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Patrick, Stephen & Marcus: The Black Light Interviews

Patrick, Stephen & Marcus: The Black Light Interviews

Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan have written the screenplays for Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Saw 3D, and The Collector, which Dunstan also directed. Currently, they are filming The Collection, and wrote Piranha 3DD, which comes out this Thanksgiving from Dimension Films. Stephen Romano is an acclaimed author, screenwriter and illustrator, having written for Showtime’s Emmy-winning original series Masters Of Horror.

SHAKEFIRE: How did this partnership between all the writers come about and what inspired you to write it?
PATRICK MELTON: Marcus and I met our editor, John Schoenfelder, and talked over the idea for the book.  He liked it and paired us up with Stephen.  After talking with Stephen, it's amazing that we hadn't met before since we kind of run in the same horror circles.  We went over the story, spitballed some ideas on expanding it into a novel and then began writing.  We're all rather likeminded, so it was pretty smoothing sailing from the beginning.

STEPHEN ROMANO:  I was actually writing another book on spec, sort of under Schoenfelder's unofficial editorship, when all this nonsense began.  It was going to be my first solo thriller at Mulholland.  I'd spent most of 2010 developing it.  But John and I came to a parting of the ways on its final direction, so we decided this BLACK LIGHT thing would be a good project to sort of segue into.  I took that other book somewhere else and John introduced me to Patrick and Marcus.   It was a natural fit.  John was really instrumental in getting the ball rolling.  He sort of comes from the Hollywood development machine, and knows how to push hard for greatness.  There's a lot of John in BLACK LIGHT.  I'm really grateful to him for getting me involved with these weirdos.  They're really great at what they do and are stand up guys, too.  You don't see a lot of that in Hollywood, man.

MARCUS DUNSTAN
: The speed of BLACKLIGHT's progression was staggering. Credit goes to John and Stephen for working at the pace of a lightning bolt without ever allowing quality to suffer. We all helped release Buck from our minds and it has been a joy to see him come to life and teach us all a little bit about death.

What inspired Buck? Karl Kolchak. Darren McGavin's version of Karl Kolchak. The world could be falling down around Karl and he'd be the only one to stop and take a picture. I remember nibbling popcorn and huddling under a blanket on Friday nights when the re-runs of The Night Stalker came on tv. My sister and I would grin as the chills ran down our spine...but they stopped on the dot when Karl spoke into his pocket tape recorder at the end of the episode. He'd seen the impossible. Nobody would believe him. Maybe he'd get lucky that night or just drink enough to forget about it. There was an innocence to Karl and he opened the door to the supernatural. Once the viewer crossed that threshold we knew it would certainly be scary, people would be hurt, but as long as Karl was there, we'd be okay to have a dream that night. For with his wry smile, he would close the door to the unknown until the next week.

Patrick, Stephen and I had worked in a kind of horror which was vicious, sometimes cruel, sometimes just...but consistently built for adults. Buck allowed the three of us to open a supernatural door of our own and walk inside. We knew some kid might be staying up too late and peeking over our shoulders to see the impossible, to feel the icy grip of terror, but we'd stand guard long to keep that kid safe enough to dream but not until we showed him a thing or two he may never forget...and though evil, or perhaps violent...something safe enough to remember fondly.

Buck would never hurt the kid...try as we might to force him, hahahaha. The supernatural was a grand challenge to reign ourselves in and let a character we cared for and raised in our minds lead us on a tale that could rely on gore n' guts to get through, know this terror would be cut with thrills and this horror ride would be mixed with adventure...and when all the spectral dust cleared into a deserted night sky, perhaps Buck would let us tell another tale of his again. There are so many. He's been on both sides of ground by now for sure.
 
SF: Were there any particular reasons for choosing the settings and locales in the book? (New Orleans, Texas, L.A. and Las Vegas)
PM: Marcus and I started with L.A. and Vegas, but it was Stephen who suggested the opening bit in New Orleans and then placing our lead's home base in Austin.  He's from Austin and had a lot of cool tidbits about the city.  Also, my parents met there while in college, so it was a place we all knew and liked.  The placement of L.A. and Vegas were important for the train and desert aspects of the plot, of course.

SR: Also, I'd always wanted to use the Austin bats in a book or a screenplay.  See, there's this bridge right downtown that overlooks a big river that snakes through the whole city, and right at twilight EVERY SINGLE DAY, thousands and thousands of real live bats come shrieking out from under it and tear off into the night, looking for food.  We stuck that in the beginning of BLACK LIGHT because we thought it fit really well as a sort of visual metaphor.  New Orleans was a great place to start the story because it's a backwater voodoo knife fight just waiting to happen.  You always try to make this stuff as expansive as possible, so that the reader gets to travel a lot while they read!

MD: Las Vegas is where neon goes to retire. It is the Florida of voltage and filtered oxygen. Most of the folks I know tend to go to Las Vegas to spend a little bit of life, to die a little, to wreck themselves with a smile. Where better a destination for a bullet train?  

Los Angeles is full of marvelous shadows. Something is off in the chemistry of a town in which the skyscrapers are reaching for the sky and clustered like any other city yet, i've yet to meet anyone who'd want to live there. Those buildings weren't built high enough to hide what happens on the streets below at night.

New Orleans...of course New Orleans. New Orleans is so packed with supernatural mojo it is as if the land, the lights and brassy music do there very best to discourage us from the cold reality that we are merely guests on this earth...might as well have some fun on the ride, eh?
Texas: In some spots, the isolation , the cracked earth could be a road to Vegas only this road leads to the booze and culture mash-up of Austin or Dallas where those sleek Big N' Tall suits cover up meat-packed bellies which lead up to the red-cheeked fellas chock full o' raspy laughs and cigars worth more than a couch.

Each location is a character our minds can fill in with Cheerleaders or Crime. Each place seems to be a built on land much more suited for reptiles.

SF: Did you have to do any research before writing the book? If so, how long did it take before you actually started writing?
PM: Well, the story was pretty much there, but research came in for the detail of Buck's powers and the train technology.  Often in writing you'll constantly be bouncing back and forth between writing and researching because you come up with something on the fly and then have to go back and base it on something factual or make sure it checks out scientifically.  We did a lot of that because we were dealing with some technologies that existed…and others that did not.    

SR: On that note, our editor was always pushing to go in new, original directions with the whole ghost hunting thing.  I mean, it's all been done to death, right?  So we came up with a new set of rules, new slang, a new place for the ghosts to live in.  That's how the concept of the Blacklight itself came into being.  We originally called the zone of ghosts The Wayside, but John hated that and said we needed something far less silly and overused.  He couldn't have been more right.  John actually told me to think about what Andy Warhol would call a zone like that---something really post-modern.  And our first reaction was to call it the Blacklight.  A negative dimension of neon shadows where the dark is so bright it blinds you, and you gotta wear special glasses or it burns your eyes!  That gave rise to lots of swell details and concepts that triggered new story beats.  So in a way, that whole process of re-defining the ghost rules was like researching.  It developed the plot in a cool way.  

MD: Stephen nailed it. The challenge of researching the supernatural is not to find authenticity but to protect from repetition. The ghost in the white sheet is cartoon fodder (though Michael Myers in a white sheet circa 1979 STILL works like a charm). The J-Horror inspired apparition with the long dark hair and blue-ish skin has been done...the candlestick moving by itself...the haunted child...they've been done. They've been done beautifully. So, there was research of a different kind required for BLACKLIGHT: See it all...and write what ain't been seen yet.

SF: Are any of the characters in the book inspired by or based on people in your lives or celebrities?
PM: In talking about the male lead, we through out guys like Thomas Jane and Harrison Ford during his early years.  Buck is a tough guy, but he's kinda sloppy and doesn't always get things right the first time.  He's flawed, which is always fun.

SR: And he likes bad eighties hair rock, too!  Buck is a man out of step with time because of what he does, stuck in the past, scared of the future---because the future is damn scary when you think about it for more than a few minutes.  To tell a secret, Carolyn Lewis is somewhat inspired by Rachel Maddow, who is my favorite political pundit.  Another fun factoid is that many characters in the novel are actually named after friends or associates of ours.  For example, Buck does business out of the Fernandez Funeral Home, which is obviously an explicit reference to the gentleman who plays the masked killer in Patrick and Marcus's film THE COLLECTOR.  We named Bob Maxton after an Elmore Lenord Novel.  Darby Jones and Lauren Chance both take their names from my last book SHOCK FESTIVAL.  It's all very nerd-centric, man.

MD: The characters of Buck is a shared creation through and through. I credit the first name "Buck" to my Dad. He'd call me "Buck" or "Buckaroo."  before adventures into the fishing boat or into the woods, or under the water. The "Buck" of BLACKLIGHT is a man born of three fathers: Patrick, Stephen, and myself.  I wouldn't say he inspired by anyone I know so much as imagined as someone i'd like to be. I wish I could speak like Buck from time to time. I wish I had the guts to enter the BLACKLIGHT.  I also wish Buck would tell my my grandparents are okay and maybe he'd tell me if there is a place for people who do some good...and about four beers in...I wish Buck would tell me a little bit about the  place where people who do bad things go...

SF: If given the chance, would you make a movie based on the book? Are there any elements in the book that would make it difficult to transfer all the details to the "big screen?"
PM: We'd be open to the book being adapted into a movie.  We all began as screenwriters, so we naturally have cinematic qualities to our ideas and writing.  The book would lend itself well to film with its set pieces and overall frenetic pacing.  We'll see what happens.

SR: I think it would be a piece of cake.  Perhaps we'd lose a few things in the details, but we always tried to make it as film friendly as possible.  We were really going for that epic sort of Chris Nolan approach in the writing---as in, lots of action, lots of intrigue, new twists and turns all the time.  Umm, and lots of action.  Schoenfelder thinks I wanna be James Cameron when I grow up.  I actually had to fight for the shootout on the roof at the end!  I think he thought it was a bit much, but there's never enough shit blowing up for Romano!

MD: I think BLACKLIGHT isn't a movie so much as a series of movies. We've merely offered a glimpse into this character's life. He's stuck with his gift and there is no shortage of the dead. I wonder how many people on the other side Buck can piss off before they figure out a way to invade his world?
We've built a world around Buck and a film of his adventures could pin folks to their seat for a 95-minute ride into the unknown while the screen dares their eyes to stay open and has couples holding on to each other for dear life. Ideally, Buck is the modern day, gritty Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural.

SF: If budgets weren't an issue and you could get anyone, which actor would you have play Buck? Lauren Chance? Agent Dryden? Bethany Sin?
PM: Hmm.  That's a tough one.  Since Buck is from Austin, it would be cool to have someone like Matthew McConaughey who has that natural Texas drawl and wit.  As for Bethany Sin, I think Stephen mentioned Kristen Stewart at one point.  Having seen THE RUNAWAYS, she'd be pretty good.   

SR: Kristen is my one and ONLY super shameless above-the-radar celebrity crush, so I'd cast her in anything just to get to hang out with her!  (That is, assuming she likes to drink with bald writers who drool a lot.)  I was thinking Gary Oldman would be neat as Bob Maxton.  You need an unknown as Buck, I think.  Someone new, surrounded by celebs in the supporting roles.  There's a truthful philosophy in that kind of casting for a film like this---you see the character, not the actor, and the supporting cast full of familiar faces puts our hero against a backdrop that audiences like and studios make money on.  Angelina Jolie as Lauren Chance maybe?  A funny thing about agent Dryden is that he's named after my ex-stepmother, who was married to Spencer Dryden of the Jefferson Airplane in the sixties.  I come from a pretty crazy rock and roll background.  You know . . . come to think of it, I think it's probably a really bad idea to let novelists cast their own films.  We always get distracted and fuck it all up.  (Duhh . . . Kristen Stewart good, fire bad . . .)

MD: The ideal Buck? Wow...that's a tough one. If time weren't an issue, I'd say Warren Oats or, Darren McGavin of course. But today? Someone along the lines of  Bradley Cooper, Matthew McConoaughey, Jeremy Renner, or Ewan McGregor could be fun. Someone who could bring humor and brio to the character is the ideal.

On top of that, any opportunity to work with Abbie Cornish. She's the real deal.

SF: Any plans to write a sequel to the book or make this a series? Any other books in the works or future project you would like to mention?
PM: When we conceived the project, it was thought of as a series.  Like, this is Buck's first adventure of many.  But I guess future books depends on how the first one does.  Stephen has another book coming out in a few months.  Marcus and I have PIRANHA 3DD coming out this Thanksgiving from Dimension Films and a sequel to THE COLLECTOR coming out in 2012.  

SR: As I mentioned, I was working on another book before I signed onto BLACK LIGHT, and that one sold a few months ago to Gallery Books at Simon and Schuster.  We just inked the deal last week, and there will be an official announcement by my agent soon.  It will be my very first solo thriller from a big NYC publisher, real hardcore stuff.  It's not a horror book, but it's very intense and ultra-violent.  I've crossed the tone of Chuck Palahniuk's best efforts with a hard-as-nails chase thriller that erupts in an apocalyptic climax.  Try to imagine The Bourne Identity meets Mission: Impossible directed by Quentin Tarantino.  If you thought BLACK LIGHT was action packed, you ain't seen NOTHIN' yet, baby.  That one will be out next summer.

MD: Buck has many more tales to tell. It is now up to the readers to allow us the opportunity to share them. BLACKLIGHT is but a chapter of his many lives and deaths to come.

Cheers to staying scared!

Paul Arca
Interview by Paul Arca
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