Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill: Writers Without Limit Part 4



In Part Four of our exclusive interview with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill we continue talking about selling writing to film and exactly what producers are looking for to make into a movie.

Even in prose you are writing for the sales team. If your agent sends it to a publisher, the publisher passes it on to the sales team. If they come back and say they don't know how to market the book the publisher doesn't buy it. 

C. ROBERT CARGILL - It also comes with the additional  problem of the audience who doesn't go out, in this day and age, and seek out stories that can't be properly sold to them. Like John Dies at the End. How do you market a movie like that? It's one of those movies that people look at and think "I don't know what it is so maybe I'll catch it on cable." 

SCOTT DERRICKSON - When I speak to writing students in film schools, which I try to do whenever asked, the number one lesson I always try to convey to them is that there are three reasons why a Hollywood producer or executive will not make your movie. First and foremost is that it's not any good. Your writing's bad. You're story's bad. That’s 99% of the rejects. But let's say that you have a good story. Let's say that you can write. There are two reasons that your movie is still not going to get made. This is the irony and the conundrum of screenwriting. The first reason that they are going to give you is, "We've seen it before." This is like such-and-such movie. 

Yet the man on the street would think "Since when in this world of re-dos and sequels does that play any part in it?"

DERRICKSON - But the other reason is that they are going to say "Well, we've never seen this before." When you break it down to that equation you realize, and if you look at the movies that get made, the vast majority of movies exist somewhere between those two statements - "We've never seen it before" and "We've totally seen it before".

They want to have seen it before just enough to identify it as "It's this, but with this."

DERRICKSON - In my mind I've broken it down to a very simple equation which is that it needs to be about 75% familiar, 25% fresh. If you have that people will buy it. It's cynical and sad but that's the movie business. If you make the 75% that is familiar really good and the 25% or 30% that's really fresh, really fresh you make a good movie. Every once in a while somebody comes along, usually a person with a lot of power, who will take a risk on doing something totally original, like The Matrix, like Seven. Movies that were hard movies to get made, that the studios didn't want to make, like Pulp Fiction.

CARGILL - Like Magnolia.

DERRICKSON - These are all amazing movies. Every once in a while a great filmmaker will push something through and then they establish a credibility to continue to do that.

He's carrying the power with him though when he comes with it originally.

DERRICKSON - That's correct. It's a bit of a complicated game understanding why movies get made, why some get made and some movies don't. I think that once you accept those basic realities I'm still convinced that you can make extraordinary work within those parameters. I just don't believe that the boundaries that are set for you by the system are inherently limiting in that because of those parameters you can't make something good.

What kind of walls or boundaries did you run into trying to sell this book Shadows and Dreams?

CARGILL - The way got cleared for me. It really was a weird thing in that once I had a movie that I was working on and once Ethan Hawke was attached to it people realized it was a real movie. 

"This is not some small thing you're making in your backyard this is a film. This is a horror movie starring Ethan Hawke. I've never seen Ethan Hawke in a horror movie. Oh wow! Who is this guy?" At which point people wanted to do the book. The people that were into it were really into it.

DERRICKSON - He needed a representation. I basically told my agent and my attorney and my manager. I told all of them. I said this guy's gonna have a big career.

But he's not a literary agent?

DERRICKSON - No. But the point being ...

CARGILL - My manager got me my literary agent.

DERRICKSON - That's it. I told them all that (A) You need to represent him because we're going to keep working together and (B) They're wired in to that entire publishing world. So once Cargill had finished the manuscript he had a pipeline where he could go and get it published that might not have been so accessible. 

I believe that everybody gets their first book published via a million different ways. There is no one WAY.

CARGILL - I get asked by a lot of people how do you get in? What's the secret? How did you do it? The way I explain it is that the entertainment industry, Hollywood, is like an amazing party happening at this huge mansion. There's all these different rooms with all these different types of parties going on. There's a big line at the door and there are bouncers at the door who are checking to see who gets in. But it's very slow because the people who are there don't want to leave and only a few people can go in at a time. Your job is to figure out how to break into that house and get in. Sometimes, like in my case, where you have a buddy who is like "Hey, I know where there is an open window in back… you come in here and join our party. So you crawl in and once you're in the party you can go to any of the rooms. Because once you are there everybody assumes you are supposed to be there. 

Then you are "one of us."

CARGILL - Yeah. So the secret is - How do you break in to this great party? You can go in the normal way. You can do the "I'm going to move to Los Angeles and go to auditions" and try to get in that way. Or you find your way to sneak in as you hear a hundred different stories in this town of how people found their way to just kind of lie or cajole or steal or just luck their way into the party. I just had a friend hold the window open for me and now here I am. Now I've got other people asking, "Do you know where the window is?" 

I think we all had some friend that held a window somewhere open for us.

DERRICKSON - Yes. But the thing that is different with this is that Cargill was already my friend before we ever had any inclination of working together. Not like we were good friends. We were long distance email friends. For me it wasn't an act of friendship… it was belief in the book. I just thought the book was great. I felt that the book was special. The only real thing I did was what I think every artist ought to do when they encounter something that is great that doesn't have that pipeline yet, which is just lay down the pipeline. If you can do it, just do it. I have people ask me to do it all the time. I have people send me scripts all the time. Most of the time I don't read them.

For legal reason?

DERRICKSON - Even for legal reasons but I'll have my assistant read some of them. If he thinks they're good maybe I'll read them. But this was a very rare occurrence. I read something and I genuinely, with nothing personal to gain out of it, I just thought that this book needed to be out there.

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Both Scott and Cargill (his preferred tag) 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