I visited the set of the new Fright Night movie last September and wrote (perhaps a bit too honestly) about the experience here. That post covers my thoughts on the whole process, but it’s not all I have to report. No siree, while I was there several members of the cast and crew took time out of their clearly busy schedule to chat with the press.
Unheard of you say? It’s true! And here are some words to prove it from the likes of screenwriter Marti Noxon and producer Michael De Luca. [These are excerpts from group interviews conducted during the set visit.] Be sure to check out all of our Fright Night coverage here.
MARTI NOXON, screenwriter
How do you retain the heart of Fright Night? It had a lot of heart in the characters, you loved every single person in that script. How do you carry that over to this?
It’s funny, that I would say would be the heart of why I got the job. Because I think other people had come in and talked about vampires and I had come in and talked about the relationship between Ed and Charlie and also about the relationship between him and Amy, you know, Charlie and Amy and his mom and I was much more interested in the stuff that I had always felt like I wanted some filling in on in the original movie. I had a lot of questions, I loved the original movie for just that reason. And certainly my training on Buffy was all about character and what’s the story you’re telling, and what’s the theme and what’s the relatable thing for the audience. I felt like there were a lot of seeds in the original movie that hadn’t been fully exploited. And the great thing about Dreamworks was that they were really committed to making a movie with a real first act. That’s why we’ve drawn people like Craig and Colin and Anton and all these amazing actors because we wrote a character movie that also happens to be a really scary.
Can you talk a little about some of the changes that were made with the characters?
The people who were watching that movie had a very strong point of reference for Peter Vincent being a TV horror movie host. You know, there are few still out there but it’s few and far in between. I was really inspired by the idea that Penn & Teller have this amazing supernatural collection. And I was like, well, who can be a real asset? It has to be set in Vegas, specifically because I have been thinking about that for a long time. Where better for a demon to hide out than in Vegas? Like, it’s a transient population, people sleep all day and party all night and nobody would notice if people just went missing, you know?
Did you feel the need to retain anything aside from the structure, or is everything else fair game?
There were some classic sequences that we knew we wanted to reinvent, but reference for sure. There are a couple of moments where I knew there were like, key moments in the film that I wanted to play with to surprise people. There’s one moment in particular where I think that if you know the original movie you know what’s gonna happen, and it doesn’t happen.
What are your thoughts on the decision to film in 3-D?
You know, it’s interesting because I feel like the culture around 3-D, particularly the directors, is really changing. It’s gone from feeling like you have to have these giant pop-out moments for the audience, like wooooahhh, to feeling it more as an atmosphere. So there are many opportunities in the script for real 3-D moments. But we didn’t say, ok, Jerry’s gonna like leap towards the camera at this moment. It was much more like, where is it natural in the movie to have that? It gives a much more immersive feeling to the whole movie. The whole time you feel like you’re in it. It’s beautiful, I mean just watching it on the screen, it’s incredible.
How much effort did you put into balancing the vampires look between originality and homage to the original?
I had a specific take on it. And of course the people who designed the creatures and the look then took that and expanded it. You know it’s hard because like, everything has been done and one of the great things about the original movie was how great some of that design was. So, I think we sort of modernized that, I don’t think we tried to create an entirely new vampire, you know. But we definitely had a theme for the vampire. One of the first things that happened when I worked on the movie was they said, yeah, we’re just kind of thinking that this vampire is more like Jaws. So you’ll see some sort of almost shark-like elements in the design.
As a writer, how do you avoid the Buffy comparisons? How do you break Buffy-speak? Do you find yourself falling into writing the characters like that?
Yes and no. I would say part of the reason why I survived the Buffy experience was because of the ear for that. I mean, it’s not nearly as stylized. It’s funny, I went back recently and watched some Buffy because I was doing some lecturing and I was like, wow! We were giving The Gilmore Girls a run for their money. And what’s so funny is that I was so critical of other people’s highly stylized dialogue because it’s so unreal, I went back and watched a couple of episodes and was like, wow! The goal in this one was I think to create a language for the teenagers that felt authentic. And they’re more clever than I am for sure. It takes me longer to make up their dialogue than my own words.
The original was almost an homage to the Universal monster films. Does this kind of look back at vampire films for the last 20 years including some of the rules that were created and some stuff you guys created on Buffy?
You know it’s interesting, I feel like I’ve come to a place where I feel like these movies, because audiences are so sophisticated, you almost try to keep all that to a total minimum. Like, it depends what kind of movie it is, but in this one in particular it’s like let’s just get to it. Like, we all know what vampires are, we all know what the rules are, we over-know it, you know what I mean? And the rules are so malleable now, with True Blood and Twilight, there’s a million different things you can be doing so I felt like let’s give a simple explanation and then just get it to them.
MICHAEL DE LUCA, producer
How hard was this project to get off the ground?
This one wasn’t hard at all, oddly enough. It got set up, developed, and into production on the inside of seven months I think even, so it this was really fast. Things don’t usually go this fast. Marti’s pitch and her script were really galvanizing. Steven loved it, and everybody goes “Oh My God Steven loved it at DreamWorks.” So immediately when that response comes in, all the gates open and the angels come down and the trumpets blare, flowers grow, and we’re all off to the races.
What would you say fraction wise, is new and old?
25% from original, 75% new. And most of original has to do with the premise obviously, and certain scenes are straight up homages that are in the movie. But, I’d say it’s like that kind of ratio.
Can you talk a little bit about the fact you guys are shooting in 3D and what 3D means?
On this one, we thought that with some movies you notice the 3-D is more friendly with like a Steadicam, or a static camera, because it gives your eyes a chance to adjust. And sometimes with action films it’s a challenge to keep the kind of frenetic cutting pattern that you wanna keep and not give people nausea. You want people to have the time for their eyes to settle and clock the 3-D. And we thought what could be neat with a horror film in 3-D is that you’re kind of in the frame with the people onscreen, whether you’re tracking down a hallway, even though you’re moving, you’re still. You’re not like cutting, cutting, cutting. You have a chance for the 3-D to really plant you in the scene. And in horror movies it’s all about dread and anticipation, so if you’re in that corridor on a steadicam shot as you’re moving down the hallway you really feel like you’re floating into the movie because of 3-D, so when you finally get the “boo” pop-out scare we think it can be that much more effective because the 3-D plants you in the scene. So we thought 3-D might be oddly really well suited for a traditional horror film.
Was there a lot of talk of doing post-conversion or was the idea to shoot in 3-D from the onset?
I was campaigning for shooting in 3-D because I had just come off shooting in 3-D with Drive Angry, and I liked the results a lot. Conversion is a developing art, kind of a developing science and the price is coming down, you know, so when I went into Drive Angry the conversion was clearly more expensive than shooting in 3-D, you know, depending on how you did conversion. I guess there’s the Clash [of the Titans] conversion, and then there’s the Piranha 3-D conversion, but I think the conventional thinking was conversion is more expensive than shooting in 3-D when I began Drive Angry. I’m not so sure when we’re through with Fright Night that conversion and shooting won’t be more competitive with each other. And conversion also depends on like how much money you’re going to spend in terms of people and man hours and the artistry involved. It’s picture by picture I guess, like our movie has a pretty restrained budget so it just made more sense to shoot in 3-D, and I don’t personally know how much you’d have to spend for a great, beautiful conversion on a cost per minute and stuff. It just felt like daunting still, but it may be less daunting after Fright Night comes out. I think that it’s equaling out a little bit.
What if 3-D simmers down a bit by the time Fright Night hits in August of 2011?
I’ve read all those articles. Because Priest, you know this movie I did at Screen Gems is a conversion and I read all these articles about how the sky is falling on 3-D, there’s been too many crappy ones and the audience is dwindling per screen, like return on the investment and all. But I keep thinking there are so many crappy movies every year and people still go to the movies…like if it’s good…I keep thinking if it’s good, whether it’s 3-D or 2-D, it’ll get an audience. And if it’s bad, you know, good 3-D won’t save a bad movie and vise-versa. But maybe that’s naive, I hope not, but…
Does conceiving the movie in 3-D in the story-boarding process add to what kind of shots you want to do? Is there more thought that goes into that process?
Not really in the storyboarding process, I think after the storyboards are done, and after, on a visual F/X movie after the film is shot-listed for visual F/X, you start to go “oh that would be a good 3-D shot or look it’s particularly immersive here, or maybe we can do a non-cheesy pop-out thing here. We kind of brought that analysis after the storyboards and the shot-list. I also think the 3-D TV in homes and what’s happening with videogames also plant the flag for 3-D in a way that I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan.
Can you talk a little bit about trying to bring some of the old cast members back, whether there was talk of it?
I can’t talk about it (laughs).
Can you talk about this cast…I mean you have a couple of Brits, an Irishman, an Aussie…why can’t Americans act is really what I’m getting at?
That was accidental though… I was trying to do, even though this is delusions of grandeur, what Ron Moore did with Battlestar Galactica in terms of cheese factor to the original but great in a way, but with a very serious premise. You know, like human extinction is a very serious premise. Boy trying to make that transition to man with first true love and son of a single parent household, with the mother being the parent…there’s a protectiveness where he feels like he’s father, husband, boyfriend. It’s a very complex transition in adolescence to bear all that responsibility. And right when he’s about to fulfill his promise as he’s come out of his shell, like he’s entering senior year of high-school, he’s got his first love, he’s cutting cords with the mom, this alpha male moves in next door, much more confident, older, and starts putting the moves on his life. Even forgetting the vampire element, like there’s a lot of psychological fanatic stuff to play with there and we tried to jack it up to that level. And following that, we wanted a cast that you just know when you hear who they are or see their performances that were treating the premise seriously and mining that premise for scares and appropriate humor and Anton Yelchin is such a great actor and seemed to have gone through a similar transition just in terms of watching his movies, from boy roles to man-boy roles, to heroic man roles he seemed to fit right into our ambition for Charlie.
And also the tone of the picture, because he’s done comedy and drama…
Yeah I loved his Chekhov, loved his Kyle Reese also in [Terminator] Salvation, so that was a no-brainer, and then Colin also, coming off of Crazy Heart and just different character parts he plays, he’s someone with movie-star charisma who’s got incredible acting chops and it seemed to be an easy call to think that he could give us a vampire that would distinguish itself from True Blood and Twilight. There’s so much…there’s always been a lot of vampire stuff, since Stoker throughout history, but we seem to be in a particularly heavy cycle at the moment so, you always go “how can we make this fresh” and he seemed like well, that’s fresh. An actor of his weight to play this version of Jerry Dandridge. It seemed like the right way to go. And Imogen just blew us away with her audition and she’s got such a fresh face, and again, is a really good actress and could deal with the humor. And you know I think you get classically trained actors in genre movies too, and I think sometimes with genre movies you want the bar to suspend disbelief to be higher because what’s going on onscreen is fantastical so you really need a cast that can ground it in reality in a way. And that was our thinking with assembling the cast. We have Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the first Evil Ed is so iconoclastic that I thought we needed someone with almost their own brand of performance to plant the flag on that character, and he brings that.