Interview with ‘Pay the Ghost’ author Tim Lebbon

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your idea turned into a film starring cult hero Nicolas Cage? That’s exactly what happened to author Tim Lebbon, whose horror novel Pay the Ghost was adapted for the big screen by director Uli Edel in 2015.

In the past, authors have generally disapproved of Hollywood re-tellings – Anthony Burgess, Roald Dahl and Stephen King have all condemned big-screen adaptations of their books – but Lebbon admitted that having one of his works on the big screen was always an aspiration.

“I’ve always hoped it would happen one day. Before Pay the Ghost I probably had a dozen options. Every time it happens I get excited because, of course, the person or company optioning always say it’s definitely going to happen.

“The sad truth is, perhaps one percent of projects optioned ever get made. You need so much to go right to get something made, and only one thing to go wrong to stop it.”

Luckily, things fell into place with Pay the Ghost and Lebbon said that superstar Nicolas Cage was a catalyst in getting the horror flick made.

He explained: “A producer called Ian Levy from Midnight Kitchen Productions wanted to option the story. That happened, and he developed it with Dan Kay writing the script. It didn’t go much further at the time. This happens a lot.

“So the project faded away for a few years. Then, Nicolas Cage! Need I say more? Once he’d attached to the project, things sped up again.”

Cage has gained notoriety for his over-the-top style of acting which often polarises critics. On this occasion, Lebbon was complimentary about the 52-year-old’s performance, saying: “I thought he was really good in Pay the Ghost.

“He acted his arse off, and I thought he was terrific. And the plain fact is, if it wasn’t for him being involved, the film probably wouldn’t have been made.”

The movie sees Cage play Mike Lawford, a professor whose son is abducted during a Halloween parade in mysterious circumstances. Although Lebbon remembers how this original idea came about, his memory about the writing process is hazy.

“I wrote the short story maybe 15 years ago. I do recall some research and reading about a witch kidnapping children, and something about demons or wraiths leaping across fire pits filled with demons. Other than that, I really can’t recall much about writing it as I’ve done so much more since then!”

In the end, there were a few differences between the original story and the narrative that can be seen in the film, and Lebbon admits that he had no creative control on the project whatsoever.

“My experience of Pay the Ghost was completely hands-off. It’s quite sad that the only reason I knew the film was even shooting was because I saw photos from the Toronto set on Twitter.

“I wasn’t disappointed. In truth, I was actually I quite pleased with how much of my story remained, especially the title. When I was writing the story I needed a title and this one came from a song by Transvision Vamp, so the fact a Hollywood studio kept the same title was quite amusing!”

You may argue that the film could have used some of Lebbon’s guidance, as it garnered negative reviews upon its release and currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 11%.

“It wasn’t the best film ever made. I’m the first to say that.” Lebbon admitted. “But I thought it was a pretty solid horror movie. It had its good moments, but there were also problems which I think could have been worked on. I was disappointed obviously, but it’s just one of those things.”

Lebbon will probably have more opportunities for critical success with his upcoming film and television projects, which he says he will be more heavily involved in.

“My novels The Hunt and The Silence are being developed with some great creative teams attached. I’ve written the script for an animated haunted house film, The Haunted House, which is close to being made. I’ve also collaborated with Stephen Volk on Playtime, which has a superb director-producer team attached. And I’m developing a TV series with two good writer friends.

“None of these projects are even close to a stage where they can be announced as ‘coming soon’, but with every one of them I’m much more involved than I was with Pay the Ghost which is nice. Who knows, I might even get a cameo!”

You can visit Tim’s website to learn more about all of his upcoming projects and find links to buy his books. Pay the Ghost is also available on DVD from Amazon.

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