The Inverse Interview

Percy Jackson’s Showrunners Created a New Disney+ Franchise With a Unique Challenge

What happens when your hero has a bedtime?

Three teenagers stand together with serious expressions against a cloudy twilight sky.
The Inverse Interview

A good franchise needs to be built on good source material. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has Marvel Comics, contemporary Star Wars has the original films and non-canon books and comics... and Percy Jackson and the Olympians has the books by Rick Riordan. The series, about an alternate America populated with creatures and characters from Greek mythology, is set to make a big splash on Disney+, which is apt for a story about the son of Poseidon.

Also apt is the choice of Dan Shotz and Jon Steinberg, both alumni of the hit pirate drama Black Sails, as showrunners. For them, Percy Jackson has the potential to be the start of a universe. “I think it’s a great big story, and the canvas just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Steinberg tells Inverse. “The deeper you get into it, the idea that maybe we will be able to make more of that story real and bring it to a bigger audience is pretty exciting.”

Percy Jackson was previously adapted into two movies in 2010 and 2013, both criticized for veering away from their origins. But Shotz and Steinberg have something the movies never had: the freedom of television. The original books were divided into easily digestible chapters, each depicting another evil encounter on Percy’s cross-country quest. “I don’t know how you would even begin to go about trying to tell this story as a feature and be able to include all of the things that feel like they’re integral to the experience,” Steinberg says.

Unlike the 2010 movie, Percy will be the same age on TV that he was in the books, leaving room for growth.


One of the biggest changes the TV series is making is to the age of the cast. Unlike in the films, which aged the characters up, the actors who play main characters Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are the same age as their book counterparts. It’s a smart choice, but it comes with one big obstacle: younger actors have strict limits on the number of hours they can work.

This issue was counteracted using the same technology employed on many Star Wars and Marvel projects: Industrial Light & Magic’s 360-degree LED screen StageCraft set, more commonly known as The Volume. Because Percy Jackson’s young stars can’t work at night, night came to them.

The Volume was used for one of Percy’s first battles, where he defends his mom from the half-man, half-bull, tighty-whitey-wearing Minotaur. “We were able to do that night action scene on one of the Volume stages, which is good that you don’t even notice,” Shotz tells Inverse. “But that’s how good the technology is, because it should feel completely invisible.”

Percy Jackson & The Olympians used the same technology for its battles as Star Wars and the MCU employs.


But don’t let the young cast fool you: the series deals with dark topics like disability, identity, and mortality as well as the most “adult” Marvel series, while still being entertaining for the younger crowd. “When this season is working right,” Steinberg says, “a parent can watch a scene with a kid and they can be hearing entirely different things happening and experiencing it in totally different ways.”

The Volume isn’t a magic bullet; Star Wars and Marvel have faced criticism for overusing it, leading to bland special effects and lifeless sets. But it’s a tool like any other, and when used correctly, it can help overcome the unique challenges Percy Jackson faced. It’s too early to tell if Percy Jackson and the Olympians will stand on its own next to its older franchise siblings, but Shotz and Steinberg have made it clear they’ve left it all on the field.

“We’ve spent four years with the Riordans building this and developing this,” Shotz says. “You feel like you put your blood, sweat, guts, tears, excitement, all out there. We did everything that we could do to make this what we had hoped it would be.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians premieres December 22 on Disney+.

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