I had the opportunity to sit down with writer Michael Cooney whom you probably know best from his work on the movie Identity. We discussed his new film, 6 Souls, which is available on VOD April 5th. Check out the Creepcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.
DRC: Hello, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
MC: Oh of course, my pleasure.
DRC: I guess the point I really wanted to start was that when I was looking over your films on IMDB the first thing that really struck me was that you seem to have a real interest with people who’s identities are in question, and how we define that. Basically asking what makes a person that person. I just wondered what draws you to that thematically?
MC: Well, I am. That is a recurring theme in some of my theatrical pieces as well as the thriller’s I’ve written. I’m intrigued by it, and I think a lot of people are as well. On the surface, people have multiple personalities in their daily lives. I am a very different person speaking to you on the phone now than I’m going to be when I play with my kids in a coupe of hours from now. But being of healthy mind, I know the difference. I’m not going to behave now like I do with my kids. So that’s the first thing people have in common. The other thing that started to interest me was this thing that happened to me maybe fifteen years ago when I was writing, and it still happens now, this is just when I first noticed it. I was deeply into writing and at the end of the day I would look down and there would be phone notes, “pick up dry cleaning” or whatever it would be. Notes that indicated I had obviously had phone conversations with people and written down notes, but i would have no recollection of this whatsoever. Also, I began to see these stories of traumatic amnesia. When I was a kid, I have a nasty burn on my leg, I pulled the tea kettle off of the table and onto my leg. I do not remember when it happened, what I do remember is the underneath of the table five seconds before it happened. I find that fascinating. My brain had figured out how to not have the memory of the pain. All of that is of deep interest, of how the brain puts memories away and how those memories, then, form our current personalities. Playing with that, you can extract a lot of my story ideas.
DRC: Do you approach that from the chemical side of things or do you focus more on the metaphysical, psychological side?
MC: I consider myself a scientist. I do like logic. I wrote a movie a few years back called Identity, which also deals with multiple personalities, and in the original screenplay there was much more science behind the multiple personality aspect. That said, where I’m ending up is a fabrication, it is a fairy tale, with 6 Souls. It’s not real. But you always want to start somewhere real and the audience, hopefully, will see the drawing. What happened with Identity I started to find research that found that a healthy mind knows the differend between a memory and a dream. There are chemical explanation for this in the brain on how a healthy brain can look at a memory and identify it as a real memory or a dream. At that point, with Identity, I started thinking, well maybe this is how multiple personalities are kept apart and distinct from one another. And that’s what happens in that story, spoiler alert, the breakdown of those chemical barriers. All of that interests me. Though, I have had strange supernatural feelings in my life, well I guess you’d call them supernatural as they have no scientific explanations. So I am conflicted in that way which I think makes an interesting piece of storytelling, when you use those conflicting points of view. For example, Jeffrey who plays the dad in 6 Souls and Julianne Moore as the daughter. You can hold those conflicting points of view in your head.
DRC: I noticed on 6 Souls there is a different director and you have directed your own work in the past. How do you approach that as a screenwriter primarily? How you do approach the material when it’s in your own hands versus handing it over to someone else?
MC: The only reason I directed the Jack Frost movies was because no one else wanted to. I had an absolute blast and they were great fun, but once you’ve seen what James Mangold, who directed Identity, can do with your work I wouldn’t let myself near a camera. When I write a screenplay, I’m not thinking about it being directed. One of the things I remind people who want to be writers of is that a screenplay will be read a thousand times before a foot of film goes through a camera. So it has to be readable. The thing you quite often with novice screenplays is that they are quite dry. My advice is to get ahold of a Tarantino screenplay and read it. It will be the best 2-hour read of your life. They are cracking, so fantastic. If you look at the through-line of my screenplays of before and after I read From Dusk Till Dawn, the screenplays are night and day, on how I approached it. You want the reader to be whisked away. When I sold 6 Souls it was titled Shelter and of all the scripts I have written, there was something about Shelter that was spooky. I have a doctor friend, a very educated smart lady, and she started reading it and told me she had to stop until her husband came home because there was just something about it. And there was, and I haven’t done it before or since, but the screenplay, and I know it sound ridiculous, seemed to be haunted. People seemed to freak out when they read the screenplay, which is lovely feedback for a writer.
DRC: Of the screenplays I’ve read, the ones that are enjoyable to read seem to be realize that it’s still a visual medium. You have to break up your action lines and make the visuals pop. In that sense do you see the writer as a director of the script? Before it is passed along into the industry and becomes more of a tangible thing?
MC: I’ve always thought that there are three different films, the movie you write, the movie you film, and the movie you edit. The three are often quite different. With something like 6 Souls, which is the dialogue of my original work, it actually gets so many people involved it is quite a unique art form. It’s not like a painting. You are looking at a lot of influences for one film. I realize I’m one part of a much larger process.
DRC: I know this film was delayed quite awhile and renamed, I wondered what was like to live through that for you, as the creative force behind the story.
MC: I don’t much about the business side of it. All I was doing was looking at what I thought was a fabulous film with great actors and not quite understanding why it wasn’t being promoted, why it wasn’t out there to be enjoyed. I came out of a screening in London and we waited for the credits to roll before we left the theatre. As we did walk out there were girls, maybe 20-22 years old, sitting on a bench just outside of the theatre and one of them was weeping, almost uncontrollably. So there I was sitting next to her saying “It’s just a movie”, I think that I sat down with her freaked her out even more. But in my experience, I’ve seen wonderful reactions to the movie. I’m just excited it’s finally coming to America. I’m thrilled that when it was released on VOD it was in the top ten, which is filled with movies like Skyfall and Wreck it Ralph, all these huge movies. I’m also thrilled that on the 5th of April some people will finally get to see it theatrically.
DRC: Thanks again for taking the time, we appreciate it.
MC: Of course, anytime.