The movie Wrinkles the Clown had a lot of twists and turns that will keep viewers guessing. But for the documentary’s director Michael Beach Nichols, one of the more shocking revelations didn’t even come from Wrinkles the Clown himself.
Nichols talked with Heavy about the movie, about Wrinkles’ identity, and about the strange twists he learned along the way while making the documentary.
This story will have major spoilers for a plot twist in the movie, but a spoiler warning will be posted again before that twist is shared.
For Nichols, one of the most surprising things about the documentary was listening to the voicemails left for Wrinkles the Clown. Wrinkles’ phone number is actually a Google Voice number. You might expect that most of the calls are from parents wanting to scare their kids by threatening to hire Wrinkles. And yes, some phone calls were like that.
But the craziest ones came from the children who called him.
Nichols was given access to Wrinkles’ Google Voice number and was able to listen to all the voicemails. What he didn’t expect were how many messages children would leave threatening Wrinkles with violence.
“The majority of calls were actually kids who, in most cases, were calling to basically let Wrinkles know that if he showed up outside their house at 3 am, they’d be ready to defend themselves and they’d cut his head off basically,” Nichols said. “A lot of kids were basically taking their power back… They wanted to make him aware that they were ready to use deadly force to defend themselves. A lot of the calls were super violent, super profane.”
“Only about 5 percent of the calls were actually parents who were calling to use Wrinkles as a misbehavior tool,” he added.
He said some of the children who called were nice and just wanted to be friends, but a lot of the calls were quite intense.
“I definitely felt very shocked by the sort of language the kids were using,” he said. “…I think back to when I was a kid; we’d make prank calls and stuff like that, but we never talked the way these kids talk… There’s a new generation that’s exposed to a lot more … at an earlier age, and I think that’s likely because of the Internet. You just have kids speaking in a way that sort of doesn’t really line up with them being 10 years old when they’re saying these really obscene things…”
WARNING: Major Spoilers Below for Wrinkles’ Identity
Nichols Said He Had to Gain Wrinkles’ Trust Before He Could Make the Documentary
Wrinkles the Clown opened up to Nichols, even letting him access his voicemails, but with the understanding that Nichols wouldn’t reveal his identity.
How did he get Wrinkles to open up to him?
“It’s sort of similar process that you take with any documentary, you have to earn that person’s trust,” he explained. “(They learn that) you’re not going to try to get them, or manipulate them or manipulate how they’re portrayed in the film… In this instance, one of the first things he told us was he would not be revealing his identity, that wasn’t even on the table to him…”
Of course, that changed the movie’s premise quite a bit.
“Initially, we thought that would be the natural arc of the film, to reveal his name, his face,” Nichols said. “Once he told us that wasn’t a possibility, we still were able to see maybe even more possibilities in this sort of richness of playing with myth by keeping the mystique of not having a face or name to put behind the mask. Even though we’re still revealing a lot of information about Wrinkles that’s never been revealed before, we’re not revealing the identity, so there’s still something there for people to play with and project upon in terms of who they think Wrinkles might be… For us it became more complicated but also more fun to stay anonymous and make the whole film a sort of homage to the power of myth and imagination and the way that sort of plays out now online, mostly with children.”
There was that big twist halfway through the movie with Wrinkles’ identity. It was a unique storytelling device and certainly got viewers to question their preconceived notions about Wrinkles and clown mythology in general.
We learned that the older man living in a van was not Wrinkles after all, but an actor. In fact, everything we thought we knew about Wrinkles was not true. He was never hired to scare children. He’s not a 65-year-old veteran. He doesn’t live in a van.
Nichols said that Wrinkles first made up his storying during a local NBC news interview and it all snowballed from there.
“All he had to do was say it once and then all the other media outlets just sort of accepted it and ran with it, which to him was sort of surprising and sort of shocking that they took him at his word,” he said. “It just became a little bit of a game to kind of see how far he could take it and how far people would believe.”
Did he influence all those 2016 clown sightings?
“I don’t think he was the sole cause, but I definitely think he was a factor,” Nichols said. “His first video came out in late 2014 and several more through 2015, and all those early videos especially were getting hundreds of thousands of views. I definitely think he got the ball rolling and then everything just blew up in 2015.”
What’s Next for Wrinkles?
Wrinkles is going to enter a new phase after this documentary, Nichols said.
“None of us really know how the film will impact the public perception of Wrinkles,” he said. “I know that since the trailer came out about a month ago, the number of calls that he gets on a daily basis has skyrocketed. Right now there’s more awareness of Wrinkles than perhaps any other time in the history of Wrinkles. There’s a lot more engagement right now. That’s exciting for Wrinkles.”
As for Nichols, he’s working on some new projects now that Wrinkles has wrapped up.
“I’m in the development stage for a couple projects but none that have gotten financed or anything like that, so I can’t talk too much about them,” he said. “I have a couple projects I’m hoping to start direction on in the next few months.”
Nichols said he doesn’t have any set message that he hopes people walk away with after watching the film. He simply hopes they enjoy the documentary.
“I never like to make films that provide a lot of answers, I like to ask a lot of questions,” he said. “I hope everyone takes something different away… At the most basic I do want people to enjoy the film and take away from it whatever they will.”