Writing MONSTER Hits & Working With Horror Legends: An Interview with Michael & Shawn Rasmussen

Wednesday 9 October 2019

This week at Into The Script, I feel incredibly fortunate to welcome our guests - Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the screenwriters behind one of my favourite films this year, the monster summer hit 'CRAWL'. 

Michael and Shawn have worked with some of the biggest horror legends in the industry, including John Carpenter (they are the screenwriters behind Carpenter's 'The Ward'), Sam Raimi and Alexandre Aja. 

So, if there's anything you wanted to know about HOW to write a compelling horror for audiences - this is the interview that you want to be reading!

Hi Shawn and Michael, thank you both for taking the time to speak with me at Into The Script. It’s a pleasure to be able to feature you both on the blog!

Can you share with us what first inspired you to begin your career in this industry, and how your first ‘break in’ the industry came to be?

Photo Credit to Shawn and Michael Rasmussen

MICHAEL: We were both working corporate jobs and wanted to do something that was more creatively rewarding.

I had a degree in film. So one day I asked Shawn if he’d be interested in partnering up and shooting a low budget movie.

Just something to get the creative juices flowing. He thought it sounded like fun, and that's how this journey started.

SHAWN: Yeah, for us the first step was to write a really contained script with just a few characters that we could make by ourselves on a shoestring budget.

Once we finished the script, we showed it to a friend for feedback.

And he shared it with a producer who immediately wanted to make it but with a larger budget.

That was our first movie LONG DISTANCE.

CRAWL has been a massive and quite literal – MONSTER – hit this summer!

Can you explain to us a bit about your creative process, especially when it came to this project? Starting with how you both come to an initial concept, and then approaching the first draft once you’ve got a clear idea of how you’d like to write it.

MICHAEL: This idea was something that had been percolating in my mind for a while.

When I graduated from college, I lived in Florida for a couple of years, and I was always amazed with the casual attitude people who lived there had toward both alligators and hurricanes.

I wanted to come up with a survival thriller that blended those two elements.

SHAWN: Michael pitched me this idea about a woman trapped in a flooding crawl space with alligators.

As soon as I heard it, I said “We need to write that. Right now.”

It just seemed like such an obvious idea. I couldn't believe it hadn't been done yet.

That fear that somebody was going to beat us to the punch really motivated us, and the script came together very quickly.

Whilst Crawl heavily features a ‘monster’ that brings the thrills, the audience cares greatly about the father- daughter relationship (and survival) between the two lead characters, Haley and Dave.

Can you share any top tips you have when it comes to creating rich and engaging characters, especially when it comes to the horror genre that allows the audience to really tap into their own fears? 

SHAWN: One of the biggest compliments we’ve gotten about CRAWL is that if you take away the hurricane and the alligators, it's still a great family drama.

That's something that was important to us as we figured out the story.

For the scary moments to work, the audience needed to care about these characters.

MICHAEL: As we wrote the script, it was important for us to keep it as grounded in reality as possible. We wanted it to seem believable.

The audience needed to feel trapped in that crawl space with these characters.

So we were constantly asking ourselves what would we do in this situation. That really helped inform on decisions.

It was also important to us that the alligators behaved like they would in real life.

That helped ground the story as well. 

You have worked with some of the biggest names in horror, including John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and now Alexandre Aja. Most writers can only dream of having such an impressive set of credits.

What advice do you have for emerging horror writers looking to create a film that satisfies audiences in 2019? 

MICHAEL: Working with all of these amazing filmmakers has definitely been a dream come true for us. We've been very lucky.

But what has really impressed us is how giving and collaborative these filmmakers are. 

My advice to new writers would be to constantly challenge yourself to come up with something that hasn't been done before.

Audiences are so smart these days that you really have to work hard to surprise and shock them.

SHAWN: One thing that we tell emerging screenwriters all the time is that filmmaking is a collaborative medium.

When producers and directors come on board a project, it’s your job to collaborate with them and bring their vision of your story to life.

Both Carpenter and Aja brought very unique and different ideas to the table that ultimately made our scripts better.

You need to be open to everything. 

What advice do you have for other filmmakers and writers when It comes to networking and building professional relationships in the industry?

MICHAEL: For us, attending genre film festivals has been a huge help. It’s a great place to meet fellow filmmakers at various stages of their careers. 

SHAWN: Yeah, if you’re in it for the long haul then you'll see your career grow along with the people you meet at these festivals. It's very inspiring.

I also recommend joining a writer’s group if you’re a screenwriter. It's a great way to meet other writers and get feedback on your work. 

Lastly, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given for working in this industry, and would you mind sharing with us?

SHAWN: If you want to be a screenwriter you have to write. And then keep writing and rewriting.

It seems kind of obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of people I've met who want to be a screenwriter but haven’t written a script.

MICHAEL: Shawn said this earlier, but you really need to be willing to collaborate and take feedback.

On the writing side, I'd also recommend reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on. 

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