Getting Creepy With Josh Malerman

The BFG Interview With the Author Of Bird Box

Bird Box is (reportedly) the biggest-ever premiere on Netflix, with 45,000,000 viewers tuning-in the first week alone–and craziest of all: MEMES! Now I hear the novel, which came out in 2014, just appeared at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller list, over four years after its release. Has it sunk in yet? I imagine this has to be soaring past any expectations.

Josh Malerman: I could give you many examples of how “unprepared” I was for this to happen, but how can someone be prepared for this? In 2006 I was happy with the book being written. And if that rough draft had detailed my entire experience with Bird Box? So be it. But, alas, it was picked up by a publishing house. I was happy then. It was optioned for film. Happy then. The book came out. Happy then. I hear Sandra Bullock signs on to star in the movie. I was happy then.

So I’ve been grateful and happy for every step of the way, each step of the way would have been enough. And now…this? The movie is a phenomenon. It’s probably realigning the industry or at least bringing all involved to think. It’s an electrifying moment that I’m still partly trying to relish, partly trying to accept quickly (so that I can write the next one, and the next one), and also partly examining, just like everyone else. But, again, I’m happy.

 

Photo of a happy Josh Malerman by Philip Fracassi

Bird Box is what I would consider a “high-concept” novel. You’ve created a story-world with some new rules. It’s adapt or die, basically. When you knew the adaptation was coming out, how important was it to you that the rules you created stayed consistent in the film?

As long as the core conceit of any book or story of mine remains intact, I’m up for a thousand changes on top of it. In the case of Bird Box, we’ve got a mother and two children navigating a river, blindfolded, fleeing an entity they can’t look at. If, on top of that, you think there should be twenty housemates? Only four? Okay, I’m game. Let’s figure it out. But it was clear to me early on that the movie was going to stay true to the core conceit of the book, and that was enough for me to be fine with whatever they did with it from there.

I’ve read Bird Box a few times, and have also seen the film, obviously, and the two storylines are pretty consistent between book and film. That said, I felt like the tone of the book’s ending and that of the film were disparate. The book ending didn’t strike me as particularly “happy,” for example. Whereas in the movie, the ending is pretty cut and dry.

It’s almost, but not quite, almost like Malorie, Boy, and Girl reach a place that’s no better than where they left, in the book. Except now there are people there. Some of which have gouged out their eyes to ensure safety in the face of these creatures. Is this place safe? Doesn’t totally feel like it. But then again, it’s been five years since Malorie has had “housemates” and it feels like a start.

You’ve published a lot of other stuff besides BIRD BOX, which is your first novel, including the novels Black Mad Wheel and Unbury Carol. And you have a new novel coming out in 2019 – Inspection. Are there adaptions in the works for any of your other books? I’m also curious if you’d ever go full-Gillian Flynn and write your own screenplays?

I can’t talk about them, but two of the other books have been optioned and I did write the screenplay for a third book and that screenplay is being shopped. All this began before the movie came out. I feel it’s important to say that for some reason.

Many people might not be aware that you’re a musician  as well, with your band The High Strung. Which makes me wonder, as a music junkie, what was the more exciting moment: When you found out Sandra Bullock was going to star in your film or when you found out that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were going to do the score?

Yeah, both were pretty big moments! When we were on set in Los Angeles, I was told that they were talking to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and it was all I could do not to post it everywhere as if it was a done deal, a sure thing. I just listened to the soundtrack they released online and it’s so so good.

There are a lot of great horror novels out in the world that have never been adapted for film, and I know you’re an avid reader of all things horrific. Can you list a couple novels you’d like to see turned into a movie?

I’d love to see a movie of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The LoneyMy goodness how I love this book. And Tanith Lee’s short story “The Gorgon.” But, let’s be clear, this list is actually 2000 books and stories long.

Okay, off-the-wall follow-up question: Which horror novel OR film would you most like to see completely redone using stop-motion claymation? I think THE SHINING would be interesting.

I love this question. It’s tempting to choose one that borders on the fantastical, right? Cause here’s a chance to do anything, without fear of CGI etc. But I’m leaning more toward a small story, a small dark story, because I think it would be interesting to see a story that didn’t have to be done this way. So I’m gonna go with… Silver BulletI wanna see that claymation wolf crash through a bedroom window. Wanna see the clay frown on the one-eyed priest’s face.

You were able to visit the set during filming in Hollywood. Was there one defining “surreal” moment during your visit?

It was raining pretty hard while we were on set. It was the scene when Trevonte Rhodes meets David Dastmalchian in the woods. And it was cold and wet and I was dressed in the same outfit I always wear, a button-down shirt and a sports coat, and I was freezing. I asked around to see if anybody had a sweatshirt I could borrow. The producer Chris Morgan told me he didn’t but said his assistant could drive me to the souvenir store on the Universal lot.

Allison and I hopped in this golf cart and the cold wet wind was whipping against us and we were passing all these famous sets, like the town square from Back to the Future. When we got to the shop, I hopped out, rushed inside, and found myself standing in line, waiting to buy a Universal Studios sweatshirt with the tourists who had taken the tour and were looking for souvenirs themselves. This was profound to me. Here I’d been so nervous about heading to Los Angeles, so nervous about being on set, only to find myself doing something I do all the time. Waiting in a line in a store!

Philip Fracassi

Philip Fracassi, an author and screenwriter, lives in Los Angeles, California. His short stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best Horror of the Year, Dark Discoveries, Cemetery Dance, Lovecraft eZine, and Strange Aeons among others. He is the author of the award-winning story collection, Behold the Void.

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