Interview with Ryan Levin (Writer/Producer of Some Guy Who Kills People)
Interview by Keri O’Shea
I think I speak for all of us in the Brutal As Hell team who have seen this movie when I say that Some Guy Who Kills People has made a big impact on us. If there was ever proof positive that a good film can revisit familiar horror tropes and still come out being clever, engaging, funny and touching then – Some Guy Who Kills People is it. I was delighted to speak to writer Ryan Levin about his experiences with this project.
BAH: Firstly Ryan, congratulations on the movie! It was one of my favourites at the Abertoir Horror Festival last year and both Annie and Ben have enthused about it here at the site, whilst the overwhelming majority of fans/reviewers have loved it too. Has the film’s reception surprised you?
RL: Absolutely. In writing SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, I sought to write a movie that I really wanted to see, but I had no idea if anyone else would be interested in seeing on-screen what was in my brain. Once I realized we were actually going to make the movie, I just crossed my fingers that there were a few folks out there who shared my tastes. And because this film blends numerous genres, I knew we ran the risk of alienating certain audiences. People who wanted a comedy would be put off by the horror elements; people who wanted a horror film would be put off by the father-daughter relationship that is the spine of the movie. So, it still shocks me when hardcore horror fans tell me how much they love that this film has heart. It still shocks me when people who prefer broader comedies laugh at the dark, often subtle, humor. I’m damn lucky SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE has gotten in front of so many different types of audiences, and thrilled that a wide spectrum of film-goers have embraced the film for a myriad of reasons.
BAH: How did you become involved with the project?
RL: SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE came about after I made a short film called THE FIFTH in 2007. The short was about some buddies playing poker, and one of them, Ken, is a serial killer. It was just what he did on a day-to-day basis. I loved the idea of an average Joe who lives a normal life, and also happens to kill people. So, I set about trying to write a feature based on this character and started to flesh out the Ken character and figure out who he was, why he killed people, who his friends were, etc. And, after a very long time, and what seemed like hundreds of versions, I finally realized I had a script in which I was confident. From there, it was about going out and trying to raise the money to make it. That process quickly made writing the film seem like a piece of cake.
BAH: Do you see SGWKP as having any precedents – did you draw on any influences in your writing?
RL: In the year 2012, there’s no such thing as a movie that doesn’t draw on previous films for inspiration, or films that are 100% original. As I said before, I wanted to write a movie I would love to see, so it was bound to include elements from films and other writing that I loved to watch and read. While I can’t think of another movie that shares all the same storylines as SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, certainly each storyline in the film has been done a billion times. The characters that inhabit the world of this film all have forebears, but, hopefully, they’re also original in their execution. My exact sense of humor is mine alone, but is also one shaped by the comedies and comedians I love. That being said, here is a partial list of creators and creations that doubtlessly influenced the SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE script: Fargo, Better Off Dead, The Simpsons, Martin McDonagh’s plays, In Bruges, Christopher Guest’s films, Airplane, Naked Gun, The Office (UK), Matchstick Men, John Swartzwelder’s books and, uhhhh, Tolstoy. Yeah. Tolstoy.
BAH: Without exception, the characters in SGWKP are warm and believable – even when they’re flawed, they’re people we can relate to. Conveying this on screen evades a hell of a lot of writers! Where did these characters come from and how hard was it to bring them to life they way you did?
RL: The short answer is that it took a lot of rewriting. The characters and the plot are always intertwined, so as the story changed, so did the characters. When older versions of characters no longer worked within the new storylines, they had to be rewritten. Sometimes that meant tweaking them, sometimes that meant jettisoning them entirely and having new ones show up that needed to be there. And it worked the other way, too. It always sounds pretentious to say, but when the characters start leading you, when they start talking through you, you just have to say ‘Fuck it’, and just go with it, see where you end up. Sometimes, I found myself in places I never would have expected, hanging out with characters I never set out to construct. I only wish that the organic development of characters wasn’t such an unpredictable and fleeting experience. That’s how I’ve come to be obsessive about writing – because if inspiration is gonna strike, I wanna be damn sure I’m ready to transcribe it.
BAH: How difficult was casting?
RL: As a part of pre-production, I don’t find casting difficult because I love casting. So, even if finding the right actors for the roles is a struggle, I still enjoy the process. On this particular film, we were also blessed with having amazing actors who wanted to be in the film. Casting Karen Black, Barry Bostwick and Lucy Davis was a breeze because they came in and blew everyone away with their auditions. Even during their 5-minute auditions, they were able to take what was on the page and elevate it beyond anything I could have dreamed. We wanted Kevin Corrigan, so we went after him. Again, we were so lucky that he responded to the script and was down to do it. My biggest casting concern was finding the right girl to play Kevin Corrigan’s daughter. I knew that a) the film hinged on a believable and profound father-daughter relationship and b) that finding an actress that was around 11-years old (or could play 11-years old) was not going to be an easy task, even in Los Angeles. There are not a lot of Dakota Fannings out there, and we weren’t gonna get Chloë Moretz. Then, luck struck again in the form of Ariel Gade. She was literally the first person we saw for that part. We saw another 40 girls or so, many of them wonderful actresses, but Ariel was always our barometer, and no one ever came close. And, as solid as she was in her auditions, once that camera came on, she just cranked it up as though she’d been doing this for forty years. And those are just the main roles…
BAH: A big part of the plot draws on the after-effects of bullying on someone later on in life; I know this is something that has resonated with a lot of viewers. Was this a difficult topic to broach?
RL: I’d be lying if I said I included the bullying in the film because it was a prevalent topic, an ‘of the moment’ issue. It’s in the film because of a choice I made for the protagonist’s motivation, a choice I made before these horrible stories started becoming weekly headlines. Bullying obviously isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s human behavior that I can only imagine has been around as long as humans have. ‘Grogg want Thak’s saber-toothed meat. Thak give, or Thak get club on head.’ So, even if we had made this film five years ago, or fifty years ago, the audience would have well understood the concept of bullying, and the concept of bullying as possible motivation for revenge. Now, I’m not saying revenge is the proper response to bullying. I’m not saying it’s not the proper response. I’m saying (finally), no, it wasn’t a difficult topic to broach because I didn’t include it in the film because of its unfortunate ubiquity. It was just a creative choice. Now, that being said, I’d be overjoyed if anyone is finding even an ounce of solace or comfort on account of this film.
BAH: Were you making a deliberate point with regards Ken and the escapism he finds in his artwork? As Ben mentioned in his review, it seemed like this was a comment on how quick people can be to take horror fandom as evidence of real derangement…
RL: Yes and no. ‘Deliberate’ is a strong word, as it indicates intention. I didn’t write SOME GUY with the intention of making any points, or teaching any lessons. I simply made Ken an artist in the film because, whilst I would never refer to myself as ‘an artist’, I’m quite intimate with the idea that what someone puts down on paper, or puts up on a screen, does not define who they are as people. In fleshing out his character and his character’s history, it made sense to me that he would withdraw and lose himself in his work. That work would be his catharsis, just as writing is mine.
We’re all told not to judge a book by its cover, and for good reason. You cannot assess someone’s personality, or sanity, or value, based on what spills out of their head and into their artistic medium. The corollary is also true – you can’t define people by the art they consume. You mentioned horror fandom, and the existing perception of horror fans. Well, I gotta tell you, having had the good fortune to know and meet a lot of horror fans, one thing has become very clear – they are almost the perfect antithesis of what someone might expect them to be. Horror fans, almost as a rule, are kind, caring, sensitive, intelligent, warm and fuzzy folks. Same for the folks I’ve met who create horror films, or write horror novels or violent comic books. Art, both in its creation and consumption, is an escape. It’s part of someone’s personality, but it’s not who they are.
I love to write dark comedy, watch horror films, listen to death metal and stick almost exclusively to dark, dramatic TV shows. That’s where my tastes lie. Now, it would be foolish to deny there’s a part of my brain that is intrigued and stimulated by darker subjects than some other folks’. However, in no way does that necessarily translate to darker, let alone ‘deranged’ behavior. Jeffrey Dahmer’s shelves weren’t lined with horror films and Stephen King has never been suspected of murder.
BAH: Reflecting on the project now, what are you most proud of?
RL: First off, that we made the movie! That I did what I set out to do, despite it taking many years. Beyond that, I’m proud that the vision I had for the film, despite me not being the director and despite our limited budget, came through in the final film. Actually, thanks to the cast and crew, what came through was a better version of my vision. I’m also extremely proud that we’ve been able to show the film to so many people in so many different parts of the world. That someone, somewhere wanted to share the movie with their audience. Allow me to go negative for a moment (you can edit this out if you’d like): what I am not proud of is that, despite the incredibly hard work of the cast and crew, despite the 45 festivals the film played across the globe, despite the mostly very positive reviews, despite our modest budget, and despite the amazing fans who have championed this movie, we are left relying on corporations to tell us the truth about how the film is selling/renting, and that their level of honesty will determine the film’s financial success. That pisses me off. But, hey, it’s not like I wasn’t warned a million times. And, honestly, because this film has added to my life in so many ways (I’m being interviewed by one of my favorite websites right now!), I deem it a success, no matter what happens.
BAH: Finally, what are you planning on doing next?
RL: I’m writing a lot and hoping to do this all over again, whilst somehow ensuring my wife doesn’t leave me and my daughter doesn’t have to go to an ‘Experienced Healer’ when she gets an earache.
Damnit, you heard the man. Support Some Guy Who Kills People: it’s available now in the US and UK.