'Wrinkles The Clown' Director Michael Beach Nichols On Internet Urban Legends And Why We're Afraid Of Clowns [Interview]

Right in-between Pennywise the Dancing Clown and Joaquin Phoenix' Clown Prince of Crime, a different type of clown wants to make it to the big screen – Wrinkles the Clown. Director Michael Beach Nichols takes a hard look at one of the most fascinating Internet legends of the past few years, a clown that is apparently hired by parents to scare their kids. As Marisa Mirabal wrote for the site, Wrinkles the Clown is an intriguing magic trick of a film, and it's true, Nichols takes a simple premise – investigating the story behind a viral 2014 YouTube video that showed a sinister clown mask-wearing individual emerging from underneath a child's bed – and evolves it into an exploration of the internet itself and its ability to spread wild tales and why we love to feel scared.I had the opportunity to interview the man behind the documentary, director Michael Beach Nichols, at Fantastic Fest and talk about the film, its big twist, the internet and more. For clarity and spoilers-sake, the interview has been edited so as to not ruin the surprise, and believe me – you'll want to experience the insanity that is Wrinkles The Clown yourself when it arrives on October 4, 2019.This is the kind of film with a concept so clear and bonkers you instantly want to know everything there is to know about its subject, how did you find out about Wrinkles?I had a reaction similar to a lot of people that see that video of Wrinkles coming out form underneath the child's bed, and it is damn creepy. It's also kind of funny because he looks like an old man. Then the fact that no one knew who he was and that he was from Florida like me, got me engaged in wanting to find out more. But the thing that really cemented this as the film I needed to make was when we were able to make contact with Wrinkles and found out about these voicemails. There were thousands and thousands of calls and texts and I just couldn't miss the chance to dive into this Internet myth and see how people were building up this clown in their heads based on just the tiniest bits of information.A key segment of the film deals with other scary Internet phenomena like Charlie Charlie and Bloody Mary, which is where the film shifts focus to talk about the larger internet culture. Why did you feel like that was important to cover in the documentary?We watched so many videos while researching the documentary of kids calling Wrinkles to feel brave, and who knows if their parents know about the videos. We were shocked to find about these other myths, and there is something fun about seeing Bloody Mary still part of the conversation, but it can also get super dark very quickly. So for us it was simply the logical step-point. The further we got into this subject the more we realized this was about the Internet, because we only found out about Wrinkles because it went viral. And then once you find out the big twist, you see how important the Internet itself was to the creation of Wrinkles.So how do you go about presenting that twist on screen? We always wanted to present the whole story. If it was just about this 65-year-old man living in a van, it wouldn't be a good narrative. We always wanted to show the man behind the curtain, and focus the first half on the myth that everyone thinks they know, and then stop and show you how it was made. It was a way to show a story about myth and myth-creation.I wanted to ask about the interviews shown in the documentary, because you talk to some very interesting kids, like a girl who considers herself a 10-year-old comedian.We spent four months preparing and doing research, listening to voicemails all day long. A friend built us a searchable database off Google archive which helped organize the more interesting or colorful voicemails and then go off from there and find the caller. It was a very difficult process because you could find a great voicemail but then the phone is disconnected, or the kid wouldn't get back to you or simply their parents wouldn't let them. But when we finally got in touch with the right people, we did Skype interviews to see how should be on the film. It all depended on the person responding, being interested, their parents being okay with it, and being able to show up in person at their house with cameras.The film spends some time getting into the history of creepy clowns, but it doesn't just say that all clowns are evil or that all clowns are nice. How did you strike that balance?I think it all comes back to the different types of calls that Wrinkles would get. You have the most damaging and dark type of call that is the parents pretending to talk to Wrinkles while you can hear their kids losing their minds on the other end of the line. Then there's the obvious messed up calls that were like death threats and sex stuff, which is disturbing. But then we would also find these calls that were, that were really sweet and it honestly felt like a lonely kid who just, and, and we got some kids like saying that they were lonely and they thought Wrinkles could be their friend. So we wanted to show both sides of the phenomenon, the dark side and also the light side, which we felt was sort of representative of the Internet as a whole – there's good and there's really bad.Lastly, how was it meeting the actual man behind the mask? What did you learn that you thought was interesting?It was just really interesting seeing how his mind works and how he viewed all this. I think the most interesting thing was just the fact that he had no idea this would be as big as is. It really caught him off guard, and that was very endearing to us because it seemed like it just started as an innocent thing that he thought was funny, that no one would believe. Not only do people believe it, but they share it, call the number, and they responded in a way that I think is really indicative of where we're at right now with the Internet and how quickly things can get out of control