Screenwriter Marti Noxon has had career infested with the supernatural. After great success with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show, she worked on Mad Men with the ethereally handsome Jon Hamm and then jumped to the screen with I Am Number Four.
Her latest is Fright Night, and, okay, if you check out her resume, it features a lot of TV shows that have absolutely zero werewolves or ghosts or anything, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a massive fan of things that go bump in the screen light.
My extended interview with Noxon will be a part of next week’s Reject Radio, but here’s a healthy part of the conversation to whet your appetite – including some talk about the screenwriting process, how she first got the idea for the script’s direction, and how Las Vegas is like a Spielberg suburb turned wasteland.
First of all, congratulations on writing a teenager with no supernatural powers.
Ah, at last! [Laughs]. The power of nerdy-ness, which should not be underestimated.
How does it feel to be working with vampires again?
It had been a long time, so my appetite for it was back. We all needed a little break after, in my case 6 years, and for some even longer [on Buffy]. I was really eager to get back into it, and I just felt like this project was such a good strong, original premise. Also, it was the return of a classic monster movie vampire, not a glittery, sparkly, romantic one. Which I have no problem with, but I was ready for the other kind.
Yeah, there’s nothing sparkly about Colin Farrell.
In another interview, you likened the idea of Fright Night to a Spielberg wasteland. Could you expound on that?
Yeah, I spent some time in Vegas when I was doing some canvassing for Obama back in 2008. I, for a long time, had been interested in doing a family drama set in Vegas because when I went there for various things, I would always look around, and one time I was in the older part of Vegas, and I realized there was a high school in the shadow of this casino. So I thought, “How do people raise good children here? How do you raise a family and keep them intact?” It’s always been interesting to me, but when we were canvassing, the mortgage crisis really hit the Nevada area particularly hard because they had been in a giant growth spurt.
I’m not kidding when I say that every block had three or four houses that were abandoned or for sale or in foreclosure. So many times you’d knock on the door, and there’d be toys on the lawn and nobody there. Like they’d taken off in the middle of the night, and I just started thinking this was such an eerie ghost town. At the very same time, it’s still a functioning community and it looks just like the neighborhoods from E.T. and Poltergeist and all those movies that we all love so much.
And then of course, it’s a night culture, and people come and go from this town. Millions of people come in and out probably on a daily basis. I thought, “It would just be awesome to be a vampire here.” [Laughs]
So I’d already been rolling that idea around in my head when Fright Night came up, and I was like, “Oh my god. If I can sell them on Vegas, it gives me such a strong starting point in terms of tone and place. Mr. Spielberg was one of the people producing the movie, so there’s also this nice kind of nod to those movies I love so much.
Do you feel like you kept enough of the family drama element in the finished product?
I do. I think that’s one of the reasons people are responding to the movie. Mike De Luca, another producer on the project, told me early on that, “I’m a big believer in the first act. I really believe in setting up these characters and letting the movie stew for a while, and it’s okay if the action takes a little while to get going because once you’re invested in those people it’s so much more frightening. It’s so much more tense.” So I do feel like we managed to get in – there were various versions of the movie before we ended up with the cut we have. You know, test audiences are notorious for getting kind of itchy when people talk too much, and you have to trust your instincts that they don’t necessarily understand that you’re not digesting the movie on a scene by scene basis. You may be feeling a little impatient, but that’s going to pay off later on.
That’s a great starting point, because I was hoping we could talk a bit about your screenwriting process. Particularly with the first act, you have this inspiration from Las Vegas, but when you’re back at home working, is the creation process completely internal or is there something you can point to?
It’s a little bit of both. When something works the best for me, the first thing that happens is, whether I have the idea or it comes from another source like an older movie or a book or something – first and foremost, if I have a gut level reaction that tells me that I understand emotionally what the core of the store is, then I’ve already started off in a better place than when I’m coming from my head and thinking, “Commercially, this would be a good idea” or “I should take this project because it’ll make a lot of money or because I like these people.” All these other reasons for doing something, I’ve never had as much success as when I say to myself, “I get that. I know what the feelings that that character would be going through would be like. I can feel a through line from beginning to end.”
So if I have that kind of gut feeling, I’m learning more to trust that and not jump just because I’m afraid I’m never gonna get another job.
That’s a big part of the process. Making the right choice from the beginning. Not getting distracted by shiny things.
Tune in on Wednesday for the full interview and another riveting edition of Reject Radio. Fright Night is in theaters now.