In this podcast, Christopher Landon talks about We Have a Ghost, Freaky, Happy Death Day, and much more.
About Christopher Landon
Christopher Landon is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter best known for Disturbia, Happy Death Day, and Freaky. His latest film is We Have a Ghost.
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Horror on Main
A brand new horror convention coming soon. Guests include Tim Lebbon, Sarah Pinborough, and Jeff Strand.
The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson, narrated by RJ Bayley
Michael David Wilson 0:07
Welcome to This Is Horror a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson. And every episode I chat with the world's best writers and creatives about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now today, I chat with Christopher Landon, the film director, screenwriter, and producer, known for films such as Disturbia, happy death day, freaky, and paranormal activity. Now his latest release, we have a ghost will be coming to Netflix in a few days on February the 24th. It is perhaps his most family friendly film, but it's no less Excellent. And this one includes some incredible physical acting from David harbor, and so much nuance and social commentary within the film. So with that said, It is almost time to get to our conversation. But first, a quick advert break.
Tim Lebbon 1:40
Hey, horror fiends. It's Tim Lebbon here from the UK. I'm delighted to be an author guest that horror on Main really hope you can join us there. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be scary. There's gonna be lots of books for sale are it's going to be glorious. So I really hope to see you there. I'm looking forward to it so much. be scary. Keep reading be safe.
For on Main, a new weekend convention for the horror community. We've been going to conventions for over 20 years and are changing up the little things to make the big picture amazing. Join us Memorial Day weekend 2023 in Hunt Valley, Maryland, come to the block party and meet your new neighbors see horror on main.com for details.
RJ Bayley 2:25
It was as if the video had on zips my skin slunk inside my tapered flesh and become one with me.
Bob Pastorella 2:33
From the creator of This Is Horror comes a new nightmare for the digital age. The Girl in the Video by Michael David Wilson. After a teacher receives a weirdly rousing video, his life descends into paranoia and obsession. More videos follow each containing information no stranger could possibly know. But who's sending them and what do they want? The answers may destroy everything and everyone he loves. The Girl in the Video is the ring meets fatal attraction for iPhone generation. Available now in paperback ebook and audio.
Michael David Wilson 3:03
Well, without further ado, it is Christopher Landon on This Is Horror. Chris, welcome to This Is Horror Podcast. Hi there. I know to begin with let's talk about any early life lessons that you learned growing up. And it doesn't necessarily have to pertain to writing or filmmaking, but just anything that you learned here in those formative years.
Christopher Landon 3:37
I started watching horror movies when I was really young. inappropriately young, some might say. But I think what I learned was that horror was a really safe space, you know, to sort of deal with any sort of fear or anxiety that I might have, you know. And so I think that's why I was always drawn to the genre at an early age because it was like, Okay, I feel better after I watched this stuff. Yeah, sounds weird, but it was true.
Michael David Wilson 4:17
And I think that happens with a lot of us. And I think really, there's something cathartic and comforting about it. And because you're watching it within the comfort of your own home, you kind of get that thrill of the horror, but without the actual danger element.
Christopher Landon 4:36
Yeah, of course, it depends. It really, at least as a kid, it really depended on what I was watching. You know, like, if I saw the blob, you know, I was like, Okay, that was cool. And I would go to bed but if I watched you know, like Halloween, you know, I would I would definitely like check all the doors and windows 20 times and wake up throughout the night so you know, he's still gone.
Michael David Wilson 4:59
Yeah, you Yeah. And I mean, when you say you are working in it from an inappropriately young age, just how young are we talking?
Christopher Landon 5:10
Honestly, I want to say I started watching stuff when I was about six. Yeah, so it was young. It was really, um, and it was not. I mean, my dad, who was the one that was letting me watch this stuff, he still was screening it a little bit, you know, like, we check to make sure it didn't look too gory. I think that's what he was more worried about was sort of how violent and gory something was. But if it if it sort of seemed okay, that's, that's where I started, and then eventually, like, and it wasn't long after that, that he just was like, whatever. Go ahead, watch what you want. I think he kind of figured out that I probably wasn't going to turn into a serial killer. So he felt okay about it.
Michael David Wilson 5:53
I mean, that that's always a good one, particularly as an indicator, and it's like, let's try to make your racket doesn't become a serial killer. Yeah.
Christopher Landon 6:04
Michael David Wilson 6:05
Yeah. Did you know that you wanted to go into film or story writing or creating on some level from an early age to
Christopher Landon 6:17
I mean, I don't think I've, I don't think I saw a direct career path at an early age. But I knew that I loved I loved to write, and that I loved movies. And I was one of those kids that failed. In a lot of subjects, I think mostly out of disinterest, or just sort of not really applying myself. But whenever I had an opportunity for creative writing, I excelled. Because I loved it so much. And so when I was in high school, I started to make short films with my friends. Some of them, you know, we're sort of linear sort of narrative things. And a lot of it was experimental and weird. Some of it drug induced. But, but yeah, and I think that's when I really started to kind of figure it out, you know, that there was that there was a possible possibility of a career path. So when I graduated high school, or immediately went to film school, and also, you know, started to get internships at different production companies, so I could kind of learn how things worked behind the scenes. So my interest and my sort of pursuit were pretty immediate.
Michael David Wilson 7:33
Yeah. And in terms of those initial films you were making, like, who, if anyone, did you hear them too? And then like, you know, I guess what were some of these wild stories. I'm just so intrigued as to what did you start off writing?
Christopher Landon 7:53
Yeah, I mean, one of the first one of the films we made was a was a zombie sequel to Xanadu. Oh my god, that was a weird one. And then the other stuff was really weird. It's funny, though, we, we really only kind of watched it among my little small core group of friends. Although one of the one of the experimental films that I made with with one of my best friends, the tape, and this is dating myself, literally the VHS tape that it was made on, ended up getting, I loaned it to a friend. And then they copied it. And then I guess it started to circulate years later, in different colleges. And I only know this because I was walking down the street, like in my late 20s, I think early 30s. And someone stopped me because they recognized me from the from my film. They were like, oh my god, we used to get drunk every Friday and watch your weird movie. I was like, Yeah, cult status. So that was pretty funny. But yeah, otherwise, I would never share it with anyone in my family. Like,
Michael David Wilson 9:11
yeah. So we've that particular film. Have you ever found it kind of come back to haunt you if they've been people since? Yeah.
Christopher Landon 9:21
Nothing bad in it. It's just weird. And as far as I know, it's just all but vanished. I don't I don't know if it exists anymore. I don't have it. So that's long gone, I'm sure.
Michael David Wilson 9:32
Yeah. So if anyone listening does have a you can.
Christopher Landon 9:40
Yeah, I would love that. Yeah.
Michael David Wilson 9:42
Yeah. So I mean, I know too, though, one of the ways that you got started or C, you started studying Screenwriting at university, but then you actually dropped out at a screenwriting course because you you're offered a writing job by Larry Clark. So yeah, that's a pretty insane sequence of events out. How did that come about?
Christopher Landon 10:09
It was very strange. I. So in all my spare time, I would write, you know, so I would write, I would write screenplays, just random things, random ideas that I had. And I also made a short film. While I was still at university, and I ended up we had like a screening of it, and a producer saw it. And they approached me and asked me if I had any writing samples. And so I gave them a script that I had written. And I didn't know why they wanted it. They didn't really tell me, but then they called me and said that Larry Clark wanted to meet me that they'd given him the script, and he really liked it. And like my writing style, I can't imagine I had a writing style then. But whatever. So Larry, after I met with him, and the producers, they said, you know, if you write the first 60 pages, and we like it, then we'll make a deal with you, and you can keep going. But if they didn't like the work, then that was it, like I was, I was done. So it was kind of a, it was sort of a dicey, weird situation, but I didn't have anything to lose. And I and I recognized what a cool, potentially great opportunity was. So I just jumped all over it. And luckily, they liked it. They were happy, I kept going, they made a deal. They made the movie, which was even more shocking. And I was still in school at the time, even when the when the film came out. And I was trying to juggle my schooling, and also the suddenly having like a gig, you know, people wanting me to work. And so I just decided to drop out, which made my mom freak out. And, but it was what I wanted to do, you know, and I was able to get an agent, and I started to get hired to do some stuff. So that's kind of where things began. It was short lived. Because I was green. And I think people quickly realized I didn't know what I was doing. Right? So I was like, a big moment where I was like, you know, 1920 years old, with might with a film out and you know, people hiring me. And then all of a sudden, they were like, Oh, he's 19 or 20. And he's an idiot, so. And so that was it. So like, after a couple of years, like I had no career anymore. So I just kind of stopped and started to figure out other stuff to do until I found my way back to writing
Michael David Wilson 12:49
is so weird as well, of course, you would do in a university course, to get a screenwriting gig, but then you ultimately had to drop out of university, because you had one is like, that's not the way.
Christopher Landon 13:03
I know. Well, I mean, I think that the university thing wasn't necessarily I mean, there's only so much they could teach you. And that was the thing that I really understood the most was that I quickly realized that my best education was going to be outside of that, that classroom and outside of that environment and in the field. And so, the job itself was an education for me, and the internship too, because, you know, that's all I did for those companies was read screenplays all day long, and evaluate them. And so that, for me was the best education I could have gotten. Because I was learning what worked and what didn't on the page. So that was super helpful.
Michael David Wilson 13:43
Yeah. And so then for those starting out screenwriting, as someone who has read a hell of a lot of screenplays, what are some of the things that are kind of indicate as like, Okay, this is gonna be a good one. And equally what I indicate as like, yeah, this screenplay is not gonna work.
Christopher Landon 14:05
The first three pages, honestly, you can tell, like in the first three pages, if this is something that's going to, at least be well written, and may not necessarily be the kind of story that I like, you know, but you can get a sense that this, you're in good hands, that I was able to always recognize fairly quickly, it was very rare that a script was kind of poorly written for the first, you know, 1520 pages, and that suddenly turned a corner and got great, you know. So that was definitely something that I was able to recognize, but also really learning about sort of that writing that screenwriting didn't have to be so dull and functional, you know, minutes approach that be more literary, you know, there are all these rules that they were trying to shove down my throat at school about, like, you can't put anything on the page that isn't on the screen and all these other kinds of roles. And that turned out to not be true, you know that, that you needed to entertain the reader while you were taking them through your story. And that there was a way to do that. So that was definitely something else that I kind of started to learn from other writers, ya know? So that was a big help.
Michael David Wilson 15:19
Yeah. And then just to give us a sense of the timeline, so of course, Disturbia came out in 2007. So what point was it that you work in with Larry, and then kind of what happened for you to then get the Disturbia gig?
Christopher Landon 15:42
Yeah, that was another kind of weird road. Because after, after my nosedive, career wise, you know, I went off and started, like I said, I started to get other jobs. Then eventually, I moved to Texas. And I was about to start studying to get my real estate license. Because I was like, Oh, I'm just gonna sell houses here in Texas. And then, because I was living there on my own, and I didn't know anybody, and I was really lonely. I wrote a pilot, which I'd never done before, I'd never written anything on the TV side. And it was about it was sort of my sort of spin on the Invisible Man. And so I wrote a pilot, and then I sent it to a friend of mine, who was a producer. And I sent it to her really is like, I think I even wrote in the email something like, can you read this and just tell me how bad I am. Because I hadn't written anything in a while. Um, and I just, I was very excited about the idea. But at the same time, I thought, well, this is probably bad, and not worth anyone's time. But I want I wanted to get somebody to verify it for me. And then she didn't. I didn't hear from her for weeks. And so I thought, Oh, God, it was bad. Like, she can't even call me back now. And then, and then about three weeks later, she called me and she said, she said, I hope you don't mind. But I sold it. And I was like, well, she had so she had sold the pilot to CBS. So I had to come back to LA. And I wasn't permanently back in LA, I was sleeping on my sister's couch, which I'm sure she hated. And I. And while I was waiting to kind of find out if this show was going to happen, I started to write Disturbia as a spec script. It was just an idea that I had, I was driving, I was sitting in traffic, and there was a story on NPR about Martha Stewart on house arrest. And that was what sort of sparked the idea. So I wrote it. And then it's funny because the show didn't go didn't happen. They didn't make it. But then I sold Disturbia. And that did, and that actually happened quickly. Like they made that movie very quickly after I wrote it. And that was what kind of ultimately brought me back to writing and, and made me realize, Okay, I think I'm onto something here. Like, I'm, maybe I'm better than I thought I was. And so I started to write again, as a career.
Michael David Wilson 18:25
Yeah. Yeah. And I know that you've described the staff here as if Hitchcock meets John Hughes. So I mean, that's a hell of an elevator pitch on its own way. Oh, okay. What's going on here?
Christopher Landon 18:41
Yeah, it was funny, because it seems so obvious to me, you know, and sometimes the best ideas are, to the point where you where you're trying research to find out like, well, how many of these movies exist already, you know, and then you find out oh, wait, there aren't any. Yeah.
Michael David Wilson 19:00
Yeah. And I think you know, what? Well, whilst it's totally different, let's say like happy death day and freaky I think you can certainly see those ingredients come in together, particularly with the kind of dark overall theme but then interspersing with elements of comedy like I can't imagine, you know, you're not including at least little bits of humor within your film. It just seems to be like part of your signature. Yeah.
Christopher Landon 19:32
It is for sure. I always, I always include humor and everything, even in the paranormal movies. I tried to infuse as much humor as I could, I think it's a really great way to to disarm your audience to endear them to your characters. You know what I mean? If you can laugh with someone then you know it's the kind of person you want to hang out with, you know, and maybe spend a couple hours with them. And so that's always been kind of my my not so secret weapon. I try to write characters that I think are relatable and funny and people you want to hang out with.
Michael David Wilson 20:06
Yeah. Well, I mean, particularly with paranormal activity, the marked ones, there's so much humor at the start that I mean, it is a little bit disconcerting, because anyone who's familiar with paranormal activity, we know the kinds of things that are coming, but you really lull us into this false sense of security.
Christopher Landon 20:28
Yeah, it's funny when we, when we did our first test screening of that movie at Paramount. It was such a thrill for me, because I was so used to being rewarded with screams, you know, in movies, and of course, I would hear people laugh and stuff. But like the first 20 minutes of that movie played, like a full blown comedy, where people were roaring with laughter over all the things that were happening. And I don't know, it was a real boost for me, in some ways, because it was also like, a signal to me that like, Oh, I could probably do something else besides horror, if I wanted. And I think that was kind of in a weird way, this sort of genesis of me, really leaning into the horror comedy aspect of filmmaking, because I was like, I think I can do both. And so that's why the next one that I did right after that was scouts. Yeah. Which was a full blown, you know, horror comedy.
Michael David Wilson 21:26
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, we've paranormal activity. Do you remember your reaction to the original film?
Christopher Landon 21:36
I do. 100% do it was it's interesting, because I actually got to see the film years before anyone else I had was working on another project with Jason Blum at the time. And, and his producing partner at the time, this guy called me, this guy, Stephen Schneider. And he called me he said, Hey, I found this weird movie that I think you're gonna dig. And Steven was a big whore. Like, he wrote books on on horse like a guru. And so he and I were very connected that way. And so he said, Hey, I'm going to show it to Jason at his house tonight, you should come over and watch it. So I did, I went over. And I think Jason was seeing it for the first time with me. And we watched it, and an ended and my heart was racing. And I remember turning to them, and I was like, I don't know what the fuck that was. But it scared the shit out of me. Like, you got to figure this out, you got to do something with it. And then it's ironic, because you know, they had sold it to Paramount, not long after, but then Paramount was going to throw the film out and start over, because they were like found footage. This is weird. We don't want to do this. So they started to develop like a traditional movie out of it. And then one of the executives at Paramount Ashley Brooks really pushed hard for them to test aurons movie with a real audience. And when they finally saw it with like an audience and how big the reaction was, that's when they realized, Oh, this is this is something special, we need to stay here. And then I just accidentally found my way back into that franchise. Later after they were trying to make the sequel. And they were trying to do it without a script. They had no script, they had like a, like a, like a treatment kind of it was very thin. But that's how Oren made the original, you know, like he just kind of was winging it. And so they thought they could do it a second time and quickly realized they couldn't. And they had to shut production down after like three weeks, because they had nothing. They had a really good cast, but they just didn't have a story. And they did a writers roundtable. And I was invited to it. And everybody was like patting the studio on the back and saying, Wow, this is gonna be great. This is really good. And then the head of the studio looked at me and he was like, Why are you frowning? Why are you folding your arms? And I was like, because you guys are in trouble. I was like, This is not good. This is not going to work. You can't do it this way. And then I pitched a sequence in the movie where Christie gets dragged out of the nursery and down the stairs in the room. And the head of the studio pulled me aside after that meeting. And he said, Well, you go home and write that for me. And I was like, Alright, sure what the hell so I wrote it. And then I guess they all shared it with each other. And they were like, we should hire him to like, keep going. So they brought me on at that point. And that's how I got involved with that. That whole franchise. It was an accident, like most of my career.
Michael David Wilson 24:39
When didn't get show in as well, the power of just being honest. You know, you had people watching this and just nodding like, oh, yeah, this is really good. And you know, it's not a problem.
Christopher Landon 24:51
Yeah, I mean, I think that's a thing that I've really tried to stick to in my career and sometimes to my detriment, but I don't think faking it or kissing ass or brown nosing, just because you think that's what you're supposed to do in a room like that is the way to go. And it's not that I want to, I don't set out to be insulting or to diminish somebody else's work. In a situation like that I'm not gonna sit in a room and pretend like everything's fine. And you know, it's all great. I think a lot of films ended up really damaged as a result of that kind of thinking, you know, where people are afraid to tell the truth or afraid to be honest about how, what you know what time it is. And I certainly want that, from people with me. You know, like, when I show my films, to to audiences and test screenings and stuff, I want the truth, I want their unvarnished opinion. You know, I want to know what sucks and what works. And so the only way to make something better is to get honest feedback. And I think a lot of filmmakers start to kind of walled themselves in. And then their movies start to suck, because they get too powerful. They get too big, and then there's nobody that's telling them this is bad.
Michael David Wilson 26:06
Thank goodness, we've paranormal activity that they kept it as a found footage film. I mean, that's one of the things that makes it so special, like particularly, you know, with the original because like The Blair Witch Project, I think when it came out there, there were genuinely people who were a bit confused as to like, hang on, is this real? This actually happen? Is this a film? Or is this not? What is going on here? And obviously, if you'd have just made it as a traditional film, then you couldn't have got any of that?
Christopher Landon 26:41
Yeah, it's true. And geniusly blurred that line for people, you know, even even, I had people when to came out. And some random people asked, like, Was it real?
Michael David Wilson 26:57
Yeah, for you as a filmmaker, and screenwriter, what do you think? Are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing have found footage film within horror?
Christopher Landon 27:10
I mean, it was a lot of disadvantages, if I'm being honest. I mean, from a writing standpoint, I mean, the disadvantage was, I wrote full screenplays for every movie, but no one believed it. As a career thing, it really did nothing for me, because no one thought the movies were written, they didn't give me any credit, really, even though I had on screen credit. They just want to thought we were making it up as we went along, and everything was improvised. And they didn't get that like, No, I wrote all that dialogue, and like, it was all me. Um, and, but on the directing side, you know, because they're hard movies to make. And they're hard movies to write. And they're higher hard moves to make. Because, you know, you don't have traditional coverage, and you don't have a score. And you don't have all these kinds of elements and things that help you tell a story, you have to justify why there's a camera when there shouldn't be a camera. And so, but what I loved about making the movies was was embracing the improv side of things, you know, and being really nimble. And learning how to be very economical from a story telling point of view. So there was a lot of interesting things that informed how I work now, when I was on those sets. And when I made those movies, although it was really funny, because when I made scouts, I'd been in the found footage world for so long, like it was very hard for my brain to change gears and switch back to traditional filmmaking, where I was like, oh, I need to have like a master shot. And then I need to, like get coverage. I need to like, I can shoot all these things. And it really was, my brain wasn't getting it for a minute, but I finally came around, came back to it.
Michael David Wilson 29:03
Yeah. So in fact, the adjustment back into traditional filmmaking was in some ways harder than, you know, starting out writing fanfic.
Christopher Landon 29:14
It really was. Well,
Michael David Wilson 29:16
I know that I would be remiss and people would be angry with me if I didn't at least talk a little bit about happy death day. And, I mean, what do you think it is that is so universally appealing about the kind of Groundhog Day time loop story?
Christopher Landon 29:36
I think it's wish fulfillment. You know, I think a lot of people imagine like to imagine the things that they do differently if they had the opportunity, you know, and I think that's what that type of, of device does. You know, it's, it allows you to take inventory of yourself in a lot of ways like and that's what tree does in the movie. You know, she starts out as this very high couple very unhappy Young woman. And then as she slowly tries to sort of solve the mystery of her own murder, she starts to really look at herself in her life and go, Okay, well, I'm kind of a terrible person, and how can I correct that? And so I think people were really drawn to that idea, you know, that were redeemable, you know. And that was, I think it was unusual to for a movie like this, because slasher films, traditionally, the final girl is like, chased and perfect and sweet and just kind of runs around until she finally you know, kills the bad guy at the end. And tree was allowed to be complicated and flawed, and, you know, slept around and drank and was mean to people. And like, she was everything that most final girls aren't. But her arc allowed her to transform, and it allowed her to have total agency, you know, and that was something else that was really appealing to me was that she wasn't some passive girl running through the woods. You know, she was like, she was on it. She was on her own case, and trying to solve her own murder, and also trying to become a better person. So I think it really kind of was a movie that, for me, at least, was really trying to sort of reexamine and reorient the final girl trope.
Michael David Wilson 31:21
Yeah. Yeah. And, I mean, continuing with the idea of wish fulfillment, if you could reset a time, is there a period you would go back to and start over?
Christopher Landon 31:37
It's funny, you know, I, I would say, No. I don't want to I would not want to relive or be stuck in the same day. Because I like, I like the forward movement. And I think honestly, that question is what happy to say to was about. That was really about okay, so sure, maybe you can change the past. But should you? You know, and the answers early, no, like, the things that happen to you in your life were meant to happen, you know, they inform who you are as a human being, and to change any of that would be to change you, you know, fundamentally. And so, that was, that's why I made that sequel. Because I wanted to talk about that. So, and it's something that like, you know, there's a really good Stephen King book. It's the book about the Kennedy assassination. Oh, yes. Yeah. 1123. And that book talks a lot is very involved in that kind of thinking, you know, like, Sure, you could go live in a different time and find love and all these things. But you know, those kinds of changes sort of alter the course of the future? And, you know, usually not in a good way. Yeah. So yeah.
Michael David Wilson 33:01
And I know that you have an idea for a third in the happy death day series. Is there anything you can say about it? Or is there any movement on that front?
Christopher Landon 33:14
I mean, it's funny, like I saw, you know, it's been circulating again, since I've been doing some press for we have a ghost. And I saw someone tweet, like, if he does sci fi, again, I don't want it. And I'm like, Well, I've got some really bad news for you, because the third movie was gonna be a combination of sci fi, heist, and apocalyptic disaster movie. So, so it was gonna be a lot of different things again, you know, the last thing on earth I'm interested in doing is giving anyone the same movie, again, you know what I mean? Like, I don't need to make another Happy Birthday slasher movie, doesn't mean that I wouldn't have elements of that in the third movie. But I, I'm not in the business of making sequels to make to make money or to just just blandly service, some kind of like fan desire. If I don't have an emotional connection and a reason to make that movie, I won't make it. So but, you know, in this case, it's just been a it's been a it was a tricky thing, because the second movie wasn't as successful as the first financially speaking, even though it was it was very successful. But I think from the studio's point of view, it didn't justify the third movie for them. And I, you know, it's a total bummer. And I think that we've actually sort of managed to gain a lot of fans over the years. And so I think that it would be a bigger audience if we were given the chance. But I'm not in control of that, you know, so I have no say in it, and you know, it's really In universals court, and it's up to Jason Blum and universal to decide if they actually want that third movie or not.
Michael David Wilson 35:08
Yeah, yeah. My hands are tied. Yeah. Yeah. I think that as well, happy death day feels a lot more violent than they actually is. Because you obviously take us right up until the moment of death and then cut away. Whereas with freaky, right, we are going all out. I mean, goodness, particularly the Allen rock deaf, which might be leaf. Yeah, yes. But, I mean, how did it feel kind of making something where it kind of feels violent, but it actually isn't, if you play it back and in, in a similar way, even though obviously a radically different films at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you have this illusion or this memory that wow, it's a super violent film. But when you look at it, it's like, no, it's not. It really isn't. It's all about the power of the mind. So was that something that you were very conscious of going in? And did you kind of need to get this PG 13? rating?
Christopher Landon 36:28
It's funny, I had written it. I don't, I'm not a credited writer. But I had rewritten the movie extensively. The first one, and I wrote it, I wrote the deaths to be really violent. Because I thought we would shoot it. And then when I was in early, early, pre production on the film, I remember, you know, Jason, and the studio and they said, Hey, how do you feel about it being PG 13. And initially, I was like, Oh, God, terrible. Why would I ever do that? But then I really did think on it. And I was like, wait a minute, it actually makes more sense story wise, for us to actually see the aftermath of her death, like we should be taken right up to the edge of it. So I actually went back and rewrote it, and change that because I was like, this is actually better. And it honestly wasn't like, Oh, I'm being forced to make a PG 13 movie. It just made more sense to me. And I knew that I would be forced to be more suspenseful. And I would have to be a little bit more creative. And how I shot these the sequences, and I was excited by it. I thought it made more sense. And I thought it needed to be a less gory, more suspense and sort of romance forward. Movie, you know, because I just thought it was better that way. But that's why when I made freaky, I was like this kind of concept, this kind of body swap concept where, you know, young sort of shy girl swaps with a serial killer. I was like, that has to be gory. Because it only succeeds if we heard doing the most horrible, violent things to people, you know, and so that, that's why we went into that movie, without any questions about what rating we were going for. In fact, I wanted to push it as far as we could. I wanted to have to powerwash the ceiling of the gymnasium after we killed the Ellen rock, which we did. So yeah, the weighting is it's very specific to the sort of the temperament and personality of a movie. And I'm glad I did. I'm glad I didn't make happy that they are, I think it would be a different movie. And I think I don't think it would be a better mood.
Michael David Wilson 38:52
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, the, the kind of physical acting of Vince Vaughn in the freaky is up there with the absolute highlights and, and in fact, similar to we've, we have a ghost when you have the physical acting of David Harbour, as you've got, you know, two very imposing characters that are effectively having a lot less dialogue and for Vinci, I mean, he's effectively having to embody what, like a 1516 year old girl, but he just absolutely nails it and pulls it off. So well.
Christopher Landon 39:38
Yeah, I mean, it's so funny too, because you look at these two very different roles, you know, Vince, Vince is Vince is sort of like, absolute ultimate weapon is his ability to be sharp and quick and talk, you know, like, this is a talker in A great way. And it's kind of his trademark. And so it was so perfectly suited for like a teenage girl in a weird way. Very few actors that had that ability to be funny, but also empathetic. And, and also physically imposing it only Vince is six, I think. And so I knew I wanted that physicality for the roll. And so he was kind of like, he checked every box. And there were very, very, very few actors out there that I believed could do it. But I knew he could. And so it's so interesting to see his performance up against David harbors performance in we have a ghost because David, for me is sort of the opposite of the fence in many ways. You know, like, he's, he's got this kind of wounded quality to him, and he's so expressive without words, you know, like, I think that that's something that I think, I think David disappears into these, these characters. He's really a character actor that has a such an extensive theatre background. So he likes that, you know. And so it's just funny how he's T fits a role that has no dialogue versus Vince who does a lot of talking. So it was it's just been, but they're both very big and imposing people. So it's definitely been interesting to have both experiences.
Michael David Wilson 41:31
Yeah. Yeah. And, and whilst I'd love to talk about freaky a little more, I know, as we're coming up to the time we have together, we got to delve more into we have a ghost and I know to kind of kick this off. I'm just interested in what are your own beliefs or lack thereof with regards to ghosts and the supernatural?
Christopher Landon 41:54
There's no lack. I mean, I, I believe in them, for sure. I have all my friends know that I lived in like this old haunted apartment in Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin, built these studio in LA. And then he had all of these apartments made that were like, it was housing for his actors. And then they were converted into just sort of regular apartments, but they're like, kind of old. They look like weird fairy tale buildings. There's like, it's just very strange. And I had a very nice ghost who lived in my apartment. And the first time I encountered it, I was home. And I was in my bed reading and I had a roommate. And my roommate was a talker. And so he came home and I heard him like, close the door. And he walked down the hall, and he went into the kitchen, and my bedroom window kind of was sort of adjacent to that room. And so when the light in the kitchen turned on, the light would shine through my window. So it like turned on and off. And on and off. I was like, oh, fuck is he drunk? And then he walked up to my door, and I heard him stop right outside my door, and I was sitting in bed going, please don't come in. I don't feel like talking. Yeah. And then he walked away. And he just walked away. And that was it. And I was like, I went to bed. So the next morning, I get up, and I'm just going to get coffee. And my front door opens and in walks my roommate with his bag and his dry cleaning. Like he's coming home. And I was like, What are you doing? Did you forget something? And he goes, No, I'm just getting home. And I was like, Wait a minute. No, I was like, You were here last night? And he goes, No, he wasn't. I spent the night he had a boyfriend. He was like, I spent the night at Brandon's house. So he had never been there. I was completely alone. All the lights, all the doors, all the walking all of that. And after that, I did start to hear more things. And then it never felt threatening. And then I had like a girlfriend spend the night and she slept on my couch. And the next morning, she was like, Oh, you're so sweet for tucking me in last night. And I was like, I didn't do that. So like it was, we had a friendly ghost in our apartment. And then after that, like when I started to really, like get into the paranormal franchise, we would bring experts on. We had one guy in particular who was a professor of like Parapsychology at UCLA. And he told me stories like really scary stories of some of the stuff that he encountered and he's not like a quack This isn't like some guy that seems mentally ill. In fact, he had his own list of criteria when he would investigate hauntings in people's homes like he would go to their he would meet them in a public place first like a coffee shop. And because he was psychologically evaluating them, without them knowing it, and then if he felt like they passed the test, and he would go to their house, you would make them stay outside and he would walk the house and sell because he was not looking for a ghost, he was checking for loose venting, you know, or a draft that could be coming from. So like he was looking for all the logical reasons why a person might think they had a ghost but didn't. But he said he and he had encountered things on a couple of occasions. But he actually quit that job and became a professor when he was attacked. Like, he went to some woman's house. And she was really scared and said, there was something really bad in her house. And he said that he opened a closet and something grabbed him by the throat and pushed him against the wall and told him to get out. And he was done. And so like, that still gives me the chills. So yeah, I don't know. I buy it.
Michael David Wilson 45:44
Yeah. Yeah. Did you ever try and look into the origin of your friendly ghost? Like, try and find out like you knew what was going on?
Christopher Landon 45:55
That was too hard, because there were so many people that had lived in that building. I mean, it had been there for 100 years, practically. And so like it was there was so much turnover, that I just really didn't know how I would figure that out. And I think I tried to just be content with that. It was like not trying to kill me.
Michael David Wilson 46:16
Yeah, I imagine your friend was pretty freaked out when he revealed like, I wasn't the one who took you in at night. Like, holy shit, I'll find a different font. Sure. Yeah. But I mean, I know that one of the inspirations for we have a ghost was a vice story called Ernest. So how did you first read that one?
Christopher Landon 46:46
So it was a short story that was sent to me by my, my agent at the time. And he had really good taste and, and literature and he sent it to me and said, Hey, I think you're gonna really like this. And it was more like a, it wasn't like you're turning this into a movie, he really sent it to me, like, you'll enjoy this read. Yeah. When I read it, I was really struck by it and sort of felt like I knew what the movie was right away. And so I really pushed aggressively. And once I was able to get the rights and set it up, I kind of just went straight to work on on writing the movie, and you know, adapting that short story. It was great because it felt like such a cool jumping off point. For a movie. I really liked the characters, I liked the sort of social media lens that it was looking at a ghost story through, I thought that was really unique. And it felt like a modern kind of amble any movie to me, or at least the potential to be that, you know, and it also was a vessel for me to explore a lot of different things that I've been interested in and wanted to kind of examine in a movie like this. So it just kind of it was just the kind of like the right, the right thing at the right time.
Michael David Wilson 48:02
Yeah, and I think this story, as well, like device story, it does have that similarity to paranormal activity in the sense that it's like, is this a story? Is this an article that has actually happened like it? It's very kind of just like, matter of fact about it. So it does blur that line, which I love.
Christopher Landon 48:28
Yeah, that's how Jeff wrote it, which I think it's part of its charm, is that it is very matter of fact, like So Justin, this guy's house and this is what he decided to do. And but again, it's it's a sneaky story too, because it focuses very much on on the father character, Frank. And how he kind of thrusts his family into the limelight. And how he's really abusive to the ghost, you know? And that his son very, very quietly in the background, befriends that ghost, you know, and for me, that was where that's where I saw the focus pull for the movie. I was like, Oh, this movie is about the kid, dad. And so that's where I started, you know, I really tried to select even in the in the movie, in the book version, Frank finds the ghost first. But in the movie version, Kevin does because I kind of wanted it to be historian like, wanted it to be a secret. He's trying to keep that of course he can't. And so that was kind of the starting point for me. And then just just about trying to sort of figure out okay, so has there how do we add a story engine here like what's what's what is Ernest want or need? And how was Kevin can help him figure that out. And of course, for me, it was okay. He doesn't remember anything. He doesn't even know he's in this house. And so there's a history that I was able to kind of build out and then Also add kind of this sort of external threat, you know, with this sort of shadowy government agency pursuing them. And so kind of allowed it to give it some of that kind of fun, et ish kind of stuff. But then ultimately, really just a movie about about sounds corny, but like feeling seen move about finding unusual friendships about fatherhood. You know, I've two kids of my own. And so there was a lot I wanted to explore about my relationship with my kids, and also my relationship with my dad who passed away when I was 16. So there was a lot to unpack there for me. And that was just nice that I had this really fun Trojan horse, you know, to do it. And so that's, that's, we have a ghost.
Michael David Wilson 50:52
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that you have packed, perhaps more into this story than any other film. I mean, there are so many layers to it, obviously, you're talking about exploring the family dynamic. But you've also got things about, you know, human rights, and how certain people treat it like they're less than human. You've got the obsession with social media and validation, and how that can obviously go too far when you're just click kind of chasing clicks or casing money. And then of course, you've got what is, unfortunately, probably a very realistic reaction as to how the CIA would be if there was ever a ghost actually discovered to a point where it could be complicated. We haven't even mentioned, you know, Jennifer Coolidge, and obviously, the kind of parody of the fake medium. And yeah, I love that scene, too. It's like, well, let's have some fun with the actors.
Christopher Landon 52:02
Movie, you better do something good with her. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I've really, it's funny, like I one of the things that I love to do in my films, is obviously blend genres, you know, and even some tones, I try not to go too wild off, that's sort of the tone front. But I do believe that you can make a movie that is a family adventure, and an action movie, and a horror movie, and a sci fi movie and a romance. You know, I don't believe that there's anything, any reason why you can't put them all together in one film, as long as you are very much on a specific journey with a specific character. And that's what Kevin is. And so it allows you to kind of move through these different, these different spaces, because you're always following the same person, you know. So, I, like I said, I'm a big fan of kind of maximizing my genres of film. And this really was, for me, my, my best opportunity to sort of kind of keep one foot planted in my past and specifically the sort of my horror roots, but also really show people that I have another side of myself, you know, can make a bigger movie, you know, a more action focused movie, you know, movie with much more scale, because I spent a lot of time obviously in the in the Blumhouse, kind of lower budget world. And it's easy to stay there, you know, it can be really comfortable to stay there, but I wanted to challenge myself and do something bigger. And so this was this was the right movie, I think for that.
Michael David Wilson 53:48
Yeah. Yeah. And I love to how you invert expectations and tropes and of course even the introduction to Ernest you've got him being like woowoo and obviously everyone's meant to freak out but Kevin is just laughing at him like what the hell is going on which I I almost feel is is a more realistic reaction to what's actually happening here like
Christopher Landon 54:19
like when I've when I would like show some of like my nieces and nephews old horror films that I loved scare the shit out of me when I was a kid. Like what? hears you and that's kind of what Ernest is doing in that scene. Like he's the sort of like this dusty old he's been doing. He's been playing this trick for for decades. And it's only been effective because he's been dealing really with sort of like the audience's that haven't been exposed to the really hardcore stuff, you know, but like, he's dealing with a family in a post conjuring post, you know, Evil Dead post, whatever world where, like, Yes, his kids were Be more cynical and way more, you know, savvy to this stuff. And so to him, it just looks goofy. Yeah. And that was kind of the fun and the joke of it, you know, is that like, he thinks he's being scary, but he's just being bad.
Michael David Wilson 55:14
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, like, unfortunately, again, pretty realistic. It's like it starts off non threatening. But then the media, of course, turned him into a monster because that's what they expect. That's almost what they want. And we, I didn't know, we just see this kind of thing too much where somebody's got a narrative about a person or a situation and then they will manipulate it so that it looks as if their narrative is
Christopher Landon 55:48
truth. Yeah, it's true. We definitely mean, that was part of why I had such a good time putting in this little social media montage in the film, because I was able to use Ernest as this sort of example of how how divisive things are now, how everybody there's so much tribalism and how we all kind of immediately go to our separate quarters, and start slinging mud at each other. And it's like, you can't even take a ghost seriously and not make it about like other things, you know, political things, you know, that are like villas. And so it's kind of like a it's, it's a really funny part of the movie for me, but also a really sad part of the movie as well, because it's true.
Michael David Wilson 56:38
Well, what is it that you're working on at the moment?
Christopher Landon 56:43
At the moment, I am, hopefully feels like it's happening gearing up to go and remake arachnophobia. I'm very excited about that. I'm very afraid of spiders. I actually they had a the other day, I went to Amblin. And they had a spider Wrangler. Come and he like, brought all these different species of spiders. And I even had one put on me, which I was just absolutely terrified. But it was almost like exposure therapy, you know, I think they were like this guy that you couldn't need to, like, get comfortable here if you're going to do this. But it was really cool. And yeah, I'm super excited. I love the original. I saw it on opening weekend in the theater when I was a kid. And it scared the crap out of me. And it was such a fun thrill ride. I intend to accomplish the same thing, but in a different way. So um, yeah, I'm really looking forward to that one.
Michael David Wilson 57:44
All right. Well, thank you for spending some of your evening here. And with me, this is waking up
Christopher Landon 57:51
at the crack of dawn.
Michael David Wilson 57:53
Yeah. Yeah, this is flown by. And I'd love to do it again sometime and get a little bit deeper as well into the writing and the mechanics. But I mean, yeah, where can our listeners connect with you?
Christopher Landon 58:13
I am on social media that the hellscape of, of social media if you want to find me there, I'm on Instagram, the Chris Landon. I'm on Twitter, where I routinely chat with people and sometimes people try and punch me in the face there. But that's a that's a creature. Creature show or creature? I can't even remember my own handle. But I'm on there. You can find me. And yeah, those are that's That's it. I'm not a Facebook guy. And I'm too old for tick tock, tick that that would be embarrassing. So I'm not doing that. But yeah, that's where I am. You can find me there.
Michael David Wilson 58:58
All right. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners?
Christopher Landon 59:04
Watch my movie on Netflix, February 24. I really, I really hope that a lot of people see it. I'm really proud of it. I worked really hard on it. We went through a lot of crazy shit to make it. And it's a true labor of love. So I really I hope people check it out.
Michael David Wilson 59:21
Yeah, yeah, me too. I think it's fantastic. And I think and I hope that it's gonna bring you a wider audience because the air is getting to appeal to people who are into ghost stories and horror, but I think to this is one that you can actually watch with the family as well.
Christopher Landon 59:40
Yeah, I know. It's a first for me. I've had to do press for like family outlets, which has been a total shock. For me, I'm like, Who are your people? But yeah, it's definitely you know, it's family friendly above a certain age. I don't think I could let my I have a son. He's five, so he's not ready. Yeah, even though he's seen a lot of it, but I think seven you know, is good. There you go. So
Michael David Wilson 1:00:09
your son in a couple of years can walk in.
Christopher Landon 1:00:15
He's gonna see Gremlins before he sees my movie. So that's already my plan.
Michael David Wilson 1:00:20
Grim lens. What a great initiation.
Christopher Landon 1:00:23
Perfect One. There's no better one. So I've been priming him I've been showing him pictures and like, like, this is the cute Mogwai. This is the Gremlin. He's really into it. He already wants to watch it. But I know I need to wait.
Michael David Wilson 1:00:39
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast with Christopher Landon. Join us again next time when we will be chatting with Eric LaRocca. But if you would like to get that ahead of the crowd, if you would like to get every episode ahead of the crowd, then become our Patreon, a patreon.com. Forward slash. This Is Horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you can submit questions to each guests that we have on the show. And we're actually talking to Eric maraca again at the end of the week. You see we recorded the first part last weekend. And the second part, as I say, we will be recording this weekend. So if you have a question for Eric, then you can submit email@example.com forward slash This Is Horror. We've got a number of other guests coming up soon, including the likes of Jordan Harper, Joe R Lansdale, Victor LaValle, Grady Hendrix, and Caroline Kepnes to name a few. And it's also the best way to support the podcast so if you get value out of This Is Horror Podcast, and you would like to give back to us. Then do go over to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Have a little look at the options and see if it's a good fit for you. Okay, before I wrap up, it is time for a quick advert break.
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As always, I would like to end with a quote. And once again, I am going for something from one of the Stoics and really because sending stoicism is so informative in terms of living the good life. I think it's one of the finest philosophical schools of thought and this particular quote is from Seneca who said it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that things are difficult. I'll see you in the next episode with Eric LaRocca. But until then, take care yourselves be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.