One of my favorite films this year thus far is 68 Kill (see our review here). I’ve never seen anything like it and I thought it was brilliant – a fucked up, insanely glorious ride that I never wanted to end. It makes you think, “Who in the world could come up with such a crazy idea?” I finally got my answer to this when I chatted with the one and only Bryan Smith, the author of the novel the film is based on. Bryan was nice enough to talk to me about his passion, his inspiration for 68 Kill, his thoughts about the film, and more.
PopHorror – Thanks for talking with me, Bryan! How long have you had a passion for writing?
Bryan Smith – I knew this from a very early age. I had scarlet fever as a small child and was in the hospital for weeks. My interest in stories might have started there. I remember my father reading to me at my bedside. Tales involving the fantastic and otherworldly especially captivated me then. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his novels about lost worlds and civilizations on Mars. Star Trek. All of that.
Then, when I was in third grade, we were given a creative writing assignment. Each kid in my class received a card with a single sentence printed on it, and we were to write a two-page story. It’s important to note this was in the days before personal computers. I didn’t have a typewriter, much less a laptop. So I wrote my story by hand. I was so transported by the experience that I handwrote another copy so I could continue with the story, and I kept going with that story until I had a 200-page handwritten tale. A short novel, I guess you could call it. So my life course was set very early on. I was doomed almost from the beginning, is another way of putting it.
PopHorror – Wow, that’s a lot of pages for an eight year old! I can’t imagine how long it took to hand write it all out. What was the first book you ever wrote?
Bryan Smith – This requires a multi-part answer. Technically, I guess I could say, “See previous answer.” Less flippantly, the first fully realized and finished novel I wrote was something I called Depraved, which was written when I was twenty-five back in 1990. I’d written many short stories and numerous fragments of novels, but that was the first time I took a real novel to the finish line. By the way, this book is not to be confused with another novel I wrote by that same title, which was published by Leisure Books in 2009. Two totally different books and stories. Only the title is the same. Anyway, I submitted this original Depraved to several publishers without success. However, I very nearly sold it to mass market publisher Zebra Books. It’s my understanding this came within an eyelash of actually happening. But it didn’t, and I wrote a few more novels afterward which also were not published, at least partly because I didn’t bother submitting them.
Then, in 2004, I finally broke through and had a novel called House Of Blood published by Leisure. As far as the public’s concerned, that’s my first book, but it was far from my first novel. And, like a lot of the books during my Leisure years, it was written under difficult circumstances, but that’s a story for another day.
PopHorror – I’ll have to check it out. How many books have you written so far?
Bryan Smith – At this point, I believe it’s around twenty five published novels and novellas, along with a short story collection in there for good measure.
PopHorror – Awesome, you keep busy! Your book, 68 Kill, has been made into a full feature film. It’s a pretty crazy story. What was the inspiration for it? Did you know people like those characters in real life?
Bryan Smith – People like that were not my close friends growing up. I lived in a very different environment. As I got older, I did pass through circles like that on occasion. Drug people. Marginalized people. But none of that was the inspiration behind 68 Kill. It’s a title I first came up with about twenty years ago, though I didn’t write the book until 2013. I’d seen a lot of over-the-top Hollywood action movies in which highly professional teams of thieves were stealing absurd sums of money, like hundreds of billions. Billions and billions. And my feeling was that, for normal people, it’s hard to even conceive of or understand sums that astronomical. You can’t relate to it. But lots of people out there can relate to being strapped for cash, to living paycheck to paycheck and always being behind on the bills. For lots of regular people, $60,000 would seem like a huge windfall and an answer to all their problems. So that was the idea behind it. And as for the exact sum, I just liked the ring of 68 Kill. It rolls off the tongue nicely, as opposed to, say, 72 Kill or 54 Kill or whatever.
PopHorror – Yes, it does have it nice ring to it. What was your initial reaction when you knew your book was being made into a film?
Bryan Smith – When director Trent Haaga (see our interview with the director here) first contacted me about it, I was slightly skeptical but hopeful. A friend, author Kristopher Rufty, helped him get in touch with me. I’d had some experience with Hollywood types prior to this, people interested in possibly making movies or TV shows based on my books, but nothing ever came of those things. Now, when things progressed to the point in development where it started looking pretty certain to me that this thing was actually going to happen, I started actually getting excited about it.
PopHorror – After seeing the film, did you think the filmmakers picked the perfect actors to play the characters you created?
Bryan Smith – This doesn’t have a simple, straightforward answer either. When I wrote the book, it wasn’t with actors or a movie in mind. That would have seemed far-fetched to me at the time. So I had certain perceptions of each of these people in mind when I wrote the thing. In some ways, what I envisioned for them matches up with the people chosen to play them, while in other ways, they don’t. In the end, that doesn’t really matter because I’m very happy with the jobs done by the entire cast. They were all amazing, even if they don’t precisely match what I originally pictured. Sheila Vand, who plays Monica, is the closest to what I saw in my mind when I wrote the book. AnnaLynne McCord and Matthew Gray Gubler maybe look a bit different from what I imagined, but again, it doesn’t matter, because they perfectly captured the essence of those characters, and that’s what’s important. Alisha Boe’s Violet is probably the most different from the book, but I have to admit the movie’s version of her is probably an improved version.
PopHorror – They were all so amazing. The characters lit up the film with their unique personalities. Do you have a favorite part/scene from the book/movie?
Bryan Smith – It’s hard to pick a favorite because I genuinely love this movie. It’s hard to convey what a thrill it is to see so many scenes that sprang from my imagination realized on the screen. It’s kind of surreal. But a few of the ones I like best would be the robbery scene near the beginning, the scene at Dwayne’s house of horrors apartment, the hotel scene after Violet’s murder, and the trailer park torture scene. All of it so perfectly captures what I wrote, it just stuns me.
PopHorror – The first kill is amazing and Dwayne’s apartment probably surprised me the most. What’s it like to see a film, based on your book, receiving such positive feedback from the community?
Bryan Smith – It’s very gratifying, of course. The humbling thing about it is realizing how easily this might never have happened, especially at this level, with the major league talent involved. I would have been happy just to have gotten a movie made, but the fact it’s been received so well is really amazing, and I don’t take it for granted. Many writers, maybe most of them, will go their entire careers without seeing a single adaptation of one of their books. So many authors have had flirtations with Hollywood that come to nothing. So I’m very lucky 68 Kill fell into the hands of such talented, dedicated people. I’m also lucky it was helmed by Trent Haaga, who gets my work in a way few others possibly could. There’s every chance any other filmmaker would have gotten it all wrong. But Trent nailed it.
PopHorror – Trent definitely knows what he’s doing when it comes to filmmaking. If you could choose any of your other books to be made into a film, which one would it be?
Bryan Smith – The Killing Kind is the top answer. That’s the one I most want to see filmed. There are some others I think would be pretty great, too, including The Dark Ones, The Late Night Horror Show, Slowly We Rot, Surrounded By Bastards, Depraved, Kayla, and The Devil...
PopHorror – I’ll have to check some of those out! Any upcoming projects or anything you’re working on that’d you like to talk about?
Bryan Smith – Right now I’m working on 68 Kill Part 2. I’m hoping to have that out on Kindle by late September. After that might be a horror novel called Killscraper. And I’ll be launching a Patreon page soon, with all sorts of original content, including a serialized sequel to my early novel The Freakshow.