Interview: Director Billy O'Brien on his latest film I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

Every so often, a film comes along that you think you have all figured out only for it to completely catch you off guard.  I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, from director Billy O'Brien, is that film and it's a beautiful masterpiece that combines horror, killers and monsters, and even some tender moments.  I had the opportunity to to chat with director Billy O'Brien to learn more about his latest film and where this story originated from.

Shannon McGrew: Hi Billy! Thanks so much for talking with me today!  To start, for those not familiar with I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER can you tell us a little bit about the film?

Billy O'Brien: Well, it's adapted from the book of the same name by Dan Wells.  I read it in 2009 and immediately it felt like such an odd story it grabbed my attention.  I love the odd and strange and in this case Dan had also written realistic believable characters, especially John Wayne Cleaver, that got me very excited.  It's great when somebody else does the hard work of creating brilliant characters, in a well realised world and with a bonkers plot.  

The film concerns a teenage boy in a small Midwest town who struggles with some problems; basically he's been diagnosed with sociopathic tendencies and he works hard to keep on the straight and narrow.  Then somebody starts killing people in his town and John can't help but get interested; he always fears he'll one day end up a killer plus the murder victims get delivered to his house as his mother runs the town mortuary and John helps out. So like a teenage Sherlock Holmes, John investigates; however, what he finds (as the old video box synopsis used to trail off with) is stranger and darker than he could ever have imagined (dot, dot, dot).  Now I must make up a VHS box for I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER  - that would be cool. 

SM: That would be absolutely brilliant.  What inspired you to make this film and was there any type of research that needed to be done to get into the mind of a sociopath?  

BO: Well the book really.  You see, it has all of that plus this black, wry humor and John's character is just incredible.  I didn't do any research, I left that up to Dan Wells. 

SM:  How did you go about casting the roles of John Wayne Cleaver and Crowley? 

BO: Max Records, who plays John, I had met when he was just 13.  We shot a test film in Michigan and Max played John in it.  We all knew he was too young but figured it would take a year plus before we raised the finances.  It ended up taking another 4 years and at this time Max had just turned 17.  Thankfully he was still interested as he's incredible in this film. Christopher Llyod, the legend, well we lucked out there as I never thought we'd be able to get him.  My cameraman and a producer on the film Robbie Ryan told his agents at Gersh about the project and they said what about Christopher Llyod for the part of Crowley?  They kindly gave him the script, he liked it and especially liked Mr. Crowley, and came on board.  He was perfect. 

SM:  What were some of the challenges that were faced during the filming of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER? 

BO: In this one, the cast and crew were fantastic, and it was a tough, unglamorous shoot.  We filmed in a remote mining town near the Canadian border in Minnesota.  The main challenge I guess was the cold as we were shooting mid-winter and it was well below freezing.  But that was beautiful too and the cast were really cool, didn't complain at all.  Coming from Ireland we loved the snow and ice and the steam from the heating plant, it was a great location.  

SM: I feel as though there were some underlying themes that dealt with bullying and being the "weird" kid or the "outcast".  Was this done on purpose or was I reading too much into the film?

BO: No, I think it's all there, all in the book, but what I love about John's character is that he has such a serious internal problem to deal with.  He's not afraid of the bullies like a normal outsider, no the bullies are a distraction to more pressing matters.  John is desperately afraid he'll KILL the bullies and that is such a turnaround from the scared kid, I'd never seen that before. 

SM: Are there any future projects coming up that we should keep our eyes out for?

BO: It's tough in the indie world right now.  It took 6 and a half years to get this one to the big screen.  I've got a couple of mad-ish things I'm writing now; one concerns cannibals but its a sort of musical and love story on the wild moor where I live now in England.  Another one is like an edge of seat road movie with a bunch of misfits driving through a war torn country where everyone has a secret.  Also open for work - weddings, sports events, anything that keeps the family fed really.  Pretty experienced with funerals after this film...

SM: (laughs) I will definitely keep you in mind for future weddings and funerals!  In all seriousness though, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is a tremendously brilliant film and one that I feel everyone should see.  Thank you so much for speaking with me and I can't wait to see what your next project will be! 

BO: Thank you!  And if anyone has the opportunity to see this on the big screen, please do!  It looks and sounds great up big.  The movie was shot on film (16 mm) and my composer Adrian came up with this mad music playing and recorded it live to the film projected on a sheet in his own chapel.  

For those interested in seeing I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER in the theaters, it will be playing on the following dates:

August 26, 2016
Hollywood, Los Angeles - Arena Cinema

New York , New York - IFC Center

September 2, 2016
Chattanooga, Tennessee - Cine-Rama-Chattanooga

Columbus, Ohio - Gateway Film Center

North Kansas City, Missouri - Screenland Armour Theatre

Miami, Florida - O Cinema Wynwood

Yonkers, New York - Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers 6

September 9, 2016
Grand Rapids, Michigan - Celebration Cinema Grand Rapids North & IMAX

September 16, 2016
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - PFS Theater at the Roxy

September 20, 2016
Winchester, Virginia - Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Winchester

September 23, 2016
Albuquerque, New Mexico - Guild Cinema