Writing, just like any art, is a very special process that builds upon layers and layers of creativity and imagination. These layers are what you put your heart and soul into, in order to build something memorable, something unforgettable and something amazing to those who discover it. Films are what give screenwriters plenty of opportunities to show off their gift for spirited, original writing and passionate visuals that transcend the screen.
These passions are what led writer, Jeffrey Reddick, to embark on a spirited journey, which eventually led him to write "Final Destination." Jeffrey's films have become one of the horror genre's most creative and original franchises and one of New Line's most lucrative box office hits. These "Final Destination" films transcended the horror genre and leave thrilling fans all over the world wishing that they will return to the big screen.
Jeffrey was gracious enough to spend some time with me to talk about "Final Destination," how his career began and all the details of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. The interview below will inspire aspiring writers as he gives some very important advice. So sit back and read on.
What inspired you to become a screenwriter? Did you always know you wanted to create movies?
JR: When I was growing up, I always knew I was going to work in the film industry. I loved writing, but my initial dream was to be an actor. I wanted to be the first bi-racial centerfold in Teen Beat magazine (I dreamed big). I majored in theatre and went to New York to pursue that. This was in the early 90’s and non-traditional casting wasn’t in vogue. My agent told me I was an “ethnic Michael J Fox-type” and since I didn’t rap or play basketball, she didn't know what to do with me. So, when “The Cosby Show” got cancelled, I knew I was screwed and decided to write full time.
“Final Destination” completely revamped the horror genre and took it to even newer heights creatively. How did you come up with this idea and concept for a movie?
JR: Thank you. The story behind the original idea is interesting. I was actually on a plane, flying home to Kentucky for the holidays, and I read a magazine article about a young woman who was on vacation. On the day she was supposed to fly home, her mother called her and told her to switch flights because she had a bad feeling. So, the woman took a different flight. The plane she would have been on, crashed. Reading this while on a plane, was spooky enough, but then my wheels started turning. I wondered what would happen if this woman missed her time to die. Then I started thinking about what would happen if death came after her.
How difficult (or easy) was it to come up with the creative ways in which the characters met their demise, or near demise, in the franchise?
JR: How do I say this without sounding creepy? Screw it…I love killing people. Not in real life, of course. Murder is bad. But I’m a life-long horror geek and I’ve seen almost every horror movie ever made. So, for me, I’m always trying to think of deaths I haven’t seen before. Or, I try to put a twist on it. It’s not so much about gore, but trying to be clever. Or, having a death that leaves an emotional impact on the viewer.
Is the horror genre something you want to strictly stay in? Or have you considered writing for/creating projects in other genres?
JR: I will always write horror films. I love the genre and still have a lot of tales I want to tell. However, I’ve written thrillers and have some sci-fi ideas. I’m going to write a comedy one of these days. People say I’m funny and should try it. But my heart is always with horror.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
JR: I don’t really have writer’s block. It’s more “writer’s procrastination.” I tend to work on several things at the same time, so sometimes I get overwhelmed. Then I shut down and want to watch TV, or read comics or take a nap. I think writers are very good at putting off writing. It’s hard work and really mentally draining. I eventually get to a point where I force myself to sit down and write and after a while, I usually get back in the flow of things.
Let’s talk about TentSquare. What made you want to get involved in the project?
JR: Two words. Andrew van den Houten. Wait, that’s four words. Me good at English. Math…not so much. Seriously though, I’ve known Andrew for almost…I don’t want to date myself…but a really long time. And I’ve always admired his drive, passion and love of movies. We’re working on some projects together and when he first approached me about TentSquare his enthusiasm was infectious. He thought it was an insane idea and I told him I thought it was brilliant. I know so many talented filmmakers, from all over the United States, who just don’t have connections in Hollywood, or access to financing. So, when Andrew said he was going to finance a short and a feature, and have a competition to find a director, cinematographer and cast, I was immediately onboard. Not to sound all Oprah, but we’re both big on giving back, and we really see this as a way for anyone, anywhere in the U.S. to get a shot at working on, or being in, a short and a feature. That’s what I love about the concept behind “American Idol.” I think Andrew is doing that for film. But not only is he creating opportunity, he’s building a network of professionals that will grow and allow people to find cast and crew all over the United States. I really have to explain to people that there is no catch here. You just go to the website, sign up and create a profile. Then you can vote, or compete, in the competition. It’s great for anyone interested in the movie industry who wants to participate in a film coming together.
Do you think it’s harder for film students or non-film students whether it’s acting, directing or writing to break into the business now more so than before?
JR: It depends on what your definition of “breaking in” is. I always tell people they shouldn’t focus on becoming a star or famous. If that’s your main focus, you’re in the business for the wrong reasons. Your goal as an artist is to get your work seen and hopefully someday make enough money to live comfortably. And there are the lucky few who hit the jackpot. But today it’s easier than ever to find an audience for your work. There are more networks than ever and people are finding success online. Whether it’s creating their own material, or submitting stuff to Hulu, Netflix or Amazon, but with more outlets, you also have more people flooding the market. There’s some great talent out there, but there are also some very untalented people who are cluttering the marketplace. So, you have to be patient and persistent. It takes time to cut through the clutter and stand out.
There are many aspiring writers in this world. What advice would you give to those trying to succeed in the entertainment world?
JR: I have a lot of advice. Let me get in to my “Old-Man-River spouting knowledge” mode. Actually, I can only speak from my experience, which is unique because I grew up in the studio system. I worked at New Line Cinema for over a decade. It was in the 90’s. Bob Shaye ran the show and we had great executives like Mike De Luca who were real mavericks. New Line was at its peak as far as being a major, rule-breaking, risk-taking studio. We were like a family and I’ll always hold those times and people close to my heart. But I’ve learned several things:
- Be open to constructive criticism. That’s the only way you grow as an artist. I’ve met too many first-time writers who think they’re brilliant. And they aren’t. No first-time writer is...I wasn’t. Writing is like any skill; you develop and hone it over time.
- Surround yourself with a few key people you trust. A lot of people don’t look at your work as “how can this script be improved?” Rather, they look at it and say, “Well I would have written it this way”. So, they’re judging you by what they would have done, not what will make your script better. You’ll also find negative people who will hate everything you do or try to tear you down. So, avoiding toxic people is important. They’ll kill your creativity. On the flip side, you don’t just want people around you who love EVERYTHING you do. So, your mom isn’t the best person to decide if your script is ready to go out. (Even though I’m sure she’s awesome.)
- Stick with it. When I first moved to New York, I heard a director say it takes 10 years of toiling in your artistic field before you start making a living at it. At first I scoffed at that. I went to New York for the summer at 19. I got an agent, started doing extra work and got a temp job at New Line Cinema. So I was like, “10 years my ass.” But it was actually 10 years from the day I graduated high school that I sold “Final Destination.” I think they say 10 years, because you have to be willing to stick with it for that long. There are so many people who show up in Hollywood as actors, writers, directors…and give themselves a year or two to make it and then leave. These unrealistic goals have killed many dreams, but people like that also fill the market and are only in it for a short time. So, you have to outlast these people.
- Develop a tough skin.
What upcoming projects do you have in store for the big screen that we should look forward to in the future?
JR: I’m working on an adaptation of a great young adult book property with Andrew van den Houten, called “The Undertakers.” It’s written by Ty Drago and it’s an awesome book. I’ve got a few other horror projects that look really promising, including two TV shows and my first e-book. So, it should be an interesting 2014. I’m also looking forward to writing the TentSquare feature, after they do the short competition. I hope people vote for the horror genre, but that’s the beauty of TentSquare. You all can vote for me to write a comedy. Or a drama. But even if it is a comedy, I’ll end up killing people. That’s just how I roll. :)
Special thanks to Jeffrey for being so gracious with his time and sitting down with me to share his personal experiences.
Here's Jeffrey's bio:
"At the age of 14, after watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jeffrey typed a 10-page prequel treatment and sent it to New Line Cinema. But the studio didn't accept unsolicited material and returned it unread. Jeffrey then wrote New Line chairman, Robert Shaye, directly and asked him to read the treatment. Shaye read it and responded. This was the beginning of a letter-and-phone relationship with Shaye and his assistant that lasted for years. While in college, Jeffrey landed an internship at New Line and worked for the studio for almost 11 years. New Line produced Jeffrey's first screenplay, Final Destination (2000). He quit his full-time job at New Line after selling his treatment for Final Destination 2. Reddick was a special guest of the The When's and the Where's on July 2010 in the Universal Studios Backlot."