Actor and horror movie aficionado Derek Milman’s debut novel Scream All Night is a love letter to classic B-horror movies, but it’s also a coming of age story about Dario Heyward, the son of an infamous director who knows that monsters are sometimes found behind the camera.
After legally emancipating himself from his legendary father, Lucien, Dario is forced to return to Moldavia Studios — the real-life castle and filming location for all of Lucien’s movies — at the behest of his older brother, and is sucked back into the life he worked so hard to escape.
On its surface, the story is a fun look at the eccentric cast and crew of a movie studio, and an exploration of the B-horror movie genre, but it’s really a deep dive into grief, trauma and mental illness.
To learn more about his first novel, we sat down with Derek (virtually of course), to talk about all things SAN.
Where did the idea for Scream All Night come from?
I had the idea for many years about a kid who inherits a horror movie studio that was all set in a gothic castle. “If Neuschwanstein Castle was somehow in North America” I told my editors, when they were designing the cover. I just didn’t know what to do with the idea at the time. I had to write other projects and let the idea sort of marinate on its own for a while; I had to find my own voice in YA, and let it evolve, before I had the confidence, and the encouragement of others, to actually start writing this. So it was the second complete YA manuscript I wrote. As I reflect on it now, my time training to be an actor at the Yale School of Drama, and time spent working on movie sets (plus a million shards of different personal experiences) directly inspired the novel, and the world of Moldavia. As zany as the world is, a lot of it came from real life experiences.
Was Moldavia Studios and its enigmatic director Lucien Heyward inspired by any real life studios or B-horror movie legends?
Lucien was my own creation, but I’m sure there are fragments of Val Lewton, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, and James Whale in him–not that that any of those cinema legends are or were necessarily monstrous people, per se, but the meticulous passion they put into their work, which focused on darker subjects. Moldavia was inspired by Cannon Films, Troma Films, and especially Hammer Films, which did actually move into a manor house in the English countryside for a while (Bray Studios) where they filmed using every angle in every room, until they were just done, and left. Hammer, like Moldavia, also had a loose repertory company of actors. Many of them would go on to greater fame: Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, to name a few.
As an actor, did any of your own personal experiences on set end up in the book?
For sure. I’ve mostly had good experiences, but the director sets the tone on a set, and I’ve encountered some bullies. Plus, movie sets are weird insular worlds with their own language and rules and logic, mostly governed by the various unions. They’re fun and glamorous and stressful and dreamy all at once. I had some bizarre experiences in the theater world too. I worked with a famous playwright many years ago who would blatantly sexually harass my female co-star. It was horrifying. We had to stand in front of her dressing room after the show so he wouldn’t get in. I was waiting to see if the #MeToo movement would take him down, and it did. NINE woman came forward, describing exactly the behavior I had witnessed, and the NY Times destroyed his legacy in one day with the exposé. I have definitely been confronted with some pretty whacked-out scripts I’ve had to make work as an actor somehow. In some cases, Oren’s script for The Ciller Cauliflowers, doesn’t look too ridiculous comparatively. I wish I were kidding.
In Scream All Night the creatively named horror movies released by Moldavia Studios frequently come up. Did you give them all plots in your mind, even the ones you only mentioned in passing? What fictional movie that you came up with is your favorite?
They all have plots! I have a filmography I wrote that I thought would be fun to include in the book, complete with dates, plot summaries, and cast lists, but my publishers decided against including it in the final version. I love Dial W for Witchcraft because…it’s set during the Salem witch trials and…that title, but I also love The Stranglers of Strangelove Cove because it sounds like a movie I would want to see.
Oren was without a doubt the most interesting character in the novel. What inspired his unique personality and bizarre fashion sense?
I’m glad you liked Oren. He is a curious creation. He’s a character that really came alive on the page. I’ve always been fascinated by people with a Florence Foster Jenkins thing going on–where their passion outshines their talent. There’s something tragic about that, and there’s something tragic about Oren. I knew early on he would be a hermetic character to a degree, ambitious but deluded, childlike and stubborn, who only really knows the world of Moldavia. What would that person be like? He might dress only in costumes from the studio, as if roving through life in a Moldavia movie that never got made. I did have a friend who was a bit of an eccentric collector of clothes and antiques. He showed up one time to my apartment to watch a movie wearing a vintage leather World War II flight suit, like Oren does at the end. He was walking around all day wearing this thing? He must have been so hot. I made him change into yoga pants. I could barely hear the movie over all the squeaking.
Was it hard balancing the tougher coming of age story plot lines with the fun (albeit dysfunctional) B-horror movie antics?
I wouldn’t say it was hard, it was definitely challenging. I knew I wanted a unique screwball tone to the story, and I wanted an air of absurdity, life is absurd, but I wanted readers to be surprised that there was a dark emotional core. I knew no one would be expecting that. Lucien’s burial scene is something people bring up a lot, but I think it works (or hope it does) because of who Lucien is, the world he’s in, but also the fact that there’s a real turgid sadness to the proceedings. Dario really never gets to say goodbye to his father in the way he had hoped. Suddenly, it’s all over. A close friend had died before I moved to Brooklyn and started actively working on this novel. I had to speak at her funeral, with her family there and everything. I just made the speech uproarious, celebrating how funny she was. People, the mourners, really craved that. I think a lot of that experience went into the writing of that scene. The story wouldn’t work if it was just a bunch of wacky situations. At its core, it really had to be about Dario confronting his demons so he can move on with his life, and get a semblance of closure to his broken childhood. So I worked from the inside out–building the characters and relationships before creating the antics they either initiate and confront.
What films do you think all horror fans must watch?
The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Near Dark, Cat People, Eyes Without a Face, Suspiria, The Mothman Prophecies, The Brood, The Ring, The Birds, Halloween, The Fog, You’re Next, Unfriended, The Visit, It Follows, The Changeling, The Sentinel, Eyes Without a Face, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the original), Don’t Look Now, Terror Train, The Blair Witch Project.
Finally, what’s next for you? We hope the answer is more YA books, and if so, what is your second novel about?
It is! My next YA novel will be out in 2019 from Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson. It is a fast-paced dark-humored Hitchcockian LGBTQ thriller about a troubled gay teen in a case of mistaken identity. He has to go on the run from government agents and cyber terrorists, each using him to their own ends. It’s called Night Flight right now, but I think we’re changing the title.
Scream All Night will be available online and at local book and retail stores near you this Tuesday, July 24!