Halloween spirit is not only an interesting extension of seasonal retail it happens to star Rachael Leigh Cook and Christopher Lloyd, it also marks writer Billie Bates’ feature debut. Originally from Australia, won a scholarship for the New York Women in Film & Televisionis the writers’ laboratory. She also won in the family category at the 2018 Nashville Film Festival.. Want to know more about his career and the film Halloween spiritI was able to interview Bates for ScifiPulse.
Follow Bates on Twitter and Instagram for more information.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what movies did you like? Are there any that you still like to revisit?
Billy Bates: I watched a lot of horror with my dad when I was way too young for that – I didn’t necessarily like it; I just knew he did and I wanted to bond with him! Alligator, Jaws, Poltergeist, American Werewolf in London and A Nightmare on Elm Street have all left deep impressions (i.e. scars). The movies I have really loved were heartfelt family films like ET, Goonies and Stand By Me. I think the combination of these two genres became deeply embedded in my creative DNA and certainly influenced my writing for Spirit Halloween.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in film? Was there a time when that goal crystallized for you?
Bates: I stumbled upon the screenwriting medium by chance. I had written a chic-lit novel set in the glamorous world of private aviation, but I probably only had one or two chic-lit novels in me, and then when someone suggested I rewrite this story to storyline, it introduced me to a world of storytelling that gelled me in ways I can’t describe. Screenwriting is a different skill than writing novels, more so than most people realize, and my brain was perfectly wired for it. I knew I could never stop obsessing over cinematic storytelling once I plunged down that rabbit hole.
Yanes: Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Australian horror films. Are there any that you consider classics?
Bates: To be honest, I’m not a horror specialist in any country, but Babadook and Wolfcreek come to mind as well-known Australian horror films. Possible classics could be Razorback – our outback answer to Jaws – or Dead Calm, which was a psychological thriller. But I haven’t seen either of them since I was a teenager, so I don’t know how they would play now!
Yanes: You come from Australia and now work in the United States. What are some of the everyday things in the United States that you find odd?
Bates: I’ve lived here for 15 years now, but when I arrived the portions in the restaurants seemed incredibly huge, everything tasted too sweet – even the bread – and things were much more affordable. Well, until I got sick and got the medical bill – then I figured I’d rather pay twice as much for my consumerism if it meant not being too scared to leave the house and do a pause !
Yanes: Your latest project is Halloween spirit, a movie inspired by the real-world Halloween shops of the same name. What is the origin of this film?
Bates: I was sitting at a red light pondering the advice I had been given to write my next screenplay with a bigger hook and fewer pitches if I hoped to sell it. I looked at the store I had just left with my kids – a Spirit Halloween pop-up store – and the story came to me fully formed.
Yanes: On that note, how did the connection with the store happen? Did you pitch the story first, or did someone representing the company contact you??
Bates: The screenplay was written and made the competition circuit five years before the store arrived. In fact, most of the first comments I received were about losing the branding and making it a generic Halloween superstore. I kept the branding for as long as I could, but once it was optioned that was one of the first changes they made me do – remove the image from Mark. It wasn’t until two years after the original option, when Particular Crow teamed up with Strikeback Studios and Hideout Pictures, that one of the new producers said they knew someone who knew someone. We were shocked and excited when they teamed up, which really helped the production value feel greater for such a low-budget indie film – which it really is. Spirit Halloween restocked one of their standalone stores for us at the end of the season and shipped all of the specific animatronics we had chosen to work in the script. They were cautious and sometimes a little confused about the vision, but overall they were fantastic.
Yanes: As Halloween spirit developed from idea to final screenplay, what ideas and characters came to life?
Bates: Much of the original mythology and backstory was cut to simplify the story and reduce the budget. When Spirit Halloween came on board and David Poag secured Christopher Lloyd, I was able to bring back a version of the orphanage’s origins – Christopher Lloyd’s role as a selfish, child-hating property developer then helped anchor the overall will of the spirit pursuing the children.
Yanes: Reflecting on your success with Halloween spirithow do you think this story helped you become a better creator?
Bates: Filmmaking is definitely collaborative, and embracing it as a screenwriter can really enhance the story. Although I’ve learned that if you don’t support a few basic story elements to anchor the cacophony of notes thrown at you, a good script can quickly go off the rails. I always try to incorporate a version of any notes I’m given, but if they really make the story worse because there’s no way to anchor it in any of the three elements of basis to which I adhere (Theme, Character, Logic of the story), then I will share my concerns at the next meeting. I can’t stand chance! But embracing the collaborative process is important when you come out of your writer’s cave and into the industry – I don’t know who said it, and I’ve heard it said in different ways, but the idea that “if you want to be too valuable for your job, write a book,” has always stuck with me.
Yanes: When people stop watching Halloween spiritwhat do you hope viewers take away from the experience??
Bates: For ages 8-12 – excitement, anticipation, fear of jumps and understanding that change is a natural part of growing up. For their parents – a nostalgic trip to a simpler time, where the idea of growing up and growing away from friends could be just as scary as the monsters you have to fight. And it has to be said – David Poag – the director – did an incredible job of bringing my vision to life. He absolutely nailed the tone, aesthetic and vibe – I couldn’t be happier with what he was able to do with the script in such a short time (21 day shoot), micro pre-production and an extremely small budget. It’s crazy, and I’ll be forever grateful to him and his hardworking team for pouring their hearts and souls into the project.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to??
Bates: I’m working on a spy comedy with a particular crowd that I think will be a lot of fun, as well as another family adventure film in the tone of Spirit Halloween, but set in the world of “glamour” witches . However, I’ve just partnered with Zero Gravity Management, and my most recent spec samples are for much bigger budget blockbusters, so stay tuned for the next chapter.
Don’t forget you can follow Bates on Twitter and Instagram for more information.
Want to get into the Halloween spirit early? Check out our list of classic horror movies.