Exclusive: In-Depth with Ryan Levin on Some Guy Who Kills People
It started with a tweet. I have no idea who put said tweet in my feed, but in that feed there was a trailer for a film that sounded so vague that admittedly my curiosity was piqued. The name? Some Guy Who Kills People.
Written by Ryan Levin, directed by Jack Perez and starring Kevin Corrigan, Some Guy Who Kills People tells the story of Ken Boyd, a lonely man fresh out of the loony bin who sets out to kill those he deems responsible for his miserable life.
Using the powers of Twitter, I reached out to writer Ryan Levin and this is what happened...
Crix: Where did the idea for SGWKP come about?
Ryan Levin: The idea came from a short film I made in 2007 called “The Fifth,” in which a group of buddies hang out, play poker and shoot the shit about their jobs. One of the guys, this totally unassuming and “Everyday Joe” guy, happens to be a serial killer, of which his friends are all fully aware. Once that short was done and making the festival rounds, I began to think about creating a feature with a likable serial killer protagonist.
Crix: When you were writing the role of Ken, did you have a specific vision (i.e., Kevin), or did you have a wish list of who you wanted to play him?
RL: Originally I based the character on the actor who played him in the short film, Sam Lloyd, who is one of the most under-appreciated comedic actors I know. But as the story began to develop, and Ken’s life and history began to form, his character became younger. And since I knew we were going to have to raise the money to make this film, I began to think of “name” actors who could play the role, and as the vision of Ken’s physicality and age and mentality changed, so did the way I wrote his character. I guess I kind of wrote it with a hybrid of “name” actors in mind.
Crix: As a writer, how difficult is it to find the balance between horror and comedy?
RL: I write comedy. Now, whether what I write is funny or not, that’s not for me to say. But I’m a comedy writer. However, I always lean towards the darker side of comedy, writing comedy about darker subjects. Neither comedy nor writing in general comes easily to me, but when I think about writing any other genre, it seems that much more difficult. And I have absolutely no interest in writing for certain genres, like drama or action/adventure. I’ll watch them, but I have no desire to write those types of films. Horror, however, is different. I would love to write a truly scary “shit-your-pants” horror film because I’ve always loved horror films and the emotions they stir up in me. But I’m not sure I can write a straight horror film that has audiences burying their heads in their lovers’ shoulders. So I tend to take horror elements, or dark subjects, and write them as comedies. Some Guy Who Kills People is not anything like Shaun of the Dead, but nobody would call Shaun of the Dead scary. They would call it a comedy about a horror film subject. That is what I wanted to do with Some Guy. However, finding that balance was the toughest part of the writing process because the script would always drift too far in one direction or the other, and I knew that if you’re going to blend genres, it needs to be a consistent and seamless blend (Fargo being the paradigm for me) where the audience can be scared in one scene and laughing in the next scene… but the film had to thread this genre-blend throughout. I didn’t want a funny Act One, a serious Act Two and some weird amalgam in Act Three. The blurring and balancing of genres was far and away my biggest challenge. I still needed it to feel like the same movie.
Crix: When I saw the trailer, I went from "ha ha" to "holy fuck" in a matter of seconds... Have you gotten to see the film with a crowd yet? What's been the reaction?
RL: I’ve certainly been in many screenings of the film. One thing I’ve noticed pretty consistently is that the audience doesn’t initially know if it’s okay to laugh. They’re trying to figure out what the film is. Usually when you sit down for a movie, you know what type of film you’re seeing (and with studio films you usually know a lot more than just the genre – you know the whole damn story). But because of our title a lot of people come in expecting a particular type of film. Then, pretty quickly, as the genres blend, the audience is left to decipher what “type” of film this is. Usually the first laugh, wherever it falls, gives the rest of the audience permission to laugh. Then, in the more successful screenings, the audience will laugh at the jokes but be totally patient and interested when the jokes aren’t flying and the tone temporarily shifts before shifting back.
Crix: How difficult (if at all) is it to transition from writing for TV (like "Scrubs") to writing a feature film?
RL: As far as feature writing, I only have personal experience with indie films. I know a good deal about what goes on with writing for studio films, but it’s all second-hand knowledge. When it comes to writing an indie film, unless you have producers telling you what to write, you are free to do whatever the fuck you want. You want to forgo the 3-act structure, go ahead. You want to have an unlikable lead, do it. You want to write a movie about transgender nuns who live in igloos, by all means… Now, this of course is simply the creative aspect of it. The goal still remains getting the movie made (unless you want to write just for sake of writing, which is fine, too), and some of your creative ideas will help or hinder that aspect. But as far as simply writing, there is the ultimate freedom to write what you want to write. Of course, there are screenplay rules which can be broken, but you better have a good reason for breaking them or else you risk making an inaccessible film that will remain a script forever (unless you fund it yourself or find an investor who digs inaccessible films). I should point out for those who have just emerged from a cave that feature films are longer than TV shows. So you need a story that can sustain at 80-plus minutes. With TV the story needs to sustain 22 minutes (network comedy) or 44 minutes (network drama), and then you’re on to the next episode, which often has nothing to do with the previous episode. With features the audience is spending more time with the plot, with the characters, with the stakes of the story, so you have to hold their attention longer.
Crix: Your film is filled with some serious comedic and horror talent like Barry Bostwick, Lucy Davis and Karen Black (omg, how awesome); how did you get all these wonderful people (I almost said 'toys' haha)?
RL: The short answer is that we were lucky. When you have the tiny budget we had, you can’t afford to pay great actors what they deserve, and you won’t be getting great actors who don’t like the project but need the money. We all agreed to pursue Kevin Corrigan to play the lead and just hoped he would respond to the script. Fortunately, he did. As far as Barry Bostwick, Karen Black and Lucy Davis, they all auditioned for the role. Our awesome casting director, Lisa Essary, got them to come in to read for their parts. They all had incredible auditions that made it clear to us that not only were they names people would know, but they also happened to be the best actors for their respective roles. What they each did in their auditions was take what was on the page and bring their own wholly original and unorthodox take. They elevated what was on the page, and the choice to cast each of them couldn’t have been simpler.
Crix: There's also a lot of buzz around Ariel Gade's role as Amy... Were there aspects of the film she had to be shielded from, and has she seen the finished product? Was there ever a time/scene on set where her mom/dad said, 'Yeah, no'?
RL: I’ve said it before -- we got the best young actress in Hollywood. Again, we simply lucked out. She auditioned, and while other young actresses were solid, Ariel blew them all out of the water. So from an acting standpoint she’s incredible. Then there are these other issues to deal with when casting a child: their comfort level on set, their ability to take direction, their ability to handle the dialogue, their ability to handle the subject matter, and, of course, their parents’ involvement in all of this.
Not one of these things ever became even the slightest issue. From moment one Ariel was completely confident on set (or faked it extremely well); she took direction and made adjustments like she’d been doing this for 20 years; she either understood every scene completely or would ask intelligent questions so that she did understand; and the subject matter never seemed to faze her or her parents one bit. For her and her parents, it was like we were shooting Flipper 2. Ariel is a product of both her own desire to study the craft of acting for its own sake, her parents’ ability to be the complete opposite of “stage parents,” and their decision to ensure Ariel chooses projects that will help her become a better actress. In the case of this movie, she got a master class from the likes of Kevin, Barry, Karen and Lucy.