Sinister Was Born Out Of A Chance Meeting In A Las Vegas Casino
Released nearly a decade ago in 2012, "Sinister" has gained a reputation as far more than just a successful horror flick. Rather, it is now viewed as one of the finest horror films of the century so far, and one that is truly scary. It birthed a sequel and, more than that, was the genesis of a creative partnership between director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill that led to Marvel's "Doctor Strange," the creation of a production company in Crooked Highway, and their latest collaboration, "The Black Phone."
So, how did this movie come to be and how did these creative guys go from being acquaintances to best friends that make hugely successful movies with one another? Amazingly enough, it all started with a chance meeting in Las Vegas that wasn't planned but, in a cosmic sense, seems like it was meant to happen.
/Film's own Jacob Hall recently sat down with C. Robert Cargill to talk about "The Black Phone," and during their chat, Cargill explained the circumstances that led to "Sinister." Cargill had been working as a movie critic at Ain't It Cool News while also holding a day job at a video store. During that time, Scott Derrickson became a fan of Cargill's reviews, particularly those that were positive about films other people seemed to not like very much. This led to the early days of their friendship, with Derrickson even writing Cargill a letter after seeing William Friedkin's "Bug" based on his review, a movie he ended up loving.
That led to a correspondence and, eventually, Derrickson invited Cargill to a screening of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which was followed up by dinner and drinks. It went well and they stayed in touch. But when Cargill tweeted that he was going to Las Vegas for the first time with some friends, Derrickson took notice and, as it just so happens, he was going to be there at the same time and suggested that they meet up for drinks. And that meet-up between a couple of casual friends over drinks turned into something much bigger. Says Cargill:
"He said, can I get your professional opinion on something? I've got these two producers, they're bringing me this new model where they'll give me a million dollars if I bring them a good idea, and I get final cut. So let me bounce this idea off you. And he pitched this idea to me and I gave him my notes and I said, 'I've had this horror movie rattling around my head for a few years. Can I pitch to you?' And he goes, 'All right, everyone pitches me once. Here's your one time, pitch me.' I pitched him 'Sinister.' At the end of the pitch, he said, 'Holy f***, I want to make that movie.' He goes, 'I know exactly who wants this movie. This is the movie these guys are looking for. I want you to go home, write a three to five-page treatment, register it with the WGA [Writers Guild of America], send it to me and I'll take it out on the road to these producers.' I said, 'That's great.'"
And so it began, though not without some skepticism.
Cargill had faced his share of near misses and disappointments over the years, so he was skeptical about the whole thing. However, Derrickson made it crystal clear that he was dead serious about getting this train moving down the tracks:
"The next day I'm walking through the casino at my hotel and Scott's there. He's playing cards in a tournament at my hotel and I see him, 'Oh, hey man.' He's like, 'I didn't know you were staying here. That's awesome. Hey, I'm about to jump back in. But when you get home tomorrow, I want you to write a three to five page treatment, register at the WGA and I'll take it out.' I said, 'All right, great.' [My wife] Jess was like, 'I think he's serious.' Then the next day I fly home. I'm completely, just barely conscious the phone rings 20 minutes after I'm in bed. Jess comes in and goes, 'It's Scott.' And I was like, 'All right, I'll take it.' He goes, 'Hey man, I'm sure you're probably in Vegas, but I just wanted to remind you, write a three to five page treatment, register it with WGA and then I'll take it out.'
I'm like, 'All right, this motherf*****'s serious.' I slept for 10 hours straight, woke up, wrote a five-page treatment, registered it with the WGA. A week and a half later, I had back-to-back meetings with Roy Lee and Jason Lowe. They both want this movie and they both wanted Scott to direct it. And they had a bidding war over it."
Derrickson was serious, and that belief was rewarded with the film kicking off production a mere nine months later — a film that would go on to find tremendous success.
Ethan Hawke would lead the cast of "Sinister," which was produced by horror hit-maker Blumhouse. Beyond the success though, Cargill and Derrickson found a creative partnership that truly thrived, and a friendship that extended beyond their work:
"It just came together super quickly. Scott had asked me, 'Hey, normally I'd just option this idea from you, but I just lost my writing partner. Would you write this with me? And we'll see how this goes.' Two weeks into writing, Scott's like, 'I've never had an experience like this. Will you just be my writing partner?' I was like, 'Well, yeah.' Then it was me and Scott Derrickson against the world. We worked on a bunch of projects. 'Sinister' was made for $3 million and made 90 million worldwide. From there, people wanted to work with us and we'd been working our way up through the ranks. Until we got a Marvel film and then now we've got our new movie and our own production company, and we've got a dozen different things in the works. I was literally just the best man at his wedding. We have just become best friends. It's a wonderful, wonderful partnership."
So, a horror franchise, the introduction of "Doctor Strange" to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the best-reviewed horror films of 2022, and lots more on the horizon ... all because a couple of people with mutual respect for one another decided to have drinks together in Vegas. Poetic, is it not?