Spec Spotlight: Michael and Shawn Rasmussen's "Crawl" is Fast-Tracked by Paramount
May 31, 2018
Eight years after John Carpenter directed The Ward, writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s work is in the hands of horror royalty again.
This time producer Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Poltergeist) and director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) picked up the brothers’ screenplay for Crawl, which is being fast-tracked by Paramount.
Crawl is described as Don’t Breathe (also produced by Raimi) meets The Shallows. The film centers on a young woman who, while struggling to save her father during a Category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped inside a flooding house, fighting for her life against Florida’s most savage and feared predators — alligators.
I spoke to the Rasmussen brothers about their writing process; collaborating with directors, their unique road to finding management, and the big sale. Here’s what they had to say:
Eric Walkuski: Congrats on the news! What was it like to find out about the sale of Crawl?
Michael: We didn’t know a press release was coming. We heard from a friend who was like, “hey, you’re in The Hollywood Reporter.” We were like, “what?”
EW: Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you guys start to develop the screenplay?
Michael: After college I moved to Florida for a couple of years so I think the first grain of the idea was planted while I was living there.
It’s just so crazy how you live side-by-side with alligators. You’re side-by-side with these predators and they’re walking across your golf courses; sometimes they’ll get stuck under your house. You just peacefully coexist with these things that can turn on you at any moment.
One of the years I was there, there was a hurricane and people were being kind of casual about that, too. Not so much now, but at that time they were like, “ah, a hurricane is coming. I’ll just ride it out. It’s not a big deal.” There’s just this attitude down there that I wanted to capture. I sat down with Shawn and said, “I have this idea and we should just write it before someone else comes up with it.” That started about two years ago.
EW: You mentioned Alex, who has made a pretty big name for himself in the horror genre, and of course Sam Raimi is a legend. How does it feel to have those two guys involved with this?
Shawn: Oh my gosh, it’s insane.
Michael: Our first film was with John Carpenter … Now we have Aja and Raimi. It’s like, who’s next? These are people we idolize in the genre so we’re pretty excited.
EW: From when you first started writing it to the point where you said, “okay, this is finally done,” how long did the script take?
Michael: I think five or six months. It was a New Year’s resolution thing where we were like, “this is the year. We’re going to write this thing.” So that January we sat down and started plotting it out; did an outline and figured out how you could make this last over a whole film, over 90 pages. It was a six-month process before we had what we felt was a good final draft.
Shawn: It’s interesting when you’re writing a spec because you’re really writing it to maximize it to the full effect; everything has got to be really perfect. In the spec market it’s so hard to get something that generates interest so we worked super hard for six months to make it the best script we could.
Michael: I don’t know if you know this, but at that time we were not represented. We used this script to query managers and agents and that’s how we landed our current representation.
EW: Are you saying you didn’t have managers when you were directing your own features or when you sold The Ward?
Michael: We had an agent way back when we made The Ward … when we started making our own films he wasn’t really interested in representing us while we were making these smaller, low-budget horror films. And we didn’t really feel like there was a point in maintaining that; there wasn’t a need for representation when we were writing, directing, producing; doing these things ourselves.
After we finished the last one and it got picked up by [independent film distributor] Gravitas, we said, “you know what, let’s go back to focusing on the screenwriting … we need to have a script that will be a good sample.” That’s what Crawl was.
We did a lot of research. We didn’t just blind query a bunch of managers but Scott Stoops and Jake Wagner seemed like a really good fit and the name’s “Good Fear,” the name’s great. We sent them an email saying who we were and we finished this cool new spec and wanted to know if they would read it and they got right back to us saying, “sure, send it over.”
Shawn: We sent them an email, they got back to us. I only mention this because it’s very unusual; we sent them the email, they got back to us the same day and told us to send them the script. The next day both Scott and Jake had read the script and were like, “you guys, holy shit.”
Michael: It’s funny because they said, “can you get on the phone with us?” And I was like, “okay, here come the notes.” They said, “this is great, we want you to change the cover sheet, add your names, add your contact information,” and that was it. That was really cool. I had never heard that before.
EW: That must have been a funny feeling because you guys have had movies made before … This is the kind of story you hear from a novice who has never had a screenplay produced.
Shawn: In Hollywood, you’re only as good as your latest script. It’s kind of like there’s a reset button every time you do things.
Michael: It did feel like we were starting over, starting from scratch. This is Rasmussen brothers 2.0.
EW: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?
Michael: We work together. We spend a lot of time hashing out the story before we even start writing the script; really figuring it all out together.
For me, my strengths are in the plotting and the action and the exposition elements of the story and Shawn’s strengths are character and dialogue. We play to those strengths like, Shawn will do a pass on the dialogue and I’ll do a pass on writing the action — especially in this film, there are a lot of action-driven sequences. We sort of divide those elements, play to our strengths.
Shawn: Once we have that first draft done the two of us will sit down and go through it line by line, page by page and see what isn’t working and where we need to fix things; whether it be character, whether it be action, whatever it is. It’s really great to have somebody to sit down and do that with.
EW: It’s inevitable that you’ll disagree on something. How do you work through those moments?
Michael: It helps to be brothers because we’ve known each other since birth so we kind of know how far we can push each other. It’s like, “okay, if you’re serious about it, we’ll go with it.” It really helps to have that extra set of eyes and the extra mind to figure these things out.
Sometimes Shawn will keep pushing something and I’ll keep resisting. At some point, I’ll be like, “there must be some reason you keep coming back to this.” I’ll be like, “okay, let’s give this a try, just to shut you up.” And you know what, it’ll work out. There was a reason he kept pushing it.
EW: The press release for Crawl mentioned Alex Aja was rewriting the script. Is he doing his own pass on it now that you guys have delivered it? If so, how do you feel about that? Is that something you just have to accept as part of the business?
Michael: We’re fine with it. When Craig [Flores] brought Alex on, we sat down with him and Alex had some really good changes that he wanted done and so we started tweaking the script and finessing it. We did, I think six or so drafts with Alex’s input. I think what his tweaks have mostly been for is to finesse the story for actors; to make it fit the actors they want to reach out to so it’ll appeal to them.
Shawn: At a certain point, I believe Alex said, “this is good enough for us to now get it made.” But then when you work with studios, they still have feedback. At that point he started to do his own drafts and we’ve read his drafts.
I think if you’re a screenwriter, you have to accept the fact that it is a collaboration and that’s what’s so great about filmmaking, is getting the chance to really sit down and collaborate with people.
Michael: I think we’ve been really lucky, both in this case and with John Carpenter; both these guys are just great collaborators. Our experiences with them have been really positive.
EW: All of your movies have been in the horror-thriller genre. Do you guys ever work outside the genre? Is there a chance you’ll write a romantic comedy or something?
Michael: I don’t think there’s going to be a romantic comedy coming from the Rasmussen brothers anytime soon.
Horror’s such a big genre; it covers so many subgenres you can go into. The Ward is a supernatural horror film but this one is, I don’t even know if I’d call it horror. Alex said it was sort of a throwback to High Tension in that it’s just an exercise in suspense. I enjoy dabbling in the different subgenres and so I think we have a lot more areas that we can go into before we feel like we’re running out of ideas. Some of the specs we’re working on now are more suspense than straight up horror.
Shawn: Comedies and romantic comedies are out.
EW: What advice would you give to a burgeoning young writer who has no connections and who wants to sell a spec or make contacts?
Michael: Write a great spec. [laughs]
Shawn: I would say write.
If you want to be a screenwriter, you need to write a screenplay. You need to sit down and do it. Sometimes your first three, four, five scripts are going to be not so good, maybe even awful. But you’re going to get better by doing it. You need to sit down and just write. I think that’s the most important thing.
Written by: Eric WalkuskiEric Walkuski is a screenwriter, film critic, journalist and reporter. He is currently a managing editor at JoBlo.com. You can follow Eric on Facebook and Twitter at @ericwalkuski