Beginning tonight, nightmare fuel for generations of readers will come to life on the big screen when CBS Films and Lionsgate's adaptation of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (featuring artwork by Stephen Gammell) haunts theaters across the US!
To celebrate the anticipated release, we caught up with director André Øvredal to discuss collaborating with producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro (who also brought his passion and creative input to the film's practical effects), making this movie as an ode to the Amblin films he enjoyed watching in his childhood, as well as the potential for another Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie, and he also discussed his upcoming adaptation of The Long Walk, the harrowing 1979 novel written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
Just to kick things off, at a Comic-Con, Guillermo del Toro was talking about how he first ran across Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell's Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books at a used bookstore and he had this personal connection to them. So, I was just curious, did you have a personal connection to these books before you came onto this project?
André Øvredal: I wish, but no, I grew up in Norway and they were never published there, so I didn't know about them until I got the script. And then I opened them right up, and then I read up on it and I read how important they are in American culture and how they have been this amazing presence from when they were published until today.
So, no pressure then, right?
André Øvredal: No, I enjoy that pressure because I think a movie should be meaningful to people. I think it's a great pressure to have, when you spend so much time and so much money and so much of your own life to make a movie, it should be meaningful to somebody.
Absolutely. It's good motivation, nonetheless, to have those expectations. So, did Guillermo del Toro approach you about this? Did you have any idea when you were finishing The Autopsy Of Jane Doe that this would be your next project, or did it just kind of come out of nowhere for you?
André Øvredal: It's so funny, because two and a half years ago, he tweeted about The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, how much he liked it, and I was floored, and I tweeted back to him and then we had this little Twitter exchange about our common titles because, obviously, he has a book series and a TV series called Trollhunters. So, it was just kind of this fun conversation and then, six months later, I was sent this script by one of the other producers on the movie, Jason Brown. And he said, "Well, Guillermo obviously likes you and we'd love you for it, do you want to come in? Do you want to read it?" And I was like, "Well, what do you mean? Of course."
And I read it and I completely fell in love with it. And it was such a wonderful tale told with a sense of humor and adventure, and still very scary and horrific, but in a very friendly, fun way that I love. And then I went and I pitched my take on it and how I wanted to do it and both Guillermo and the studio fell for it, they liked it.
Thank goodness you were on Twitter, the springboard for everything. And I had read that you kind of pitched Guillermo on wanting to do your own version of an Amblin movie, that kind of '80s feel. Of course, this is in the '60s, but you wanted to kind of bring that spirit to the project.
André Øvredal: Yeah, the [Amblin] movies were made in the '80s but they're not necessarily in the '80s, they're not bound to be in the '80s. It's more that I grew up with them, randomly, at that time period. That's when they were made. But, no, what I loved about the Amblin movies is that they were always fun.
There was all kinds of adventure, and it was usually about a group and it was all in a little town. When I grew up, I related to those stories so much. And I've seen them again and again, all of these movies, dozens of times, and they've been ingrained in me, and when I got that script it was like, "Oh my God, this is one of those kind of movies that have that sense of adventure and fun." Yes, it's a horror movie, that's what, to me, elevates into my sphere because I love horror movies and I feel like I could do a decent job at it.
And then it was just a perfect marriage of what I like to do, myself, as a filmmaker and what I loved growing up. So, I'll never forget these two years of my life, having been able to make this movie, it has been the most wonderful thing.
And this is set in 1968, which is really interesting. That was a huge turning point in American culture. When you're setting a movie in that time period and you have this period piece, were there any additional challenges to that, or did that actually give you more freedom because you're not dealing with technology like it is now?
André Øvredal: Well, I think that was a good thing. I really enjoyed that because it does take it back to [when] people have to meet each other to talk. They have to actually do stuff together, it becomes more visual. Of course, we're getting used to it, more and more movies, over the last decade now, that people are texting each other, it's become ingrained in the way we make movies, that form of communication. But I think, as a movie experience, this is just more visual and it's a little bit more naive in its world. It just gives me more room to have the characters interact. So, I love that, I loved that part. And also, yeah, the controversy of that year was a beautiful thing to be able to play with the election coming up.
Yeah, it's that Americana feel, and we're seeing a lot of movies set in the '80s, so it's kind of cool to see something go back to the '60s as well and even go back further and and explore that time period.
André Øvredal: Yeah, absolutely. I thought it was a brilliant idea from Guillermo and everybody to set it then because that was a decision that was made before I got on board anyway.
I was watching some of the behind-the-scenes footage and I saw when you guys were shooting the Harold the Scarecrow scene in the cornfield, and it was really there, this guy dressed up as Harold in the cornfield on Halloween night, and it just felt like I was watching a haunted house come to life. But it really made things that much more palpable watching it. You've done films that have CG and also practical effects, but it looks like you've really married those two in this film. Was there a good balance for you?
André Øvredal: Yeah, it was great. It was such a relief to be able to put them in the scene, shooting them for real. But that is all down to Guillermo, for real. I was like, "How the hell do we do this creature?" And he said, "We're going to do them for real, I know all the right people, I'll help you." And he did. And he was so helpful through that process.
He would travel to Los Angeles to work with the sculptors to figure out exactly how the texture should be or how the movements of the mouth should be. And it was just an amazing experience to learn how all this can be done.
Yeah, and he has that practical effects background, so you're working with someone who's very passionate in that area as well. And then, you're both horror fans, so it's like this perfect marriage, it was like serendipity brought you together to make this come to life.
André Øvredal: Oh, that's great. I'm super proud of the film and it's been a great experience for learning all this stuff.
Now, there are three [Scary Stories] books, so I can't help but ask, do you think there are any more stories to tell in this universe on the big screen? Is that something you would ever want to explore? Or did you kind of do everything you wanted to do with this universe in this movie? Because I know you do cover things from all three books.
André Øvredal: Yeah, we were jumping all over the books. We have five proper stories evolved into the movie and then there are tons of little nuggets from other stories and stuff throughout the movie. There are over a hundred stories in these books, so obviously there is so much room to develop another movie, and also, we left some trails at the end of the movie, too. Hopefully, if the audience embraces the movie, that's all we know, days before the release, that's what we're just sitting and hoping for, is that people will embrace it and then, if they want more, of course, I'd love to.
Before I let you go, I know you also are lined up to direct The Long Walk, which is [based on] a wonderful Richard Bachman / Stephen King story. Is there anything you can say about that, or anything that you're excited about the most to bring your style to another beloved book [adaptation]?
André Øvredal: What I find so amazing about that one is that it's a challenge, an incredible challenge for a director because I have nothing to hide behind. It's actors, a camera, and the dialogue of the script. It's just a walk and talk, and I've got to create suspense and intensity and the performances have to be great. So, to me, it's a really huge challenge and I can't wait to do it because it's breaking new ground for me as well.
[Photo credit: Above photo of André Øvredal courtesy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.]