Firebite interview with creators Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher

Shantae Barnes-Cowan as Shanika - Firebite Season 1, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Ian Routledge/AMC+
Shantae Barnes-Cowan as Shanika - Firebite Season 1, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Ian Routledge/AMC+ /

Firebite is AMC+’s exhilarating new Indigenous vampire series created by Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher. The series centers on a pair of aboriginal vampire hunters, Tyson and Shanika, who must destroy the last colonial stronghold of vampires nesting in the tunnels scattered throughout an Australian mining town.

1428 Elm spoke with co-creators Thornton and Fletcher about the idea for the series, what sets Firebite’s vampires apart, and much more.

Firebite interview with creators Warwick Thornton and Brendan Fletcher

Rob Collins as Tyson – Firebite Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Ian Routledge/AMC+ /

1428 ELM: How did the idea for Firebite come about?

BRENDAN FLETCHER: I remember when Warwick first spoke to me about this idea. We had both been making films of our own around the subject, I suppose, of things that were passionate to us. Mainly to Warwick and I was about the Indigenous issues of Australia and Warwick said to me, “I’ve got this idea about a vampire show.” And I looked at him and thought, what the hell does Warwick Thornton want to make a vampire show for?

And then when he said to me, “What if the vampires came to Australia with the first fleet? And as the colonization of Australia happened, the vampires spread across Australia with that first fleet and they’re kind of like the dark shadow of the imperial forces.” Instantly I thought, that is a cool idea. Then I understood what Warwick was coming at with the idea of a vampire show and from then on it was just like, right, how do we do this?

WARWICK THORNTON: It has been an incredibly long journey, hasn’t it Brendan?

BF: It has, yeah.

WT: How many years now?

BF: Well, I remember you spoke to me about that in 2014 because that’s when we wrote the first pilot. But for you, I know the idea had been bubbling for a couple of years at least, before then.

WT: Yeah, it was marinating for quite a long time. It kind of came from when I first found out that there were 11 vials of smallpox on the first fleet. The British empire, whenever they went to a new country to colonize, they’d take smallpox and they would release it and the Indigenous people of that country would come down with a mysterious illness.

And it was kind of like, well, we could make that movie, we could make a period piece in 1788 with the ships in the harbor waiting to come ashore to raise their flags. But I thought no, I don’t want to make that movie, I’ve made many movies like that, very worthy, educational films, and with those comes a very limited audience.

I thought, how can we make this wider for the world because the British went to North America, they went to India, they went to China, they went everywhere to expand their empire. It’s a big picture story, how do we turn this around so the world has access to it? And decided one day, well, why don’t we turn the 11 vials of smallpox into 11 vampires? And that’s kind of where it started.

Rob Collins as Tyson and Shante Barnes-Cowan as Shanika – Firebite Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Ian Routledge/AMC+ /

1428 ELM: It’s interesting, too, because we’ve seen so many different iterations of vampires and their mythology over the years, so how did you establish the lore of Firebite to make it stand out from these other stories?

WT: Brendan’s really strong on this but I’ll just say that vampires are a great foundation to start with and it’s a foundation that you can pick and choose their mythology and you can rebuild it quite quickly and quite easily, just what kills them and what doesn’t kill them, boring things like they’re allergic to garlic you can quickly get rid of that sort of stuff and start making a really powerful metaphor for the history of the world through vampires. But Brendan is much better at talking about this stuff than me.

BF: [Laughs] Sure, listen at the end of the day what we wanted to do from the word go was make something that stood out. There has been so many vampire books, TV shows, movies, and we knew there wouldn’t be any point in beginning this unless it felt super original and given that we had this theme of colonization, every time we had a creative question, we went, okay, how can we go back to the original framework? And how can this speak to the underlying metaphor of the show?

Then it was just a case of alright, well, what is it from the traditional gothic vampires that we like, and what is it that we want to leave behind? So, you know we’ve kept stuff like they’re immortal, they’re afraid of sunlight, they get killed by being in sunlight, then we wanted to kind of change it up, as Warwick said, for us, the idea of garlic or crucifixes or having to sleep in coffins wasn’t so interesting, that was a different metaphorical framework. So we thought what can we bring to make things more interesting for us?

One thing we did to make our vampires different and original is that when you first get bitten as a human being, when you first get turned as a human being into a vampire, you lose all of your identity. You lose your language, you lose your stories, you lose your sense of self, you lose your memories—much like colonization.

When the imperial force comes into your body, that gets taken from you. And then over a very long time, if you survive as a vampire, you gradually start to put those fragments together again and you can get your sense of self back and your identity and memories will slowly come back over tens, or even a hundred or so years, you can put yourself back together.

We looked at the idea of the body being colonized. That’s something, just as an example I suppose, that’s how we approached making our vampires different and that fit into our worldbuilding of the show.

Rob Collins as Tyson and Shante Barnes-Cowan as Shanika – Firebite _ Season 1, Gallery – Photo Credit: Ian Routledge/AMC+ /

1428 ELM: Firebite has a very strong sense of place and the setting is just as essential to the story as the plot and character. Did you know from the beginning that would be a vital component of the show’s DNA?

BF: I think that was really important, it’s a total sense of place, sense of style, not only through the visuals but also through the written word. It was incredibly important to create a world that an audience was just comfortable in. We wanted to get on with telling the story of Tyson and Shanika rather than spending [a lot] of time and energy and visuals on trying to create a world.

WT: I remember from the very beginning, you had the idea of shooting in Coober Pedy. From the first mention of this project, you said, “And it’s going to be shot in Coober Pedy.” Coober Pedy is basically the opal-mining capital of the world.

Around the town of Coober Pedy, there are all of these abandoned mineshafts, where people have come over the years and dug holes. If you look it up, you’ll find something like a quarter of a million abandoned mineshafts all around town and the town is basically, I don’t know, maybe 3,000 people live there? So you have this kind of swiss cheese network of tunnels all outside the town that are abandoned and, of course, full of darkness.

So, you know it was kind of like a perfect setting for a vampire movie. It was one of those things where as soon as Warwick said it, it was like, “Of course there are vampires in the tunnels, of course we should make a show like this and shoot it in Coober Pedy. There couldn’t be a more perfect setting. As you say, the location is like a character in itself, it’s a perfect fitting for the concept.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

New episodes of Firebite stream Thursdays on AMC+.