THE BLACK PHONE: Check Out Our Exclusive Interview With Author Joe Hill!

THE BLACK PHONE: Check Out Our Exclusive Interview With Author Joe Hill!

The Black Phone author Joe Hill breaks down his short story's journey to the big screen, while also teasing the possibility of sequel that he says has already been discussed! Check out our full chat here...

By JoshWilding - Aug 18, 2022 12:08 PM EST
Filed Under: Movies

In The Black Phone, Finney Shaw, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

Starring four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke in the most terrifying role of his career and introducing Mason Thames in his first ever film role alongside Madeleine McGraw, The Black Phone is produced, directed, and co-written by Scott Derrickson, the writer-director of SinisterThe Exorcism of Emily Rose and Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange.

To mark the movie's Digital and DVD/Blu-ray release, we sat down with award-winning author Joe Hill (Locke & Key) earlier this week to get his thoughts on seeing his short story brought to the big screen. 

As well as explaining the history behind that piece of writing, Joe takes us through its journey to the big screen and shares his thoughts on potentially returning to that world down the line. It's then he confirms that talk of a sequel has already begun, weighing in on why The Grabber's terrifying mask could be key to the franchise's future success.

Check out our interview with Joe about The Black Phone below:

I loved the film. It must be an exciting time for you getting to talk about this and Locke & Key with season 3 just hitting Netflix? 

Yeah, Locke & Key is out now. Tell all your friends and check it out while it lasts. I’m certainly thrilled that The Black Phone is out on DVD and Blu-ray, but it’s still in theaters! It had another great weekend. It’s the little horror movie that could. It’s chugged along week after week. It reminds me a little bit of The Greatest Showman. When that came out, it was never #1. It never had a single weekend when it owned the top slot in movie theaters, but it hung around week after week after week and people kept going to see it and having fun. They decided they wanted to see it again and dragged friends in, and I think in some ways, that’s almost the best success. The Black Phone continues to roll and the people that have seen it enjoyed it and were so enthusiastic that they want to see it a second time in theaters and bring their friends. That’s really what you hope for. 

You wrote The Black Phone around two decades ago now, so were you surprised when talk of a film adaptation came up or was it a project you’d spent a long time waiting to see come to fruition?

I couldn’t see the story. None of the magazines I sent it to in America were interested. I sold The Black Phone to The 3rd Alternative over in the United Kingdom for £35 in 2004. I’m not completely sure I ever got the cheque! It might have been a theoretical £35. I was tremendously proud to have the story published as it was the second story I sold to Andy Cox and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine someday it was going to be a hugely successful hit film. What a trip. 

It was in development for a while with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. They’re both friends of mine. They’re constant collaborators, but in a weird way, I got to know them separately. I met C. Robert in London at a fantasy book festival and he says it was inevitable we were going to meet and be friends because we have similar temperaments, a shared frame of reference, and we’re publishing genre fiction at the same time. We had this overlap of mutual friends too. I forget exactly if C. Robert introduced us, but I got to know Scott at a time when it seemed he would direct the pilot of Locke and Key when it was being developed by Carlton Cuse for Hulu. I had written the pilot script and Scott was on the hook to direct which he was excited about. A variety of conflicts arose and dragged him away from the narrow window to make the pilot. He simply couldn’t do it so we missed this opportunity to collaborate on something together and The Black Phone was our makeup call.  

When it comes to an adaptation of a short story like this one, do you like to have some creative input or are you happier handing it over to a team like Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill to see what they do with it?

I think it depends on the project and the creators involved. I don’t have any standard operating procedure that changes from one project to another. In the case of The Black Phone, I felt very included, even though I didn’t do any writing on it. I felt, from the very start when I saw the first draft of their screenplay, completely blown away. I thought, ‘Wow, this is so great. It would be amazing if it got made.’ I loved how faithful it was. Every scene in the short story was there, but it had become so much more because Scott had expanded it to become an autobiographical story about growing up in the violent dirty 70s in North Denver. Cargill had also introduced some aspects that were very C. Robert Cargill-ian if I can say that. In the short story, Finney is trapped in the basement of this serial killer and there’s this disconnected antique black phone down there and he begins to get calls from one of the other dead victims. In the movie, he gets calls from multiple dead victims. He hears from several different ghosts and it becomes an almost escape the room-type structure with each of them offering him a different piece of advice. That’s very Cargill. Puzzling out, ‘That didn’t work, so I’ll use this or this. Maybe these two things can fit together and that will do something.’ That’s great. 

The other thing I was going to say, which relates but is a little tangential, is that when I wrote The Black Phone, I was a failed novelist. I had written four novels that I couldn’t sell to save my life. I’d mostly given up on novels but had figured out how to write good short stories I could sell. I began to work on a collection thinking, ‘Well, I may not have a novel in me, but maybe a collection of short stories.’ A funny thing happened as the collection came close to being complete in that the short stories started trying to turn into novels on me. The Black Phone wanted to be a novel and, at one point, there was a fifty or sixty-page version of it. Because I’d had these novels rejected after writing and failing to sell them, I didn’t have the confidence that I could write a novel. I could see the novel and the shape it would have, but I rejected the possibility of going forward with it because I knew I could sell a short story and I knew I could pull that off. I didn’t know if I could pull a novel off. One of the great pleasures for me with this film is that 15 years later, I finally get to have the novel version of the story. It fell to Cargill and Scott to do the novel, but they delivered, and it was great.

When you see your work adapted like this and the amazing response the movie has had, do you feel tempted to maybe go back and revisit The Black Phone to expand it as a novel or even tell another story in that world? 

No. I think there might be…the short story is what it is, and there’s no reason to return and expand on it. As far as the movie goes, there are a few factors there. I think there are a couple of avenues to writing a really satisfying second Black Phone film. There is a possibility of a non-sucky sequel and myself, Scott, and Cargill have talked about what that movie might look like. I do think this is unique to the horror genre, and everyone who covers the horror genre knows this, when you do have a sufficiently big hit, there is a feeling like, ‘Now there should be a sequel. We want to see that scary guy in the mask again.’ Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Jason, Freddy…none of these people stay buried. The Grabber may yet claw his way out from under the dirt to return to haunt cinemas at some point. We’ll see. If Scott and Cargill, or all three of us, can come up with a good idea that feels like it wouldn’t cheapen what came before, that might happen. 

The Grabber’s mask has quickly achieved iconic status, but what has it been like seeing that happen and to have an actor like Ethan Hawke behind it bringing your creation to life?

Ethan was absolutely extraordinary. It was a really remarkable performance, and I’m so glad it was daring and nothing he’s ever done before. I’m also glad the movie was a big hit because it rewards his courage and artistic mettle. If you want to know why I think there’s a pretty good chance there will be a sequel, it’s the mask. Sometimes things are complicated, sometimes things are simple. In this case, the mask - which was designed by Jason Baker and Tom Savini - is extraordinary and terrifying. It’s the kind of thing that comes back to haunt you in your sleep at 2am. I think when you have such an iconic visual like that in the horror genre, we want to see it again and we want more. It’s pretty thrilling and wild. 

The Black Phone is now available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

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