I. Marlene King on Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper, and 10 More Things That Influenced Pretty Little Liars

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I. Marlene King has been the guiding force behind Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars since it debuted in 2010, as the series’ torture-filled, delightfully crazy mystery blossomed into a teen-drama phenomenon. With the final season of PLL coming to an end, Vulture spoke with King to discuss everything that has influenced the series, from television and literature to her own personal experiences.

Alfred Hitchcock
“My mother is a black-and-white-movie-obsessed person, so I grew up watching a lot of those movies. Hitchcock has really influenced the show, up to the point where we would have directors re-create scenes and set pieces from Hitchcock movies shot by shot by shot. We’ve paid homage to Psycho with our Lost Woods Resort, which we’ve gone back to many, many times. That’s really the Bates Motel for us. All roads leads to the Lost Woods Resort. A lot of the women in the Hitchcock movies are important to me, too. Alison is like all of those great blondes in those Hitchcock movies. Hanna, not so much. We definitely paid homage to Rear Window in our Christmas episode, when Toby was in the wheelchair and spying from Spencer’s window into the DiLaurentis house. In the season three finale, when the Lodge burns down, it was right out of North by Northwest.

Stephen King
“All of the writers in our writers room love Stephen King and are very aware of his work, both his books and the films adapted from his books. There’s definitely some King-ian Castle Rock influences flowing around. The whole body of everything he ever wrote is locked in my brain and constantly coming out. He actually referenced Pretty Little Liars in one of his recent books, and it made me so happy.”

Twin Peaks
“Lesli Glatter, who directed a few episodes of Twin Peaks, directed our pilot and the first two finales. We talked a lot about Pretty Little Liars merging those two worlds together. She also directed my first feature, Now and Then, so we really wanted it to be Now and Then meets Twin Peaks for teenage girls. That distinctive, stylized sense comes to mind. In Twin Peaks, you could shoot a still shot of a swinging red traffic light and it created such an image of bringing that town to life, and that town becoming a character in its own right. I wanted to very much make Rosewood a character in addition to the actors on the show. And also, the way they handled their mystery. Talk about bingeable TV — it was bingeable TV before there was bingeable TV! Those great cliffhanger endings that didn’t give away the answers all of the time. That’s something I learned from Twin Peaks. People love to keep guessing and guessing.”

To Kill a Mockingbird
“Ezra was a literature teacher, so we were influenced a lot by the books that he talked about. In season one when the class was reading To Kill a Mockingbird, the character of Toby was influenced directly by Boo Radley. He was the creepy guy that sulks around town! Until the girls got the know him, he was exactly like that.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“How Alison emulated Audrey Hepburn in a lot of different scenes. Her hair, her makeup, that was one of the books Ezra’s class was reading, too.”

Lolita
“Alison was our little Lolita for so long, and she was obsessed with that book within the show.”

The first few Halloween movies
“We embraced those with our Halloween episodes. We would score those episodes in a different way that reflected more of a horror film than a thriller.”

“Secret” by the Pierces
“It was actually Ashley Benson who found that as our theme song. She shared it with the girls during the pilot and they were like, ‘Oh my God, we have to show this to Marlene.’ That song really did influence so much of what the show is, including the opening credits. We take quotes from that song and put them into dialogue. Whenever we can circle back to ‘Secret,’ we do. I feel like it was written for the show, and it wasn’t, which is crazy.”

“Empowered female music”
“We strayed away from heavy rock or a male sound. We absolutely wanted the music to be female-centric and female-driven; that was our guideline. We do a lot of great ballads. There’s an artist we had on Pretty Little Liars a lot, her name is Christina Perri. That haunting, sad ballad, soulful sound. She inspires me. A lot of those early montages on the show were set to her songs. It just makes you want to cry when she sings! Going back to the pilot, we had Lady Gaga too. Empowered female music in every sense of the word. We referenced Beyoncé on the show. We haven’t been able to afford her music, but we’ll definitely reference her.”

Edward Hopper
“I’ve always loved his work and have referenced him many times throughout the show. Spencer had an Edward Hopper photo book on her coffee table for a long time. We set up so many isolated images, we’ve referenced a lot of his work, and used it as a tool of what the show and Rosewood was going to look like. The idea of isolation and loneliness and sadness — we decided the show is dark. Pretty Little Liars is a dark show. We made it look glossy and made it look like a pretty world, but when you look closer, nothing is as it appears to be. I found that to be a theme in Hopper’s work that resonated with me. Norman Buckley, one of our directors, literally staged a scene exactly as Nighthawks in one of the episodes.”

Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys
“I grew up bingeing on both of those franchises, and I’m sure they gave me a strong basis on how to build a mystery show. I don’t know if anyone still reads them, but they should.”

Her childhood
“I grew up on a cul de sac in a small town that felt very much like Pretty Little Liars, where everything seems to be a picture-perfect place, but of course people have secrets and are hiding things. That definitely has influenced my storytelling. When I was growing up, I also had a group of fantastic best friends and we stuck together like glue. For me, the most important part of the show is the friendship the girls have with each other, and I think I was lucky enough to have that growing up.”

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