Drew Daywalt is just one of those guys who truly understands horror. A talented filmmaker and director, he has a distinct knack for creating twisted and horrifying shorts, building suspense and fear without a second wasted. Very few modern filmmakers seem to understand, or can convey, the underlying components of our primal fears more than Drew.
In recent years, this methodical master of fear moved away from creating the horrifying shorts that haunted the horror community, to pursue a career as a children's book author. Recently becoming a New York Times Best Selling Author for his book The Day The Crayons Quit, which was also picked up by Universal Studios to become a feature film. I got a chance to speak with Drew and discuss the radical change of his writing outlet and what his plans are for the future.
PF: Compared to other directors, you stand out to me as being highly fascinated by the components of fear, understanding what makes us tick so that you can craft short films that cut right to that dark part of us so quickly. Where does this fascination originate with you.
DD: I think my fascination with fear originates in the same place it does with so many other people – in my childhood. I was the youngest of 6 kids and my parents purchased a massive, abandoned old stage coach stop from the early 1800's and fixed it up for us to live in. Before my folks renovated it, it had sat dormant for a generation and was well known as the town's haunted house. There were servant's quarters, (my brothers got that room), a secret stairwell, a scary well out back, and the most terrifying raw stonework basement I've seen to date. It was creaky and drafty and dark with 14 foot ceilings and 6 bedrooms, it was all overwhelming to me as a little child.
PF: Are there any other writers or directors that influenced your work?
DD: The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe was a huge source of inspiration for my shorts, but there's a segment of that short story that chills me to the bone and it's not the part you might expect. It's the section where the narrator talks about watching his master sleep, and moving so quietly and so slowly that it takes him hours to open the door just a crack. That freaks me out. The silent watcher in the darkness concept is something that scares the shit out of me.
PF: As a fan I have to ask, did you ever think about going back and expanding one of your short films into a full feature? Personally, one that fascinates me and left me wanting more is the short your wife directed, The Many Doors of Albert Whale. (Video at the end of the interview)
DD: I'm so proud of Marichelle and her work on that one. She likes to let you see everything there is to see in a story, but still not answer all the questions, which leaves you wanting more, but not feeling like there's something missing. I love stories about demons and black magic in modern settings, and we've had such a good reaction to that film that we might expand on it in the future.
PF: So how did you go from making terrifying horror shorts to writing the successful children's book The Day The Crayons Quit?
DD: Well both could be traced to my childhood: on the one hand I had my mom reading me Dr. Seuss, Charles Shultz and Maurice Sendak every night, and on the other, I had my big brothers showing me old Jack Arnold monster movies and Hammer horror films every weekend. So I guess my career path played out as expected. But actually, when I graduated college I had no preference between heading to New York City and getting into children's book publishing or heading west to Los Angeles to write screenplays. As I finished college though, I had a fellow classmate who was dead set on L.A. and writing movies, and I drifted there in his wake, because hey, I love movies and that was half of my training. So why not? Right?
I always wondered what it would have been like to write my own children's book, and when I eventually had kids of my own, it gave me a reason to pursue my second love of writing and make something my kids could enjoy.
PF: From your twitter feed, it seems like your book is appealing to a wide arrange of age groups and is really getting kids of all ages interested in reading. Were you intent on doing just that?
DD: Actually, believe it or not, it wasn't in my thinking at all. I mean, I'm glad that it's happening, absolutely! But it was never my goal to get kids excited about reading or compete with other media. My only goal while writing Crayons, or any book that I write, was to entertain myself. Writing, for me, is an incredibly selfish endeavor, at its origin. I figure if I can entertain myself, then I can entertain kids, seeing as I'm just a big one, myself. My general rule is that if I like it, they probably will too. I dunno. I just want to tell good stories about entertaining characters, and then layer it with deeper meaning that can be found by the adults reading the book, or by the children themselves as they grow older and look at it from a different perspective. A great picture book has to be able to grow up with its child audience, and not just stay a childish notion while the child outgrows it. At the end of the day, if I've done my job right, the kids will get excited about reading because the book is good– because it challenges, because it's fresh, because it enlightens and entertains.
PF: Do you think the parents and teachers who love your book know about your past in writing and directing horror films?
DD: I'm pretty sure most of the parents and teachers have no idea, but there has been a few exceptions. A couple of the younger parents I ran into on my book tour actually told me they were fans of my horror shorts and when they found out I was writing a book for kids they were so curious of what it would be like they had to pick it up.
PF: I and other fans want to know, are the doors of the Daywalt Fear Factory closed for good and what's your plans for the future?
DD: I am on a bit of a hiatus from horror at the moment, I just got back from a book tour, but I definitely want to get back into it sometime in the future. I just finished writing the sequel to Crayons and the original book was recently picked to be an animated feature, which I never expected to happen. I have a bunch of ideas for shorts on my computer I still want to make, possibly releasing a short or two around Halloween, but my life seems to be very focused on children's books and my own children at the moment.
PF: Well, thanks so much for chatting with me, best of luck to wherever your career takes you.
As mention previously in the interview, here is the short we discussed, The Many Doors of Albert Whale.