David Koepp has scared and excited movie audiences for years with his writing credits on such films as the first two Jurassic Park films, the first Spider-Man, and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Now, though, he’s venturing into new territory even for him: audio storytelling.
David’s latest short story, Yard Work, is exclusively available through Audible. It’s both the bone-chilling tale of menacing plant life and a meditation on growing older. It also reunites him with Kevin Bacon, who reads the story after recently appearing in David’s latest picture You Should Have Left.
Nerdophiles recently spoke with David about what interested him in releasing his story through Audible, if the platform meant making any changes to the original text, and where it was he came up with the idea in the first place. Learn more about the inner mechanisms of Yard Work in our interview and then visit Audible to hear it for yourself.
Nerdophiles: Did you come up with the idea for Yard Work and then it ended up at Audible, or were you writing specifically for the audio medium from the start?
David Koepp: The idea was just the idea. I had these trees at the edge of where I live, this like forest reserve. And there was this invasive vine that blew up in Hurricane Sandy and was taking down trees in the reserve, and it was moving into our trees. I thought well, I’ll handle this, so I got out shears and the big clippers and I started pulling [the vines] out of the trees.
I got really obsessed with the way the character does in the story, feeling very defensive about my trees. These were some nasty vines [with] really big thorns on them that were tearing my arms and legs apart, and I just felt like I was in this battle. I thought one of these times, I’m going to pull one of these out of this tree and there’s going to be a mouth at the end of it.
Sometime later, that kicked around in my head as an idea…I started writing and it quickly revealed that it was going to be way too long for a short story, but too short for a novel. I thought of Audible because what’s great about them is they’re a narrator to tell stories and they don’t have the constraints that the publishing industry does. That was just really freeing – the story first and then the medium second.
NP: Did you have to take anything into consideration in order to get it to work as an audio story? Or is what we’re hearing the same as what you had on the page?
DK: The only difference is Audible stories are meant to be a listening experience. An Audible original in particular, because it’s not an audiobook, it’s another thing. So there’s a few little rewrites you do to just make the language flow a little better, the way you would dialogue in a movie.
Then it’s a matter of casting. You want to find somebody or some people to perform your story, who maybe can inhabit the character a little bit. And that’s one of the things about Kevin Bacon – aside from being just a fantastic actor, he’s also a versatile one. I heard the subtle differentiations he does between the different characters who speak in the story. That was really impressive.
NP: Is there anything else about the story or the themes that you want audiences to know going into the listening experience or is this best enjoyed completely new?
DK: Part of the joy is figuring it out as you go. It’s a creepy story and it’s certainly got one thing that is flat-out grotesque; however, I think it’s also quite a beautiful story and about life and nature and coming to terms with nature and that we’re temporary here.
The thing I loved about it, though, and this was another great thing about being able to tell a story via Audible, is from the beginning it seemed to me that the lead is an old man. To be able to write a main character who’s 88 years old and not worry…I mean, they don’t make movies with 88-year-olds. Occasionally Clint Eastwood can get away with it still, but it was very freeing to be able to tell a story about someone else’s perspective, maybe project myself forward 30 years and see what being 88 might feel like. That aspect of it is cool. Also, an 88-year-old man doesn’t often get to be the lead in a scary story. So it was fun to be able to do.
NP: You’ve been in and out of the horror genre throughout your career. So as you’re writing something like Yard Work, do you find yourself trying to avoid things you’ve done before, or calling back on things that worked for you?
DK: You can’t tell stories for 30 years and not repeat yourself a little bit. But you’re not doing the same thing over; you’re doing variations on a theme and we’re all interested in different things. I always try to write movies or stories that are things I myself would want to watch or listen to. I grew up reading Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, so somewhere between horror and humanism, that’s where I like to live.
NP: Would you consider doing another Audible original in the future? Especially with the current pandemic, it seems like a perfect time for audio storytelling, particularly in the horror genre.
DK: I’d love to write for Audible again. I thought it was enormously fun and freeing. And you’re right about the pandemic part of it, because I wrote it trapped at home and about a guy who’s kind of trapped at home and reclusive. And then I called Kevin and asked him to read it [and] he was trapped at home. He set up a little recording studio in his house and it was a real put on a show thing, even though we can’t leave our homes.
Yard Work is now available exclusively from Audible.