When a rural Irish fishing village is invaded by blood-sucking, tentacled monsters from the sea, picking off locals one at a time, the inhabitants must find a way to survive. Headed up by two police officers – the charming but heavy-drinking O’Shea and the uptight, by-the-book Lisa – they soon discover that the best weapon in their arsenal is alcohol. The grabbers don’t like it, it makes people taste bad. The only way to survive the night is to get as drunk as possible.
Such is the plot for Kevin Lehane’s horror-comedy flick Grabbers, set for release in 2012. We got some one-on-one time with Kevin – thanks to this little thing called Twitter – to talk a little about the film, screenwriting, and the production process that goes on behind a movie like Grabbers.
To start things off, who is Kevin Lehane?
A screenwriter from Cork City in Ireland.
What inspired you to become a screenwriter? What movies growing up got you interested in this field of work?
I’ve always wanted to make movies and screenwriting seemed like the easiest way to get to do that. The first film I remember seeing was Jaws. I have vivid memories of kneeling in front of the TV and watching it with my mam, who was talking at the screen. “Swim!” I also remember seeing Halloween and The Terminator when I was six (thanks to some irresponsible babysitters) and both those films leaving indelible impressions. Yet it wasn’t until I was a little older and I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen that I was determined to become a filmmaker. That was a life-changing cinema experience.
There’s one question I got to ask – What was going through your head when you first heard that Grabbers was picked up and going to be made into a movie?
It’s about feckin time. It took two years to get anyone in the industry to read it. It was a demoralising period because I felt I had something special but it just wasn’t happening. It was a dream come true when the right people got hold of it and it went into production. Never give up!
It’s safe to assume that Grabbers wasn’t your first screenplay. How many screenplays had you written before Grabbers?
Grabbers was my sixth feature script. I’d written about a dozen others, mostly shorts and TV pilots.
How did you come up with this story?
I was backpacking. I kept getting bitten by my mosquitoes and people were advising me to eat vitamin B as mosquitoes hate the taste of it in your blood. It’s a complete myth but I bought it at the time. A few weeks later while in the midst of trying out this vitamin B plan I was having some beers with friends and I spotted a mosquito biting me. I thought it would be funny if it got drunk off my blood and a light bulb went off in my head. I woke up the next morning with a hangover and a spate of new bites and wrote in my travel journal: get drunk to survive.
I’m guessing the process of selling your screenplay is not as simple as sending it via email to some Hollywood executive. Can you talk a little about the process of pitching a screenplay and how exactly you sold Grabbers?
As I say I had a long and weird road to getting Grabbers into production. The short version is a friend of mine who’s a writer passed it on to a friend of his who worked at Working Title. It was added to the slush pile of scripts there and eventually it got read by one of their readers. That person liked it and passed it up the chain of command until one of their executives read it and called me in for a meeting. I was an unrepped writer at this stage and desperate for any help with my career I could get.
Working Title weren’t in a position to make Grabbers, having just shut down WT2 at the time, but they recommended me and the script to some agents. The agent I signed with sent it out and within a couple of weeks of that there was interest from all those who read it. I met the producers and the director Jon Wright during this period, we hit it off, and within twelve months of that first meeting we were shooting the movie in Ireland. The long version is an added two years of knocking on doors before all that.
Since the movie has been in production though you’ve had to make some changes. Was it difficult to make changes to a script you considered to be complete?
The story hasn’t changed, nor have any of the characters. Some of the scenes are different; the ending was tweaked as was the opening but a lot of changes that we made were for practical production purposes. It’s overall the same script that hit the town as a spec. I’m proud of that.
How involved were you in the actual production of the movie during filming?
Jon, the director, is a real collaborator but aside from a full solid week of rehearsing with the cast, they shot the movie as written. There wasn’t a lot for me to do on set. I still had fun watching them make it, despite the brutal weather. I’ve been present throughout the whole process and I haven’t been rewritten. We’re currently about six weeks away from the end of post-production and I’m writing some ADR for the film. It’s been a full-on year but it’s been a pleasure to be present for all of it.
Now that you’ve seen the final product, how did the cast and crew do in portraying your vision of the film?
The cast are perfect. Really, when people see the film, I think aside from anything else they’ll come away loving our rogues gallery of characters. We spent a lot of time on casting and we found the perfect people to play the parts. We lucked out.
What it was like to first see these actors bring to life these characters and scenes that you created?
Bizarre. I felt very paternal to each of them and felt like I knew them forever. I was, and still am, very proud of their performances. It sounds like guff, but it’s true.
For those reading this interview, how would you explain this movie to them?
It’s a character driven monster movie with heart. I wouldn’t classify it as a horror-comedy merely because the vast majority of horror-comedies are terrible, but it’s got scares and some intense set pieces, but there’s a lot of funny moments as you’d expect from this premise. It’s also surprisingly sweet natured and, dare I say it, touching. I think it’s the anti-dote to a lot of the cynical stories we’re seeing these days, which I’m happy about. It was written to be an Irish style Amblin movie and it is that, but it’s that as seen through the eyes of John Carpenter. I think people will dig it.
Be honest. Did you steal anything from the set?
With permission I took one of our fake bottles of beer; “McPolin’s Irish Stout”. It’s taken pride of place on my desk.
So how do you think this movie going to change your career?
Anything else I do will most likely be prefaced with “Grabbers’ writer” and I couldn’t be more proud of that.
Now that Grabbers has finished filming, what’s life like for you now?
The same, except I occasionally meet some cool people now.
Do you plan on moving back to L.A. someday?
If L.A. will have me, I’ll definitely give it a go. I spent some time in L.A. as an intern a couple of years back and loved it. The great weather helps.
What advice do you have to aspiring screenwriters?
Write what you love but don’t be in love with what you write. It’s a tough industry to survive in but if it’s what you want to do– no, scratch that, if it’s something you have to do, be prepared to work. Screenwriters have it tough, harder than most.
So what’s next on your plate?
I co-wrote a script called Twist that’s shooting early next year. It’s an action heist movie that takes the Charles Dickens story and “twists” it. That’s the next thing being prepped for production. I have a few other irons in the fire that I’m exciting about and crossing me fingers for. I hope they happen. You can never tell what will or won’t go in this business though but having gone through Grabbers I’m dogged enough to see things through.
Last question – Tell us what we can expect from Grabbers when it hits theaters in 2012.
There’s never been a movie quite like Grabbers, yet it feels like an old favourite. I think the monsters will catch people off guard but I think the characters and the world will charm the pants off them. Then again, I’m biased. I love our little movie. It reminds me of the films I got in trouble for watching as a kid.
Grabbers stars Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey and Lalor Roddy and is directed by Jon Wright. Expect Grabbers to hit theaters in 2012.