Wednesday, January 27, 2010
1) What is the biggest challenge you feel that writers face today?
A) I think the biggest challenge for writers is being at the mercy of an industry run by people who are more focused on the bottom line than creativity. Personally, I think you can write a great film that’s also commercially successful. But the current development process is geared towards making scripts as safe and mainstream as possible. I come from a studio background, having worked at New Line Cinema for over 10 years. And there was a real maverick spirit there back in the day. They weren’t afraid to try new things. But a lot of executives are so afraid of greenlighting a film that fails, that they hire a stream of writers to rewrite the script to death and resort to formulas that appeal to the lowest common denominator. They’ll “dumb down” a script in the name of mass appeal. Or do remakes over original content because it feels safer.
But on the bright side, with the advent of the digital age, it’s a lot easier for writers to get their scripts produced outside of the studio system and find an audience.
2) What has been one of your biggest challenges specifically?
A) My biggest challenge stems from the first question. It’s trying to find that fine line between creativity and commerce. But in regards to a particular project, it was probably writing the remake of “Day of The Dead.” That was a situation where I took the job, fully intending to make a film that appealed to the fans of the original film and brought the story into modern times. But after I was hired, it became clear that they didn’t want to make that movie. So, it was a constant struggle to keep in the themes, characters and set pieces that I knew the fans of the original would want to see. In the end, I lost that fight. Writers just don’t have the clout in the film world that they have in television. I say that was my biggest personal challenge, because it was just about me, but the fans of Romero’s original film. I’m a lifelong horror geek and I knew touching a George Romero film was a risky gamble. But I sincerely thought we could make a film that was reverent to the original and introduce a new audience his classic. And when we didn’t achieve that, I felt like I let down the fans.
3) Where do you find your inspiration to write?
A) My inspiration comes from having a story that I want to tell. The thing I love about the horror genre is that you can touch on so many universal themes and affect people on a primal level. I love scaring people, but I also try and layer in elements to make them think. (I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious.) With “Final Destination” it was the fear of death. With “Tamara” it was a female-empowerment, revenge-of-the-geek story. My latest script deals with the consequences of not helping your fellow man…or woman.
4) What current projects are you working on?
A) I’ve got several projects I’m really excited about. The first is a supernatural TV series I created with a dear friend, David Sporn. Gale Anne Hurd is producing it. She created “The Terminator” with James Cameron and produced it, along with “Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Tremors” and many other great genre films. So having Gale involved is amazing. I’m also putting the finishing touches on a new script that’s part thriller/part supernatural horror. And I’m close to locking in the financing for my directorial debut.
5) Is horror your favorite genre?
A) Horror is hands down my favorite genre. I started watching horror films when I was a wee lad. In the beginning, it was all about the gore. But over time, I began to appreciate the fact that you could scare people on a much deeper level. My friends, who write comedies, love to hear the audience laugh during their films. I love to hear them gasp and scream.
6) You, of course, are mostly known for the Final Destination franchise. Have your tried writing anything else besides horror?
A) I’ve written one thriller and I had a spooky animated series optioned by The Cartoon Network. Most of my stuff has been horror films or thrillers. But I’ve got a cool sci-fi project I want to tackle someday. And at some point, I’d like to write a comedy. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but some of my friends say I’m funny. But I think they may just be humoring me.
7) What is your ideal writing sanctuary?
A) I usually write at home or at a coffee shop. Writing is a very solitary thing. I find that if I write at home too much, I start getting stir crazy because I’m not interacting with people. I like the coffee shop, because it’s such a cliché. Seriously though, I have a lot of friends there, so I can get my social interaction and not feel like such a hermit.
8)Do you think that being openly gay affects your writing?
A) Every facet of who we are, and what we’ve been through, influences our writing. I think one thing about my scripts, which isn’t standard for horror films, is that I like to write strong female characters. And I don’t do it in any kind of fetish way, where the girls are dressed slutty, kissing other girls and then kicking ass. I think that’s more of a straight male fantasy of a tough chick. I’ve always respected the strength of women, mainly because my mom is one tough, Southern broad. And I never write stereotypical gay characters. For decades, gay caricitures in horror films have been set up as the brunt of easy jokes, or as someone that the male lead can recoil from in order to assert his straightness. So, I’m mindful of that.
9) What are your goals/aspirations?
A) My current goals are to set up the TV series and direct my first feature. But in the long run, I would love to be in a position where I can produce and finance films. I’ve seen too many great scripts go unmade…or worse, get turned in to crappy movies.
10) What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters and/or filmmakers?
A) The thing I constantly tell writers is do is write. It sounds obvious, but that’s the one thing you have control over. It’s also the only way to grow as artists. All my stuff isn’t gold…but over the years, I have evolved and hopefully gotten better with each script. And one last piece of advice, which applies to writers and filmmakers, is to try and finance your projects independently. The independent route is the best chance you’ll have to see your script, or film, get made right. Studios will market test and second guess the script…changing it at the whim of a director, producer, actor or test group. With all of the advances in digital, it’s gotten affordable to make your own film. That way you can have a product you’re proud of and a calling card to get more work.