Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has directed 12 episodes of the hit FX anthology series American Horror Story — and now, he’s up for his first Emmy. Before Freakshow begins this fall, he dissects his favorite Coven moments (and yes, “Surprise, bitch!” is one of them).
"Bitchcraft," Episode 1
"I always go into a season thinking, What is the visual vocabulary of the season and how would it be different from last season? What's appropriate for this episode? Because of the heightened reality of the season and the humor in it and it's also such a baroque season, it allowed me to push myself creatively and push the boundaries of how far the style can go.
What was interesting about Madame LaLaurie [Kathy Bates], and in doing a lot of research about that time, it was the dawn of photography, which obviously affects the moving image, and that led to silent film, which is something we explored throughout the season, particularly with the flashbacks to the witches of Salem.
But the first sketch I had for the season was this horse, so I knew I wanted to start with that and have it be this ominous, haunting image: a black horse, right into his eyes and that would then open up the season and just remind you that it was a horror show. Then you go right into LaLaurie's house and it's a very ornate party. We also used some silent film techniques, like the irising on the houseboy that her daughter's having a fling with — and we didn't do that in post; we actually did it with the original irises in the camera. Everything is handmade.
And then, you know, 'There's nothing more interesting than a human face,' as they say, so we held that close-up of Kathy Bates, and with her, you don't have to go anywhere. She's doing these tiny little lip quivers and everything. It was just showing the private face as opposed to the public mask that she had on at the beginning at the party. I thought it was a really fun way to start the season because it had everything the show continued to be, which was horrific, hysterical, and campy."