March 29, 2008
At 14, after watching "A Nightmare on Elm Street", Jeffrey Reddick typed a 10-page prequel and sent it to New Line Cinema. The studio simply sent it back, saying it was "unsolicited". So Reddick sent New Line chairman Robert Shaye a surly letter demanding some feedback.
Shaye responded, saying Reddick had "a fertile imagination" but that his story "lacked structure." A pen pal relationship developed and, during college a few years later, Reddick landed an internship with New Line. New Line produced Reddick's screenplay "Flight 180" in 2000, giving it the new title "Final Destination."
Reddick's latest screenplay is for the remake of "Day of the Dead," an excellent new zombie film that hits DVD store shelves April 8. Although technically a remake, it's such a unique vision that it really stands as its own movie.
ESplatter: Loved your new movie. How did it come about?
The studio that produced it, Nu Image, had read my original draft of "Final Destination" and loved it. They told me that they had rights to the film and asked me to come up with a couple of takes for the remake. At first they wanted someone to write the script in two weeks and I told them it was impossible. Steve Miner really liked me and my ideas and got us enough time to write the script.
ESplatter: Was 'Final Destination' your first screenplay?
No. I actually got hired to write "Pumpkinhead 3". That was my first script, but it never got made. FD was the first one that got produced.
ESplatter: That's a classic movie now.
Thank you. When we first made it people were so nervous because we didn't have a physical killer in it. In the original draft the studio had me give Death a form at the end. People were nervous until it came out. Afterwards, they were like, 'Bring us something else like 'Final Destination'".
ESplatter: 'Day of the Dead' is very different because it's so action packed. How did you come up with so many action ideas?
The first take I pitched them was an update of the old story. Marvel does an 'Ultimate Line' of comics, where they retell their classic 'X-Men' and 'Spiderman' stories in the present day. I did more of a faithful take on 'Day of the Dead' [set in the present day]. But as we started developing it, they wanted to make it their own movie. We also couldn't legally connect our film to "Night" or "Dawn". So we had to make it an origin story. But we wanted to keep the theme of the military and scientists in there. We set the movie in a 24-hour period so it was literally a 'Day of the Dead'. So we had to think of short cut ways to retain the themes we wanted from the original.
This is definitely the most action packed script I've ever written. But regardless of the genre you still start with the same thing, which is to create characters the audience will relate to and care about. Steve's template for this was "Mission Impossible 3", which is nonstop action.
ESplatter: Steve Miner is kind of a legend.
I proudly call him a legend. There were a couple reasons I signed to do the remake and he was one of the main ones. I love Steve Miner's work and here was a chance to work with someone I admire and respect. He was very hands on from the scripting phase shooting. He had a strong sense of what he wanted.
ESplatter: Did you both write the story?
I went in with the original story. Then Steve would come back with ideas. It was definitely a collaboration. We bounced ideas off each other. We originally wanted the characters to be older. But we talked about all the genre films that have come out, from “Aliens,” “28 Weeks Later” and “Resident Evil.” We have just seen so many movies where seasoned military people go up against a monster or creature. We thought it would be interesting to see how people who were reservists, who were wet behind the ears, would react to the situation. We thought the reserves angle would be interesting. It was a creative choice for the film. We thought there would be more drama or suspense for these people who weren't quite aware of what they were getting into.
ESplatter: People give me a hard time for always reading the Iraq War into horror movies. Did the war affect your movie?
Yes. You're not imagining it. The thing I took from Romero's original film is that all of his films dealt with the current state of the world when they came out. The world has changed since the original film came out. In our film, the military are working on a viral weapon for a new war. We set it in 2007. For our story, the reservists were brought in for what they thought was a quarantine. They brought the reservists in because the military was already so taxed. You can't watch the film with the military in it and not see Iraq in there. The idea that there are young inexperienced people in the military isn't a slight against the military. It’s just reality. If you look at the current state of the mlitary, they are taxed beyond belief. So it was definitely something that was intentional on my part. I wanted to keep some of the socially relevant material that George had.
ESplatter: Has George Romero seen it?
Probably not. I was talking to someone who said that Romero didn't care for the fast zombies. I'm going to meet him at Fango. I have a feeling he wouldn't watch it. The interesting thing is, I'm a huge fan of Romero's work. … With "Day", George didn't get to make the movie he wanted. I read his original script which is totally different from the film he made. Because of last minute budget cuts, it wasn't the movie he intended to make. But Romero is proud of the film. We are all the proud of our babies after they're born. But I would have loved been able to make his original script. I saw "Diary" and I really loved it. I thought he did a really great job of rebooting the franchise. He made the slow zombies scary again.
ESplatter: Your film is kind of a remake, but not really.
I almost wish it had been called "24-hour Zombie Invasion." I'm sick of remakes like everyone else. It's hard for everyone in this town. You can either not work or you have to follow the work. As long as audiences go to see remakes, Hollywood is going to keep remaking movies. It's certainly not ideal, but you do the best job you can with whatever job you have. Hopefully it opens the door for something new.
ESplatter: What are some of your other future projects?
We're getting the financing for me to direct one of my scripts this summer. It's called "Final Reel". It's a supernatural film that's tonally very Stephen King=ish. It’s about a character who has a very unique way of bringing people's fears to life. We have three teenagers we follow. We also have an elderly character. It's one of those projects I've been holding on to. I'm really excited about it. In the beginning of May we'll be able to begin making announcements about casting.
ESplatter: So one question about 'Day of the Dead' – How do you explain the zombie that crawls up on the ceiling?
Part of it was just Steve wanting to do something different. The zombie is actually digging into the material. It happens so fast you can't tell that unless you slow it own. That was the one thing that me and Steve have many discussions about. I said, 'Steve, even in a zombie movie, there has to be an internal logic.' But hey, I'm only the writer.
ESplatter: It was a cool effect.
Yeah, I was just thinking about the progress of the virus and what the zombies could do. We worked hard about having logic to it. It's kind of like the same thing with everyone getting sick. You buy that the virus would sweep through this town quickly and people would turn at the same time. But there's the shot in the hospital where a father is suddenly completely zombie-fied. Things come up that may look cool but that don't really track.
ESplatter: It sounds like there's input from many, many people on a film like this.
People just want to make their mark on something. Everyone at some point has to change something because they want to see something on screen and say, "I did that." And they feel like they aren't doing their job if they don't come up with something. At meetings, you have to listen to, and process, a lot of notes . If it's for the better, I don't mind. With "Final Destination, Wong and Morgan decided to use the whole Rube Goldberg device; where one thing falls into something else and causes something else to happen. It was brilliant. But many other times that doesn't happen. That's why I'm so excited about directing. I'm at a point where I've had some success with writing. Just as a horror fan, I want to see the material I create appear onscreen without changes. My friends have told me that once I direct something I'll get bitten by the bug.
ESplatter: So what is fueling this remake craze?
Basically, from the studio point of view, they think if a movie has been out there for 20 years, there's brand recognition. They're just trying to cover their asses a little bit. But if you put out 10 horror movies and 8 are remakes, odds are the fans are going to see them because it's all that's out there.
It will only end when they pillage every title. It's funny because one thing I learned working in the studio system, is that a lot of the decisions they make are fear based because no one wants to take a chance that will hurt their job. New Line back in the day was such a great place because Bob Shaye is such a maverick. They make movies like “The Mask,” “Blade” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” that the other studios were afraid to do. And they were blockbusters. It showed that people do want something different.
ESplatter: What can you tell us about 'Final Destination 4'?
I met with the producer. He told me the story and it sounds amazing. I'm really excited about the fourth one. David Ellis, the director and Eric Bress, the screenwriter aren’t just remaking the first movie again. They have a cool opening in Nascar. You can only imagine what can go wrong at a Nascar race. And the story is really clever. I think it's going to be kick ass and I'm really excited about it.
ESplatter: Can we expect a 'Day of the Dead' sequel?
The producers have definitely talked to me about that. I think the movie is going to do really well on DVD. I think they could theoretically do another one. Because the outbreak was just in one town, I think you could pick up the story and have it grow and spread.
ESplatter: Why are zombies so popular again?
For me, I think zombie films are very primal on some level. Death is the great unknown. The idea that someone you love and care for could come back and try to eat you. You can't get much more primal than that. Just to go back to "Diary", I think Romero made it relevant again. He showed you don't have to have acrobatic zombies. The idea that the dead don't stay dead is terrifying. As long as people come up with relevant stories, it can always be frightening.
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