What Happens When A Screenwriter Writes Themselves Into A Corner? by Jeffrey Reddick

Film Courage: Can you think of an example where you have written yourself into a corner? If so, how did you write yourself out?

Jeffrey Reddick, Screenwriter:  Yeah…pretty easy. TAMARA was a movie I’d written myself into a corner because the tough thing in horror films you make your villain strong and it’s like you have to come up with a way to stop them and you don’t want to do something super generic. TAMARA was sort of my homage to CARRIE about a girl who is picked on and bullied and these kids pull a prank on her and accidentally kill her and in the script is supposed to be really frumpy and unattractive and then they bury her in the woods. The next Monday she comes back really smokin’ hot and she knows all their secrets and she uses that to turn against them.

Jenna Dewan as Tamara Riley in TAMARA

But I made her, she was really powerful so I’m like if they stop her they’re either going to have to find a spell (since she’s into witchcraft) they are going to have to find a spell to stop her which is kind of (we’ve seen that a hundred times). And I made her so strong that you can’t kill her because she came back from the dead, so what do I do? 

And if you haven’t seen TAMARA (a little spoiler) basically I tied her fate to the teacher that she was in love with, so he ended up doing a heroic sacrifice, grabs Tamara and jumps off the building with her, sacrifices himself to stop her. So heroic sacrifice is always a way to end a good horror film, to get yourself out of a corner. But when you create a monster, you have to find a way to kill it and then it’s like you don’t want it to be something overly-complicated. You don’t want it to be as simple as “Oh, we’ll just get a spell and kill her.” So yeah, I definitely wrote myself into a corner with that movie and I was just like “Well, I’ll just have the teacher sacrifice his life to stop her.”

Film Courage: And then when you got notes (let’s say) the first few times around showing [the script], what were the notes? What was the feedback about Tamara? Was she too much this? Not enough this?

Jeffrey: Tamara was probably the easiest, that was probably the easiest project as far as we found a studio that wanted to do it and they did it, it was a pretty easy sell. I wrote that one because I wanted to have fun with a movie, because everyone had been like “Bring us something like FINAL DESTINATION, bring us something…” And then you bring something and it’s like “Oh, that’s too much like FINAL DESTINATION.” And it’s like “Ugh.” So finally I just wanted to write something fun. And in my head I wanted to write like a fun, quotable, campy, sexy, horror movie.

I mean it turned out really well. I did joke that because we had a certain budget and then magically half that budget disappeared before the movie started shooting. So we didn’t have the money that we went into the movie having.

I always kind of joke it’s like the PG-13, ABC family version of an R-rated horror film that I wrote. When you watch it, you can definitely see like a lot of places where the story got kind of chopped out a little bit and stuff didn’t go like “Oh, they could have really pushed the envelope here and they played it really safe.” And that was all because of budget stuff.

That was another one where I actually wrote a book with a friend of mine (J.D. Matthews) we put it out based on the screenplay just so people could see what the original story was like because the only thing we had to change on that because they was some really intense stuff in there but nobody really said to take it out and that’s what is always funny because often times it’s the studio that wants you to take out stuff and play it safe. A couple of movies where that has happened to me and it hasn’t been the studio that has done it, either a producer kind of running off with some money or someone on the movie set going “Oh, let’s tone this down.” 

I’ve had the opposite of what a lot of people have which is where the studio wants to play it safe. Like I’ve had a couple movies where I’m like “I can’t believe they are letting me get away with this?” And then you get on set and one of the actors is like “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” And I’m like “Dammit! Usually the studio stops me not some actor.” Again, it’s a very interesting business that we’re in.

Film Courage: So having FINAL DESTINATION and the various ones that you were a part of, do you think that it’s difficult because they pigeonhole you and you want to do something in a different realm? Or is it nice because you’re known for that so then they have confidence [in your ability]?

Jeffrey: I mean for me it’s nice because I’m a horror fan (I have science fiction kind of, horror overtones to it, but a big kind of science fiction project we are doing). I might branch out a little bit but I’m very happy writing horror (I love the genre) and part of it growing up was like you would read in Fangoria Magazine which is like which is like The Bible for horror people, you would read directors and they’d be like “Well, it’s not really a horror film, it’s more of a supernatural thriller.” And they would try to say everything but it’s a horror film and then they would make a horror film because they would probably make a profit and then they would quit making horror and go off and make other stuff. So a lot of directors are like “Well, this is a stepping-stone to go off and do what I want to do.” And so growing up you’d get like “Arrgghh, screw you. This is a great genre.” And so this is something I embrace wholly. I love going to horror conventions and it’s a lot of fun. There are a lot of fans, it’s a great fanbase. And a lot of the people I work with (my peers) were all horror fans like me and we grew up loving the same stuff and watching the same stuff so it’s a really fun community to be a part of. 

Question For The Viewers: Do you like the challenge when you write yourself into a corner?

 

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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