Marti Noxon speaks with the sort of joyous enthusiasm you can’t fake. After the Smallville creators (and at least one uncredited script doctor) took a stab at the I Am Number Four script, Noxon sat down to add her geek-property prowess (with episodes of Buffy, Mad Men, and the script to the remake of Fright Night under her belt) to the project about an alien discovering his powers and hiding out from other aliens that want him dead.
Noxon was nice enough to take some time out of her day to talk to us about the science fiction flick, how a ghost named Bertha acted as a catalyst for her writing , and to respond to one critic’s fear that Fright Night won’t be gory enough.
Can you talk a bit about the process of writing a script that’s already been written?
It’s always a challenge because the kind of work I did on this movie was relatively surgical if you know what I mean. They’ve had this story for a long time, they know what they want, and they know what they don’t want so you’re coming into work around things that are pre-existing. It’s like a big puzzle.
In some ways it’s great. You have constraints. You’re not staring at a blank page. But in other ways it’s difficult because you can’t just start from scratch.
Were there any specific notes to make it directly appeal to the Twilight crowd?
They were very solidly going after a young audience that’s into science fiction, fantasy and romance, so that mandate was inherent in the material.
Do you have any interest in writing about a teenager that has no supernatural powers whatsoever?
[Laughs] Why would I want to do that?
I have no idea. [Laughs] What’s the appeal of the supernatural for you?
I love writing. I went from doing mostly genre stuff to spending the better part of two years doing non-genre stuff, which was also really fun. Particularly on Mad Men and Grey’s Anatomy, although I often said to [show creator] Shonda [Rhimes] that I thought Grey’s Anatomy was a super hero show, too, because those people – just like my heroes – were redeemable many times because they could save lives, and you could always cut to something life threatening for excitement. You didn’t have to stay in melodrama all the time.
After doing straight drama for a while, I really did miss how much fun and how much creativity there is in the genre world, and also how you can write things sometimes that aren’t quite so on the nose because you’ve got your handy metaphor – your handy monster as a metaphor.
You’ve mentioned before that when you were younger, you were picked on, a little weird, and had to retreat to a fantasy world. Which world did you retreat to?
[Laughs] I was really obsessed with ghost stories, I think in part because my mother believed there was a ghost in our house and told me that there was this ghost named Bertha who lived in the attic. I think that had a really big influence on me. [Laughs] From that point on, I think I gravitated toward ghost stories.
Did you go hunting for Bertha?
Oh, yeah. We had a Ouija Board. We tried to contact Bertha, and because I was a kid, I thought I saw her, and I was terrified all the time. Thanks, mom!
For being terrified. Fantastic.
Truly! I’m sure that part of the reason why I do this for a living is because I grew up in a constant mild state of fear.
In I Am Number Four, you’ve got a hero that’s not from this planet, he has special powers. Is he the character you connected with the most?
It’s funny because I find that often, especially in genre stuff, your main character is not allowed to be – they have to be heroic ultimately. I probably empathized the most with [high school science enthusiast] Sam the most, and a little bit with [camera-happy love interest] Sarah, but the John character is your anchor.
This movie leaves a lot of questions unanswered. As a writer is it frustrating to leave those questions open or is it a little exciting?
I prefer a little mystery to having everything tied up neatly.
Does that mean these characters are ones you want to live with a while longer?
I would love to explore [battle-tested alien] Number 6 some more. I would love to stick around long enough to give Sarah some kick-ass moments. I’m still very invested in these guys. I’d love to keep writing them.
Where are they at on the sequel?
I think we’ll know a lot more Monday.
Based on the box office.
They certainly talk about it, but if anything is going to happen, we’ll have to see where it goes.
What are some joys of seeing your work on screen either theatrically or television-ally?
This is the first time I’ve ever been in a theater with a big audience seeing something I’d written. That’s the weird part about doing television – you get feedback from the internet, but you don’t get real-time feedback. So the fun, of course, is seeing what plays and what doesn’t. Well, that’s not always fun – seeing what doesn’t. But getting a live response is really, really awesome.
As far as Fright Night, the other day another writer showed some concerns on where the movie was going. Did you catch wind of that?
The concerns were that it wasn’t going to be as gory as the first and that the Las Vegas setting took away the small-town-anonymous-suburbia feel. Do you have a response to those concerns?
If you want to see the original Fright Night, you should go rent that movie.
We’re not trying to make a replica of the original, and that movie already exists. So if we didn’t make it different, there would be complainers about that, too.
Well said. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Thank you so much.
I Am Number Four is currently in theaters and Fright Night is set for a release on the very scary weekend of August 19, 2011.