Carroll Brown is a screenwriter, author of fiction and poetry, former entertainment journalist and film and literary critic. His noir thriller script, “The Cheshire Cat” was produced as an independent feature and played at film festivals across the country and in Europe, and other scripts have won and placed in numerous competitions. Most recently he was hired to write an action-thriller for an A-list action star, and the pilot for a forthcoming historical drama about the Mafia in Cuba. His dramatic thriller The Caddy is in development with Ron Perlman attached, and his horror script “Unquiet” is also currently in development.
As a producer, he got his feet wet along with Jonathan Levit on the short film “The Borderlands” before doing the same (again with Jonathan Levit) for the award-wining short “Control,” which he also wrote and directed and which played in more than two dozen film festivals across the globe. In 2016 he came aboard the international feature production “Sergio and Sergei” as Associate Producer, and in 2018 for the Franco Nero-starring “Havana Kyrie.”
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
You know what? Yes! Despite the “horror” elements of Control, it’s ultimately a (near) future that involves human expansion into the solar system, in the spirit of science and exploration, and I’m all for that!
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
You didn’t specify film or literature, so I’m going to do both! In SF literature, Gully Foyle, from the classic “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester. There is a drive fueled by righteous indignation that I understand, but one that evolves into something greater and nobler. From film, Roy Batty from Blade Runner (hmmm…I seem to be picking characters that wouldn’t necessarily be considered “the good guy”). Again, his wants are supremely…human? The great existential questions that all of us ponder.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Oh, friend indeed. I think at first we’ll have built in enough safeguards that they’ll be “friend” by design, and by the time they actually gain some kind of sentience, I think they’ll see the mutual benefit and dependency that we’ll have, or at least have a paternalistic/maternalistic fondness for us. Kind of like the Minds in Iain M. Banks’ Culture series.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Well, you gotta have a big man in the middle, so short of something completely outside the rules (no Godzilla, no King Kong, no 50 Foot Woman), I think I’d go with Chewbacca in the starting line-up, with Gort on the bench as backup (he’s not super mobile, but he’s going to block the lane like nobody’s business). For my power forward, I want somebody that’s a big body and is going to be a beast on defense, but can also bring the offense when needed, so the Predator is my pick. Small forward is speed, hands, defense, a big enough body to disrupt the opposing offense…I’m going with either The Thing (John Carpenter’s, not Howard Hawks’), or a Xenomorph (Alien). The hybrid Dren from Splice would be interesting off the bench – smaller but faster, very aggressive, real potential to disrupt an offensive strategy. Point guard is all about leadership and ball handling, so I’m going with Mal Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity (if we’re including superhero movies, the clear choice here is Captain America). Shooting Guard – the gunslinger, it’s all about accuracy (and a little bit of style): Poe Dameron has all the right skills, with Kara “Starbuck” Thrace coming in off the bench.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
Usually my “bad” ideas are just ideas that don’t have enough substance to sustain a story or the characters, they are simply an “idea.” (Sadly, a lot of Hollywood sci-fi movies fall into this category.) I had one that I kept trying to work into something, about a guy who invents a pair of glasses that can see into the past, and he uses them to follow around this woman who you later realize is his late wife, he’s following her around on her last day before she died. Which is still an idea I like (and I might still crack it, so nobody steal it!) but I couldn’t get it out of a deeply maudlin sensibility. And that’s what happens. You work it and you work it and you try to find a new angle, or you change some condition in the story, and if after all the effort you find the right ingredients AND you’re still excited to write it, you probably have something worthwhile.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I very much consider myself part of a sci-fi community, or part of the larger community. I’m a third generation SF reader (my grandfather left me all of his Astounding/Analog SF magazines going back to when he returned from World War II; he had them from the beginning but when he was off at war my grandmother threw the others out!). I started out writing and publishing SF stories and am a member of SFWA (Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). I’ve been reading and writing science fiction and fantasy since I could…well, read and write. I don’t only write in the genre these days, but my first screenplay was sci-fi, my first directed film is sci-fi. I used to go to lots of conventions, but time and family obligations have limited that quite a bit. And yes, I tend to look at the world through an SF lens, riffing on technological or futuristic ideas that…can be distracting. And distancing, for people that don’t view the world through that lens. You gotta find your peeps.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
Maybe a function of my age, but I think I’m somewhere in between. There are definitely aspects of me that are drawn to the digital – I’ve been into computers since they first hit the consumer market (a little before, actually), and there are lots of digital tools and solutions out there (in filmmaking or otherwise) that are useful, beneficial, and even cool. But I also have a fondness for “old fashioned” things, both aesthetically and functionally. For example, I love my Kindle, and I use it a lot. But I will never give up physical books, and have an extensive library. My son is growing up with technology in a much more pervasive way then I did, and his outlook and his world is going to be very different than mine. When it comes to filmmaking, to me it is all about the right tool for the job – digital filmmaking (and/or “technological” filmmaking tools, like electronic slates) make many many aspects of filmmaking cheaper and more efficient. They are just that – tools. And if they enable you to achieve your vision and bring your story to the screen, they’re the right tool. If not, they’re not. One of the wonderful things about our filmmaking tools these days is that we can bring to life science fictional worlds in ways that are so much more realistic, immersive, and visually comprehensive than was possible when I was growing up – I believe it’s one reason why genre films have gained a broad popularity and are no longer a niche market.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
The answer to that really depends on the nature of the world I’m creating – and I don’t just mean the timeframe. Sometimes I very specifically work from contemporary objects and think about how they would evolve based on changing needs and changing technology. There are lots of tools still in use today, for example, that haven’t changed noticeably in a thousand years, because the job they fulfill hasn’t changed. Or they’ve changed to take advantage of new materials or utilize technology to make their usage more efficient, but those changes are comparatively minor. And then there are completely new tools, etc. that serve entirely new purposes (a prime example there is the mobile phone – 30 or 40 years ago, nobody predicted it, or certainly not its ubiquity). And some of the answer, especially when it comes to location, are depending not just on the setting (duh) but on the aesthetic that I’m going for. Control intentionally is very sparse, very minimalist, very bright – I didn’t want any monsters hiding in the shadows! And it is near future, so this technology is still new, not “lived in” yet. But in my most recent sci-fi script, it’s the opposite – the technology is very “used,” and even though it’s futuristic, by this time in the future the technology is actually kind of outdated and antiquated, in the context of that time. So, coming up with “antiquated futuristic technology” was a bit of a challenge.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Trek! PKD! CGI! Dystopia! Post-Apocalypse!