In 2012, writers C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson took an idea of Cargill’s and turned it into the movie Sinister. Under the watchful helm of director Derrickson, the film made more than six times its budget on opening weekend. By the end of the year it had grossed more than 16 times its $3,000,000 investment. They vowed to work together again. In the meantime Cargill wrote the novel Dreams & Shadows. Both gentlemen were on hand at Dark Delicacies recently for C. Robert Cargill’s book signing event.
Did you start writing prose first or screenplays first?
C. ROBERT CARGILL: Prose first. Scott played a huge role in the creation of this book. I was working as a film critic and I knew my time was coming to an end. The internet was going in a very weird direction.
Anybody can be a critic now.
CARGILL: Anybody can be a critic, but actually it’s just a matter of how the news gathering has changed and what has happened with a lot of the sites. Really good sites are being bought up by megalithic corporations and then being torn apart piecemeal. Some of the best writers stay and some of the people go. You’ve got guys who are really talented who all of a sudden end up out of work. There’s no paying work for them because you’ve got people who will do it for free, or do it for five dollars a blog. It’s become very cutthroat in certain areas of it. I was thinking, “You know what? I always wanted to be a novelist.” It was something I had put aside. It was time to start it again. I decided to start writing. Scott and I were becoming friends; he started writing me when I was a film critic because we were just on the same page with so many thoughts.
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I just loved his writing, his critical writing, so much. He kept writing these reviews for films that other people were panning that he gave rave reviews to. Every time he would do that I would go see the film and the film was terrific. So I eventually had to email him to thank him for sending me to so many good pictures that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have seen.
CARGILL: A friendship just developed between us and at one point he was like, “Hey, can I get your professional opinion on this script?” I said, “Sure.” So he sent me a script, and then six months later he sent me another one. While we were talking back and forth he found out that I was working on this book. He said, “You’re writing a book? Well, I want to read it.” I said, “I’m only about ten chapters in.” But he said, “Let me read what you have. I really want to read it.” So he was the first person, even before my wife, who sat down and read any of the book. He really helped me find my voice and told me what was working and what wasn’t. In one of the conversations I had with him it just all clicked and I found my writing style in this conversation. As a result we became even closer friends.
It was a very strange weekend in Vegas, where my wife and I went out with some friends. What happened was he saw on Twitter that I was in Vegas. He wrote that he was in Vegas with his brother and said we should get together and have a drink. I said, “Hell, yes.” We got together at the Mandalay Bay and we’re knocking back drinks, and I’m five White Russians in, and Scott says, “Hey I’m pitching this idea, can I bounce it off of you and get your professional opinion?” So he bounces this idea off of me and I say “Hey, it’s great.” I give him some notes on it.
Then I say, “You know, you just bounced something off of me. I’ve got something that’s been bouncing around in my head. Let me bounce it off of you.” He says, “Okay. everybody pitches me at least once. This is your one time. Pitch me.” I pitched him Sinister. At the end of that he said, “Holy fuck, I want to make that movie! What I want you to do is I want you to go home on Monday and write a four to five page treatment, submit it to WGA and I'm going to take it out next week. I know who wants to see this."
So the next day he's playing cards at a tournament in my hotel, so I drop by to say "Hey." He says "I'm really into this (cards) right now but I just want to remind you when you get home to write a treatment, register it with WGA and I'll take it out."
The next day I'm at home; I'm home for twenty minutes from Vegas, totally wiped and I'm in bed, and the phone rings. My wife comes in and says, "It's Scott." I get on the phone and he says "Hey man, I know you're just in from Vegas so I won't take too much of your time. I just want to remind you that if you get a chance to write a treatment, register it with WGA..." At that point I'm thinking "This guy is serious."
So I slept for about ten hours, I woke up and I wrote the treatment and I submitted it. He took it around and within a week we had Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity franchise) attached to it and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (The Lords of Salem). They thought, "This is one of those ideas that’s so good somebody else was going to have it in six months," so they wanted to make the movie now. "Nobody has made the movie about the guy who discovered the found footage. Let's beat everyone to the punch so let's speed this up."
So within nine months from that moment we're on set in New York State shooting Sinister. As Scott has said to me a couple of time, ordinarily when somebody would pitch him an idea like that he'd buy the idea and then go and write it himself. But since he'd read part of this book, he knew that I could write so he asked about writing it together and seeing what happened. It turns out that what happened was that we are two guys who were best friends, but just didn't know it yet.
But you had never written in the screenplay format before this?
CARGILL: I'd played around with it, but not seriously. Never anything that I'd submitted.
DERRICKSON: But I wasn't all concerned about that. My favorite part of that story is that my interest in his book was one of the few... I don't do many completely and totally unselfish things except for my wife and children, and that was just one of those things where when I read his book I really felt that there was something special about it. I remember having the feeling in my office and calling him and saying "This could be amazing. This is the fantasy novel I've been waiting to read." I put time into it with him with no thought whatsoever that it was going to benefit me or that I was ever going to work with him.
You were on meds or something?
DERRICKSON: I'm always on meds, but that's beside the point. The fact that we had this happenstance meeting in Vegas and the story came out, it felt right to me that I would write it with him and it was a bit of a flyer. Who knew how that was going to work out? It just turned out that when we started working on it, we wrote the entire script in five weeks… which is incredibly fast for a screenplay. Part of it is that he keeps night hours and I keep day hours so we're kind of like a twenty-four hour writer when we're working together. But it also was the result of two guys who've seen so many horror films and really love the genre and love writing and communicate well. It clicked in a way that I don't think either one of us could have anticipated. Now, hopefully, there will be a lot more.