The monster in It is not real. Arthur Fleck in Joker is not real. It’s all make believe to entertain movie audiences.
However, Wrinkles the Clown is real.
A few years ago, a viral security camera footage of a creepy clown crawled from underneath a child’s bed was uploaded on to the Internet. It became a viral sensation as people became obsessed over this creepy clown. The news covered it. Talk show hosts joked about it. Internet sleuths, at every age, tried to find out more about Wrinkles the Clown.
It was director Michael Beach Nichols’ mission in the documentary Wrinkles the Clown. With a camera crew, he traveled to Florida to uncover the mystery behind the chilling accounts of a nightmarish clown seen terrorizing disobedient children.
Wrinkles the Clown uses clever storytelling techniques to reveal on how Wrinkles became this modern day urban legend due to a few Internet videos and a phone number.
LRM Online spoke to director Michael Beach Nichols about Wrinkles and his documentary. We discussed about the research involved, the subjects, the myth and the big reveal.
The big reveal question is placed at the end of the interview. Do not read this part of the interview if you have not seen the film.
Wrinkles the Clown is currently playing in select theaters and On Demand.
Read the LRM Online exclusive interview below.
LRM Online: I’ve checked out your documentary, Wrinkles the Clown. I want to remark that your timing is impeccable with all these clown movies. Was that all on purpose?
Michael Beach Nichols: In a way, yes. When we first started developing this project by researching and reaching out to Wrinkles, the first It film came out. It had a huge opening weekend at the box office. Shortly after that, we got greenlit for financing, because it became clear that there was something about clowns–they could have mass appeal. We also knew after It came out, they announced that there’d be a It Chapter Two. They even had a rough date of when that would be coming out, being September 5th, 2019.
If we made Wrinkles in that same time period, we would be in this clown frenzy. This sequel would create that spark. We had no idea that Joker was coming out. It was announced when we were finished with Wrinkles. We were just like, “Oh, my God. This is too much. This is going to be amazing.”
LRM Online: That is amazing. What’s your theory personally on our obsessions with clowns?
Michael Beach Nichols: With clowns, there’s something super-intriguing about a happy face that traditionally is there to entertain our children. A clown could potentially have had a dark side. That tasks everything in a different light. Here’s a stranger obscuring their face. If he’s given access to your kids, it opens up all kinds of fears. It has a bigger imprint if a clown just naturally looked terrified as a monster like a werewolf or a boogeyman.
Clowns gain a lot of their power, because they have that sort of innocuous, happy, colorful look. But underneath all that, you don’t know the motivations of this stranger. Going back to Stephen King’s It, clowns are incredibly appealing to filmmakers and storytellers. We’ve tapped into the clown stories yet again in 2019.
LRM Online: How did you first come across Wrinkles the Clown yourself?
Michael Beach Nichols: I had a friend who sent me that first video, the black and white video of Wrinkles coming out from underneath the sleeping child’s bed. It was super creepy, really weird. I was curious to know just more about what I was seeing. Shortly after that video was shared with me, I saw a Kickstarter campaign with a filmmaker in Southwest Florida was actually trying to raise funds to make a documentary about Wrinkles. I was really intrigued and I donated to the Kickstarter campaign. I remembered the campaign wasn’t doing really well. It had a week to go and needed to raise like 20 grand. I just reached out to him cause I’ve done four Kickstarter campaigns for my previous films. I wanted to offer some advice on what worked for me in the past.
We started up a correspondence, but then the Kickstarter was unsuccessful. I forgot about it and was bummed that nothing would come up for this story. I moved on. Six months later, my managers reached out. They had this project about this creepy clown named Wrinkles and they were looking for a director for it. It turned out a company in Los Angeles had seen that Kickstarter failed, reached out to that filmmaker and asked him to be set up with filmmakers that had a little bit more experience. It was brought back to us. We were incredibly excited. We met with the filmmaker and he introduced us to Wrinkles. That’s how that started.
LRM Online: How much involvement was that previous filmmaker onto your project?
Michael Beach Nichols: He provided this introduction to Wrinkles and shared some photos that he’d taken. He had some archival materials that he provided us. After that first interaction, he wasn’t super hands on, which was surprising and we were grateful for it. It felt a little delicate to come in and direct someone else’s project that had been trying to make. He was very cool about letting it be our thing. He wanted to get that story out there.
LRM Online: How did you want to approach your documentary for Wrinkles the clown?
Michael Beach Nichols: For us, when we were first talking to Wrinkles, we found out there is a phone number that was tied to a Google voice account. That Google voice account, at that point, had hundreds of thousands of voicemails that had been left for him. Now today, it’s over 2 million. Once he shared that with us, the project opened up, because then it could become a much broader, richer story about how people. The internet was reacting to Wrinkles and creating this mythology just based off of a couple of creepy videos, this mask and this phone number. It is their perception about Wrinkles based on a very little amount of information. It became the backbone of the film using, these voicemails to explore people’s fears and hopes and prejudices. All in the name of Wrinkles.
LRM Online: When you first sat down with Wrinkles the Clown, obviously due to his secrecy, what was he like as a real person?
Michael Beach Nichols: It took a little while before he completely trusted us. It came after a couple production trips. He was a little bit closed off. He was very overwhelmed with how much everything took off. That first video went online and it caught fire after a few months. Talk shows were talking about him. It was something that he never expected to be as big as it ended up being. He was overwhelmed by everything. That was hard to reconcile for him. So with more and more time with him, he trusted us. We became friends.
It was clear that we weren’t out to unmasking him and revealing his identity. We wanted to be respectful of his wishes and gave him that sort of journalistic treatment to protect our sources and not to reveal his identity. There’s a huge story there to be enriched by not revealing the identity. The story was more intriguing and more interesting if we kept him anonymous. There’s still a mystique and power to Wrinkles even after the film comes out. A lot of things that are not known about him are revealed.
LRM Online: How did you find the other subjects for your film. All these young kids with their point of views on clowns?
Michael Beach Nichols: That was the hardest process in making the film. We spent four months with my partner, Chris [Walker], several personal assistants, several interns, going through these voicemails everyday. A friend of ours, a software engineer, built us a searchable database. We could search by keyword, by state, by city. We could also give voicemails a star rating.
We spend all day listening to these voicemails, tagging them, putting them in different categories and giving them different ratings. There are good voicemails that were interesting for multitude of reasons, whether they were funny, particularly scary, offensive, or violent. Any voicemails that stood out, we would then take the next step and text the person, which was an adventure itself.
By reaching out to a child, we had to be convincing the adult for the child to be in a movie. It was stressful being an adult, reaching out to children all day long. I would be getting these like weird texts or calls back at all hours of the night. A lot of times from kids thought I was Wrinkles or some parent questioning on why I’m reaching out to their child. After several months, we slowly able to get a couple of kids and talk to their parents to set a game plan. We tried to find people in the same regions of the country to logistically make the trip out. We have several cases in Texas and the rest in the South. It was representative of where a lot of the interesting calls were coming from. It started in Florida and across a lot of the South. That was not easy.
[SPOILER WARNING: The following question discusses a big reveal in the documentary.]
LRM Online: How did you guys come up with the narrative of using a false narrative of using the old man in the van? Was it your idea or his idea?
Michael Beach Nichols: I just want to make sure when you write this you add a spoiler alert before we talk about this twist. I don’t want people to know about that twist, because that takes away the fun.
That was Wrinkle’s idea. The original plan that I came up with was I wanted to just do this master interview with him in full costume throughout the film. Imagine that old man done up in the Wrinkles outfit instead of an old man in the van.
Wrinkles wasn’t initially receptive to the idea. It was in the summer when we were filming it. It was insanely hot. He didn’t want to wear that costume the entire time. He brought the idea of an actor, which I was very hesitant at first. I’d never done that before. It felt a little misleading.
I took a step back and thought about the film, the themes, and the myth building. This is how people viewed Wrinkles and we were going to reveal as part of the myth in the second act. I was able to come around to the idea and knew it could be a very powerful storytelling device to convey information. It is Wrinkles doing the interview. It is his voice. It’s his words. At the same time, visually, we’re representing the myth of Wrinkles to anyone who came across him on the Internet and on what they think about Wrinkles.
LRM Online: I’ll make sure to put out a warning. This is funny that one doesn’t watch documentaries and suddenly there’s a twist in the middle of the documentary,
Michael Beach Nichols: It was very fun for us too. We were very lucky.
LRM Online: Thank you very much for this conversation and I truly appreciate this documentary. Thank you.
Michael Beach Nichols: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Wrinkles the Clown is currently playing in select theaters and On Demand
Source: LRM Online Exclusive