Fresh off their extremely popular film/novel The Woman, creators Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee are prepared to drop their newest project, a disturbing tale entitled I’m Not Sam. They recently sat down with Dread Central to talk all about it.
Ketchum and McKee collaborated to bring us The Woman with Ketchum doing the heavy lifting on the novel with McKee focusing on the screenplay and then directing the film. The Woman had a very straightforward plot. Their newest collaboration, I’m Not Sam, is not as easy to describe.
“It’s really hard to tell you what the story is about without spoilers, but I’ll give it a shot,” Ketchum said. “Basically it’s a two-character play. There are minor characters involved, but it’s between a man and his wife, and something happens to his wife that changes both their lives for a long, long, long time. It’s kind of a dark drama, certainly not as in your face ferocious as The Woman, but when I sent the manuscript to my agent, she didn’t respond at all for a while, which made me nervous because she’s usually really fast. It kinda freaked me out a bit, and I thought, ‘Oh fuck, she hates it.’ Even writers who’ve been doing it for a long time get fear sweats. When she called me back, she said, ‘I’ve lost sleep over this. I find it really, really disturbing.’ And that’s the word we keep getting from people who’ve read the book and the film script, which is finally completed. It’s really disturbing.”
McKee added, “It’s a two-character play about a marriage that gets into trouble. Within the first 30 pages it’ll hit you what’s going on. It’s the Ketchum/McKee version of a marriage going bad. It’s not exactly a Disney movie. It’s definitely a psychodrama. It’s scary and creepy. Women have especially responded to it, being disturbed on a profound level. For Ketchum’s literary agent to say it’s the most disturbing thing she’s ever read was high praise. I mean, she’s Jack Ketchum’s agent!”
So often character development is overlooked in horror movies, but Ketchum assures us that’s not the case here. “The premise and the characters are everything in this story,” Ketchum said. “It’s about this relationship between these married lovers that goes awry.”.
McKee added, “The first place we start is characters. We’ll have a basic idea for the trajectory for a story, but the most important thing is character over plot…over anything. In Ketchum’s books you’ve got to get about halfway through them before the story itself starts kicking in because there’s just so much to build, a love or hate with the characters.”
So here we have a big time author and a big time director working together to create a story. Just how does this collaboration work? “Lucky and I did The Woman together, but by the time we got started on I’m Not Sam, we already knew we could eliminate certain procedures,” Ketchum said. “For instance, with The Woman we started out doing back and forth emails. Well, that’s kind of clumsy. If it can be instant, it’s much better, and we realized instant mail is the way to go. So we take a half an hour, or an hour, or however long it took before we went brain dead on it, and then bat things back and forth on instant mail. And we’d get things out pretty quickly with that. So this time we just skipped the email part and went right to instant mail. With the screenplay of The Woman, Lucky basically started and sent me like six pages. I played around with them and sent them back to him and we did the screenplay first and when that was finished, I did the heavy lifting on the book and I’d send him 25 or 50 pages or whatever and we did that one that way.”
“We are creatures of comfort,” McKee said, “and we like to work from our caves. The instant messenger is such an efficient way to work, and we’ll communicate for an hour or so, bat things back and forth, and just shape it that way. It just feeds into what’s so great about making movies, which is the collaborative process. And Jack and I have a pretty effortless collaboration with each other because we don’t bring our egos into the equation. We just do what’s best for the story. So when I did run into issues, like us not wanting to flood the set by power-washing The Woman inside the cellar, we quickly, together, figured out a way to reshape that little section of the movie. We always looked at ways to strengthen the story.”
With McKee’s work on the film version of Ketchum’s book Red and their collaboration on The Woman, we’re becoming used to hearing their names together. But they are a bit of an odd couple. How exactly did this collaboration come to be? “My buddy Chris Sivertson, who I made a lot of my first movies with and collaborated a lot, really got into Ketchum because he had read a blurb by Stephen King that said this guy was hot shit,” McKee said. “He just started plowing through the Jack Ketchum books and started handing them off to me. Red was the first one I read. Then I read Ladies Night, Offseason, and when I was six or seven novels in, I got to The Girl Next Door, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’ve gotta put this guy’s work down for a minute.’ He just hit me in such a really deep place. When I got my first check for The Woods, I decided to option The Lost for Chris, and Ketchum and I ended up on the phone. I gave him a copy of May and he responded to it, and we just hit it off immediately. So we made a few films together and I told him I was interested in trying to try my hand at the literary world, and we just said, ‘Fuck it; let’s try to write something together when the right opportunity came up,’ and that’s how The Woman came about.”
Ketchum recalls, “He sent me a copy of May, basically out of the blue, and I had just gotten back from a convention and had a stack of DVDs in my hand and I started playing some of them and they were just dreadful shit, bad, amateurish junk. And in the meantime I got this thing from this guy named Lucky. How good could that be? So I finally got around to seeing May and I called my agent and said get in touch with this guy; he’s the real deal.”
Discussing how the team works, Ketchum said, “Theme comes first. What are you trying to say and who’s saying it? I don’t even start until I’ve got my characters down, at least the main characters, and I let them guide me a bit and sometimes they surprise me. And those happy surprises are wonderful. The Woman was like that in a way, too, because it came to us very late that she’d make another family and Peg would go along with her. We knew we wanted the little kid to go with her, but we weren’t sure about Peg. And, of course, that was how we ended.”
And Ketchum talked about how he spent a great amount of time on the set for the filming of The Woman and what a rewarding experience it was. “The Woman was amazing. I was only off the set for a total of four days, and it was a total thrill for me. I’ve been on set for all the movies [I’d written], but usually just for a day or two. The fact that Lucky was shooting out in the wild of Massachusetts meant I had to either commit myself to going there or not and I said, ‘Don’t be a fool. Go. Do it.’ And we had a blast. It was just really cool watching the entire process go down and watching Lucky work. Every now and then, for budget reasons or practicality, we had to do a rewrite, and since Lucky and I were both there, we basically did it over a beer and scotch and decided what to do in the morning.”
As for I’m Not Sam, it sounds like another potential thriller from this dynamic duo. “We do slow builds, and we’re both fond of that,” Ketchum said.“But I’m Not Sam is like ‘bang!’ in your face right away. It started as an idea for a short film that Lucky’d been approached to do and we started tinkering with this idea, and it just started to swell and grow and we realized that we weren’t looking at a short film and short story; we were looking at a novella, at least, and a feature length film.”
And they’ll wait for the right offer to get the film made. “We’ve had some bites, but we literally just finished it last month. We’re not in any rush to get this thing financed and made. It’s basically an indoor, two-character play with a couple of people outside. So the financing shouldn’t be hard to get. It can be low budget and still done really well. The main thing is to get really, really good actors.”
So the next obvious question is can we count on seeing future collaborations between Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee? “Are you kidding, man?” McKee asked. “I can only speak for myself, but imagine the position I’m in. I’m working with a guy that’s been doing this for a really long time, and I’m learning a tremendous amount about the writing process and how to build a story and new tools every time we have a conversation. It’s just very fulfilling.”
Ketchum echoed McKee’s positivity. “I’d be glad to do it with him again because we have a lot of fun. Lucky is so much younger than I am, but we’re so much on the same page. I really couldn’t imagine doing this with someone else. I’ve done short stories with other people, but to do something of this length, you’ve really gotta trust the other person. You just have to be on the same page all the time, and Lucky and I are. So yeah, I’d do something with him again in a minute.”
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