Following the release of the all female helmed horror anthology XX on February 17th, Diabolique Magazine caught up with writer Jack Ketchum to discuss his original short story The Box which inspired one of the installments. Producer, writer and director Jovanka Vuckovic’s segment also entitled “The Box” makes a powerful visual statement on consumption and happiness. Jovanka captures the essence of Ketchum’s original story; a tale which over the years has made many ponder the question “What’s in the box”? Ketchum’s short story continues to be one of the author’s most popular and well-received. Diabolique’s Jay Kay spoke with the writer about his feelings about the story’s transition to the screen Read on to find out what he had to tell us…
Diabolique: Where did the story The Box originate from?
Ketchum: My friend, the artist Neal McPheeters was jotting on a paper napkin one day when I went into my local bar, told me to shut up while he finished and then handed it to me. It said, “during the Great Depression, when everybody’s starving, a boy refuses to eat.” Something to that effect. He said, “you write this.” So, I sat on the idea for a while, and when Christmas rolled around I saw this boy on the train looking very curiously at a box on a stranger’s lap, put two and two together and came up with the story. Drinks, scraps of paper, and friends. Where would writers be without them?
Diabolique: What do you think the filmmaker Jovanka Vuckovic brought to the story in her adaptation of it for XX? How did she approach you on it?
Ketchum: I’d known Jovanka for years from various conventions and we always hit it off splendidly, a couple of like-minded souls. So, I had no reservations about her taking a shot at the script, and when I read it, liked it just fine. What she brought to the story was what I think any really good film-maker brings — her own imagination and technical skills, and a determination to stay faithful to the source material.
Diabolique: Do you think the shift in focus to a female protagonist altered the overall theme in the storytelling and did you have any reservations about this?
Ketchum: At first I wasn’t sure at all about changing the protagonist/narrator from a husband to a wife, but I think it works. There are distinct differences between the film and prose versions, nuances of point-of-view due to the way a woman or a man would see this awful situation unfolding. But the situation and themes remain intact, so I’m happy with the results.
Diabolique: Once you saw it up on the screen, did you feel that it had the same power as your written words?
Ketchum: Prose and film will never be the same or have the same kind of impact and to compare them too hard is often a fool’s errand. Suffice to say the film does have power, and it’s of the sort I’m quite comfortable with.
Diabolique: Did you feel that the visual aspect presented in the short form film matched the description and overall tone of your writing? Was the food brought to the table each night in the shortfilm as lush, excessive and visual as you envisioned it would look?
Ketchum: I loved the food! Pretty much all my favorite things! And there’s a kind of black comedy about the perfection of its presentation. Overall, yes, I think the visualizations of the home, the train, the look of the characters, all of that worked.
Diabolique: Speaking of lush visual excess, what did the setting of New York City (in both the story and the film adaptation) offer to the overall themes?
Ketchum: For me New York City is shorthand for the Nation. America’s the melting pot? Well, yes and no. But New York’s definitely the melting pot, where all kinds of peoples and ideas gather and work their serendipity or havocs. Anything can happen in New York…even the unthinkable.
Diabolique: How do you think the main themes translated to film? Did the casting of Danny embody the spirit of the original character as he was written?
Ketchum: I thought Danny was just fine, casting-wise. Remember that you can get at a lot of internal states in a short story that you can’t get on film, all that internal monologue for one thing. So, I don’t expect a film to carry all the nuances prose deals with. The prose version of The Box has more themes and subtleties being juggled in it than the film does, but that’s to be expected. It’s the nature of the beasts.
Diabolique: The idea of the fragile family dynamic and materialism was conveyed well visually in the film. Did you feel these ideas came through as effectively as in your writing?
Ketchum: For the most part I agree. I wish it were more apparent that the father (in my story) or the mother (in the film) feels somewhat apart from the rest of her family, an emotional distance, and that this is what “saves” him/her from a similar fate. That’s hinted at in the performances, though, so I can’t be too critical there, either. Bottom line for me? If I didn’t know the story, I’d like the film and be stimulated to thought by it. I think it would stick in memory. And that’s important.
Diabolique: Thank you again for taking the time! What is coming up next for you in 2017?
Look for my short story collection, Gorilla in My Room, and the 35th Anniversary Edition of my first novel, Off Season, with lots of fun extras. Enjoy!
Find out more at Magnetreleasing.com/xx and Jackketchum.net