Duncan Skiles was ready to make a hit movie, he just needed the right script from his friend, and former roommate Christopher Ford (Cop Car). Luckily, it came in the form of a dark, mysterious, and engaging film that is The Clovehitch Killer- in theaters now and available on VOD. This is the kind of movie that proves a lot, not only that Skiles is the real deal in direction, but that he can draw out phenomenal performances from spectacular actors such as Charlie Plummer and Dylan McDermott. I was able to speak with Duncan Skiles about developing The Clovehitch Killer, directing great actors, and what inspired him to make a dark movie such as this.
AMG.COM: How did you get connected with Christopher Ford? He's a writer on a hot streak of films, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Cop Car, so how does he become involved to make The Clovehitch Killer?
DUNCAN SKILES: We both met at film school at NYU and we were roommates. We both were collaborating for the past 20-years and he'd written another film I directed (Our RoboCop Remake). I had this idea for this film, he's the best writer I know, and he said he was interested in writing it, so we decided to join forces. He was also instrumental in getting this film made, because he had success with Cop Car, which was also produced by End Cue, they financed Clovehitch, so having that “in” was really helpful to getting the movie green lit.
AMG.COM: This a movie that will catch the interest of audiences because there's a resurgence of true-crime themed television and documentaries. Did you do any background research to prepare for this film?
DUCAN SKILES: Yeah, it sort of found its origin in research, which I didn't research into any particular purpose. I fell down a rabbit hole of reading about serial killers on the internet. I started reading books about the subject, where some of the stories stood out to me, and the sense of banality, and normalcy that surrounds a story like this. I wanted to create a story that captured that. It wasn't sensational, but it's something that has the impact of a murder happening in the background, something random taking place in the middle of a pleasant afternoon.
AMG.COM: Let's talk about the casting of Charlie Plummer. Where did you first see him and decide that he needed to be the person playing the Tyler character?
DUCAN SKILES: Charlie was recommended by CAA, they did some packaging on the film, they also represent Dylan (McDermott), and Charlie was the first person we cast. I responded to Charlie because he's a very intelligent actor and he doesn’t overplay. He's subtle in his acting. And he understood what we were going for. I had something in mind that was a bit more Hardy Boy's originally I think he sanded down more of my less subtle impulses which was a good thing. Yeah, I feel very lucky to have him in the movie. He's just a cool guy too, I loved working with him.
AMG.COM: Dylan McDermott is not a stranger to playing a darker role, he's done it on American Horror Story before, but did you have a hard time convincing him to play a role this dark?
DUCAN SKILES: It's actually the opposite. I had been trying to find someone to play the Don character for a long time and had gotten a bunch of passes. Dylan was the first high-profile actor that wanted to do it. He got the script through his agent and he seemed excited about it. I was a bit reluctant, because I have a lot of respect for his acting, and I actually thought he was too handsome to play that country, good ole American dad. But we met and I didn't pull the trigger or anything. Sat on it a bit and he provided an audition tape, getting into character as Don. He put some glasses on and changed his hair, had the accent, and that just sold me on it, which I'm happy about, because I think he did a phenomenal job.
AMG.COM: I found the themes of The Clovehitch Killer to be very current, we continue to find out things about people that we would never suspect to be these bad people behind the scenes. Do you think we never truly know people, even if we are related to them?
DUCAN SKILES: Yeah, I think the feeling of not being able to understand someone, looking somebody in the eye, and not really catching a relatable glimpse of humanity, that to me is scary. It's embodied, in an extreme way, with a serial killer who lacks a conscious, to lie and manipulate easily. In a familiar relationship, that's terrifying. I experienced that first thing, in less extreme circumstances, but I don't understand where some people are coming from. How they can behave and believe, think the way they do. It came off to me as kinda crazy. I worked to imagine what it would be like to be inside their heads, living day to day with that mindset. So, it goes back to that inability to know other people and to ever understand them.
AMG.COM: The reviews are very positive for the film, how important is that for you? Do you pay attention to this stuff?
DUCAN SKILES: I've read all of them so far and it feels good to read people responding to your work. For the most part they have been in tune with what I was intending, which is obviously not the case with every review, but ultimately I have a ton of respect for somebodies experience being their own. That's a subjective thing, so I don't take it too personally. One did get to me, which was just a mention, the guy said the film was “very basic, not memorable, or unique about it” and I would rather someone hate the movie than say the specific reason of it not being memorable.
AMG.COM: Well, sometimes even the worst of movies could be memorable...
DUCAN SKILES: Right, and I just appreciate the good reviews because it helps get it out there, and I'm proud of it. I appreciate the fans of the horror genre, so I hope they like it along with the critics and it has success.
AMG.COM: I also like to get into the directors head of what films you've been watching and what type of films were an inspiration for you in making The Clovehitch Killer?
DUCAN SKILES: I was actually inspired by the lake scene in the film Zodiac, where two people having a nice afternoon, on a golden lit lake, no music, and a mysterious figure is approaching. It all unfolds itself in a quiet way and I thought this was scary. It doesn’t have the typical genre signifiers, like spooky music. I really like Michael Haneke's Funny Games, which takes place at a sunny vacation house, again no music. I was also influenced by The Vanishing from 1988, which takes a lot of niche chronological approach without a lot of fuss and a straightforward approach to dark material, like the kidnapping taking place in the middle of the day at a crowded gas station.
AMG.COM: It's interesting you mention Funny Games, because that's a film that changes it's narrative style midway through, is that why you chose to shift the narrative structure at the end of Clovehitch?
DUCAN SKILES: I wanted to put the audience in an uncomfortable position, to be surprised by the way it all unfolded, and to also get the differing points of view to help the surprise unfold in front of us, instead of being out of left field.
AMG.COM: Last question, you mentioned you went to NYU, what does it mean to have your film debut at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival?
DUNCAN SKILES: It's very exciting and my cinematographer Luke McCoubrey said he wouldn't believe it was a real movie if it wasn't playing at Nighthawk cinema. I'm not going to watch the movie again, I saw it at the LA Film Festival, I've seen it too many times, but I'm very happy with the way it turned out.
AMG.COM: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, I thought you did a great job.
DUNCAN SKILES: Thank you so much Leo. I appreciate the kind words.