‘Them’ Creator Little Marvin on Following the Fear + Quitting His Job to Pursue TV

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Photo Source: Amazon Studios

Little Marvin had a childhood dream of making television, but after studying theater in college, he veered from entertainment and led a career as a marketing executive and a creative director. All the while, a voice in his head reminded him of the dream on the backburner. “Eventually I reached a point where the voice was too loud to ignore,” says Little Marvin. 

So he wagered his future by putting himself up for a promotion at work: “The onus was if I got the promotion, I would put the dream of making TV away in a box and never think about it again—and if I didn’t get it, I would quit my job immediately, move to L.A., and lock myself in a room and not come out until I was a TV writer.”  Spoiler: He didn’t get the promotion. 

Little Marvin looked to YouTube for guidance to fulfill his TV-making prophecy, watching recorded roundtables with showrunners as a sort of  “mini showrunner bootcamp in my kitchen,” he recalls. “I was white-knuckling it every second of that journey thinking I made the biggest mistake of my life.”

The big leap landed, though, and in 2019 Little Marvin’s production company Odd Man Out signed an overall deal with Amazon. Little Marvin’s first project out the gate is the terror anthology series “Them: Covenant,” starring Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, and Alison Pill, and executive produced by Lena Waithe. The show begins streaming April 9.

The 10-episode inaugural season follows a Black family who moves from rural North Carolina to a tree-lined street in the all-white neighborhood of Compton in Los Angeles in 1953. The white neighbors spew racist vitriol on the unwelcome family whenever they open their door, all while supernatural forces begin to take hold of the family inside their own house. 

“Public spaces have been weaponized against Black folks since the dawn of this country, but what I hadn’t really seen was a story that lived in the tension between the public and the private,” says Little Marvin. “The most private of space is the home, which should be the safest of spaces. My journey began with a question: What happens when that safe space turns on you, too? And then I was off to the races.”

READ: How Lena Waithe Uses TV to Showcase the Human Condition

Little Marvin applied the same vigor of his personal bootcamp to his research of 1950s Compton and the Great Migration. “Compton was the lightbulb for me in the sense that, here’s a place that’s really iconically Black in the public imagination, whether it’s pop-culturally, culturally, or musically,” he says, “and to realize as I’m reading all of these books that it was pretty lily-white back 60, 70 years ago, and not only that, but those folks were virulently protective of their whiteness and of their block.” The terror tactics inflicted on Black families moving West “seemed very much part and parcel of the Jim Crow South,” he adds.

Little Marvin points to classic domestic thrillers like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist” as case studies for building suspense for the jump-scare series. “There’s a slow burn, a methodical nature to the pacing of those films, and I like the way they build dread,” he says. The next season of “Them” will take place in an entirely new setting with a new cadre of characters, but it will also center people historically in the margins. 

As he looks ahead to future projects, he’s grateful to be able to count some of his early YouTube mentors as real-life mentors now, including Lena Waithe. “The amount of faith and confidence that she put in me and then trusted in me as a creator, as a writer, as a Black individual in this industry, I can’t say enough about it,” effuses Little Marvin. “To be the benefactor of that from her has only made me realize how rewarding it is to get into any position and then do that for somebody else.”

So Little Marvin’s advice to anyone with a nagging pipe dream is to follow it, no matter your age or experience level or background. “Be kind to yourself during the journey. I wish that I had been a little kinder and realized that there is knowledge to be gained at every single step of your journey… I find myself using things as a showrunner that I used in my life as a creative director and marketing executive.” 

Indeed, Little Marvin’s past life in corporate America dovetails with his responsibilities in the writers’ room and producer’s chair—crafting pitches, shepherding projects from concept to completion, and managing timelines. “When I felt like I was the most lost,” he posits, “I was actually gaining knowledge.”

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