An Interview With Tim McGregor
Hello folks today for your reading pleasure I’d like to present an interview with screen writer and author Tim McGregor
Tim: Very well. Thanks for this opportunity to bend your ear.
GNOH- Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Tim: I’m an average Joe from working class roots. Striving to make a living through words but doing other things to make ends meet. Who isn’t these days? I’m happily married with two great kids.
GNOH- How is the film scene in Canada.
Tim: The Canadian film scene is much smaller than Hollywood but fairly active in a service way, meaning it’s usually cheap for big Hollywood films to shoot up here. Our film business is set up that way. Independent Canadian films are few and far between, constantly struggling for financing during production and fighting for screens during distribution. Except for Quebec, our French speaking province. Quebec not only produces great films, but Quebecers go see their films and thus Quebec films make money at the box office. Case in point, Incendies by Denis Villeneuve. A movie that will rock your socks off.
GNOH – Your debut feature was – UKM – The Ultimate Killing Machine, what was the inspiration behind the screenplay, and how hard was it to pitch the idea?
Tim: Pitching that idea was easy. My writing partner at the time, Tyler Levine, was working inhouse at the production company. He was smart, paying close attention to how this company was producing genre films with a slim budget but very canny production sense. I came up with a concept and we hammered out the details via Tyler’s knowledge of production. The inspiration for UKM (a dreadful title by the way. Our original title was Kill Switch. God knows why they changed it) was basically a riff off the old comic book character Captain America. The US military conducting weirdo experiments to produce a super soldier killing machine. Ours certainly wasn’t the first movie to employ that concept (hello Jason Bourne) but neither will it be the last.
GNOH- You wrote the screenplay for Final Storm, which was directed by Uwe Boll. How was he to work for?
Tim: Uwe was great to work with. Bear in mind, that I didn’t get to meet Uwe in person. He was working on the other side of the county in British Columbia. We worked over the phone. Despite his reputation, Uwe is very down-to-earth and practical. I was expecting to deal with this mad German but what I got was a very friendly guy simply concerned with the nuts-and-bolts of filmmaking.
Tim: I don’t think so. Being a former boxer, he stomped the living hell out of the few critics brave enough to take him on in the ring. Chris Alexander (then Rue Morgue critic, current Editor in chief at Fangoria) made a short doc about it. Check it here. Overall, I’d wager that Uwe made his point.
GNOH- As the writer, how much time did you spend on the set? Did you have much input into the film once the final script was handed in?
Tim: I didn’t spend any time on set. Uwe and I worked through the drafts of the scripts via phone and email. Once that was done, the production was up and running. I wasn’t needed so visiting the set would have taken up my time and money. I’ve been on set before and figured they could get this done without my presence. Again, not very glamorous but practical. Plus I’m not very good on set. I tend to trip over cables and get in the crew’s way.
GNOH- How happy were you with the final film?
Tim: That’s tough to say. Final Storm was my third produced feature so I set my expectations low. Having been through the ringer, I steeled my nerves. The film isn’t bad but neither is it great. Overall, I’d say it feels like a tepid movie-of-the-week, which is essentially how it was produced. And that isn’t a slight against Boll. I think ultimately the story simply didn’t hold up after all the script changes. Sometimes you miss the forest for the trees, and in that sense, I’m responsible.
GNOH- You also wrote Bitten, which was a horror comedy, how hard is to balance the horror elements with the comedy elements of the film?
Tim: Comedy and horror actually work very well together. You know the term ‘comic relief’? That works remarkably well within a horror movie. You crank up the tension and suspense, then dispense it with some laughs. Start over. Comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. A comedy can’t maintain laughs all the way through and horror can’t maintain terror all the time. Too much of the same will dull an audience. So you play the two against each other for maximum effect.
GNOH- What lessons have you learned from writing the screenplays to the three movies?
Tim: Lower your expectations and learn to play well with others. What you see in your head is not what you’ll get when a crew takes those pages and actors work the dialogue. You have to be very clear in your intent, otherwise dialogue and action will be interpreted way differently than what you expected. Film is intensely collaborative. You gotta learn how to tear up the scene you wrote and redo it quickly with input from the director, producer and sometimes the cast.
GNOH- So far your work has been planted firmly in the horror genre, what is the appeal of horror to you?
Tim: Tough to say, really. Horror has just always been an obsession since I was a kid. I guess the idea of something evil scratching at your window trying to get inside has always appealed to me. I was raised Catholic, so there be something there too.
GNOH – Who are your heroes of the genre?
Tim: Let’s see… King obviously, if only by sheer cultural force. I’ve grown up with the guy’s influence. The usual gang of Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley. Certain directors like John Carpenter, Hitchcock, Romero. Towering above all that is the reclusive American author Cormac McCarthy. His western, Blood Meridian, isn’t considered horror but it remains the most disturbing, enigmatic book I have ever read.
GNOH- What prompted the move to write your debut novel? Was this something you always wanted to do, or was it more down to circumstance?
Tim: Both, actually. I had started two novels in the past and had to put them away due to other commitments. The compulsion to write a novel has always been there. When the financial crisis of 08/09 occurred, the film biz was hit hard here in Canada. Work dried up, phone calls went unreturned. Bear in mind, producers normally cry poor when you pitch them a new project but this time they meant it! So I decided to take a break from scriptwriting and anchor my ass to the chair and write a book. This way I could be in charge and tell the story my way.
GNOH – Is there any particular reason you decided on werewolves as the protagonists for Bad Wolf? They are not the most widely used of creatures in horror fiction.
Tim: The werewolf idea was just something I wanted to try. Bad Wolf began as a script actually. I’ve gone backwards here, writing a novel based on a script. It’s usually the other way around. Werewolves have always been a big draw for me but I avoided that subject for the longest time because I simply didn’t have a good take on the idea. For me, there are a few titans of the werewolf story; An American Werewolf in London and Ginger Snaps. I didn’t have anything that could compare to those tales. And then…bingo, two weird ideas clash in your head and you’ve got a concept.
GNOH – Have you tried to bring any twists to the werewolf mythology?
Tim: There are a few minor twists to the werewolf myth here but the bigger draw for me was the point of view. What if a monster story was told from the point of view of the cops trying to stop it? In most horror stories, the heroes are cut off from any outside help, meaning the police or the military or any other authority figures. My idea was to start with the cops investigating what appears to be a homicide and evolves into a werewolf story. But the focus of the story remains with the cops as they hunt down the antagonist.
GNOH – Have you written the novel with any specific target audience in mind?
Tim: Anyone who likes a good story. Wow, how milquetoast is that answer? Bad Wolf is a mash-up of two genres, the police procedural and horror, so ultimately I’m hoping to appeal to readers who like crime fiction and those who like werewolf stories. It may all blow up in my face however if I alienate each crowd.
GNOH – How does writing a novel differ to writing a screenplay?
Tim: It’s kind of like learning how to write with your wrong hand. You know what you’re supposed to do, you just have to train your muscles to the task. Brevity and subtext are the key to a good script. You’ve got basically 100 pages of script to get your story across. Every scene, every line of dialogue has to be precise but certain things you don’t have to deal with because it is film. You don’t have to describe the look of things or characters because you’ve got a director and actors and set designers doing that for you. With a novel, you have more freedom to expand on things but you have to do a lot more heavy lifting. There’s also the point of view. With film, you’re watching the characters interact, trying to understand what’s going on inside those characters. The subtext of the scene. In a novel, the author often allows you inside the hearts of minds of the characters. It’s a weird but significant difference. All that aside, there is one rule to apply to both. Don’t be boring.
GNOH – Do you think your experience has screenwriter helped you to produce a more cinematic styled novel?
Tim: Cinematic, no. I think it’s helped me become more precise. Get to the heart of the matter, make your point and move on to the next scene. I wouldn’t want to bore the reader with a longwinded description of anything. What’s important is the telling detail, the little secret thing that pops the idea into the readers mind.
GNOH – You have decided to go the way of the E-book, what was the draw of publishing it this way?
Tim: Getting a book published the traditional way would be about as hard as getting a movie made. Maybe harder, given the current instability in publishing and book retail. Like most writers going the ebook route, I’ve been inspired by an early adopter of the form named Joe Konrath. He’s blogged about his success with ebooks and been very frank about his numbers. There’s a lot of control with self-publishing an ebook, so after the intensely collaborative world of film, putting out an ebook is a refreshing change.
GNOH – How hard has it been to get Bad Wolf out there? It must be difficult getting it noticed without the backing of a major publishing house, especially with the glut of self published novels that are out there now?
GNOH – How well is the release going?
Tim: It’s slow but that’s to be expected. Responses are coming in and I’m finding readers a few at a time. I’m prepared for the long haul.
GNOH – do you have any advice to other authors out there?
Tim: Same as above; be patient and be professional. If you behave like an immature, entitled schmuck, your readership will reflect that. Treat it like a job and put your ass in the chair every day to bang out some words. Writing is a long-distance marathon, not a sprint.
GNOH – How do you go about the writing process? Do you have any rituals, quirks, that you adhere to?
Tim: Nothing too quirky. I think Stephen King said all you need is a door, one that will shut out the world so you can focus on your work. I’d have to agree. After that, all you gotta do is stare at the blank page until your eyeballs bleed.
GNOH – What album would you suggest would make a good soundtrack to Bad Wolf?
Tim: I guess I do have one writing ritual and that’s music. But it has to be instrumental stuff, anything with vocals is just too distracting. I’d say anything by godspeedyoublackemperor! is good. Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores are fantastic. Calexico is good for this too. I’m really enjoying Timber Timbre’s new record, which is creepy and atmospheric. So, mash up all that stuff into a playlist and there’s the Bad Wolf soundtrack.
GNOH – What does the future hold for you?
Tim: Onto the next book, which I’m about a quarter of the way in. The trick now is to balance my time between writing the new book and trying to get Bad Wolf out there in the world so it can stand on its own two legs. It’s tricky. If I have two hours to myself, I literally cut it down the middle between writing the next book and marketing the current book. It’s completely bipolar!
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Tim. Tim’s debut novel can be purchased