When many fathers and sons get together they might play a little game of football or a round of golf. But authors Stephen King and Joe Hill dream up nightmares. Take the time, a few years ago, when the pair found themselves in Florida at the same time.
“I went to pick him up at the airport, and we were talking, and Joe said, ‘I’m really hungry, can we stop somewhere?'” says King. “So, we stopped at a IHOP, and we ordered up a bunch of stuff. I said, to Joe, ‘You know, I just finished something I was working on,’ and Joe said, ‘I finished something too, maybe we’ll work on something together while we’re down here.’ Because he was going to be down there for a week. And I said, ‘Yeah, okay. What have you got?'”
“We spitballed ideas for about 20 minutes and came up with In the Tall Grass,” says Hill.
That novella centers around a pair of siblings, Cal and Becky, who enter a field of tall grass after hearing cries of help from a boy, and discover that they are unable to leave. The story has now been adapted into a film which stars Patrick Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Avery Whited. Directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice), the movie has just debuted on Netflix.
“I’m happy with it,” says King. “It’s great to look at, too. It’s a visual trip.”
“I loved it,” says Hill. “I think it’s really disturbing. You know, I think it’s like Hereditary-level scary. Very disturbing picture. Vincenzo did a wonderful job with it.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you write together, how does that actually work? I can’t imagine working on a prose piece with anybody, let alone one of my nearest relations.
JOE HILL: It went pretty quickly. My memory is that I would get up in the morning and Dad would have emailed me some pages. So, I’d rewrite his pages, and then I’d write a few pages, and I’d send it back to him. I guess he would work on it later in the day and then the next morning the cycle would repeat. So, we were both sort of rewriting each other’s stuff and then adding to what was there. I’d say the whole story was finished in about six days.
STEPHEN KING: The nice thing about it was, rewriting each other — by going over with a writer’s eye rather than a reader’s eye, and making changes and everything — there was never any time during that week when I felt like it was a old start. I always felt like it was getting into a car that was all warmed up and ready to go, and that’s not my experience when I’m working by myself, so it was really kind of a trip. Like Joe says, we wrote this thing in six, seven days, and they made this movie out of it. It’s a freak-out, really.
How involved were you in the film adaptation?
HILL: I read Vincenzo’s script. It was so great, you don’t want to screw it up.
KING: Yeah, I don’t think I made a single suggestion, based on what was there. My view of it all has been, try as much as you can to be part of the solution, but if there isn’t a problem, you should stand back and let a talented filmmaker do his thing, and that’s what we did. I thought it turned out really, really well.
HILL: I’ve been an executive producer on the AMC show NOS4A2. So, I’ve done the executive producer thing. I’ve really mastered the skills, the core skills of being an executive producer, which is scarfing up everything that’s on the craft service table and then walking through the shot while they’re trying to film, talking on your cell phone. Those are the core skills of the successful executive producer.
KING: Joe has left one thing out about the core skills of being an executive producer and that is, you have to get all the swag, okay? You’ve got to get the jacket, and you’ve got to get the T-shirt, and you’ve got to get the grab-hats. And, of course, the other thing that you do as an executive producer is, you have to go to the bank and cash a check, and hopefully it’s a big one!
This all sounds great. I guess my next question is, how do I get one of these jobs?
KING: But if there is something wrong, I would speak up in a minute and say, “This goes over the line,” or “This isn’t right.” But the best thing to do is to steer clear and let these people do their magic.
HILL: When I read the script, I could see that he did this beautiful adaptation of the short story, and that’s about half of the film. But he also built out that world, he explored the world of the field, where time and space don’t quite make sense, and expanded on the inner lives of the characters in a way that’s hard to do in just 30 pages. I mean, the story is just really dark. It starts with characters in terrible situations, it gets worse and worse and worse, and awful things happen to them. In the movie, all of that is there, but there’s also a thread of hope that is unique to the film and I think is a good thing. I mean, a 30-page story is one thing, but a two-hour movie is a different kind of investment. And these are good people, you root for them.
KING: The characters are hoping, “I’ll die soon and be out of there, this horrible nightmare!” No, I’m just kidding.
Joe, In the Tall Grass is one of the tales in your new short story collection, Full Throttle. Could you tease some of the other stories?
HILL: Yes, so Full Throttle is very affordably priced. There’s a sleek, beautiful hard cover and at those prices, you almost want to buy two. You know, one for yourself and one for whoever you love most.
KING: Or four!
HILL: Yeah, right. I mean, the thing about a book coming out now is, Christmas is right around the corner. So, now is the time to get out there, and pick up a copy of The Institute (King’s most recent novel) and a copy of Full Throttle.
KING: Okay, Joe, you’ve sold the book, tell the man what’s in it.
HILL: Yeah, 13 short stories, two that Dad and I wrote together, and then there’s a bunch of other stuff in there. There’s a story called “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” about some kids that find the corpse of a plesiosaur on the shores of Lake Champlain, and that was actually just turned into an episode of the Shudder show, Creepshow.
Stephen, can you tell us what you’re doing next?
KING: Well, I could, but then I’d have to kill you. I’m just kidding. Actually, there is a book coming out next year, featuring Holly Gibney, who figures in all the Mr Mercedes books: Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and The Watch.
HILL: And The Outsider.
KING: And The Outsider. That’s right. Thank you, Joe. But, anyway, there’s another story coming out about Holly next year [in a book] called If It Bleeds.