Jeffrey Reddick’s long journey to Hollywood began in Jackson, Kentucky in the mid-1980s, when a viewing of Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street prompted the teenage writing enthusiast to pen a ten-page treatment for a prequel and send it to the studio, New Line Cinema. To his surprise he finally received a response from Robert Shaye, the company founder and producer behind the Elm Street series, and over the course of the next few years the two remained in touch. Arriving in New York he succeeded in landing an internship at the studio, allowing him to learn first-hand the workings of the film industry.
In 2000 Reddick made his feature debut with his script for a supernatural thriller called Final Destination, which was released by New Line to unexpected box office success. This would not only launch Reddick’s Hollywood career but would also create one of the most lucrative horror franchises in decades. Due to the film’s sudden success transformed Reddick into an in-demand writer, he was hired for several high profile productions, including Tamara and the 2007 remake of George A. Romero’s zombie classic Day of the Dead.
Jeffrey Reddick talks about writing horror and working in Hollywood.
It has been over a decade since you first enjoyed success with Final Destination; how do you feel the genre has changed in that time and how have you changed as a writer?
I think the genre is always changing in terms of what’s hot. A film comes out that makes a lot of money at the box office, and then we see a ton of similar films getting made. But, for me, the biggest change is the glut of remakes being made. It’s definitely something that’s exploded in the last decade.
As for me, I think as a writer I’ve probably, hopefully, matured. My last two scripts have dealt with adult characters and situations. I still love to come up with creative ways to kill people on screen. But I believe good films can also tap into universal ideas and themes and actually say something about the human condition. For instance, my latest script, Good Samaritan, deals with several people who witness a man being beaten and don’t intervene.
When the man dies, the witnesses are outed to the public. Then they begin to die in mysterious ways. While the script has all of the horror scares and chills, it was interesting to write characters wrestling with serious, real-world issues. It was also cool to question, and examine, why people often turn a blind eye to others in need.
The genre is currently dominated by remakes, 3-D and CGI, yet there is a strong independent scene in America at this time. Do you feel it would be in Hollywood’s best interest to champion these new filmmakers in an effort to keep the industry fresh and exciting?
It would definitely be in Hollywood’s best interest. Creatively and financially. But Hollywood isn’t known for taking chances on something fresh and new. They’re all about the bottom line. Which is why we see so many remakes and sequels. The studios and financiers consider them safer bets. Another issue is that we don’t see a lot of risk takers, or real film lovers, running things.
When I was young, my dream was to make a studio movie. But I’ve seen how many studio decisions are made by a committee of people who want play it safe. This process often makes for a watered-down and very generic end product. So now, I just want to make movies that reflect the scripts I’ve written.
But, on the plus side, the independent scene is extremely vibrant. Now, filmmakers can make movies and even distribute them on their own. And every time a low budget film, like Paranormal Activity, comes out and makes more money than the studio films, it sends shockwaves through Hollywood. And, with enough shockwaves, maybe things will change.
Every franchise from Psycho to Saw have seen a decline in quality with each subsequent sequel; what are your thoughts on how the Final Destination series has played out over the years?
I preface this by saying that, as a horror fan, first and foremost I feel really blessed to see something I started have such a long life. But I think the problem with sequels is the studios don’t want to change the formula because they’re afraid they’ll lose the fans. However, if you look at great sequels like Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II, these movies expanded on the original film in fresh and exciting ways.
So, after a few films, the sequels start to feel very familiar. With Final Destination, we’ve had a great producer, Craig Perry, who’s fought to maintain the integrity of the franchise. I recently saw a cut of the upcoming film, and they’ve definitely added some twists to the formula, which is great. But, in order to avoid viewer fatigue, I’d like to see them really shake it up.
Do you find it difficult to avoid the clichés of the genre when writing a script or are they an important part of the formula?
Some things are expected in a horror film. You usually start with a scare. You have scares, or kills, about every ten minutes. You raise the stakes as the story goes along and hopefully you build to a satisfying climax. These basic elements have proven to be effective, so trying to avoid them probably isn’t wise. But I think the real fun, as a writer, is creating situations where you know the audience is expecting one thing and then delivering something different.
Having been responsible for Day of the Dead, what are your honest thoughts about the current slew of remakes that have dominated the industry over the last few years?
The most frustrating thing about remakes is that the studios are financing them instead of original projects. I have numerous scripts that I feel are really strong. But many of them have been passed over because studios and financiers would rather put their money behind remakes. I know a lot of talented writers with great material that hasn’t been made. So, as a creative person, it’s frustrating.
And there’s no actual proof that a remake is a better financial gamble than an original project. The studios’ thinking is that there’s brand recognition with a remake. But it’s really the marketing that gets people into the theatre. And original films like Scream, Final Destination and Saw have been more profitable as franchises than any remake.
Following his success with Scream, Kevin Williamson enjoyed success on the small screen with Dawson’s Creek. Have you ever considered a similar route?
I adore Kevin as a person, and a talent, and I would love to follow in his footsteps. I’m a hardcore TV addict, so writing for the small screen would be amazing. Basically, I just love telling stories, no matter what the medium. And, from everything I hear, writers are treated with much more respect in TV. So that would be sweet.
Have you ever been approached regarding writing a new Final Destination and is this something you would be willing to do or has the concept been explored enough in the previous four films?
New Line bought my treatment for the first sequel, but I haven’t had any discussions about the later ones. The franchise obviously has a special place in my heart.
But if I were to do a sequel, I’d really want to explore ways to expand the concept. I mean, it is Death we’re talking about. I think it would be smart to create a new way for Death to get people who’ve cheated it. Death’s new design, if you will. And I think it would be interesting to develop ways that the characters, who are alive when they’re supposed to be dead, could fight back.
Do you have any plans on turning to directing at some point in the near future and do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m actively developing a few projects that I want to direct. It’s not something I’ve always wanted to do. But, as a writer, I visualise my movies when I write them. And I would love to see my vision on screen for once. Then, succeed or fail, it would be the movie I envisioned.
As for new projects, aside from Good Samaritan, I have a project called Dead Awake that I’m really excited about. I’ll keep you posted on any developments with them.