I wonder if we could go back in time for just a minute and if you could share any stories about your experiences on the movies that you wrote but ultimately didn’t direct. I’m thinking of “Grand Piano” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.” I think a lot of people might not associate you with those projects.
Yeah. “The Last Exorcism Part II,” as well. Which, I don’t know why you skip over that, but…
[laughs] I haven’t seen that one personally. But I’ve seen the other two.
Oh, well that’s obviously my highest accomplishment, so I would put that top of your list to be really completist. [laughs] No, but joking aside, that’s how I got my start in Hollywood, let’s say, was as a writer for hire and very much in that sort of space of genre stuff, whether it was doing rewrites — “Cloverfield Lane,” really, was a rewrite. So I can’t really take much credit there. That was a genre spec script that Bad Robot had, and they had me come on and do a pass on. Then I think another writer did a pass, and Dan Trachtenberg directed the film. So I was one of several writers on that.
In other cases, I’d be pitching on stuff that I wouldn’t get, but it would lead to things that I would get. For instance, the people who wound up producing “Whiplash,” the folks at Blumhouse, who wound up being … why was Blumhouse on “Whiplash”? In some ways, that doesn’t feel like an obvious connection. Well, that was because I got to know some of the Blumhouse folks by pitching, I think it was “Ouija.” I was pitching as a writer on “Ouija,” or maybe it was “Paranormal Activity 5” or “6,” or one of those. Anyway, didn’t get those assignments, but got to know one of the producers at Blumhouse, Cooper Samuelson, and gave him “Whiplash,” et cetera, et cetera.
That’s very literally how I got my start was doing the work-for-hire writing. Then I’d write stuff on the side that I wanted to direct. The briefcase on the side was the scripts I would write for me, and I’d stuff them there and hope to one day have the clout to be able to direct them.
The one time I got to go on set for a script that I’d written was “Grand Piano.” I went to Spain for a couple days while they were shooting that. Eugenio Mira was the director on it. And I’ve got to say, I learned a ton. I stole a bunch of tricks from him on just — it was great training for me, actually, before shooting “Whiplash” or even “La La Land” because it was all set to music. The music had been pre-composed. Camera moves were timed to the music, and it was a mix of live music and playback. That whole thing. I feel like I just sat there, not even knowing necessarily how I would use what I was learning, but just soaking it up. He was really generous as a director to just let me sit there and learn.