There are a lot of bloggers who dream of writing a movie, but few who actually manage it, especially teaming up with the producer of Paranormal Activity and the director of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. However that’s what’s C. Robert Cargill has done. After writing for the likes of AintItCool, Cargill got together with Scott Derrickson to write Sinister, which stars Ethan Hawke and hits cinemas today. You can read our review of the film here. We caught up with Cargill to find out a bit more.
Where did the idea for Sinister come from?
I had a terrible dream after seeing THE RING. I was climbing into my attic when I saw a box with Super 8 films and a projector in it. I spooled up the first film and it was the opening image of SINISTER. That nightmare stuck with me for a while and eventually I realised it might make a for a pretty good horror movie.
Are you a big horror/thriller fan?
Huge. I’m a hardcore movie lover in general, which is what led me to film criticism, but I’ve always had a serious love of horror.
Were there any movies that acted as a particular inspiration for Sinister?
THE CHANGELING. Classic 1980 George C. Scott horror masterpiece that has sadly become mostly forgotten over time, but ripped off by so many other films. It’s a really great story about a guy trying to come to grips with the sudden death of his family, while discovering the ghost of a little boy in the new home he’s moved into. Really scary stuff. There’s a scene with a staircase and a ball that makes most grown men quiver in their seats. That was a core inspiration for the pacing and characterisation of SINISTER.
I believe you used to review movies for the likes of AintItCool. Did spending time reviewing movies act as good preparation for writing Sinister?
That’s entirely how I viewed my tenure as a critic. I always knew I wanted to write fiction – whether as novels or films – and treated film criticism as an expanded masters class in storytelling. Each movie was a new assignment and millions of readers were grading me on each outing. When I was afforded the chances, I picked the brains of the masters it put me in contact with: Tarantino, Rodriguez, Avery, del Toro, Black, Wright…there were so many talented writers and directors who gave me advice along the way in great conversations over beers or after films. All of that was filed away as a student would lectures or lessons. SINISTER is the culmination of those lessons and my chance to test and prove some of the theories I developed during that time.
How did you end up working with Scott Derrickson to write Sinister?
Scott and I were friends for a long time before SINISTER. He was a reader of mine who began writing me letters after I had turned him onto some particularly great films that other critics had written off. A friendship slowly evolved and we happened into one another while both on vacation in Vegas. We had several drinks, got to talking and I pitched him SINISTER. He immediately wanted to make it and a week and a half later we were in Jason Blum’s office pitching to him and Brian Kavanagh Jones. They loved it and wanted to move forward quickly.
Is it true that you and Scott wrote the script in just five weeks?
Yep. 100% true. The first draft took 2-3 weeks and the remaining time was going through a number of different drafts. 5 weeks was how long it took before we had a draft we shared with everyone else.
I was wondering when I was watching the film, if there was almost a meta-narrative idea about found footage movies (although of course Sinister isn’t a found footage film itself). One of the complaints about those sorts of films is about why someone would film everything, but in Sinister there’s a reason why murders and strange events have to be on film and why the footage would come to light. Was that deliberate?
Ethan Hawke’s character, Ellison, is a very understandable person, but he’s not always very likable. Was it difficult to maintain the balance between making him a complex, driven, somewhat selfish man and not making the audience hate him?
Not on the page. That was pretty easy. In print people accept unlikable characters much easier than on the screen. The real trick was finding the right actor who the audience wouldn’t turn easily on. Someone like Jon Hamm in MADMEN or Bryan Cranston in BREAKING BAD. Ethan was an inspired choice on Scott’s part and we got very lucky in being able to get him. A lot of things had to fall into place to make that work and we were blessed. The movie probably wouldn’t have worked without someone with as powerful an onscreen presence as Ethan.
Early on in the film, it’s not clear whether we’re dealing with a serial killer investigation film, the supernatural or something else. Were you deliberately trying to keep the audience guessing?
Yes. While the marketing has undone a lot of that, we were writing a story for people who go in blind to really puzzle over. Meanwhile, it afforded us the ability to explain why Ellison wouldn’t be so quick to bolt from the house. It’s tough for an audience to maintain believability in a story if they reach a point at which they can’t understand why anyone would still live in a house like that.
Making people jump is always an important part of horror. I was wondering how much of those moments come from the script and how much from the director fashioning them on set? And does it help having the director also working on the script?
Half and half. Some of the jumps were written, but most got their power from execution. Some weren’t written as jumps at all but became them on set – or had been all along in Scott’s mind and he simply hadn’t shared that fact with me. There were a few of the latter for sure.
The movie sets up a mythology (while leaving plenty of mystery) that could easily lead into sequels. Was there a deliberate thought while you were writing the script about creating something that could become a franchise?
No. The idea was to create a single, frightening horror film that would encourage the audience to revisit the film to put the pieces together. The idea of leaving it “open to sequels” was developed more in vein to hint at the audience that this horrible thing could still be out there. Go home and check your attic. You could be next!
If there is a follow-up, where do you see things going in a sequel?
In a different direction. I certainly don’t want to tell the same story over again.
Is it a dream to have something you’ve written being released around the world, especially with some good buzz surrounding it?
Who *hasn’t* dreamed about that? This has been a dream come true. But right now I’m just hoping my luck holds and people really enjoy the film.
Are you working on any other movies, and if so, is there anything you can tell us about them?
We have projects in the pipe, but nothing we’re far enough along to talk about yet, sadly.
This interview was original posted on our sister site, MovieMuser.co.uk.