Asian Cinema,

Writer C. Robert Cargill gets Sinister with us whilst chatting about his love of film & giving us a master class in turning ideas into film

Monday, October 22, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

C. Robert Cargill talks SinisterIt is October and it's getting darker as the season of the witch pushes towards Halloween. To commemorate, we visit the dark side again. A little while ago I got to see the FrightFest UK Premiere of the chilling Sinister from the makers of Insidious and Paranormal Activity. Whilst there is much to like (or be terrified by) about Sinister as it is engaging, full of great scares, innovative merging of genres and a darkly disturbing atmosphere that is reminiscent of gritty Texas Grindhouse Horror of the 70s, all supported by good performances, particularly from Ethan Hawke.

I’m not the biggest fan of these type of slick, very well made jump scare shockers but can appreciate a good film that slowly draws you in to a world with an inescapable occult undercurrent of dread. So much so that it scared audiences and itself into the No.1 film in the US on its release and held onto 3 over here in the UK in its third week of release, not an easy feat considering that it is going head to head with the crowd pleasing likes of Looper, Taken 2 and Hotel Transylvania 3D.

Sinister Poster
Sinister Poster
Desperately in need of a best seller to revive his struggling career, true crime writer Ellison (Ethan Hawke), moves his family to the scene of his most recent story; the unsolved, gruesome murder of a loving, happy suburban family.

Shunned by the local community and strained by his obligations to his family, the discovery of a batch of home movies in the attic offers Ellison shocking proof to the crime he is investigating and the terrifying realisation that his investigation may be placing his own family in harm's way.

The Establishing Shot: SINISTER TRAILER - In UK Cinemas October 5th!

Since seeing Sinister I have been having a bit of Ethan Hawke retrospective and by far prefer him in these types of roles, his more serious darker roles, having re-watched Gattaca and Assault on Precinct 13 I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy either of them as much on my initial viewings. This time around not only did I enjoy both films but I was quite taken by his standout performance in them - which he has followed through earlier this year with The Woman in the Fifth and again with Sinister.

Directed by Scott Derrickson the man behind amongst many other films the stunning Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still which I caught at the IMAX and was completely enthralled by.

But my main interest in Sinister was that it came from the mind of Writer C. Robert Cargill.

Before writing Sinister he blogged for Ain't It Cool amongst other sites and I was impressed that someone whose writing I had been reading on & off for years had crossed over and seemed to be living his dream. So when the opportunity to chat with C. Robert Cargill about Sinister came up you bet your ass I jumped at the chance to delve into Cargill’s mind and find the source of his Sinister and am surprised as turns out to be a really nice guy with a fondness for English Romantic Comedies.

Craig Grobler: Was moving from online writing to writing film always been your game plan?

C. Robert Cargill: Yes! Not necessarily into film. I have always been a fiction writer, ever since I was very young. I always wanted to write fiction and I just of kind of happened to find myself in film writing. I saw it as a training ground, to be my college experience, I considered every film another day of classes and writing a review a home work assignment and it was graded by everyone who wrote nasty comments on the internet.

That built me up as not only a stronger writer but learning how to take apart stories and put them back together explaining them to the audience in the proper way ended up teaching me how to craft those stories.

My professors were filmmakers and having the chance to go on the set with Roger Avary and watch him direct Rules Of Attraction, the chance to sit down and have a couple of beers with people like Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Tim McCanlies and all these amazing guys I have come into contact with over the years and I would be able to ask them how they did, this and what did you do there and what their concepts were and they were like my professors teaching me the how to do things, the  tricks and little subtle things.

 So when it came time I was ready.


Craig Grobler: You mentioned some well known Directors there and you have a broad knowledge of film could you tell us as little about your favourite films & genres? 

C. Robert Cargill: I love all film and genres but hands down my favourite is romantic comedy I especially have a weakness for British romantic comedies. I love horror quite a bit. My wife loves horror even more than I do. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy.

My favourite films are very different from my best films and they are on a separate list. My favourite films are adventure films that have deeply sacrificial characters like; Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Lord of the Rings.

Sinister's Tracy Oswalt (Juliet Rylance) & Ellison (Ethan Hawke) realise their children may be in peril 
My favourite guilty pleasure movie is Battle Beyond The Stars. A Science Fiction remake of Seven Samurai, which has an amazing group of people behind the camera – Jim Cameron was the Art Director, John Sayles wrote the script and James Horner did the score. I just love stuff like that.

And of course Casablanca is my favourite movie ever made. I think it is the quintessential film there is no film better – it does everything, crosses genres and it stays relevant. You sit down and watch that movie and you still laugh, you still feel for the characters it is so powerful and it is a movie that happened by accident in so many ways. You know the cast was supposed to be very different, Ronald Reagan was supposed to be in it, they hadn’t even finished the script while they were filming and they were writing pages as it was going on – they didn’t even have the ending. That movie never should have happened yet it is the greatest movie ever made.

Craig Grobler: Just to take a sideways step -you just mentioned Seven Samurai there; do you think that Asian Cinema has been an incredibly huge but vastly un-thanked influence on Western cinema? Even within Sinister there are some similarities. 

C. Robert Cargill: Not just some, it is the origin of the story. This movie happened because I went to see The Ring when it came out; I went home and fell asleep. You never fall asleep after watching a horror movie. I had a terrible nightmare of me going into my attic and finding a box of Super 8 films. I pull out the projector and put in the film and it’s the first shot of Sinister.

sinister ethan hawke Ellison Oswalt
Sinister Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt finds a mysterious box in the attic
On a related note Writer Bret Easton Ellis recently tweeted about his love of that very shot from Sinister
Sinister tweet Bret Easton Ellis
Bret Easton Ellis  tweets Sinister

That image and concept haunted me for years and eventually I thought that this is kind of a good idea, this would make a good movie and I started crafting the story around it. So yes, Sinister owes its entire genesis to Asian Cinema.

I think Asian or Eastern Cinema is unrated in the mainstream, when you talk to filmmakers – you know Scott [Derrickson] has actually taught college courses on Kurosawa, he is a Akira Kurosawa expert. He is heavily influenced by Japanese cinema.

Many Directors love Japanese cinema and the influences are definitely there. When you talk to creatives – we are all influenced by various films. The mainstream doesn’t talk about it because they think of Eastern cinemas as being weird or bizarre and inaccessible and at times it is – you cant show an average cinema goer a Sushi Typhoon movie they’ll be like what the hell is this? But that is just one section of Eastern Cinema.

Recently I heard they are doing a samurai remake of The Unforgiven [Lee Sang-il will direct the remake Yurusarezaru mono] and I can’t wait for that that is going to be amazing.

Craig Grobler: Which is almost a return to - its Eastern roots.

C. Robert Cargill: Well that’s the thing with Seven Samurai. Kurosawa wanted to make a Western but they didn’t have a Western period so he made a western made in Samurai times. People said that was an amazing movie and would make a great western, so a year later they ported it over to a western as The Magnificent Seven. It ported so easily because that’s what Kurosawa was making. So its art influencing art, influencing art.

Sinister 8mm home movies Lawn Work 86, Sleepy Time 98, Pool Party 66, BBQ 79, Family Hanging Out 11
Sinister 8mm home movies frames from  Family Hanging Out '11. Have you seen him?
Craig Grobler: OK! So you make the leap from online writing to screenwriter, how did that happen?

C. Robert Cargill: Purely by accident. I told how the idea of Sinister came to be and I had an ideally finally formed. I had become friend with Scott Derrickson over the years; I was a fan of his movies and he was a fan of my writing over at Ain’t it Cool. We ended up in Las Vegas one night. I was there with my wife and he was there with his brother and we find out and we got together for drinks.

I’m like five White Russians in and he says hey let me bounce an idea off you, I share my opinion and I said well since you did that, I’ve got this idea that has been banging around my head for years.

He said All right everyone in my life pitches me at least once; here is your one chance - pitch me.

So I pitched him Sinister. He just looked at me and said I want to make that movie. He said up a meeting a week later with Jason Blum and Jason Blume said he wanted to make that movie.

He said it’s a found footage film about the guy who finds the footage, that’s an amazing idea, why hasn’t anyone made that movie yet? Everyone going to be making that movie, we need to make it first. It’s such a good idea that everyone is going to have it so let’s make it now. So he cleared all the roadblocks, that was in January of last year and we were shooting in September. It was a whirlwind experience.

Sinister Ellison Oswalt Ethan Hawke makes a terrifying discovery
Craig Grobler: Can you tell us a little bit about you working methodology of getting a concept onto screen.

C. Robert Cargill: Essentially I get an idea, and if it’s a good one, like in this case I think it will make a good movie. I ask myself can this be a good story?

A good idea, is a good idea but can it lead to a good story? We have seen many movies that are good ideas but not good stories and vice versa. So you ask yourself is this a good story and when you find the story and if it is good you explore how that story has been told before and how to tell it differently.

At one point I got a brilliant idea for a romantic comedy, it stemmed from a real life experience. On my very first trip when I was a young film writer I was on the set of Rules of Attraction and I meet a beautiful actress we really hit it off, of course I was engaged, but I pause it in my head and extrapolate what would happen if a film critic went out and fell in love with an actress and they go off but then he has to write a scathing review of the movie. Will the relationship survive? I thought that was a really great idea for a movie.

Then I moved on to the next phase – has it been done before? Yes and it was called Almost Famous, with a rock writer. So I set it aside. Once you work through the permutations sometimes that idea has just been done and it doesn’t need to be done again and you move on to the next idea.

That is essentially how you get to the point where you have honed that idea, so when you sit down and pitch it - They say that’s a great idea I want to see that!

It’s all about working it and massaging it till you find a story that is worth telling, that people haven’t been told before – so they want to sit down and see it.

Sinister Ethan Hawke as writer Ellison Oswalt on the trail of a possible serial killer

Craig Grobler: What is it like working with Scott Derrickson? I’m particularly interested in the working dynamic and collaboration between the two of you.

C. Robert Cargill: It is amazing. Working with him is fantastic. We both have incredibly similar tastes in movies and the stories we want to tell. We have an amazing dynamic working together.

Chiefly he is a day guy he has two kids and wife and he is 9 – 5 writing when the kids come home he’s a great dad all night. I’m the guy who wakes up in the afternoon and hangs out with his wife and I write all night. So he works all day passes it on to me and I work through night and pass it back to him. We were practically working 24 hours straight. And it’s amazing we have a really great sense of communication and love working together.

sinister ethan hawke Ellison Oswalt 8mm film
Sinister Ethan Hawke as writer Ellison Oswalt watching 8mm home movies

Craig Grobler: Sinister ends with the potential for further exploration of the world you have created so I was wondering about your next steps? You have also mentioned Romantic Comedies and your love of Science Fiction. Where are you going to next?

C. Robert Cargill: We have a couple of things in the pipeline, other projects, nothing we can announce yet but we are going to be playing with different genres, we have some science fiction stuff, some fantasy stuff.

 I have a novel coming out, here in the UK from Gollancz in January called
Dreams and Shadows, it is a Fantasy novel - so that is the next big thing for me once Sinister is out.

In between Scott and I are just cranking away, writing.

C. Robert Cargill Dreams and Shadows A Novel
C. Robert Cargill Dreams and Shadows A Novel

Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
In the debut novel Dreams and Shadows  screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill takes us beyond the veil, through the lives of Ewan and Colby, young men whose spirits have been enmeshed with the otherworld from a young age.

This brilliantly crafted narrative - part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Torro, part William Burroughs - follows the boys from their star-crossed adolescences to their haunted adulthoods. Cargill's tour-de-force takes us inside the Limestone Kingdom, a parallel universe where whisky-swilling genies and foul-mouthed wizards argue over the state of the metaphysical realm. Having left the spirit world and returned to the human world, Ewan and Colby discover that the creatures from this previous life have not forgotten them, and that fate can never be sidestepped.

With sensitivity and hopeful examination, Cargill illuminates a supernatural culture that all too eerily resembles our own. Set in a richly imagined and constructed world, complete with its own richly detailed history and mythology, Dreams and Shadows is a deeply engaging story about two extraordinary boys becoming men.

Sinister has been scaring audiences in cinemas across the UK since 5 October
Produced by Jason Blum (Insidious; Paranormal Activity1, 2 and 3), co-writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Day The Earth Stood Still; The Exorcism Of Emily Rose; Hellraiser: Inferno) and stars Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers; Assault On Precinct 13; Before Sunset), Wincent D’Onofrio (Chained; Staten Island; Brooklyn’s Finest), James Ransome (Treme; Generation Kill; Prom Night) and Fred Dalton Thompson (Law & Order).

For more info head over to Sinister's Facebook page here or on Twitter here @SeeSinister

You can follow Writer C. Robert Cargill on Twitter here @Massawyrm and Director Scott Derrickson over here @scottderrickson