Embracing his show-biz calling, the day after graduating high school, Tulsa native Todd Lincoln took off for the West Coast and his first Hollywood gig assisting with a little indie film-like project called From Dusk ‘til Dawn. Without West Coast connections, he’s had a rapid rise in the industry. He shot several short films that earned awards and positive reviews at festivals worldwide. He soon moved on to commercials, music videos and ultimately feature films. His feature directorial debut, The Apparition, hits theaters nationwide Aug. 24. Upcoming projects for Lincoln include The Nye Incidents, which he will direct and produce for RKO Pictures, adapted from the graphic novel by Whitley Strieber (The Hunger, Communion). Lincoln will also direct and produce Twittering from the Circus of the Dead, a feature film adaptation for Mandalay Pictures of the short story by best-selling author Joe Hill. Lincoln is also a founder of the Tulsa Overground Film Festival and is working to bring the wildly popular event back to Tulsa soon.
Oklahoma Magazine: You had a lot of exposure to the craft of filmmaking at an early age; when did you decide writing/directing was the way you wanted to go?
Todd Lincoln: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in filmmaking. I was surrounded by arts, entertainment, theater and broadcasting. My mom was one of the heads of Theater Tulsa and my dad was a sports anchor for the ABC affiliate Channel 8 News in Tulsa. He also started his own production company that produced original sports programming for ESPN. I grew up around TV stations, control rooms, remote live shoots, film/video equipment, cameramen and directors. That set the stage and made this kind of stuff seem possible and within reach. As a kid, I remember building elaborate sets and environments for my G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars toys and even writing rough “scripts” for them. I would make mix tapes of sound effects recordings of real explosions, gunfire, jungle sounds, etc., and play them back on my boom box. I was sound designing my gigantic toy battles in real time and would sometimes shoot them on a VHS camcorder and do VCR to VCR “editing.” I never liked being in front of the camera so my toys, pets and friends were my actors. In high school I even made short films in lieu of writing papers.
OM: What are some of the projects you have worked on in your career, and which is the most memorable?
TL: That’s a tough one. I’ve done several short films, commercials, music videos and had all kinds of cinematic adventures. As a feature writer/director I developed a reimagining of The Fly for 2 1/2 years at Fox Searchlight, then a feature adaptation of the popular comic book Hack/Slash for 3 1/2 years at Rogue/Universal and then went over to Dark Castle/Warner Bros to develop and make The Apparition. There are lots of details about my feature projects that may excite or impress people, but in many ways the most memorable projects for me are still my own short films. Total creative freedom, small crews and not as much of a ticking clock. I plan on always making far-out experimental short films to balance out the commercial work.
OM: Who are some of the other directors who have been influential on your work?
TL: John Carpenter, Roman Polanski, Brian DePalma, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Ford Coppola.
OM: How would you describe The Apparition?
TL: It’s set in the real world – not a typical horror movie “reality.” I wanted to capture the everyday and have it look like the America of today. Suburban sprawl, big box stores, new housing developments and empty foreclosed homes. The characters behave like real people. This is a young couple in transition and living in a country in transition. The tension builds, and the scares are more about what you don’t see up to a point, and then things really ramp up. It’s not a found footage film, it’s not a slasher film, and it’s not one of those haunted house movies where the characters have stuff happen to them and amazingly don’t get out of the house. This is a smart-scary, elevated horror film, grounded in reality that is ultimately terrifying.
OM: What do you think were some of the influences that interested you in horror, the macabre and imaginative fiction generally?
TL: There were a lot and they started early. In the first grade I went to the school library and there were all of these books on aliens, ghosts, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster – I just pored over all of that stuff. It seems like I had no choice but to be interested in these cool and unusual subjects. Even our house when I was a child – it was a historic Tulsa home that was supposedly haunted. Strange occurrences made me terrified – and fascinated. My mom worked in the art department on some of the first shot-on-video, made-for-video horror movies — Blood Cult and The Ripper, so she would take me on her errands to pick up blood and guts from the local butcher. I remember going with her one night to visit the film set and watching a sex scene – death scene. I saw this actress take off all her clothes, get killed and covered in blood. It was probably right then and there that I knew this was for me.
OM: How did you come to developing the Tulsa Overground Film Festival, and are there plans to bring it back?
TL: My friend Jeremy Lamberton and I co-founded Tulsa Overground in 1998. The festival ran annually for 10 years. I had been to several film festivals in other cities and decided Tulsa needed one of its own, so we started one. Every major city needs a film festival. I’m all about building up Tulsa. Overground wasn’t like other festivals, though. We didn’t group films in separate categories. We curated a single, continuous, three hour, mixed bag, rollercoaster ride-style program of all genres/all styles of short films. We screened entertaining, challenging, mind-expanding, inspiring, bleeding edge work from around the world as well as local filmmakers. It was extremely popular, we had thousands of people come out for it every year and the afterparties were legendary with a variety of bands, DJ’s, dancing and performance artists. We are working on bringing the festival back to Tulsa soon.
OM: A lot of people imagine a young kid, really, leaving Tulsa for Hollywood and getting eaten alive in the industry — how did you find your way, quickly, into the industry?
TL: I don’t think you ever stop finding your way. You’re always learning. I had a very specific vision for the kind of person and filmmaker I wanted to be. I’m always digging, pushing, jumping into the deep end. You learn by doing. You pick up a camera and get into trouble. Whenever someone tries to eat me alive I just punch them or pull my blade.
OM: Who are some of your favorite industry people with whom you've worked?
TL: My favorite industry people are usually the unsung, often overlooked heroes. People in the art department, creature FX department, grips, gaffers, craft service, medics, transportation department, costume department, hair/makeup, location scouts, etc. These are the people in the trenches who do the hardcore work and make stuff happen. These are the real deal people you want to hang with and have a beer with. I also love working with actors and have had major adventures with my cast in secret underground punk rock clubs.
OM: How big of a career step is it for you, writing and directing The Apparition?
TL: It’s a big step, but it was time to take it. In some ways it’s not so drastically different than directing short films and commercials. You take it day by day and every scene is almost its own short film. The challenge is that you are shaping and building an overall feature length story and you have to track the tone, style, pacing, suspense, characters and details all the way through it. Added onto that, you have to shoot a lot of it completely out of order. So it’s extreme mind-bending, multitasking and there is almost no sleep involved.
OM: How did the idea for the very imaginative story in The Apparition come about?
TL: I was digging online late at night, visiting paranormal websites and I came across the true story of The Philip Experiment – basically an experiment in the 1970s by paranormal researchers to “create” a ghost. I thought it was fascinating stuff that hadn’t been done before in a movie. I pitched the seed of the idea to Warner Bros, they loved it and set me to write and direct it. The script and film came together quickly.