Interview: Writer-Director Evan Cooper on Austin Film Fest Horror Hit ‘The Armoire’

By December 1, 2017Main, Screenwriting 101

LA-based Canadian filmmaker Evan Cooper first made waves back in 2015 when his spec script Ballerina Girl was chosen by Francis Ford Coppola as a finalist in the prestigious Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. The script – a grisly, Moscow-set neo-noir – garnered considerable acclaim for its depiction of a young woman’s murder at the hands of Russia’s elite.

His latest project is The Armoire, a horror short currently in the middle of an impressive festival-run, including a spot at this year’s Austin Film FestivalWritten alongside frequent writing partner (and real-life brother) Brodie Cooper, The Armoire tells the story of a struggling actress who suspects that a piece of furniture in her apartment may be haunted by a malicious entity. In addition to some incredible creature design, the end result is an atmospheric, psychological thrill-ride that calls to mind iconic one-room horror pictures such as Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.

What’s next for the up and coming writer-director? According to the The Hollywood Reporter, Cooper is in the middle of pre-production on his feature film debut, which recently signed This Is Us star Chrissy Metz in a major role.

A still from ‘The Armoire’, featuring Kirk Baltz

Tell us a bit about your background. How long have you been writing?

I’m originally from Canada and decided a couple years back to take an honest stab at acting. So I packed up my things and moved to New York City. I trained at a great school, but realized I had way too much free time on my hands – so the next time an actor tells you he or she’s too busy, call them out on it, because that’s BS. Anyways, I slowly taught myself screenwriting and have been doing it for the last eight years.

The Armoire has seen some massive success on the festival circuit. Tell us a bit about the process of writing and directing the film.

It was terrifying. But I was getting so sick of having my work re-written by idiots, or seeing my scripts get optioned (for like, no money) and then never getting made, that I decided to give directing a shot. My brother Brodie introduced me to some really cool horror shorts and together we felt like we could make something just as good, if not better. So through our collective contacts, we called in favors and got to it. It was sad because a lot of people tried to talk me out of directing – including some very close friends. This business really loves to discourage, but we kept our heads down and were super happy with the finished product. We’ve scared a lot of people.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing?

“Figure it out on your own.” I hated university, and constantly felt like I was learning all of my professors’ bad habits, so I decided that if I was ever going to learn anything else (acting aside) it would be on my own watch, under my own tutelage, and have my own thumbprint on it. That’s not to say that school should be avoided; it’s different for everyone. Just not for me.

Tell us a little about your writing process. 

When I first come up with a new idea that I know I’m going to write, I immediately think of movies I want to steal from and then read those scripts. Writers I really dig at the moment are S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) and Taylor Sheridan (Wind River). After pillaging, I’ll usually spend quite awhile on my characters. Their bios and idiosyncrasies. Unearthing their overall need/what they want is always paramount for me.

What does your editing process look like? How many drafts of a single script do you usually produce?

Editing usually takes me a long time. The script has to “feel” right before I send it to my agent and manager. Then I prepare for their notes, which takes me back to the drawing board. It’s an endless cycle. One of my scripts has been re-written 21 times.

How do you mark your progress on any given day?

For me, a lot of writing is thinking. I try to discipline myself every day to sit down with a massive coffee and think. I’ll write most of my ideas in a journal marked specifically for that script, and just keep chipping away at it. After about four or five hours, I’m usually toast and move on to something more productive like video games. Eventually, there will be a finished script.

A still from ‘The Armoire’, featuring Hannah Barlow

What aspect of the process do you find most daunting?

Self-doubt and sabotage are always killers for me. I love writing, but it always scares me. I suppose I just try to live comfortably in the discomfort.

On that note, what’s your favorite aspect of writing for the screen?

I love writing violence. My scripts are usually pretty heavy, and I always look forward to the vicious stuff. Maybe it’s because I grew up with R-rated films… or because my parents never loved me. Whatever.

What’s next for you guys? The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that you’ve signed ‘This Is Us’ Star Chrissy Metz for your first feature. Tell us a little about the project.

Yeah, Chrissy’s amazing! The project’s called The Will O Wisp, and tells the story of this heartbroken guy who’s forced to move back to his small town in rural Montana. This one night he sees these strange phosphorescent lights on his property that seem to float and hover directionlessly. What comes with them isn’t pretty. It’s definitely a horror, but has some serious drama involved as well. The actors are going to have to throw down, that’s for sure.


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