This is Part 6 (the final part) of our interview with author C. Robert Cargill and director/Screenwriter Scott Derrickson. They have been working as a team ever since finding their love of each other's storytelling style. As we wrap up our six part interview with them they offer an inside view of their own work.
DERRICKSON - After The Day the Earth Stood Still...that movie was pretty critically lambasted and didn't make as much domestic money as it should have made. It made a ton of money worldwide. It was still a win for the studio. But the domestic number is the sexy number. For me, after that, the things that I was being offered were really bad studio sequels and movies that I wouldn't pay to see, let alone make.
So that's why when I ran into Cargill and he pitched me that idea for Sinister I was like "This is the one!" I heard it and that was the horror movie I was waiting to see. I knew I could get it made because it was contained and it wouldn't be expensive. Also I had the attitude of "Fuck it" I'm going to go make that movie. You know why? Because I wanted to see that movie. If it's a failure and I die on that sword it's my fuckin' sword. It's not somebody else's sword. That was the thing for me. The result was, my God, I connected and it made like $90 million worldwide off a three million dollar budget. It wasn't because we were being strategic. It was because we were trying to do something good. We were trying to tell a story that would be the kind of movie we would be glad we paid to see.
That's storytellers. I don't care what the story is about. Connect me with the characters and the emotions and I'm taking the trip with you.
Robert, did you write the book Dreams and Shadows because it was a story you wanted to read?
CARGILL - Yes. Very much so. It was the type of book where there were a whole bunch of things that kind of came together. It was all these different types of stories that I really wanted to see and had never seen written before. The driving idea behind it was I wanted to see the story of young innocent children on an adventure, which we've seen a lot of, but we never see them on an adventure in a truly scary terrifying fantasy world.
I guess the Goonies affected everybody differently
CARGILL - No, no the Goonies isn't a fantasy world. The Goonies is a group of kids being chased by very scary gangsters. They bumble up the gangsters a bit and I wanted to tell a story with the thought "What if the gangsters weren't bumbling?" For the kids to survive...
DERRICKSON - They can't escape on skateboards.
CARGILL - Yeah. in most childhood fantasies the kid goes to a magical kingdom and he's presented with a sword and a magical helmet and all of a sudden he can beat the scariest creatures in the land. I wanted to see kids that were put into a situation where if they survive they only survive by their wits alone and they didn't come away unscathed. It scarred them. Being part of that was affecting them as adults.
The second half of the book is entirely these kids as adults and how the exposure to this world really touched them in not-so-great ways and what happens when those things don't forget that they exist. Those things come back for them.
Do you see a King influence from It?
CARGILL - Not only that but there's a little bit of influence from The Stand in there. I was asked about that recently. I was asked "Why do you craft these great characters and three pages later kill them?" It's because I read The Stand eight times when I was a kid and that's exactly what Stephen King did. It was awesome.
You want people to be invested in the ones who die.
CARGILL - Well, yeah. But more importantly when you get invested in the ones who die it drives up the tension for the characters who you are already really invested in. All of a sudden it is "If this can happen to these characters..." Anytime! Then when you start killing main characters off everything is off the table. By the time you get through the last third of this book you have no clue how this is going to end. You don't know if anybody is going to get out alive.
You've got magic realism without the wacky world of magic realism because you just threw all the standard rules out the window. Anybody could drop next in the story.
CARGILL – That's the type of stuff that I like to see so that's why I wrote that book. I wanted to write a book that didn't feel like it was a by-the-numbers urban fantasy. I wanted to write an urban fantasy where the audience had no idea where it was going.
There was a negative review that I received recently that I have come to really love because the person put the book down at 230 pages because they had no idea where it was going. So he felt that it had no plot. If he had gone another 30-40 pages he would have seen how everything came together and that it was all plot.
Boy, he would have hated Agatha Christie stories because they don't come together until the end.
CARGILL - Another heavy influence of mine. I grew up on a lot of Agatha Christie.
It's your first book and you have the movie credit that's going to help push it a little bit. Assume the first book comes out and it dies. It flops. How do you think you'd deal with that?
CARGILL - I'd write another. Being a writer isn't a destination it's a journey. Learning to become a writer isn't like learning to become a computer programmer or a tradesman in which you learn a basic skill set and then you can get better over time. You learn the tools you have and then you just go off with it.
Writing is more like becoming a ninja or kung fu master or a wizard. Nobody is going to be the most powerful in the land at the age of 19. You may be really talented and you may be destined to become that.
You know, Neil Gaiman has always been an incredibly talented writer. You go back and read his early stuff and it's fantastic. But he was just a comic book writer up through the nineties. Then when he went into novels a lot of people were excited and a lot of people were like "I don't know. Can a funny book guy really transcend that?" His first book came out and it was like "Oh, this is really good." Then he got to that point in the year 2000 where he went from being this really popular comic book guy to being the rock star. All of a sudden he was the rock star writer and could do no wrong. Then he reached that point ten years later where now he's the wise-old-sage rock star. He's no longer Axl Rose. Now he's like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. He's that guy that everybody grows up wanting to be. His talent hasn't changed at all. It's not that his books have particularly gotten better and better and better. He's been very stable about how good he is. It's just that you have to build that audience or you have to build that appreciation over time. Your reputation grows.
The thing about being a writer is that initially people want to push you out at the beginning. People don't want to embrace debut authors. They want the established authors. Who's this new guy? Who's this upstart? Audiences are kind of standoffish to new authors until they prove themselves. You have to keep proving them wrong by building a stack of books until the stack of books is so big that they can't say anything bad about you anymore. You'll have too much of a body of work to argue against them.
You'll have a Cargill shelf.
CARGILL - Once that Cargill shelf is here at Dark Delicacies then even people who are "I don't like his work" are more like "Well, he's not really my thing… He's good, but he's not my thing." I'll be thinking weren't you the guy that reviewed it ten years ago and said it was terrible, awful?
That's how writers are treated. Hollywood is that now, I-have-to-do-it-now-now-now, thing where the clock is ticking and they want to cycle you out. Whereas novel writing is the slow crawl towards potential.
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Both Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill can be found on their Facebook sites
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com.