Confidence To Be A Hollywood Screenwriter by Jeffrey Reddick
Film Courage: Jeffrey, going back to before you were a Hollywood screenwriter, what made you think you could tell stories on a Hollywood level? What gave you the confidence or that feeling (intuition) that “You know what? This is something I think I can do.”
Jeffrey Reddick: I think it’s the ignorance of the young! [Laughs] I talked to a friend of mine once (probably a couple of years ago when I was home [in Kentucky] and when I was 8 or 9 she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I said I wanted to be a movie star. So I kind of always knew I wanted to work in film. Growing up I thought I wanted to be an actor. And I went to New York to study acting actually at the beginning of my career and that didn’t pan out really because non-traditional casting wasn’t a thing back in the early 90’s. And they canceled The Cosby Show show so without non-traditional casting, that was your only place.
English was my second favorite subject and I’d been writing from the time I was young. I would always write stories and my English teachers were kind of my biggest inspirations as far as school goes. So I was like “Well, I’ll just write stuff to be in.” That’s kind of why I segued into writing.
When you’re younger, you just don’t think of…Hollywood does seem like this faraway magical place in a way but you are also very naive about how the movie business is so you think you just write something and somebody likes it and they go out and pick up a camera and they make it and then it comes out in the theater. When you’re younger that’s all you can think about. You don’t know all of the convoluted, twisted process of screenwriting, getting something from page to screen when you’re young. You’re in that magical, illusion land where you’re like “I can do it!”
Again, writing wasn’t always my first goal, but working in movies has always pretty much been just what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. That was kind of my only career game plan.
Film Courage: How small was the town that you grew up in?
Jeffrey Reddick: I think we had 100 students in our graduating class. I almost feel like I should Google that (I should know that). It was a very small town. It took us about a 40-minute bus ride to get to school every day. We were the last stop out there on the hill. It was in Eastern Kentucky. It was a very small town. They didn’t have a theater program. My English teacher (when I was a Sophomore), I talked her into creating a theater program for the one year and then it died out after that year. But I was pretty determined. It’s very interesting when you’re young and you’re driven. That’s one of the things you try to tell people to hold onto because as you get a little older, the drive doesn’t necessarily go away but the realities of the business and the distractions can get in your way. When you’re young you just have that boundless energy and faith and optimism and you try to hold onto that magic. You know even when you start getting into the business side of things.
“People will usually tell anybody who says they want to be in the film business or any kind of art ‘Oh that will be a good hobby. What are you going to do for a real job?’ That’s just part of our society. We don’t really value it in this country.”
Film Courage: Right…because as you get older you kind of talk yourself out of it knowing all of the things that can go wrong and it’s almost a shame. There is that protective part of someone which is there for good reason but it talks you out of it.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah…and I think nobody encourages a career in the arts. If you tell anybody when you’re young that you want to be an actor or a writer, they are always saying “Yeah…that’s great. What are you going to do for a real job?” That’s pretty much the reaction. My Mom did not know that I majored in theater in college until after I was in college. I’d tell her I was majoring in math and she got so mad when you found out I majored in theater because she was like “You are never going to be able to make a living doing that.”
So there is the reality, but for me I just never had a back-up plan. Luckily I was good at English and writing was another passion of mine so I found a way to stay in the business and not give up when the acting didn’t pan out as soon as I had hoped it would.
People will usually tell anybody who says they want to be in the film business or any kind of art “Oh that will be a good hobby. What are you going to do for a real job?” That’s just part of our society. We don’t really value it in this country. In other countries they do value their arts more than we do here. Usually arts programs are the first things to get cut in schools. It’s like sports number one, then science and math and stuff. The arts are usually down here as far as priorities go which is interesting because I think the arts are probably one of the more helpful, just to help you as a human being to grow and expand your horizons, open your mind and get in touch with your emotions. A lot of the other fields don’t really emphasize or help you do that. That’s why a lot of people love the arts. That’s something we have to start valuing a lot more in our country.
Film Courage: It’s funny you mention sports because I think I heard you say in another interview (and I laughed out loud when I heard it) that people who are into horror probably weren’t people who were playing sports [Laughs]. They weren’t the cheerleaders and they weren’t the jocks. I thought that was great. It’s true…you develop this interesting imagination that when you’re in this sort of this herd mentality trying to be popular, all that [interesting ideas for material] isn’t probably going through your mind. Maybe you can talk about that?
Jeffrey Reddick: There’s a lot to…I mean if you’re an athlete, that’s your whole life. Like you’re always practicing. When you’re not at school practicing, you’re practicing at home, you’re watching what you eat, you’re working out. That’s your whole life. I think most of the people who I know that are artists, they spend most of their time at home watching movies or reading comic books or doing kind of nerdy, geeky things, really playing in their imagination or with their imagination. I think that’s a common thing you’ll find with artists. A lot of artists didn’t have a big clique that they hung out with or weren’t really, super popular. Some of them were. Especially in High School, school is like a machine. It’s very important obviously to get an education. When you have so many kids every year that you don’t have time…everybody’s got their own individual personalities and you can’t really get to know people so you have to shove them in boxes just to process people. It’s a weird thing that I noticed as we grow up. As people still try to generalize in a way. That’s even when I talk about jocks and the cheerleaders aren’t the ones that were at home watching a lot of horror movies, it’s also because they were out practicing and doing their thing. But it’s interesting how we still keep those boxes as we get older…you know…I sound a little bit like a hippy right now.
Film Courage: I found it funny because there is a lot of truth to it.
Question for the Viewers: When did you know you wanted to write movies?
Bio (via IMDB):
Jeffrey Reddick is best known for creating the Final Destination (2000) film franchise. He also co-wrote the story for, and executive produced, Final Destination 2 (2003). Jeffrey lives in Los Angeles. He grew up in Eastern Kentucky and attended Berea College. Jeffrey made his first connection to the film industry at age 14, when he wrote a prequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and mailed it Bob Shaye, the President of New Line Cinema. Bob returned the material for being unsolicited. But the young man wrote Bob an aggressive reply, which won him over. Bob read the treatment and got back to Jeffrey. Bob, and his assistant, Joy Mann, stayed in contact with Jeffrey for over five years. When he went to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at age 19, Bob offered him an internship at New Line Cinema. This internship turned into an 11-year stint at the studio.
Aside from Final Destination (2000), which spawned four successful sequels, Jeffrey’s other credits include Lions Gate’s thriller, Tamara (2005) and the remake of George Romero’s classic, Day of the Dead (2008).
Jeffrey has several feature and TV projects in development and he directed his first short, Good Samaritan (2014) in 2014.
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