A Queer and Present Danger: An Interview With Michael Varrati
We had the pleasure of chatting a bit with a master of queer horror
We talk about projects, Hallmark movies, and Buffy. He’s amazingly fantastic, and once you are done reading this interview, you should go subscribe to his podcast.
Pale Panda: If you were to describe your personality as a way to die in a horror movie, what would it be?
Michael Varrati: Oh, my personality is probably akin to Glen (Johnny Depp) being eaten by the bed in the original Nightmare on Elm Street: Gratuitous with no regard for decency, a little messy, but a definite crowd-pleaser.
P: If Love, Simon was a breakout mainstream queer romcom, do you feel like a breakout mainstream queer horror film is on the horizon? Or has there already been one that I've just missed?
M: That's a great question. As anyone who knows me is aware, I'm very interested in the intersection of the queer identity and a draw to the horror genre. There's a lot of queerness present in horror's history, and there are visibly queer characters in horror movies as far back as the 30s.
But, as far as a mainstream queer horror film released by a studio where characters aren't masked or pushed aside? Yes, I believe it's coming. Why can't the final girl of the new Friday the 13th have a final girlfriend? I want a gay boy to get his big vampire romance film. I want a trans person to save us from the zombie apocalypse.
It's coming. And I can't wait. In the meantime, there's SO many wonderful indie horror films with queer content that are out there and I encourage people to seek them out.
P: I keep my television on Hallmark during the holiday season. As such, I've seen Broadcasting Christmas (written by Varrati) a few times this year. Does your work in the horror genre inform your work in the Made-for-TV-Movie genre?
M: It informs my work in the way that both horror movies and the made-for-TV projects, in their way, fit the definition of what we would consider "cult cinema," though I'm sure the TV folks would eschew that label.Ultimately, both styles of film are built around certain rules and audience expectations. Granted, you can subvert and play with those expectations, but there's always a vibe that you have to tap into first before you can do so. And while these are very different styles of films, my approach to understanding their worlds is similar.
Also, for me, it's always about characters. Once I know who lives in the world of my story, I can build the movie around them. In that way, all of my screenplays begin in a similar fashion...and only when the action begins do they deviate.After all, characters shouldn't ever know what kind of movie they're in when they wake up that morning. Sometimes they make it to Grandma's for the annual Christmas party. Sometimes their car breaks down and they get eaten by alien cannibals. That's the chaos of life, encapsulated in storytelling.
P: You directed the Enemies of Dorothy sketch "Social Justice Strangers." Do you sometimes think that the movement for social justice goes a little far--especially when handed over to the Internet?
M: We exist in a world where many groups of people are disenfranchised, marginalized, and underrepresented on a near constant basis. I would rather people lean into a social justice mindset and fight for those whose voices need to be heard rather than be willfully ignorant of the problems that exist just beyond our own front doors.
Can the internet take things to the extreme sometimes? Sure...but that's sort of what the internet does. But, in a sea of memes and gifs, if the movement leads to even one person opening their eyes and lending a hand, that feels worth it to me.
P: What tip would you give young screenwriters out there that you wish had been given to you when you started?
M: Well, the most cliche bit of advice all writers give is "write every day," but it's also the most common answer for a reason. The more you write, the more you learn what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you can work with them.
The other thing I think is an important lesson in the world of screenwriting is that you can't be afraid of failure. You're going to get rejections. Don't let this defeat you, but rather look at that momentary defeat and learn from it. You can gain more from your failures as an artist than your successes because it forces you to look at what's not working with the things you're creating.
If you view setbacks as a learning curve, the next time you step into a room to pitch, you'll be stronger and you'll know even more about what you bring to the table.
P: Joss Whedon once talked about how high school is a horror show, and that's why Buffy worked so well. There are a lot of parallels between queer life and horror. Do you see those parallels, and have any creators shined a light on this who we should look out for?
M: Those parallels absolutely have been part of the queer horror relationship for a while, albeit taking different forms. Take A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, for example, which ultimately is about a boy wrestling with his internal demons and making peace with his true self. Of course, it’s been an evolution to see that kind of content reflected in a meaningful way, but creators are making it happen.
There’s a fabulous Canadian series called Carmilla that handles lesbian and non-binary characters in such an effortless and amazing way. It was a subtle and elegant breakthrough. Doctor Who has been handling queer content really well. Wynona Earp also! There’s really marvelous content out there just waiting to be discovered.
P: Hell beasts or NRA members
M: NRA Members are far worse. Plus, I've known a lot of Hell Beasts in my day. Snappy dressers.
P: Squirrels or Mosquitos
M: Mosquitos. There's literally no question.
P: Log Cabin Republicans or Actual Log Cabins
M: I mean, I hate camping. But...cabins do always have the possibility of leading to a good Evil Dead like scenario...and I love me some wacky antics. So, Log Cabin Republicans are definitely worse.
P: Sparkly Vampires or Mean Gays on the Internet
M: Mean Gays. I get why people don't like sparkly vampires, but I've always maintained that those books could also lead someone to the Lost Boys or Dracula...and then you've got a newly-minted horror fan!
M: Parker is atrocious and without a doubt way worse. But, I’m also an unapologetic Riley super fan. He’s my favorite of Buffy’s boyfriends and I can’t be convinced otherwise!
P: What are a few of your favorite things in media right now?
M: I mentioned DOCTOR WHO and that’s always a perpetual favorite. I’m a long time fan since I saw a Tom Baker episode on PBS in 7th grade and I’ve been hooked ever since. The writers that show gets are next level and continue to astound me.
Some current stuff that is rocking my socks includes the deliciously outrageous cartoon Teen Titans Go!, an amazing Icelandic queer horror film Rift, and the atmospheric fright flick The Blackcoat's Daughter which stars the sublime Kieran Shipka. Also, Channel Zero is low-key one of the best genre series on TV right now. I continue to be shocked and compelled by the new territory it’s forging.
Oh! And for the readers out there, I just finished Christopher Rice’s Bone Music...and it was exceptional.
P: What is your favorite thing, place, or person you go to for inspiration?
M: I’ve always found bookstores inspiring...and a little romantic. Whenever I need to collect myself, I go to a bookstore and browse. I feel empowered by all the content and stories there. Is that cheesy? It’s true.
P: What would the title of a reality show about your life be, and what would your Real Housewives-esque tagline be?
M: My reality show would be called “A Queer and Present Danger” and my Housewives tagline would be “Death is inevitable...but so is brunch.”