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Interview with Todd Farmer (Drive Angry)

He sent Jason Voorhees into space and brought B-movie veteran Tom Atkins back to the big screen and now he is set to turn Nicolas Cage 3D. Over the last decade, writer Todd Farmer has worked on a variety of horror projects that have included Jason X, The Messengers and My Bloody Valentine 3D, while the highly anticipated Halloween 3D and I Saw What You Did have yet to see the light of day.

Drive Angry once again sees him collaborate with director Patrick Lussier and will mark their second 3D feature. Harking back to the days of 1970s exploitation cinema, Drive Angry promises to be Cage’s finest role in years and will co-star Amber Heard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) and Atkins.

Todd Farmer talks Drive Angry and the horrors of Hollywood.

If Jason X was your homage to Aliens and My Bloody Valentine was an old school slasher, what were your intentions with Drive Angry?

1970s road movies with a splash of High Plains Drifter thrown in.

With Drive Angry‘s protagonist, Milton, waging war on those responsible for the death of his daughter, would you say that your script was inspired by vigilante movies like Mad Max and Death Wish and how influenced were you by 1970s exploitation cinema?

We were influenced by what Patrick calls the pre-Jaws movies. Back when heroes weren’t so squeaky clean.

This is your second movie to be shot in 3D. Was it initially written this way and how challenging do you find having to include numerous gags to cater for the 3D effects?

We wrote it specifically to be a 3D car movie. While we never shied away from the gimmick in MBV3D, we certainly noticed that when you shoot in 3D the world completely changes. That it isn’t just about the gimmick. It’s about the claustrophobic as well as the voyeuristic. With Drive Angry we went on the journey knowing you could have all the above in a nice mix. That said, first and foremost, Drive Angry is story and characters. It was the script that won Nic Cage. It was the script that got us Amber Heard. The script that blessed us with Bill Fichtner, Billy Burke and Tom Atkins. 3D is great but, I think the 3D movement has already been hurt enough by those assuming 3D alone is enough.

While 3D has become big business in Hollywood there are some movies that have been converted to 3D in post-production. How do you feel about this method?

It’s not ready. Conversion may well be the wave of the future but not yet. Currently it’s simply been used as a way of cashing in on the 3D wave and it has hurt the movement. Hollywood has once again taken something awesome and pissed all over it. But 3D’s not going anywhere, thanks to 3D TV. But as we’re already seeing, 3D no longer means automatic box office. Once again the cheat has been exposed. Story and Character will always come first. There will be glitches to the system. There will be anomalies that slip through the cracks but story and character will always win the race.

Drive Angry continues your association with Patrick Lussier. Why do you feel the two of you work together so well and how would you compare him to other directors you have collaborated with?

I’ve never met anyone like him. Movies are his true passion. It’s not about the limelight or the red carpets or the parties with Patrick. If he’s not editing he’s writing, and if he’s not writing he’s shooting, and if he’s not shooting he’s watching a movie or playing a game that will inevitably lead to more writing, editing and shooting. We are partners because we are completely different yet we will fight to the death to protect the other. Patrick is genuinely a nice guy. His crews adore him. He never yells on set. Would never, ever embarrass a member of the crew in public or private.

And his brain thinks circles around mine. His years as an editor has him thinking so far outside the box I’m sometimes astounded as I watch him work. We take stories and characters places I alone would have simply been incapable of reaching. Now, the drawback: the man can’t place a comma to save his life. That’s where I come in. I’m the Dirk Diggler of grammar. My comma is giant.

How did Nicolas Cage come to be cast in the movie and do you feel that this could lend Drive Angry the same kind of cult appeal that he gave Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart and Face/Off?

We attached Michael De Luca based on the first five minutes meeting with him. He was so excited. He was quoting dialog and when we asked what notes did he have he said none, he’d go shoot it. He sent the script to Nic and within days Nic was attached. Nic’s the first actor we went to for the role of John Milton. Nic’s never played a character like this. It’ll sound arrogant but Milton’s a beautiful role but Nic turned it up to eleven. The first day he walked on set he knew every line of dialog. Was methodical. He devoured the character. He questioned everything about Milton. Would have countless conversations before shooting with Patrick and between shooting he and I would wax poetic and banter. Nic simply made the role better.

Prior to you selling the script for Jason X you had written numerous screenplays. Do you recall any details about them and has any aspect of these earlier efforts made their way into your more recent work?

Nothing pre-Jason has resurfaced. There’s a spec I wrote right after JX which was quickly optioned and for a time had Jonathan Hensleigh attached to direct. Those rights eventually reverted back to me and I currently have it back in the works to be shot in Australia. But while working for Cunningham in the pre-Jason X days, I wrote countless scripts for him. He owns them all though and doubt any of them will see the light of day. If memory serves none of them were very commercial.

What was the mini series that you wrote for the Sci-Fi Channel that was never made?

The Last Vampire by my friend Whitley Strieber. This was book two of the series that started with The Hunger, which was made with David Bowie. I had been tasked to turn books one and two into a three-night mini for Sci-Fi. At some point it became a two-nighter. It was a task but fortunately I had Whitley working with me and thankfully with zero ego. We would brainstorm via phone and email and I had so much fun. I would work with Whitley again in a heart beat. Shame Sci-Fi in the end never pulled the trigger.

What is your method when commencing work on a new script? Do you plan out the plot in great detail first or do you try to develop the characters and build the action around that?

For a spec Patrick and I will bang out some ideas in our heads. We’ll have a rough outline. Rough story. Rough character sketches. Least that’s how it was with Drive Angry. Then we just start writing. Normally I’ll make the first pass. Get to an act break and shoot him pages. With Halloween 3D, it was so rushed, I think bulldozed through the whole thing before sending to him for his pass. But for that one we actually had a 40-page detailed outline which he wrote. Our structure is both rigid and loose. We live by Eastwood’s words from Heartbreak Ridge, ‘You adapt. You overcome. You improvise.’

You occasionally appear in front of the camera as well, particularly in movies that you have written. Did you ever want to be an actor before you became a writer?

I actually enjoy acting. But no, I’m a writer first. I’ll likely make an appearance in all our stuff as long as the audience will have me. If they rebel then I’ll stop. And although I may pop up in a cameo here and there, I’ll mostly stick to the stuff we write.

When you were writing the script for My Bloody Valentine were you aware that you would have a role and did you regret that your character appeared naked?

Had no idea with My Bloody Valentine. It had simply never occurred to me. And likely wouldn’t have had Patrick not asked. The situation was financial. Lions Gate wanted a local to play the part. Although the part is small, it’s demanding. The FX work is grueling and then there’s stunt work. While it may not seem like much, go outside and fall dead in the gravel a dozen times and see how sore you are tomorrow. Then there was the sex and nudity. While I’m certain there are hundreds of capable local Pittsburgh actors who would have been leaps and bounds better than me, I was worried we’d get the guy that wasn’t.

So, I was bitching about it and Patrick said, ‘I know, will you do it.’ Of course, later I found out that this was his plan all along. He knew I could do it. He knew I’d make it all about Betsy and she was the real force in that scene. He also liked the idea that I was big. If the miner can take me down so effortlessly then watch out.

No regrets.

Do you ever write characters with specific actors in mind and are your first choices ever cast?

Not sure I ever write for just one actor. Sometimes I hear Bruce Willis in my head, ten minutes later it’ll be Jeff Bridges and then bless my heart, I’ll hear me speaking the words. Currently Bill Fichtner shows up quite often.

At one point you were in talks to write a remake of I Saw What You Did. How far into development did that project go and are you no longer attached?

I re-read that recently. Man! I’d forgotten how awesome it was. We pitched the entire story to Dark Castle four times. Then we wrote exactly what we pitched. Andrew Rona told us we wrote exactly what we pitched but he wanted either a ghost or a masked killer. You’d have to ask Rona if we’re still attached.

Much has been made regarding the difficulties you had during the developing of Halloween 3D. What details of the script can you reveal and what were your thoughts on Rob Zombie’s take on the franchise?

Can’t discuss it. Well, not that I can’t. But would rather not. I’m still not completely convinced it won’t happen. We keep in touch with Malek and we still talk to Bob. It’s Hollywood. The fat lady gets stabbed before she ever sings, and then somebody brings her back as a zombie or a remake.

Todd Farmer and Amber Heard

Todd Farmer and Amber Heard

On your website you state ‘So far, I’ve never seen my vision make it to the screen.’ What movie would you say has represented your writing most accurately and have you ever considered trying your hand at directing your scripts?

My Bloody Valentine was my and Patrick’s vision. We had some obstacles along the way but in the end we’re both very proud of it. And Messengers II, while extremely low budget, was ninety per cent what I wrote. Then in February Drive Angry will be our vision exactly. Much like My Bloody Valentine, we have had our obstacles but we made OUR movie while staying within boundaries that had been assigned us and so far no regrets.

I’ve seen it half a dozen times now and it just keeps getting better and better. Wandmacher’s laying in his tracks and his score is brilliant. Next month it’s up to Skywalker to make it sound all gnarly. This is our movie. We wrote it. And we polished four pages then we went out and sold it. No overdevelopment. While we made changes due to budget and cast, it is still OUR story. So I guess it’s time to change that vision quote.

Has the endless fake promises and lies that Hollywood executives throw on filmmakers ever brought you close to quitting?

Yes. Yes it has.

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