Bob Shaye, Creation, Day of the Dead, Fangoria, Fans, Final Destination, Franchise, George Romero, Horror, James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick, New Line Cinema, Screenwriter, Series, Stave Miner, Tamara, Tony Todd, Weekend of Horrors, Writer
My interview with screenwriter, Jeffrey Reddick (“Final Destination”).
Cameron: By now, fans of the genre have heard your story about writing to the head of New Line Cinema Bob Shaye (as a young kid) and pitching possible ideas about the “Nightmare on Elm St.” films. But then when were a bit older, you got an internship at the company. What was your first impression working there? New Line Cinema always seemed like it would have been an amazing company to be a part of, especially in the early days. What films did you work on during your time there?
Jeffrey Reddick: New Line was an amazing place to work. When I first started there, I was 19 years old. So, I was just blown away by the fact that I was working at the place that made “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It was surreal. But I think New Line was truly unique. Despite the company’s successes, it maintained a truly independent spirit. Creativity, and a love of film, was what drove the decisions at the company. But you also felt like you were truly part of a “family” there. Input from everyone was encouraged, which is rare in this business. So, as a creative person, it was the best introduction to Hollywood one could ask for.
During my time there, I started off as an intern, and then became the companies first “floater.” This meant I filled in for assistants in various departments when they were out. I wanted to stay at the assistant/executive assistant level, so I had time to focus on my writing. But I got an education in almost every aspect of film production; from accounting and development, to distribution and marketing.
Cameron: What was your prequel for “A Nightmare on Elm St.” that you wrote Bob about? Do you two still keep in touch?
Jeffrey Reddick: I can’t remember much about it. I wrote it almost 28 years ago, and I never thought to keep a copy of it. I remember it dealt with Freddy’s abusive father, who turned him in to a monster. And Freddy spent most of the time being a devious serial killer, until he was caught and burned alive. To be honest, I’m sure it wasn’t that good. I was 14 at the time. But the fact that Bob wrote me back and stayed in touch, meant a lot to me. And I probably wouldn’t be were I am today, if he hadn’t.
I left New Line in 2011 and Warner Brother’s recently absorbed New Line, so things have changed. I haven’t seen Bob in a while, but I still count him as my first champion and mentor.
Cameron: Since “Flight 180” (later “Final Destination”) was your first produced screenplay, did you have an agent prior to that or did New Line look it over based on your affiliations with the company? When did they decide to bring on other writers? How did the script evolve prior to filming?
Jeffrey Reddick: I landed an agent right before “Final Destination” happened, but the project happened through personal connections. A colleague from New Line went to work for two producers; Craig Perry and Warren Zide. They were looking for horror projects, so I sent over a bunch of ideas. They sparked to “Flight 180” and we developed it for about 6 months before selling it to New Line.
I sold the treatment and wrote the draft of the script. The studio immediately went out to directors. They approached James Wong and Glen Morgan, who were responsible for some of the best episodes of “The X-files.” They came onboard and did their own draft, but enough of my original material ended up in the final film to get sole story credit and shared screenplay credit.
The biggest change that occurred was the way that Death killed the characters. In my version, since Death screwed up the first time, it couldn’t just kill the survivors of Flight 180. So, Death used the survivor’s fears against them to drive them to kill themselves. While I think that was an interesting idea, I love the Rube Goldberg angle that Wong and Morgan came up with. They set up the idea that Death is all around us, which I think really struck a cord with audiences.
Cameron: In the decade since the “Final Destination” films started, you’ve taken long gaps in between films. Are you constantly working on other projects or do you need time in between to recoup your sanity? How do you keep yourself creative and focused?
Jeffrey Reddick: I actually only worked on the first two films. They still credit me on the other sequels, since I created the franchise. But I have definitely been keeping busy, working on other projects. Some have been made, and others haven’t, but I’m fighting the good fight.
Cameron: You’ve become a staple on the floor when horror conventions come to the L.A. area. What do you like the most about going? Any humorous stories you can share?
Jeffrey Reddick: I know it sounds cheesy, but I really enjoy meeting the fans. Without them, none of us would have a career. I always joke that, in Hollywood, writers are the low man on the totem pole, as most people focus on actors and directors. So, it’s nice to meet people who appreciate your work.
I’ve met so many of my favorite writers, directors and actors at conventions. But my favorite story has to be when I met horror icon, George Romero. I wrote the “Day of The Dead” remake and had been dreading running in to him. But we were both at a convention a few years ago. I was talking to Ken Foree, an amazing talent, who’ve I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. Ken literally pulled me over to George’s table and introduced us. I was nervous, but George was so kind and gracious. It was amazing.
Cameron: Being a writer is a tough job, but you have also appeared in and produced a number of other projects? What is it like to try on different hats in the business? What has been the hardest shoot so far?
Jeffrey Reddick: Acting was my first love, and I’ve managed to get myself cameos in a few of my films. So, all the acting I’ve done has been a blast. (Even when I had to undergo about 4 hours of make up to be a zombie in “Day of The Dead.”) I was active behind the scenes on “Tamara,” but I’ve only fully a short called, “A Life’s Work.” And I think that was the most difficult experience, because I had to worry about, and stay on top of, every aspect of production.
Cameron: Can you talk about what it’s like to work with directors as diverse as James Wong and Steve Miner? Had you planned for a sequel if “Tamara” had taken off?
Jeffrey Reddick: I only met James Wong briefly on set. I was a fan of his TV stuff, and have always admired his work. Personally, I had great experiences with all of the directors on my other projects. They were all very gracious and ego free. Steve Miner has directed a lot of my favorite horror films; so being on set with him for a few weeks in Bulgaria was a dream come true. David Ellis was also really cool on “FD2.” He’s kind of got this surfer mentality and his cool calm set a great tone on set. Jeremy Haft directed “Tamara” and we became friends. He’s a talented and down to earth guy. Jeremy really wanted to elevate the material and considering the budgetary constraints and some producer interference, I think he did a good job.
As for a “Tamara” sequel, I definitely had some ideas. I still think the concept has some life left in it, so hopefully I’ll get to explore it someday.
Cameron: If you were given the option of revamping any horror film series, which one would you choose and why?
Jeffrey Reddick: I think the big ones have already been revamped, but the one film I would love to remake is “One Dark Night.” I love the film and think it’s got a great concept. But I feel that some of the cooler elements of the story were under-explored.
Cameron: Which writers and/or films are inspiring you at the moment?
Jeffrey Reddick: Kevin Williamson and Stephen Susco are two writers I really admire. I have to be honest…I know them personally, so I may be biased. But I think they’re both talented and they love the genre. And, on top of that, they’re really great guys.
Cameron: What’s the best way for you to unwind after a full day of writing?
Jeffrey Reddick: I would say having a glass of red wine…but I don’t drink. So, for me, it’s either relaxing while catching up with the shows on my DVR…or watching horror movies.
Cameron: Thank you so much for your time, Jeffrey. Good luck to you in the future.