We've recently gotten the pleasure of speaking to Christopher Ford, a fantastic screenwriter who has built up an incredible resume which includes the likes of Clown, Spider-Man: Homecoming and his most recent film, The Clovehitch Killer. He covers his most recent work, provides advice for aspiring writers and some fun details on how it was to work on on the first official Marvel / Sony crossover film.
First and foremost, Christopher, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us her at Long Live The Void. To begin, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I'm a screenwriter. I went to undergrad NYU for film production and realized I wanted to write. But then luckily all my friends were directors instead of a bunch of writers, like it would have been if I'd figured out I wanted to writer earlier. I got to write scripts for all of them for years after graduating. About ten years later we finally were making the first of the movies I wrote.
Starting with “The Clovehitch Killer”, I absolutely loved the film but thanks to some of the specifics about the killer including his life and modus operandi, I noticed some similarities to real life serial killer, Dennis Rader AKA “The BTK Strangler” Was he the inspiration for the story or was there a mixture of different things which played a factor in your creation of the character and his story?
BTK was definitely someone we researched carefully. I say we because most of that initial research was done by my friend Duncan Skiles who directed the film. It was all his idea. A kid who finds out his dad might be a serial killer. He had done a ton of research out of his own morbid fascination with serial killers of all types. And when he told me the idea I said "You gotta let me write that for you!" In the end the killer in our movie is very much a fictitious invention to serve the deeper character story we wanted to explore. But you're right to see a few borrowed details from BTK.
Dylan McDermott was fascinating as the films antagonist. Was everything he delivered on screen directly from your script or had he taken some personal liberties with the character? If so, what did you think of those specific changes?
Well that's the amazing thing about filmmaking. It's so incredibly collaborative that the end result is hard to pick apart. I mean, I'm pretty sure 90% of the dialog and action is as scripted, but within that there is so much room for an actor to inhabit and shape a role. So the end result feels like it's 90% the other way. Dylan had a really strong vision for the character, luckily for all of us. Because we weren't sure that a leading man type, such as himself would want to play such a despicable character. But something in him had the same morbid fascination that Duncan originally had -- plus he brought an amazingly dark sense of humor to the whole thing. I guess that's one thing I could point to as a specific change -- he sort of added this feeling that the killer found playing the role of "dad" hilarious in a sick way. Like he's mocking even as he's being as cheesy as possible. I can't thank him enough for what he brought to the movie.
The ending was seemingly very well planned out in order to keep the protagonists safe and free from being caught for their actions, alongside avoid embarrassment for the family. Following the story thoroughly, viewers are able to pick up the little key pieces that make the set up in the final act very plausible which, as someone who personally cares about details, I can truly appreciate that. On that note, was there an alternate route in which you had planned on taking for the ending? Possibly something darker or just completely different?
Yes I really wanted to make sure that all the details lined up for the ending. And actually, some of the details were cut out because in the end when you watched it it was just too much and you didn't need them all to believe it. For example, they built the campfire to let the body fall into it after "the accident" so that would cover up the other bludgeoning marks in case there was an autopsy. But that's not included in the final film. There was, in fact, a much different alternate ending where the son can't decide whether to kill his dad or turn him in... It seems like an impossible choice. So he ends up imprisoning him in the pit under the house, bringing him supplies and keeping him down there for the rest of his life. But we decided that just left too many questions and didn't feel final enough emotionally.
Clovehitch was put together so beautifully that I personally could not find any loose ends anywhere in the film. When it comes to writing, are you always focused on having the story make sense in every aspect or does that factor depend on the type of a script you're writing?
Oh I always want it to make sense. My favorite approach is to just set up a situation and some characters who I know are motivated strongly and then let them do the best job they can to achieve their goals, step by step. Almost like you're playing D&D. When you take that approach instead of deciding what the ending is going to be or what you WANT to happen, you'll often have very little plot holes left to clean up.
Speaking of writing, what's your process? Do you have a specific way you like to do things or is it a different, whole new experience each time you write?
Yeah, that said it is always different. I'm always starting over and thinking "I have no idea how I'm going to do it again" every time. It's not a neat orderly process to take blank pages and fill them with characters and stories. It's just a big fat mess every time and you have to embrace that. I think for most people, they're used to seeing only the end product -- a clean neat script where every set up has a pay off. But when you're writing, 99% of the time you are dealing with a sloppy mess that drives you crazy BECAUSE it's not done yet. You have to have the temperament to face your mess every day and keep going, even though the mess is telling you that you're a fraud.
As a horror website writer, I would be remiss not to make mention of your short turned feature film “Clown”. This is another excellent film in which sadly suffered from some unfortunate delays for a few years but once it was able to get out into the world, the horror community really seemed to take to it. Do you feel like this delay was a help or a hinder on your career?
The delay didn't help or hurt because I had moved on to so many other things while waiting for Clown to come out. It would have been nice to get the boost from it, but I was lucky enough to be very busy anyway. I was very happy it did get out and people were able to get something out of it. We have a whole franchise worth of Clown-universe material that wants to get out. Someday I hope. It sort of makes Clown look like The Hobbit to the full story's Lord of the Rings.
Speaking of horror, would you consider yourself a fan of the genre and if so what are some of your favorite films?
As a kid I couldn't watch horror because I was plagued with vivid nightmares. I guess I was just too sensitive. But as I got older and was making my own little movies, I started to catch up. So I missed a lot of some of the more beloved "B-grade" stuff. My favorites would be more like "The Shining" -- that counts, right? -- or The Thing.
Seeing that you have a wide array of writing skills which cover comedy, horror, thrillers, dramas and more, do you feel like this gives you an edge in the world of writing allowing you to cross over or are you specifically looking to focus your talents on a certain genre?
I always start with character and story. The genre takes care of itself. But I do need some kind of genre element to keep me interested. I have yet to write a straight drama.
Considering I'm a big fan of the character, so much so that I named my son after him and would kick myself later for not asking. As a writer for the film, can you tell us about your experience co-writing “Spider-Man: Homecoming”? How did that come about? Were you a fan of the character growing up or of comic books in general?
That was an amazing experience. I was afraid at first that because it was a collaboration between two studios -- Sony and Marvel (Disney) -- that there might be problems. But when I went in to a story meeting with all the producers everyone was so professional and focused on making the best movie possible that it was a joy. I'm the kind of guy who could sit in a room with no windows and talk about character and structure for hours and hours -- and that's just what we did! It all came about because my friend Jon Watts amazingly landed the job of directing. We'd worked together on Clown and Cop Car and a bunch of other stuff for years. In fact we were writing another script when he kept going in for these meetings on Spider-Man. And I kept saying "Stop wasting your time, you'll never get it, we have a script to write!" And I was so glad to be proven wrong. He was so into it. And now he has a huge collection of pet spiders -- all different kinds, like rare ones from South America and all these expensive terrariums. He lets them crawl on him! I'm not that crazy but I definitely was a big Spidey fan growing up. One of the best characters of all time -- because in a way, he was a twist on the super hero genre that had come before. It was like "what if one of the kids reading these comics about Superman actually became one?" And kids STILL feel that even today when he's already one of the most famous heroes himself. He's just such a perfect balance of "amazing hero" and "regular kid just like me". Bringing that wish fulfillment down to a more relatable level is the genius of Stan Lee that I think people will be talking about three hundred years in the future, like we talk about Shakespeare. I'm not kidding. If anyone's still alive then, that is.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers of anything film or television related?
Start making stuff with whatever you have on hand. Get some friends together and make stuff. Then analyze what could have been better and do it again. That goes for screenwriting as well -- don't just write, actually MAKE it so you can see how it translates. In the end, you and your peers will pull each other up. Don't look for fancy, established people to make it happen for you.
My final question to you and hopefully it's a fun one! You get to pick any project you want to create, be it a remake or a personal project with your choice of any actors in the world to be cast in it, what film would that be, who would be in it and why would you choose it?
I would remake Star Wars with the Muppets.
I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Is there any projects that you would like to share with our readers? Upcoming films or work you'd like to make mention of?
Clovehitch is my latest. Everything else is too far up the pipeline to tout. Just make sure to google my name CHRISTOPHER FORD at least once a week to check in. THANKS.
Love Horror? This week on Beyond The Void Horror Podcast It’s a NEW YEAR! Clint Carney joins to talk about his new movie Dry Blood. Plus Patrick returns to guest co-host for a special #GravePlots movie making segment! This one is called “The Attic Door”. It’s a big week and you are invited! You can listen here or you can Listen/Subscribe on iTunes here!