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A&E >  Entertainment

An eerie Netflix hit: Spokane’s Mandi Price is producer on the streamer’s No. 1 show ‘Archive 81’

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 19, 2022

Shadle Park High School alumna and Hollywood producer Amanda Kay Price knew her latest production, “Archive 81,” came with a built-in audience as an adaptation of a popular horror podcast.

But Price, who goes by Mandi, said from her home in Los Angeles on Tuesday she had no clue how big that audience would be.

“We really went into this weekend not knowing if anyone would even watch the show,” Price said.

As of Tuesday, the thriller series that follows a video archivist who stumbles upon an occult mystery tied to an old apartment complex is Netflix’s No. 1 show by viewers. Beating, as Price gleefully pointed out, established series that include the popular “Cobra Kai” continuation of “The Karate Kid” story (No. 5).

It’s not the first taste of Hollywood success for Price, who cut her teeth as a producer on shows that include “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Future Man” and 2020’s Emmy-nominated miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere” starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. But the Gonzaga University graduate and former editor at KHQ-TV said this most recent project was among her most memorable because it was filmed, edited and produced entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It really is nuts to look back at the show and think, that is my pandemic baby,” Price said.

This weekend’s release on the popular streaming service is a culmination of work that began just as the pandemic was emerging in the United States in March 2020. For Price, a producer who described her job as being the crew member responsible for getting the show from the camera to the screens of millions of subscribers worldwide, that meant virtual meetings and hours of work at home, crafting the show’s eerie ambiance through its visual style and sound.

“It’s described as horror,” she said. “I would not call it horror. I would call it paranormal tension. What’s going to pop out, what’s behind the corner?”

The show, which contains a warning that it’s intended for audiences age 17 and older, follows Dan, an archivist played by Mamoudou Athie. Dan is hired by a company to restore video tapes that have been damaged by an apartment fire, tapes that contain an oral history of the building that burned made by Melody, played by Dina Shihabi. As is typical for the found-footage thriller genre, strange things start to happen to Dan.

The show is a loose adaptation of the 2016 podcast series of the same name.

Price said the show’s uneasiness is in large part due to its score, crafted by the creative team of Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. The pair also scored the 2014 sci-fi sleeper hit “Ex Machina.”

“It’s a sound-designed score, which makes it really eerie,” Price said. The sounds of clanking pipes and other household utterances are used to set the mood, including a repeating tune tied to the show’s central religious cult that is explored more as the eight-episode first season burns slowly to a conclusion.

Price praised the show’s performers, who, while not household names like Washington and Witherspoon, can captivate an audience with their portrayals, she said. She singled out Athie, a West African-born performer whose work includes an Emmy-nominated performance on the FXX series “Cake” as Jerome.

Price, who is Black, said working on a series with a Black lead performer while navigating the social unrest across the country following the murder of George Floyd was another reason the success of “Archive 81” is special.

“I’m making this show with a Black lead when there’s literally helicopters flying overhead in Los Angeles,” she said. “I will forever remember, hearing helicopters or tanks outside my window. Or peace and calm.”

The ascension from a production assistant to a producer, who’s working closely with the showrunner and other executives, happened quickly for Price, she’s quick to point out. But she points to her education at Gonzaga, and particularly that of former instructor Dan Garrity, for helping prepare her for the job. A job she didn’t know existed when she left Spokane for Los Angeles several years ago, looking to adapt her skills to a more lucrative gig than local TV news.

“I had to figure out a way. ‘How do I do what I love, which is work in TV, and get paid more?’ ” she said. “Quite honestly, I was like, well, what about scripted TV?”

It was her turn on “Future Man,” a sci-fi comedy series created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg of “Superbad” fame, where Price said she learned she could be part of the creative process. An associate producer and post-production supervisor during the Hulu series’ three-season run, Price said she suggested lightning for the show’s opening credits – an homage to her love of all things Harry Potter.

“That show really changed my career in terms of post-production,” she said. “It made me realize that in my role I can have creative input on a show.”

Price said she preferred the production schedule of streaming services to broadcast, giving her and the team of editors, composers and visual effects artists weeks and months, instead of days, to finalize a show for distribution. But one thing streamers don’t do is confirm additional seasons during production, meaning despite the popularity and praise (the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives “Archive 81” a 91% positive rating among critics as of Tuesday), she still doesn’t know if there will be a season two.

But for now, Price said she’s not thinking about additional seasons or awards.

“To have the globe love it as much as we do, quite frankly, I think it’s probably better (than awards),” Price said. “As an artist, and a storyteller, that’s something that is surreal.”

Kip Hill can be reached at (509) 459-5429 or at kiph@spokesman.com.

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