An interview with C. Robert Cargill – the screenwriter of „Sinister” and recently announced „Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, the author of the novel „Dreams and Shadows”, and a former film critic who used to work for Ain’t it Cool News (as Massawyrm), Spill.com (as Carlyle), Film.com and Hollywood.com. Conversation about writing, the experience of seeing your own work on the big screen, his turn from film criticism to being part of Hollywood, and adapting a video game among others.
As a foreigner, I have an obligatory question. If I remember correctly part of your family is Polish. Am I right?
Yes. Yes, actually one whole branch of my family. My great-grandmother immigrated from Poland in 1918 and she married a Polish immigrant as well. So my great-grandparents were full blooded Polish.
What is your knowledge of Polish culture? Films, especially.
Not much, sadly. I was a military brat, so we moved a lot. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my extended family. Sadly. It’s something that I’ve wanted to learn more about. The other side of the family – my father’s side – is Scottish. So I’m Scottish and Polish. It’s a hole in my image that I want to correct.
THE CONCEPT OF IT IS SOMETHING WE’VE NOT SEEN BEFORE
I know that the idea for the story of Sinister came from a dream you had after watching The Ring. You said it’s now the scene where Ethan Hawk’s character finds the footage of murdered families. And since the main character is a writer I’m curious – how much of you is in the character?
There’s not a lot of me in the character of Ellison. There’s a lot of what I’m afraid of in Ellison. He’s what Scott and I are afraid of becoming. Becoming work obsessed and forsaking our family for our work. We’re very passionate about what we do, but our families always comes first. If my wife asked me to give up writing I’d have to give up writing. I just love the hell out of her.
The part of me that really is in the script is in all the arguments. The arguments that Ellison has with Tracy are from my own life. From how my wife and I argue, and the type of things we say to one another. How Tracy argues in the movie is very much my wife. The people who felt that those arguments feel realistic – it’s because they’re straight out of our own arguing.
I tried to avoid making the protagonist a writer, but I tried to find a really good reason why someone would want to really explore the films, rather than giving it to the police and go. And that’s how the fact that he’s the writer researching it really came to pass.
What makes Sinister a unique horror film, in your opinion? How did you want it to be different?
The first and foremost, the concept of it is something we’ve not seen before. There’s all this found footage movies, but what we haven’t seen is a movie about the guy who finds the footage. We haven’t explored what it’s like to find the footage of this horrible things and then try and put the pieces together, and research it.
The second thing, what we really strive for was the haunted house movie, where the audience never sat there and wondered why they never left the house. And we’ve seemed to accomplish that, which audience really connect with. ‚Cause in most haunted house movies you’re like, the minute you see something weird, why are you still in the house? How can you even sleep in that house after this happens? And what we do here is we set up a situation to where you totally believe why the family is still in the house at every point.
You’ve scripted the movie together with Scott Derrickson. What was your working relationship like? Did you have to throw away your ideas as a way of compromise?
Oh, always. Scott and I we work together really well, and we complement each other really well. We both believe that ego has no place in team writing, and that the best argument should win. Wherever we would have a difference of opinion we would argue it. The way we argue is we bring all this other movies into the mix, and say: „Well, it worked here, this works this way.” And then we would go: „No, no, that only worked, because of this part here.” We would argue it out, until somebody got to the point when we were like: „Yeah, you’re right, I’m wrong. Let’s do it.”
And whenever we would have a disagreement we couldn’t see it, one of us would go and write the scene both ways. Then we would look at it, and then go, „You were right.” There was a lot of give and take. Even though the idea that I pitched is mine, and it’s on the screen, the movie is every bit Scott’s as it’s mine. He added to so much of that script.
I’m asking this, because you hear stories about writers being very low on Hollywood’s totem-pole, and you seem to be an important part of this movie. How much were you involved? Were you on set most of the time?
So I was involved. As you said, low on the totem-pole, but it was a low totem-pole movie. We made a 3 million dollar movie, so it was one of those situations, where we didn’t have studio heads looking over our shoulders counting beans to shave off every dollar we could. It was one of those, „Here’s your money, come back to us with a good movie”. And that’s what we tried to do.