Flicking through the programme of Grimm Up North 3, a film caught my eye. The title was fresh, the synopsis intriguing and the film sported a vivid, comic inspired poster that oozed style. After viewing the trailer, I was hooked and desperately looked forward to watching the film on the big screen. It was dark, it was funny and it was called SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE. The film was a major hit at the festival, with roars of belly laughs heard from behind the doors. So when I had the opportunity to interview the talented writer and producer of the movie, Ryan Levin, I jumped at the chance.
HCF: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and what sort of things inspire your writing?
Ryan Levin: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but had no interest in show business or the arts. When I went to college in Philadelphia, my goal was to ultimately become a psychiatrist. However, pre-med turned out to be really, really hard, so I gave it up and decided, “Eh, I’ll just be a psychologist.” Then I joined the improv comedy group and my whole life changed. Improv led to doing a lot of college theater, and by the time I graduated, I opted to head to New York and pursue acting. I did that for a couple of years; quite unsuccessfully, I should add.
Ultimately, I gave it up not because of my struggles, or lack of talent, but because I simply lost interest. I was still doing improv but yearned for more creative outlets. I’ve always really enjoyed being alone, so writing seemed perfect. Without a clue of how to write, I just started typing up random non-fiction stories, or what you could call “I –Wish-I-Were-David-Sedaris-But-I’m-Not” pieces. I then wrote a Simpsons script, just to see if I could do it. That opened up a whole new world – TV writing. I wrote some more TV scripts, decided that’s what I wanted to do, and reluctantly moved back to LA. I was lucky enough to get a PA job on the show, Scrubs, which then led to being the writers’ assistant, which led to writing one episode. Since that was the first time I was actually paid to write, I consider that the beginning of my writing career.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked what inspires my writing, and wow, it’s not an easy question. I guess when it comes down to it, I write because I enjoy creating characters, then hearing them speak and watching them interact with other characters. On the good writing days, the characters will speak and interact with little guidance from me. Then, I hope that whatever I’ve written – whether it ends up only as a script, or actually gets produced – makes the reader or the audience feel something. Usually, because of the content I tend to write, I’m hoping for laughs. But in certain moments, I also want to elicit anger, fear, sadness… whatever that moment’s objective is.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, can you describe Some Guy Who Kills People?
It’s about Ken Boyd, a man in his 30s, who has recently gotten out of a mental institution and returned to his small hometown to live with his mom. He doesn’t have much going for him, other than one friend and a job at an ice cream parlor. But he does have a plan, which is to get revenge on several guys he considers responsible for his miserable life.
How did the idea for Some Guy Who Kills People come about?
The seed of the idea came from a short film I made several years ago called The Fifth, which was about an everyday guy who is a serial killer. Early drafts of “Some Guy Who Kills People” included a lot from the short, but I finally realized I had to ditch it all and not try to hold onto anything. So, all that remains from the short is the concept of a regular guy who kills people.
What convinced you that the amazing Barry Bostwick was your Sheriff?
His audition. He was never someone I had considered for the role because he was not how I physically pictured the Sheriff. I had a very clear idea of what the Sheriff looked like and I got stuck with that image. Fortunately, our amazing casting director, Lisa Essary, thought Barry could do it, and fortunately, Barry was kind and humble enough to come in and actually audition for us. Most actors with his experience would be offer-only. Anyhow, Barry came in and gave about as bold and unorthodox a reading of the scene as you can imagine – completely different than how I had it in my head — and what he did was just simply hilarious. He did the scene a few times (not because we asked him to; he actually volunteered to keep going), each time with a different hilarious spin. When he left the room, we all knew he was the one we wanted.
Were any of the parts ad-libbed or did the actors follow the script?
I’d say about 90% of the film is what was scripted. However, in terms of dialogue, there is a bunch of stuff that was rewritten just prior to shooting. There are some dialogue exchanges between the Sheriff and his Deputy we ended up reworking just before shooting because the actors playing those roles, Barry and Eric, would talk about the scene on their own and start riffing off each other. Then, when the scripted scene proved flat in rehearsal, Barry and Eric would tell me they had some ideas. Sometimes, we would just shoot what they had come up with; other times, the three of us would continue bouncing ideas off each other until we had a rewritten scene or moment that was clearly better than what was originally scripted. I thank them for being so willing to go off on their own and working, with the intention of making the scene as funny as possible. And I thank them for being actors with very funny ideas.
In terms of non-verbal gestures, actions and facial expressions, there is a lot of stuff that Kevin Corrigan does that was completely an acting choice that proved hilarious, or compelling, or both. A lot of the stuff he does, I didn’t even realize until we started editing the film. In fact, each time I see the film, and I’ve seen it a lot, there are small things everyone in the cast does that I notice for the first time.
Get great actors, give them the script, let them do their thing and they will make some wonderful choices. Then you take the best ones and hope the continuity matches. If not, take the best take anyway.
They say never work with children, but Ariel Gade, who plays Ken’s daughter, almost steals the show. What made you choose Ariel to be Amy and how did she cope being around a much older cast?
I knew this movie was only going to work if we got the right person for the “Amy” role. If our actress couldn’t pull off the role, the movie was doomed. So finding the right “Amy” was my biggest casting concern. And when you’re looking for an 11-year old girl to carry that burden, it can get a bit frightening. Ariel was literally the first person to audition for the role. I was not at her audition; I saw it on tape. I thought it was good, but I wasn’t ready to cast her. We then looked at about 40 more girls. A lot of them were very solid, but they all made Ariel’s audition seem that much better. Eventually, we brought Ariel and a few other actresses back and had our director, Jack Perez, work with them on various scenes. And even though Ariel was the clear choice after that session, I was still worried about she could pull this off. I would have been worried about anyone, because of the importance of the role.
Then, we started shooting, and to this day, I don’t know what happened, but Ariel’s acting chops went from very good to mind-blowing. The script asked a lot of her, and she just kept wowing us with her fearlessness and ability to nail take after take.
If it weren’t for the child labor laws which limited how much Ariel could work each day, I would’ve forgotten she was 11-years old. From day one, she just became another cast member who eagerly showed up to set, brought her “A” game and blessed the film with an amazing performance. She is truly an incredible actress, not to mention an intelligent, inquisitive, intuitive person. She was never intimidated by the experience of the actors around her, she always knew her lines and she always made bold and stunning choices; all despite her age. The fact that she doesn’t work in film and TV a lot more, or all the time, is exhibit A of how little sense this business makes.
This film has everything – humour, horror, family bonding, emotion, romance. You’ve successfully created a story that is balanced in each of these. How difficult was it not to sway into one particular genre?
That was probably the most difficult thing to do in writing this script. I wrote a lot of drafts of this scripts, and while there were a myriad of reasons for the rewrites, the proper blending and balance of genres was the biggest culprit. One draft would skew too slapsticky and silly; the next draft would prove too dry and humorless. I was all over the map. I think we ultimately found the right balance partly because of the final script, but also because of Jack’s directing, and the outstanding cast, and the work we did in editing and so on. The script, as always, was the blueprint, and it needed to have that balance built in. But then the cast and crew had to execute it, and bring that balance to the screen.
Jack Perez, the director of Some Guy, is mostly known for directing Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. How was Jack introduced to Some Guy and what was it like working with him to create your vision?
We had a script and we had money, so we just started meeting directors through agents and managers. Honestly, I’d never heard of Jack and I’d never seen Mega Shark. When I first met Jack, he couldn’t have been more excited about the script and the possibility of having the chance to direct it. He showed up at “the interview” with a very clear vision of how he saw the film, how he planned to balance the genres, how he wanted to shoot specific scenes (he had even sketched mini-storyboards in the margins of the script). Sure, it was nice to have him blow smoke up my ass about the script, but what sold me was our shared vision. As he described his vision, I found myself just nodding along, as it was right in line with how I saw the film.
After meeting him, I watched some of his other films, but not Mega Shark. He had explained to me the story behind the making of that film, and that it was least representative of his abilities as a director (other than his ability to do a lot for very little money – which is something we definitely needed). His other films showed he had the chops as a director to make our film, he was clearly champing at the bit to bring Some Guy Who Kills people to life, and my gut told me he was the right guy. To this day, Jack and I have been almost completely in-synch about everything related to the film. We’ve also become very good friends with few, if any bumps, along the way. Now, we’re just hoping to work together again very soon.
The Exceutive Producer of Some Guy is none other than legendary John Landis. What was it like having John on board?
John was originally going to direct the film. We got him the script, he liked it, we talked about it and he agreed to direct it. When he agreed to direct it, we found a company willing to get us the money to make it. John and I worked on the script a little bit, and then, when it was time for him to sign the document saying he was officially going to direct Some Guy, the other film he had been working on – Burke & Hare – got the greenlight. It was a much bigger film than ours – bigger budget, bigger payday, big name actors, etc. Plus, he’d been working on that film long before Some Guy came along.
So, we lost all our potential money and were back to having nothing but a script – no money, no director, no cast. Ultimately, I opted to make the film on a tiny budget and asked John if he’d take the “Executive Producer” credit because, well, I knew it would help the movie get noticed. It wasn’t going to bring us success, but it certainly wasn’t going to hurt.
John didn’t work on the film again until we sent him a rough cut. He sent us his notes from Scotland, and we implemented pretty much all of them. Then, once he saw the final cut, he became a huge fan and supporter of the film. He ‘s proud to have his name on the film, and that means the world to me.
He continues to be extremely supportive of my career and is gracious enough to listen to all my ideas and give me his feedback. Perhaps one day he will direct something I write. Until then, I’m just thankful for the notes he gave that made Some Guy better, and appreciative of his genuine kindness and ongoing support.
What’s next for Ryan Levin?
Basically, the plan is the same as it was when I was writing and trying to get financing for Some Guy. I hope to keep writing television while simultaneously working on three different indie feature projects. They’re all at different phases of development, but I’m truly excited about their potential. I’m a big re-writer (and a very slow writer), so only time will tell when these scripts will be done and what the hell is going to happen to them once they are.
Finally, a question we always like to ask…. What’s your favourite horror film?
HorrorCultFilms would like to thank Ryan Levin for taking time out of his busy schedule for the interview and we can’t wait for the DVD release of SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE.
Read my review of SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE
For more info on Some Guy Who Kills People, check out the following sites: