Brent Hanley [Interview]

Welcome to Day 15 of Trainwreck’d Society’s Month of Horror Showcase. Every day during the month of October, we will have a horror related interview and/or film review for your fright-filled reading pleasure! The set up will be the same as usual, but the topics will be far more terrifying. Enjoy!

We have another great writer to showcase in our Month of Horror for you lucky fools! Today’s interview subject is the brilliant screenwriter Brent Hanley, who brought us one of the most frightening and disturbing tales to us all in 2002 (Not 2001, we will discuss later) with Frailty, directed by the dearly departed Bill Paxton, who also starred in the film in what I consider to be the greatest performance of his career (feel free to argue if you’d like, he was that damn good).

And Brent was kind enough to share a few words about Frailty and its impact it has had on the world of horror and film in general, as well as some other truly fascinating work from this equally fascinating human being. So I am going to simply shut up, and let you all begin enjoying this amazing interview with the legendary writer Mr. Brent Hanley!

When did you first realize you wanted to write for a living? And has screenwriting always been a main focus for you, or are there other avenues of writing that you are more passionate about?

I wrote my first short story, which was basically a rip-off of Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt, at the age of 12.  I have been writing ever since, but it wasn’t until I was about 23 that I realized that my writing style best fit cinema, and that I actually might be able to make a living at it. I love all forms of writing, and have recently been working on a novel of my own, but to me, screenwriting is the most challenging and difficult form of creative writing. You simply have an extremely limited amount of words and pages to not only engage the reader, but create characters and a whole world that the reader truly believes and invests in from start to finish.  And it has to do those things so convincingly that the reader(s) commit millions and millions of dollars to making it and distributing it.

2001’s Frailty still remains one of my favorite films of all time. I am dying to know how you came up with such an insane concept. Where did your inspiration come to write this disturbingly beautiful film?

First of all, I’d like to correct something that has bugged me for years. Frailty was actually released in 2002.  It was listed on IMDB as 2001 because it screened at the Deep Ellum Film Festival in November of 2001. Granted the film was actually shot in late 2000 and 2001, and was planned for release in October 2001, but 9/11 happened and it got pushed to April of 2002.  But to answer your actual question, artistically Frailty was inspired by several things such as Leonard Cohen’s song “The Story of Issac”, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, the film Night of the Hunter, the television show The Twilight Zone, as well as the works of Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe, and of course the Old Testament of the Bible.

And when did the late Bill Paxton become involved in Frailty? How did the idea for Paxton, primarily an actor, to direct the film come into play?

The producers had sent the script to Bill for him to consider playing Dad. When he read it, he became convinced that not only should he play the part, but that he should direct it as well  He came in and blew everyone away with his research and visual knowledge and was hired.  It made total sense to me since Night of the Hunter was a huge influence on the film and it was directed by actor, Charles Laughton. And Bill did such an amazing job both as an actor and as a director, and that is not an easy feat.  He really was such a huge talent.  He was taken from us way too early.

I am a huge fan of Mick Garris’s amazing series Masters of Horror, which you happened to have a stunning addition to with your story, Family. What inspired you to create yet another strange tale, although a bit light hearted this time around? And was it originally intended for MoH

I am really proud to have been a part of that series, and to have worked with the great John Landis. They had approached me the first season, but I was booked at the time. I am and will always be a huge Landis fan, and so I seized the opportunity to work him on the second season. And it turned out John was a fan of mine, and had even read Frailty and had wanted to direct it back in the day. So I pitched John an idea from an old unpublished short story I had written back in my twenties, and we tweaked it a bit, and then I wrote the screenplay. We tweaked it here and there per John’s direction, and then he went and shot it. It is one of the easiest and best experiences I’ve ever had with development so far.

I always love to ask writers this simple yet sometimes very complicated question: How do you know when you are done? Basically, when do you realize that you have a story put down entirely to ink that you know is ready to go? Or do you ever really know?

You’re never really finished with a screenplay until it is made into a film, or you get replaced on it.  And you usually write many drafts for producers, actors, directors, the financing, someone’s cousin. But I get what you mean, so I would say when I write a draft of the screenplay, I know I’m finished when the structure is fully in place, and each scene, each word of action and each word of dialogue all service the story and move it along to it’s conclusion. There should be no wasted words in a script. Every single one should be there for a reason, to serve the intent of the characters and narrative.

What is your favorite scary movie?

It’s always tough to pick just one, but I’ll go with Rosemary’s Baby.  I remember when I was like 6 or 7 years old and I saw a commercial for it because it was going to show on tv, I think for the first time, and I remember being terrified just from seeing the commercial. I was literally convinced that the devil himself had made that movie and if I saw it the devil would get me and drag me to hell, so I spent my childhood years avoiding that movie. Then when I was about 12 or so, I figured that was just childish bullshit so I watched it, and the devil didn’t get me, but I was thoroughly terrified.  I remember having bad dreams for months after seeing it. And of course, I’ve loved it ever since.

What are your plans for this coming Halloween? Any sort of traditions you try to uphold each year?

Not sure what exactly we’ll do this year, but we’ll do something.  It’s always been my favorite holiday.  When I was a kid my mom always decorated the house, and would dress us up and take us trick or treating. My wife and I have kept up the tradition.  We always decorate, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, but always something.  And we love giving out candy to trick or treaters. And we always get the good stuff so we do!’t get egged or tp-ed  .

What else does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Got a few irons in the fire.  I recently adapted the James Ross Novel, They Don’t Dance Much, a down and dirty chicken-fried noir, and am currently working on a television pilot called Thin Blue Smoke based on the novel by Doug Worgul.

Also, Bill Paxton’s final directorial project, The Bottoms, is going into production this fall.  I adapted it for him years ago from the Joe Lansdale novel. And he finally had it set up to go into production this year.  It is so fucking heart-breaking to make it without him, but we are making it for him, to honor him.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My 11 year old lab, Rita, dancing with me and my wife earlier tonight.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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