Since it debuted last week on Netflix, “The Outer Banks” has proven to be a hit, quickly becoming one of the streaming service’s top shows. And it has provided Netflix audiences with something other than an eccentric zookeeper to keep themselves entertained in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The series, a coming-of-age drama about a group of teens living on the Outer Banks, was co-created by sibling filmmakers Josh and Jonas Pate, who are Winston-Salem natives, along with their friend Shannon Burke, a novelist and alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Pates have been working in show business more than 20 years now, having created such shows as the 1999 supernatural comedy “Good Vs. Evil” and the 2005-6 sci-fi series “Surface” (which was filmed in Wilmington), and working as executive producers, directors and writers on a wide variety of other shows.
Jonas said they were “super gratified” with the response “Outer Banks” has gotten so far.
“We’ve been doing this for awhile,” he said. “When you’ve been doing this a long time, you cross your fingers and hope for the best, but you never know. To find an audience that’s passionate, that’s as good as it gets.”
The brothers were born in Winston-Salem, grew up in Raeford, and spent parts of their summers in the Charleston, South Carolina, area, near where the show is filmed. In fact, some of the storylines are darned near autobiographical from their high school days in the 1980s — “the fight on the beach really happened,” Josh said, referring to a memorable early scene where a beach party turned into a brawl, though in real life no gunfire was involved. And the VW van the friends drive around in was inspired by a real-life vehicle they rode in back then, nicknamed “The Twinkie.” The brothers said it was kind of surreal to be shooting scenes so close to the locations where they originally happened in their own lives.
The initial idea for the series was sparked by news articles about storms several years ago that had knocked out power to the Outer Banks, and pictures of the damage and how people were recovering, including shots of lavish mansions that were without power. “It was an evocative image,” Josh said, “and sparked conversations.” The first episode of the Netflix series involves the aftermath of a hurricane passing over the community and how the locals set about trying to get their lives back to normal afterward.
In crafting the show, the Pates and Burke were partly inspired by their fondness for “The Outsiders,” a classic book and movie about the friendship of a group of teens from the “wrong side of the tracks,” with their own experiences in coastal North and South Carolina while growing up added on. And, inspired by such famous stories as Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and the movie “The Goonies,” they added a subplot involving a lost treasure.
Some viewers have griped about the show playing fast and loose with the geography of the region, but there’s a reason for that. “We don’t make any attempt of geographic reality on the show,” Josh said, “and we appreciate everyone pointing it out.” Their fictional coastal community is an amalgam of the Carolina coast, Charleston, Wrightsville Beach, and other areas.
Early on, as they were writing the scripts, they thought it might be filmed in the Wilmington area, and wrote some locales there into the script, Jonas said, but Netflix declined because of the controversial HB2 “bathroom bill” and the desire to shoot the series somewhere more inclusive. They agreed with the sentiment, and shifted the production to Charleston, bringing about half their crew down from Wilmington.
Jonas, who moved to the Wilmington area three years ago, is on the governor’s film advisory board, “which is really working hard to bring film back to North Carolina, which I think is on its way,” he said. With the last remnants on HB2 expected to be on their way out later this year, he is optimistic about the future of films and TV shows in the state.
“The group the governor has assembled is filled with smart, hard-working people,” he said. “We’re getting the idea out there that film is a viable and clean — and not likely to be automated — business for North Carolina. ... There’s a history of film in North Carolina, and it should be viewed as legitimate as hogs and tobacco.”
They haven’t yet heard whether “Outer Banks” will be picked up for a second season, a decision that Netflix should reach in a few weeks. “Our fingers and toes are crossed, and we’re very hopeful,” Josh said, “but we just don’t know. Netflix has been positive, for sure.”
They are already hashing out ideas and writing scripts for a possible second season. “We’ve kind of mapped it out in the broadest strokes,” Jonas said. “We know where we’re going, we’re really excited.... If we’re lucky enough to get a season two, you’ll realize season one was just a warm-up.”
They keep in touch by Zoom, something they were doing even before the pandemic, with Jonas in the Wilmington area, Josh at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Burke in Knoxville. So not much has changed.
“Josh and I joke that quarantine and writing are basically the same,” Jonas said. “It’s not that hard in quarantine to stay focused, at least in the writing phase. It’s monastic and your butt’s in a chair in front of your computer.”