Barry Keating is on the up and up in the videogame and movie scriptwriting stakes at moment. He wrote the open-world extreme sports game Steep, as well as the new Robert Englund horror movie Nightworld, which the former Freddy Krueger describes as “one of the scariest scripts I have read in a long time. The story is haunting and original, and opens up to possible sequels…”
You can read about Keating’s favourite films and TV in the latest issue of MyM Magazine (more on that here – why not subscribe?!) while below, MyM editor Matt Chapman talks to him about his blossoming career.
MyM: How did you first become a writer for video games and a screenwriter?
BK: Mostly through sheer perseverance and hounding people! But to be honest I always wanted to tell stories for film; that was my first passion since I was a kid.
I started reading scripts as soon as I found some published ones in a book shop here in my hometown, and after that I was downloading them from websites and just reading everything I could get my hands on to try and understand the craft.
At that time I was also writing my own, but they were terrible and admittedly poor imitations of films I was watching at the time. I think I may have some of those half-finished scripts in storage somewhere and have been meaning to dig them just to see how terrible I was back then.
I studied screenwriting at university in Bournemouth before dropping out and taking a job working for a PlayStation magazine for a company called Highbury Entertainment. From there I jumped around different magazines and websites, including DVD Review, PlayStation World the official PlayStation website. Working on DVD Review really allowed me to meet a lot of my idols in film, but there was always that itch in the back of my mind to move into writing for film, but like everyone else with a desire to get into the business I just didn’t have any contacts.
Luckily I got the opportunity to work with my friend, Stefan Hutchinson, on a handful of comic books based on films that sat inside special edition Blu-ray releases put out by the guys at Arrow Video, and because of that I wound up meeting Milan Todorovic at a horror film festival in Italy and we got chatting about working on something together.
From there I wrote the sequel to his film Zone Of The Dead called Wrath Of The Dead. Sadly that one never made it to the screen, but again it opened doors and wound up helping me land the rewrite job on Mamula, which was my first produced film. In between pursuing the film side of things I wound up working with Sony’s Studio Liverpool on WipEout 2048 and a couple of other projects that were never released due to the studio shuttering in 2012. I spent a little time in Madrid writing for Gameloft after that, but came back after six months because it just wasn’t for me.
I was pretty much at a crossroads and my girlfriend just said to me one day, “Focus on the screenwriting and I’ll support us for a while.” She did, and once Mamula was released it really opened the doors and kicked things into overdrive and I wound up writing The Rift for the guys behind Mamula and meeting up a producer called Loris Curci, who was attached to Wrath Of The Dead at one point. He put me in touch with Patricio Valladares and we worked on Breath together before writing Downhill in 2015.
Loris then contacted me about a couple of projects and we started working on Ghosts Of Garip, and then moved straight onto Nightworld followed by Havana Darkness. Once I’d finished Havana Darkness I wasn’t sure what was next, but I got lucky when I was approached to interview for Steep for the guys at Ubisoft Annecy by an agency that represented writers in games over in London.
I got that job and spent the summer working on it with the team. To be honest it’s been pretty non-stop for the last 18 months, but I prefer to be busy; I don’t know what to do with myself when I’ve nothing on. I will say I’ve been extremely fortunate to do what I’ve done in such a short space of time, but in many ways I’ve been working up to this since I was a kid and knew I wanted to tell stories.
I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last, so I’m just trying to enjoying it as much as possible until the calls and emails stop coming in, but hopefully that won’t be for a very long time.
Your films usually seem to have a horror element. Is that your favourite genre when watching films as well?
Yeah, absolutely, I am an obsessive horror film across film, comics and books; I can’t get enough of the genre, and I’d be happy to write horror films until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore. My aunt used to own a video shop here in Ireland, so I would go there all the time and just grab films off the shelf and sit and watch them in the shop or at home. I was probably watching stuff I shouldn’t have been, but so were a lot of my friends and people from my generation and I think we turned out just fine.
When it comes to watching films I’ll watch anything, though. I think you have to if you’re in the business, because you need to see what’s being done in other genres and if you can better that in some way in the genre you work in.
That said I have dabbled in other genres. I’ve written an action script I’d like to see get made one day, and I’m working on a science fiction idea that’s been generating some interest with a few productions houses.
What’s the secret to a good horror film?
I’ve had this discussion with a lot of people, and really what makes a good horror film is interesting characters with the horror element playing out around them. The more developed the characters the more we care about what happens to them over the course of a good scary story. Admittedly, some of my own stuff has been light on character and I wish I could go back and rectify that, but going forward I’m going to try and really push myself to do certain things better. Whether or not I succeed remains to be seen, but I’ll give it my best shot.
You were involved with the video game Steep, which was a top 10 game going into Christmas week. Did you write some of the Mountain Stories missions, and what was it like having the mountains talk to the character? Was that always going to be part of the game? Or was it added to expand on the theme of extreme winter sports?
Yeah, that was an amazing feeling seeing it in the top 10 for Christmas. I’m extremely proud of it, and I know the team in Annecy is very proud of Steep. The fact that we were the only new IP and not a sequel in the charts at Christmas was a big thing for me.
As for my involvement in the game I came in when the game had been in development for about 18 months, so my job was to write all the scripts for every challenge in the game and not just the mountain stories. I also created all the characters and wrote bios for them to help the team when it came to designing them and casting the voice actors.
The mountain stories were something the team wanted in the game from the get-go, but I spent a while going back and forth and working very closely with the game’s director, Arnaud Ragot, trying to nail them. I think they turned out pretty cool, although I will say it was probably a strange thing for players to hear the first time they start playing the game, but I think those mountain stories both really added to the sense of variety the game offered and the experience of exploring an amazing winter wonderland with a character relaying a cool story to you in the background.
What can you tell us about upcoming projects Havana Darkness, Breath and Snowdevil?
Right now I’ve got a lot of plates spinning, but I’m not sure which project is going to get moving first. Breath was a script written back in 2015 with Patricio that I feel we need to go back to that one and work on it some more, so I don’t see it happening any time soon.
Havana Darkness and Ghosts Of Garip are shot and cut, so they should be releasing sometime this year along with Nightworld, which also happens to star one of my childhood idols – Robert Englund! He was great in that film and to see him portray a character on screen that I co-created was just an amazing feeling.
Snowdevil is in the very early stages of development. We’re working on the story right now, so we’re a while away from that one moving forward too. There are a handful of other projects on the boil too. The first is Embryo, a body horror I’m developing with Patricio and actress Natalie Burn, who was in almost all of my films. The second is called Eve, which is a balls-to-the-wall action film with a sci-fi twist.
That one should be fun if it ever gets off the ground, but you never really know. I’m also working on a werewolf script called Bad Moon Rising, and a survival thriller with Stitches director, Conor McMahon, called Wrecked. Truthfully, I really don’t know which project is going to get off the ground first, but in ideal world all of them happen somewhere down the development line.