As Women in Horror Month comes to an end, we had the opportunity to interview one of the most active horror screenwriters in Hollywood, Jace Anderson. Anderson, who’s been in the industry for over 19 years, has written screenplays for Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, Tobe Hooper’s The Toolbox Murders, as well as helped to produce the 2015 horror anthology Tales of Halloween. We here at Nightmarish Conjurings are honored to have Jace Anderson conclude our Women in Horror Month!
NC: What interested you in the horror genre?
JA: Unlike a lot of people in the genre, I didn’t grow up watching horror movies and reading Fangoria. My parents were pretty strict about what we could watch; I was also very serious about ballet and spent most of my spare time in dance class. I didn’t see my first horror movie until high school, I think. I’m embarrassed to say that I LOVED The Lost Boys and saw it not once but twice in theaters. High school is also when I saw Psycho, Jaws, and Body Double for the first time. I definitely got more into the genre in college, but was still super easy to scare. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m good at writing horror, though - I just think about what I find scary.
NC: With it being “Women in Horror Month” what does that statement mean to you? What advice would you give women who want to become part of the horror genre?
JA: I think WIHM is a great chance to highlight the work so many talented women are doing in this field. I would say the best advice I can give to women interested in horror is to remember that we bring an important perspective to the genre. We grow up with fear in a way men don’t, we know what it’s like to walk down a dark street and listen carefully for footsteps behind us, to pay attention to whether they speed up when we do. And while I’ve found other people working in the genre to be wonderfully supportive - horror people really are some of the best people around! - you can expect some pushback from people outside the genre. As women we’re supposed to be nice, and horror isn’t nice. It’s disturbing. (By the way, I once lost out on a job because the director thought I was “too nice” to write horror!)
NC: When it comes to your writing, how do you go about writing an original concept vs an adaptation?
JA: Well, Adam and I have an unusual writing partnership: we like to say that we come together to make one writer. He’s amazing with plot and structure; I’m great at putting things on the page. Generally with an original, Adam knows the first part of the story when I start writing, and we figure out the rest as we go along.
Adaptations can’t work that way, especially if you’re adapting a novel. Generally, I’ll outline the whole novel after I’ve read it, and then we whittle it down to a story that will work for a screenplay. Every adaptation we’ve done goes through pretty significant changes with each draft. Novels and screenplays are different forms - you have to be ruthlessly efficient in a screenplay, and with adaptations we’re constantly winnowing down to what’s absolutely necessary for the story. It’s frustrating to not include all the great moments a novel has, but you have to figure out the story you’re telling and what works best for that.
NC: The original “The Toolbox Murders” has a fairly misogynistic reputation, how did you try to correct for that when writing the update?
JA: Telling it from Nell’s point of view helped with that, I think. We actually never watched the original - Tobe Hooper asked us not to, as he wanted very much to make a different movies. (There are only so many ways you can kill people with tools, though, so overlap was unavoidable.) It’s funny, I do remember being really upset during shooting when Nell (Angela Bettis) was spread-eagled on the table with the saw coming at her crotch - we hadn’t written it that way. I pulled Tobe aside and told him I thought it was offensive, which, well, I’d never do now unless the director asked me specifically about it. Once the script is done you have to let it go - and both male and female writers have to respect the director’s vision, even if it doesn’t match how you imagined the story. Other times producers insist on changes you disagree with. You have to find a balance between advocating what’s best for the story and being open to collaboration. Film is a collaborative medium!
NC: Does your writing process change when you are writing something that your husbad (Adam Gierasch) is going to direct?
JA: No, not at all!
NC: What do you love most about writing screenplays for the horror genre?
JA: I love having a chance to explore the darker corners of my imagination. That never gets old - and I can still be surprised by what I find lurking there.
NC: What do you think is the biggest misconception about women in the film industry - whether it be horror or in general?
JA: That we only write “female” stories: romantic comedies and the like.
NC: What projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
JA: Believe it or not, we’re writing a Disney Channel movie right now - it’s not horror, more sci-fi. Other than that, we’re doing the usual screenwriter dance of trying to line up our next project!