What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?
When I was six years old, my dad rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre… A week or so after my mother had to have a talk with me about the difference between real and cartoon violence. It seems that I had been having nightmares because of Looney Tunes, and my dad’s solution to “toughening me up” was to rent one of the most notorious horror movies of all time.
I guess the combination of the two must have worked because I didn’t have serious bouts of nightmares again until high school. However, mentally, I don’t know what this did to my developing brain — but this strategy came from the same man who once told me “If the fight seems fair, grab a brick.”
What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?
The first film I remember watching that really left an impression on me in a transgressive way was Welcome to the Dollhouse. Up until that point I had seen many movies that crossed lines in a fantastical, or even realistically violent way. I had watched the entire run of Faces of Death a few years earlier and didn’t even bat an eyelash. However, that had to have been one of the first movies where I related to the characters and circumstances that felt like my lived experience in a way that twisted the knife of the satire a little deeper. Maybe it was just a movie that came out at the right place/time, but it felt like I was Dawn Weiner.
That should be a pull quote right there. “I was Dawn Weiner.” – Ira Rat.
I never really hid anything that I was interested in from anyone, but I didn’t exactly sit there and throw on Velvet Goldmine, Doom Generation, Fritz the Cat, or even Welcome to the Dollhouse during family time. That was more so for wholesome family entertainment like Nightmare on Elm Street, Up in Smoke, or The Godfather.
Are there any films that define your formative years?
There’s a laundry list, but besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, I would say: The Toxic Avenger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Raising Arizona, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, Pulp Fiction, The Breakfast Club, A Clockwork Orange, Clerks, The Man Who Fell to Earth, UHF, Goodfellas, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Taxi Driver, and anything that I could get my hands on by John Waters – who was the first director I ever started following.
That’s a bit heavy on the trash/cult cinema side, but my entire life I would be flipping through channels and watching a Troma movie and then Citizen Kane. Everything is equally valid when it’s coming at you from the same little box in the corner of the room.
Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?
Film has everything to do with how and why I write. My first novella Participation Trophy started off as a script for a tribute to late 80s low-budget indie/horror cinema. I would sit there and seriously debate with myself what things would happen off-screen due to budgetary limits, where I should add continuity errors, etc. Things that made it all the way into the final book.
That’s also in a lot of my short stories, asking myself things like “how would this be shot?”
My latest book, which I wrote with Jon Steffens, is non-fiction and delves into extreme horror. It’s a genre that I was familiar with, but never really explored the August Underground/Serbian Film type movies. Its recent rise in popularity made me wonder if I was missing something, so we made a project out of it.
I’m still not sure if I was missing out on anything though.
Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?
I wouldn’t say prompt, but I used to play movies in the background to create a mood. Eraserhead, Gummo, and Un Chien Andalou are often on in the room while I’m working on bigger projects. Taxi Driver has been on quite a bit while I’ve been working on my next book just another goddamn failure. I’ve probably played it at least a dozen times since starting it.
What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?
Saying cult films is a bit too broad. To name (probably too many) Todd Solondz, Dogme 95, Harmony Korine, Andy Warhol, early experimental and surrealist films, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Raimi, Jordon Peele, American “New Wave”, Stanley Kubrick, Gregg Araki, 80s teen comedies, David Lynch, David Fincher, Italian Horror, Tim Burton, Spike Lee, indie movies from the 80/90s, The Coen Brothers, Danny Boyle, Richard Linklater, Floria Sigismondi, Miloš Forman, and a lot of what’s coming from A24.
I typically love character actors. So, let’s say, Willem Dafoe, Joan Cusack, Lili Taylor, Samuel Jackson, Benicio del Toro, Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Giamatti, Kathy Bates… I could go on, but…
Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?’
No, but I spent many years writing unproduced scripts. Luckily for everyone, they got wiped out in a computer crash a long time ago. I’ve also been involved with the pre-production of several movies/web series that never shot a single frame. One of the reasons I started writing is that I didn’t have to depend on anybody else in order to get my ideas out.
I’ve talked to a couple of people recently about doing some of my short stories as shot on cellphone movies, but I’m not holding my breath.
Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?
Iowa is rarely depicted in movies in any interesting way. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Straight Story, and Jesus’ Son could have taken place anywhere in the Midwest.
Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?
Yes, too many to name. I’m a creature of habit, and while I wouldn’t consider most of them “comfort movies” there is a sense of trying to unwrap the layers that I always enjoy about watching and examining a movie over and over. Again, other than the ones I’ve specifically mentioned The Breakfast Club, American Movie, Chasing Amy, Crumb, Re-Animator, and Igby Goes Down.
Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?
I’m sure that my daily speech is littered with John Hughes/Kevin Smith quotes that I’ve been quoting so long that I don’t even remember where they came from. Like many people though, I’m constantly doing little quotes here and there among my circle of friends. The most obscure would be “It’s alright… uh… it’s okay… uh… Jesus Told Me So!” from American Movie. Which I say with surprising frequency.
I’m also a little hesitant to admit that I do this at all. Growing up surrounded by people constantly quoting the latest gross-out comedy or something like Star Wars it makes me feel a little dirty whenever I say a line from a movie.
Because I’m not like those people, I’m a much better person, quoting movies that nobody’s seen/heard of. (haha)
Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?
I’m super-flattered with some of the comparisons that I’ve gotten over the years, and while some of them I don’t necessarily see the resemblance, they’ve all been movies that I’ve enjoyed. A few that other people have said are Heathers, Gummo, Clerks, Doom Generation/Nowhere, and Evil Dead.
Though the best watching experience I ever had was a station once played Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory back to back with The Exorcist. Even if you don’t like my writing, you need to do that for yourself.