Tim Huddleston Interview, with Kathleen Dennehy
Thanks for a super tense and scary/horrifying read! I should not have read Evermore right before bed… And not just because it’s really effing scary and creepy. The historical tragedies baked into your story make it linger in the conscience long past the expiration date of most scary movies. Evermore is like a horror film for people who like to think while being scared. I meant that as a compliment.
Your writing and stage directions are so spare and full- you’ve really maximized the built-in limitations and perimeters of screen writing- nothing is wasted yet everything is on the page. From the first paragraph, we see an idyllic looking town, then with each closer zoom in, we see the cracks and dents in the façade. The characters are fleshed in deeply and we feel we know them- I was all of twelve when I saw “Jaws” but I felt I knew all the characters- and the small town politics drew me fully into what could have just been a horror movie about a big mean shark. Similarly, Evermore is a terrifying movie because the characters are (initially, for some) so relatable. I could just see it in my mind’s eye. Anyway, on to my questions.
Your opening stage directions show us a charming lake town then quickly, upon closer inspection, we see that all is not well in the ecology of the place- without a word or even a character mentioned. Some would see it as a global warming message or are you economically setting us on edge from the get-go?
Well, these people have some more immediate concerns than the effects of global warming. The town is in the grip of a heat wave and a severe drought, but what’s causing that is up for debate. Anyway, the drought is important to the story, so right off the bat, I wanted to establish that information visually so that later dialogue would support that idea, not introduce it. So I wrote a few details about the trees not being green enough and the water level of the lake being low, which also plays into the themes of decay and uncovered secrets that run through the script as a whole, and has the bonus of adding that “something’s not right here” vibe to the opening shot.
And you don’t waste a moment in utterly horrifying your audience starting on page 3. You open big and the body count doesn’t disappoint. Is this a morality fable- where if people are incorrect, (or politically incorrect) in the small things, they are culpable in the larger things, and vice versa? By which I mean, are all the people in this town doomed by the very evil that created the town?
I don’t pretend to have any kind of moral authority or a desire to tell anybody how to live, especially not through a horror movie. Most of the big things these people do to each other are pretty much objectively bad—there’s not a lot of gray. And when right or wrong is up for debate, I try to let the characters voice their opinions and keep my own out of it. The three main characters represent three generations—we’ve got the Mayor, who’s in his 70’s, the Sheriff, who’s in his 40’s, and a 16 year-old girl. They all have different views on what’s right and what’s wrong, and different approaches to the solution to the town’s problems.
I could be reading into things a bit but there appears to be a certain mercenary aspect about a tourist-dependent small town where everyone’s motives for ‘keeping the peace’ and protecting the ‘brand’ are suspect. Is that intended to add to the tension and create an environment of denial where horrible things can be swept under the rug?
I grew up in the south, and there are definitely places down there that are steeped in denial, and where perception is everything. You don’t air your dirty laundry in public, and you don’t talk about unpleasant things. The town of Lake Evermore has its share of secrets and shady history, and when the Sheriff, who is new to the town, starts pulling at threads, he threatens to unravel the whole sweater. This creates conflict with the Mayor, who has spent his life trying to keep these secrets from getting out.
Creepiest line ever. “Maybe it’ll be a bad thing that gets you to stay?” Are you interested in peeking underneath the ‘order’ of a town or family? Is your fascination with perceptions of order that most people relish having so they feel protected from total chaos, or is it the examination of how even a little bit of power can corrupt a person in every way and with every ‘currency’ imaginable and available?
The Mayor was a fun and challenging character to write. He definitely views himself as the town’s protector, and makes all the decisions about what people should and should not know. He’s very much “Old South,” and it frustrates him that he can’t control the Sheriff in the same way the Mayor himself was probably controlled by the men who were in power before him. But his motivations for maintaining the perception of order and keeping outsiders from prying into the town’s business run much deeper than what the Sheriff suspects. This is a man who is willing to do literally anything and make every necessary sacrifice to protect his town. To him, it’s not whether something is right, it’s whether it’s necessary.
By page 28, the pace of the tension is just relentless. Every single character’s story element is ratcheted up in each successive scene to an alarming degree. The story is as whittled and surgical as a laser beam. And it made me wonder if this is the recipe for thriller films? You’ll note I have no idea the difference between horror/terror and scary movies-- so feel free to elucidate me.
I like your use of the word “recipe,” because, yes, the horror genre definitely comes with some expectations of certain ingredients, and if you don’t use them, it’s not going to work. But how you put those ingredients together and what spices you add are up to you. Hopefully, you can turn out something that gives people what they expect, but also surprises them. That’s how you satisfy an audience. As far as sequences of prolonged, escalating tension go, you have to be careful that you don’t push it so far that you hit the point of diminishing returns. I try to keep it going as long as I can, then give the audience a chance to catch their breath, then amp things up again.
So, there seems to be a point where the characters lose what little conscience they have, commit unspeakable acts, then are consumed with guilt about it. Almost like their impulse control is possessed by something evil and then it disappears, leaving them human and plagued by their evil deeds. Am I reading into this or is that your intention?
I think we’ve all been in situations where we have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. What I tried to do was put the characters in these situations, but leave the angel out of the equation. So, I don’t think of them as “possessed” so much as “influenced.” When a character is under the effect of what’s plaguing the town, I would ask myself what this person is capable of if I removed any sense of accountability, fear of consequence or consideration for others. And that results in everything from refusing to help someone in need to adultery to cold-blooded murder. But once the act is done, they have to live with it, and some of them just aren’t equipped to handle that.
Why did you write this screenplay?
I had been stuck in development hell on a couple projects, and it had been a long time since I had written something that didn’t have someone else constantly lifting a leg on it throughout the writing process. I wanted to do something that was all mine, and I wanted to write a movie that I would not only want to see, but be glad I saw. This idea had been cooking for a while and it felt right, so when I freed myself up, I just dove in. I’m pretty fascinated by humankind’s capacity for evil, and I wanted to examine that. Not just their motivations, but what pushes them across that line. And I wanted to ask the question: Is evil ever necessary in service of the greater good? And if so, is it worth it? It’s incredibly dark, but I love this kind of stuff.
Do you prefer horror to other genres? If so, why?
It’s not the only thing I write, but I do love horror and always have. A lot of snooty film people consider it an inferior genre, but that’s bullshit. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there, but that’s true of everything. I look at something like Pascal Laugier’s MARTYRS, which is probably my favorite horror movie of the last ten years or so, and I’m in awe of its brilliance. It’s incredibly brutal and cynical, and a lot of people would dismiss it based on its subject matter alone, but Jesus Christ, it’s so masterfully made. When horror is done right, it can make people feel things they don’t get to feel in everyday life—fear, dread, anxiety—all from the comfort and safety of a theater or living room. I guess I can understand why some people don’t want to experience those feelings, but those are the same people who don’t like to go on roller coasters. Horror is for people who like to sit in the front car with their hands up.
Who are writers you love? Loathe? Who or what inspires you to write?
I love Stephen King, which is probably pretty obvious. He was the first “grown-up” author I ever read, and I devoured his early books back in the ‘80’s. Starting around college, I got obsessed with “mature” comic book writers like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, and they really opened my eyes to expanding the limitations of storytelling. I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk and Charlie Huston, too. Some TV and film writers I like are Tarantino, David Simon (“The Wire” is the greatest show of all time), David Milch, the Coen brothers, Paul Schrader, Alex Garland, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, I don’t know, the list goes on and on. Writers I loathe? That would invite bad karma to call them out publicly, but we can talk about that sometime, just between you and me. As for what inspires me, I never know what’s going to do it. Music—sometimes playing, sometimes listening, a good movie or TV show. An interesting article. Sometimes things just hit me when I’m walking my dog or taking a shower. I get inspired talking to other writers. Needing rent money can really get the juices flowing.
What made you want to be a writer?
I always loved stories in every form and every medium, especially TV and film. Even as a kid, digesting every story I cam across and making up my own was all I ever did. It was unavoidable, really.
A little deeper, what made you a writer? A teacher, another writer, something you wrote or the first script you sold?
I think it would have to be when I was in college, although there’s no one single person or event that I link to it. I went to the University of Georgia, and in those days, they didn’t have a proper film department, but I knew that was the general path I wanted, so I took classes between the Drama and Journalism schools to try to expose myself to as many aspects of the industry as I could—acting, directing, production, editing, and of course, writing. Even though I’d been writing my whole life, I had never seriously considered it as a career path. But when I wrote my first screenplay, I realized it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. By my current standards, it’s probably not very good, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to me. It sounds hokey, but I do believe that most writers are just born into it, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s the only thing that makes us happy and it’s the source of all our problems. Okay, maybe I’m overstating that, but writers are prone to exaggeration.
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