Independent host Marcus Kliewer was already having a rough year when the pandemic struck. Supported by a Canadian unemployment program, the Vancouver resident decided to devote his energy to writing short horror stories and posting them on Reddit’s r / nosleep community.
The 28-year-old published his first article on the pandemic in September. Three months later, his work was discovered by Scott Glassgold of Ground Control Entertainment. In June, Netflix announced a screen rights deal for its story “We Used To Live Here,” with Blake Lively starring and producing alongside Ground Control and Matt Reeves’ 6th & Idaho.
“If it hadn’t been for CERB (the unemployment program), I would be doing landscaping,” Kliewer told IndieWire. “Instead, I was writing six days a week full time.”
Kliewer said he also had a six-figure two-book deal with a major publishing house; it does not say which one, since it has not yet been announced. The r / nosleep subreddit didn’t just give Kliewer a chance; he laid the foundation for the career of his dreams.
Kliewer is one of a growing group of writers who find their greatest successes through online media that largely bypass the traditional gatekeepers of the industry. Their success is fueled by executives’ appetite for unicorn intellectual property: material that is proven – in this case, thanks to Reddit’s upvotes and Kliewer’s strong subreddit following – but still looks fresh. This is the same phenomenon that led a viral Twitter thread to be adapted as “Zola”.
“There’s a finite number of publishers out there, there’s a finite number of movie studios and TV studios out there. They can only buy a certain amount. It also requires – whether it’s representation and connections or whatever – steps to get to even those doors, ”Glassgold said. “What these platforms allow is to enter without asking permission.”
Kliewer is the second r / nosleep find this year that Glassgold (“Prospect”) helped turn into a Netflix project. He first read lawyer Matt Query’s r / nosleep series “My wife and I bought a ranch” in July, at the suggestion of Query’s writer brother and Glassgold collaborator Harrison Query. Less than a week later, the package was auctioned off; Netflix bought it as part of a seven-figure deal. Matt Query also landed a publishing contract to turn the story into a novel. Verve represented the motions, Kliewer and Ground Control in the negotiations.
“My Wife and I Bought a Ranch” was the first series Matt Query had ever posted on r / nosleep, despite being a forum reader for a decade. The adaptation also marks her first creative collaboration with her brother, who writes the screenplay.
“I certainly didn’t expect it to turn into this kind of opportunity,” said Matt Query. “I was hoping that the story would just be well received by the nosleep community and that maybe these people would be interested in reading something else from me later.”
Launched in 2010, r / nosleep now has 14.8 million members. This growth has coincided with an increased critical appreciation of the horror genre and its commercial success. This trend has led to the controversial term ‘high horror’, which refers to stories in which ordinary situations like an interracial couple’s family dinner or a summer trip to Sweden lead to much more disturbing situations. as panic attacks.
“Nosleep is full of infinitely creative and original stories, even taking popular tropes and sometimes overturning them. It’s the perfect place to find something terrifying and refreshing at the same time, ”Christine Druga, moderator of r / nosleep, said via email. “What sets nosleep apart from other horror forums is the plausibility rule, which I think is another thing that appeals to people who want to make these stories something more. Every story should be based on reality. There is no apocalypse of zombies, giant monsters destroying New York, etc. (with no explanation of how it is and no one noticed). Each story is told as if it’s something that actually happened, which heightens that sense of dread when reading.
Rebecca Klingel is one of r / nosleep’s early successes. In 2017, she was working as an insurance underwriter in Phoenix and spending the time writing “creepypasta” – online horror stories – for the subreddit. It didn’t take long for her to become one of the best writers in the community, and filmmaker Mike Flanagan has reached out to option two of his stories. Then she got another call from the director of “Doctor Sleep”.
“He said ‘I want to know if you want to go out and write a TV show for me and Netflix.’ I was taking that call in the parking lot at work and I was like ‘I’m going to start driving now,’ “she said.” I met Paramount and Amblin on Zoom, they approved me even though I didn’t had never written a screenplay in my life. I was on YouTube looking for “How do you write a script? What software are you using? ‘”
This show would become “The Haunting of Hill House”. She was then portrayed on WME and wrote for the follow-up to the Netflix show, “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Borrasca,” the podcast featuring Cole Sprouse that she created based on one of his r / nosleep stories.
“I think it’s good when you write things on the internet, they’re put in this Wild West and they sink or swim on their own,” Klinger said. “If people react to certain things they get very popular and it’s really a hunger game of what entertains people, what do people react to? “
Internet virality is an indicator, but it is not always a predictor. In 2015, Clive Barker and Warner Bros. announced a TV series, “Clive Barker’s Creepypastas”, but the concept never came out of development.
“The job has yet to be fantastic,” Glassgold said. “I think at the end of the day there’s the sizzle of the viral and the steak of the material – if the steak isn’t there, people aren’t spending money on the material.”
Alex Walton, executive advisory vice president for the film group at Endeavor Content, draws parallels between the source book or the talent followings that have long helped sell independent projects. It represents the YA “Perfect Addiction” package at the Cannes market, based on Claudia Tan’s story posted on the Wattpad storytelling website which has garnered 81 million reads over the past six years.
“In the independent film space, having an integrated sequel is a great added value for any project,” said Walton. “Wattpad is a really engaged platform. “
Wattled has been particularly successful in sourcing YA material; Netflix’s hit “The Kissing Booth” (and its two sequels) is based on a story written by Beth Reekles, who uploaded the story to Wattpad in 2011 when she was 15.
Marcos Cruz / Netflix
Community engagement – rather than fleeting virality – is perhaps a better analogue to the built-in pocketbook followings of yesteryear.
R / nosleep moderator Druga says that’s another reason Hollywood is so interested in the stories that come off the forum. It’s a community that extends far beyond Reddit; YouTubers frequently record audio narrations of popular stories, or the stories are adapted into podcasts and games.
“The fan base here is super loyal… the connection with the audience is unparalleled,” Kliewer said. “That’s why I’ll never stop writing about r / nosleep.” “
A strong and dedicated community is one of the reasons startup studio Jumpcut is developing a series based on the popular Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group with writers Ivan Tsang and Justin R. Ching. The group is dedicated to sharing memes and sparking discussion among the Asian diaspora; It was started by a group of Chinese-Australian high school students in 2018 and has reached almost 2 million members and spawned countless spin-off groups and pages.
“You can almost laugh at the idea of building a show around a Facebook group,” Ching said. “But it’s much more about adapting the spirit of what the band stands for – the kind of big tribe, big tent for Asians around the world.”
Winnie Kemp, Jumpcut’s chief development officer and former CBS Films executive, said pairing proven intellectual property with new stories could allay industry hesitation about a show with an all-Asian cast.
“[“Subtle Asian Traits”] gives us this opportunity to tell personal stories, to explore the nuances between these different identities, but not to scare the networks away because there is this very engaged audience of 2 million people around the world who are pumped and ready for a show like this, ”she mentioned. “The reality of the situation is to do a show like this, without this PI, is almost impossible.”
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