he knew that he needed to seek the advice of on the more traditional aspects of Maori culture. In comes, Stephens who worked in tandem with Standring to bring in not only authenticity but to tackle the difficult task of showcasing the scared on television. with decades of exorcism films under our belts as horror fans, I bet not any of has wondered about how the writers of those films work on partitioning away parts of the rituals and rites out of respect and belief. For The Dead Lands, Stephens undertook the task of taking Maori religious chants and rituals and finding the line to walk that one, respected his history and culture, but two, showed the practice on screen. This resulted in changing chants to variations on real ones and choosing select moments while leaving others out.

While Standring wrote the series, Stephens worked on imbuing it with Maori culture. The two worked together on crafting dialogue that as they talk about in the audio above, was both familiar but also took into account the sentiment behind certain phrases Maori. To explain, Stephens brought up how while protagonist Waka may say “fuck,” he also gets more elaborate and insults the “head” of a body, the most sacred part according to Maori culture. Additionally, exclamations and curses often revolve to do with bodily functions that are compatible with Maori sayings when putting into English. But beyond adapting certain elements like language, there are moments in the series remain for a Maori audience.

I’ve spoken how important it is that Spanish exist unsubtitled in some moments to normalize the language, something Into the Spider-Verse did extremely well. In the Dead Lands, there are many chants and expressions left unsubtitled. This was important to both Standring and Stephens to show that this series is for Maori as much as everyone else and to further showcase how bilingualism is just a way of life for the New Zealand audience that the series is coming from.

This is only a fraction of what we talk about, hit play on the audio above to get our full conversation about representation, storytelling, and creating The Dead Lands. 

All eight episodes of The Dead Lands season one are available on Shudder. Need a subscription? Grab one with our affiliate link!