How Those Creepy, Beautiful 'American Horror Story' Promos Came to Be

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For nearly two months now FX has been teasing viewers with their creepy yet beautiful promos—most of which are mere seconds in length—for the new season of American Horror Story, subtitled Coven, which begins tonight. So how do these come together? Well, Stephanie Gibbons of FX told us that the process is basically scholarly. 

"Almost like English majors, we approach it by saying, 'okay, how do we create abstract imagery that plays to those themes and connects some of the dots from the show,'" explained Gibbons, the president of marketing and on-air promotions.

While the Coven promos are certainly something, they aren't easy to figure out, and that's kind of the point of these type of conceptual spots, which FX frequently uses. "I think the essence of it is to try to create imagery that is resistant to be easily categorized and then summarily dismissed," she said. "It’s about putting something in front of someone that requires a moment of engagement to try to figure it out." So the process for the Coven promos began with conversations involving the CEO of FX John Landgraf and creator Ryan Murphy about  the themes the show is trying to get across these season. The network then works with creative agencies, teasing out images, and developing the final product, which will eventually be brought to life in a studio.

The Coven imagery undoubtedly strikes a chord, even if it annoys some who just want to see full scenes from the show. It's sort of sexy, sort of grotesque, Pre-Raphaelite mixed with Hieronymus Bosch. Take for instance the image of three women, mouths open, with a snake slithering between them. Well, Gibbons said, in reading about witches, voodoo and the history of New Orleans, they found that snakes played a part in the culture. Coupling that with, say, Emma Roberts' "hyper-sexualized" character on the show—which has made a habit in its previous two seasons of being subversive—the image became a "notion of something that joins the coven," Gibbons said. "Almost like a joint evil, a joint agenda, that connects them all that comes from within them and comes out ward." 

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Or, how about the first promo audiences saw, featuring women seemingly suspended in midair, faces turned against the walls? That came from, Gibbons said, an attempt to play with the idea of women and power, a theme in the show: the questions of what real power looks like for women and when women turn on one another. "There’s nothing crazily magical about them, They still appear mortal, they still appear human, they appear almost civilian and pedestrian, but that when they turn back out and they sort of assume power," Gibbons said. "It’s almost like they’re in gestation in that room, but they’re about to encounter something that’s going to open them up, ignite their power." 

The philosophy behind the promos, Gibbons told us, is that the "retina rules." 

"We try to create iconic moments that imprint people with themes, but the image itself sucks you in because essentially your mind is searching for something else exactly like it so you can categorize it and you’re not quite sure you can," she said. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.