Duncan Skiles on The Clovehitch Killer

The Clovehitch Killer is one of my favorite films of 2018. A teenager growing up in a religious family in the Bible Belt comes to suspect that he might know more about the origins of a serial killer haunting his town than he’d ever hoped to. Charlie Plummer, Dylan McDermott, Samantha Mathis, and Madisen Beaty all give incredible performances into this impeccably crafted film that finally graces theaters on November 16th. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with director Duncan Skiles on the phone before the premiere of the film at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

So, I was wondering, you and Christopher Ford (the screenwriter) have worked together before, so did you guys come to the idea for The Clovehitch Killer together or what was the conception for this film?
Duncan Skiles: I came to the idea independently after doing a lot of reading on serial killers and thinking that I hadn’t really seen a movie that captured what I was feeling, so I developed an outline and pitched it to him (Ford). He was excited about it and he decided to write it, which I’m very thankful for. He’s a great writer.

I read somewhere that this is supposed to be modeled off the BTK killer, is that true? Or did you have anyone specific in mind?
I drew from a number of stories. There’s certainly some that were more influential than others. I don’t like to call out anyone specific, because I know they would appreciate the attention and I don’t want to give it to them.

I’m more interested in their dilemma than that of the serial killer themselves…”

Typically we don’t really see the effects on the killer’s family and what they go through. How important was that to you? What feelings were you trying to convey?
Well, it was a sense of mundaneness that surrounded a lot of these terrible crimes, and banality. I wanted to create something that felt normal, so I picked a normal setting and shot a lot of it during the daytime. I wanted to approach it from the perspective of a regular person because I’m more interested in their dilemma than that of the serial killer themselves. I asked “What would I do in that situation?” I wanted it to be very relatable.

I think it is. Were you or anybody involved from the South because I thought that it captured the whole Middle America Southern Baptist vibe very well.
Yeah, I’m from Northwest Arkansas, so that’s sort of South/Midwest hybrid. The Bible Belt, a lot of churches. So I grew up in that kind of environment. I don’t come from a religious family but I grew up around it. When we were trying to figure out where to shoot, Upstate New York was an option but I was pretty set on doing something authentically Middle America because it has a totally different vibe.

Did you guys do the casting out of L.A.? Also did you have certain people in mind for the characters before they were cast?
We worked with Billy Hopkins who’s based out of New York and his partner Ashley Ingraham. They were great. A lot of the cast came through CAA, who kind of packaged the movie. They represented both Charlie Plummer and Dylan. I didn’t have anybody in mind, necessarily. I had some people in mind for Don, which was very difficult to cast. We got a lot of passes, either because the material was too dark or I didn’t have enough cache as a director. We spent a couple of years trying to get the movie to come together, people coming in and dropping out and Dylan got the script through his agent and was very excited about doing it. He recorded an audition tape for me to prove that he could convincingly transform into a Midwestern dad. I had my doubts because he’s a very handsome guy.

He was in character the whole time so you had to call him Don on set…”

Yeah, I LOVE HIM so much so I wanted to ask how was it working with him.
Well he’s a very friendly guy, when meeting him, and very open. I was a little nervous because he’s a TV star and I’ve got a lot of respect for his acting. He’s also open to talking about ideas.

Once the project got going, he became very intense. He was in character the whole time so you had to call him Don on set and it took us a couple of days to get used to that; people accidentally calling him Dylan and he would remind us to call him Don, so he would walk and talk as Don for the entire shoot.

Oh wow! That’s crazy because I never really thought of him as a method-y kind of guy!

The Clovehitch Killer is a film that’s so much better to go into this blind for a first watch, but I also think it warrants a rewatch once you know what happens because you’ll pick up on a lot of stuff you might not have paid attention to in your initial viewing. I’m very happy that The Clovehitch Killer is finally about to be released in theaters so that now I can talk about it with other people. I’ve been driving everyone crazy telling them how good the movie is, and now y’all will all know what the hype is about.

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