A little over a decade ago, then-film critic C. Robert Cargill and filmmaker Scott Derrickson randomly met up in Las Vegas. Both were in town due to a random chance of fate, and they decided to hang out, as they were already on pretty friendly terms. It was that serendipitous meetup that saw Cargill pitch his future writing partner on an idea that would eventually become Sinister; and if it wasn’t for a thought that Ben Affleck had at the premiere of Armageddon, Blumhouse Productions may have never made it.
Fate plays a huge part in this story, which C. Robert Cargill himself told me as we discussed his latest project. As Cargill’s latest novel, Day Zero, is currently available for purchase, there was an opportunity to discuss nannybots made to look like tigers and why Doctor Strange 2 didn’t quite pan out with its original creative team. But if you’re going to talk to either C. Robert Cargill or Scott Derrickson, the subject of their smash hit Sinister is bound to come up. And the short version of how that movie came to be, according to Cargill himself, goes something like this:
Sinister was a part of the experiment that helped make Blumhouse Productions a premiere brand in genre storytelling. That experiment was eventually the blueprint for producer Jason Blum’s recipe for success, which saw talent like Scott Derrickson, James Wan and Jordan Peele bringing in promising premises to be made on microbudgets. So where does a young Ben Affleck come into this story?
Well, as it turns out, it all came down to the premiere party for Michael Bay’s Armageddon. A lavish event that was befitting of pure Bayhem, it sparked a thought that Ben Affleck would share with others. As it spread, C. Robert Cargill was one of the people that caught wind of this notion, which led to the following story that he told me during our interview:
Mr. Cargill wasn’t the only person who got ahold of that story, and soon enough, the notion of microbudget storytelling was flying around. Snatching up indie/festival hopefuls was something that Ben Affleck himself would toy around with, back in the days where he and Matt Damon worked on the HBO series Project Greenlight. However, there was a crucial difference added into the formula in the early days of Sinister’s genesis, both by the critics who loved the idea and eventually producers Roy Lee and Jason Blum:
At this point in Scott Derrickson’s career, there was definitely a bit of turmoil and tumult playing out in the public eye. After making a name for himself with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Derrickson went on to direct Fox’s 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still; an experience that was instrumental to his departure from the version of Doctor Strange 2 that Marvel Studios wanted to make. It would also be a pivotal moment in his Sinister journey, as when C. Robert Cargill pitched his idea for the Ethan Hawke-led horror thriller, Scott Derrickson knew of the perfect place to sell it:
Looking back on Sinister almost 10 years after its 2012 release, it’s a very simple concept that’s delivered with quite the punch. The story of Ethan Hawke’s Ellison Oswalt and his investigation into a mysterious murder case veers into supernatural territory, as the house that he’s just moved his family into was the site for these gruesome killings. Reviewing evidence, which includes watching a series of macabre home videos, Oswalt’s actions unwittingly put him on a collision course with the entity known as Bughuul.
Now read back that synopsis for Sinister again and see if it sounds familiar. It’s not the investigation into a murder case that got Jason Blum’s attention, and it’s certainly not the supernatural entity. The real hook to the film, as pitched by C. Robert Cargill, was something so novel that it flipped a concept Blum was more than passingly familiar with into a fresh horror hell:
Listening to C. Robert Cargill discuss the details of his Sinister pitch excited me about the project all over again, and this is despite having seen the film already. Much like he sold Jason Blum on a new angle to the found footage genre, the way that Cargill told the story of his own film had hooked me into Sinister all over again. At this point in the tale, one last thing had to happen: Sinister had to be purchased and written.
Rounding off the story of how historic this film was in his own career, C. Robert Cargill had one last piece of the puzzle to lock in. If it wasn’t for the friendly rapport that he and Scott Derrickson had together, Sinister would have never been pitched. Should that pitch have never taken place, we might have lost out on the writing team that eventually delivered this film, as well as Doctor Strange and the upcoming Joe Hill adaptation The Black Phone. And it’s all thanks to the decision making process detailed below:
Sinister would be made on a budget of roughly $3 million, with the prime release date of October 12, 2012 set for its debut. A critical and commercial hit, C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson’s cinematic child would go on to gross $87.7 million, and put both of their names on the map. From that point forward, their collective legacy would only grow to the point where if you mention one of their names, the other instantaneously comes to mind. It’s a hell of a story to think that Ben Affleck remarking about an excessive Hollywood premiere party would lead to indie horror history.
It's a good thing this long and winding chain of events happened too, as audiences wouldn't have wanted to miss a thing that was described above. Because of Sinister’s success, you can look forward to C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson, James Ransone and Ethan Hawke all reuniting on The Black Phone, which is set for release on January 28, 2022. Also, you can track down Cargill’s latest novel, Day Zero, as it’s currently available wherever you purchase your reading materials, alongside its standalone companion/sequel Sea of Rust.
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