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Interview: The Writers of Friday the 13th

Shannon, Swift talk Jason, kills & cuts

No matter where Freddy vs. Jason rests on your list of all-time favorite Friday the 13th films, one has to agree there were many stark lessons to be learned after seeing the long in development genre mash-up.

“One of the biggest things was tonality. The intermingling of horror and comedy, how best to do that,” admits Damian Shannon, co-writer (with Mark Swift) of the 2003 celluloid smackdown presided over by ringleader/director Ronny Yu. “I don’t think that worked perfectly in Freddy vs. Jason.” Swift agrees, “We’re not totally thrilled with that movie. It got too cartoony for us. We also learned there’s nothing more painful in horror movies than having kids explain plot and trying to explain mythology to each other. It’s brutal.”

The pair was bestowed with the opportunity to take another crack at one side of the quarreling terror titans: Jason Voorhees. Shannon and Swift hooked Friday the 13th, the latest reboot to come from Michael Bay’s house of horrors Platinum Dunes, and began working in 2007 from a foundation lovingly poured by screenwriter Mark Wheaton.

Cognizant of their mistakes in Freddy vs. Jason, the first mandate the writers set down was to make “the kids sound natural,” says Swift. “Just be normal. We didn’t even want them to know [Jason's] name. We just wanted to have them sort of fresh and have an experience.” Shannon continues, “We definitely wanted to avoid the Scooby-Doo cliché where it’s a bunch of kids trying to figure something out.”

“We wanted it to feel nostalgic, almost like an ’80s movie where they’re unaware,” Swift adds.

And this is how the two volley their answers. One begins, the other finishes, expounding on the thought at hand. Both dressed in black, Shannon and Swift are timid. That may be because it’s less than twelve hours after a press screening of the latest Voorhees outing and they have no idea what kind of reception they’re going to receive when they walk into the press room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “If you hate the movie, we’re to blame,” jokes Swift at one point during our discussion. No worries, we didn’t hate the movie.

Friday the 13th is a back-to-the-basics fright fest and getting there meant implementing change in the man with the hockey mask. No more of the blackened, towering goon who walked with a Frankenstein’s monster-like stride in Freddy vs. Jason. The writers disclose when they first met with Platinum Dunes’ Brad Fuller and Andrew Form to talk about the film, “we said, Let’s make this guy lean and mean and fast and real,” recalls Swift. “Make this guy someone who survives in the woods. What would he be like? For this movie, I don’t think he should be the shark in Jaws. He should be more intelligent, set people up. Traps. That was something that hadn’t been done. Derek [Mears] – who I think when all is said and done is going to be the best Jason of all time – he brought a lot to it. It was important to us to not show his whole childhood explained. I think that takes away the mystery and the magic and what makes him great.”

“We wanted to keep it so realistic that when you’re down in his tunnels you see that he has deer carcasses,” says Shannon. “He hunts, he survives, he eats.” But this extra visual layer that adds some insight into the “Voorhees lifestyle” proved to be costly. Swift elaborates, “It turns out a deer carcass costs $100,000, which I did not know. I remember the day Brad [Fuller] called and said ‘no deer carcass.’ Everything costs money.”

Budget crunches proved to be more lethal for certain written sequences than a pitchfork to the gut. The conclusion was envisioned as “bigger” than what’s on screen. Swift says it was too complicated for the money director Marcus Nispel had on hand. One particular death suffered a downsize as well. “It was our favorite and we simply just couldn’t make it because you can’t spend a lot of money on these movies and we understand that.”

“Whenever you write a movie, it’s always your most favorite part that gets cut out,” Shannon laments, detailing the metamorphosis of a Crystal Lake kill in which a young woman who has gone swimming spots Jason on the shore. “Our original intent was for her to be stuck there wading for hours and hours, time passes, finally she just drowns. We never saw anything like that, but they went with something a little more visceral.”

In spite of these changes, the scribes still got a kick out of devising the many ways of offing pretty young faces. But the greatest threat they faced was the possibility of repeating something the audience has seen over the last eleven film entries. “There have been so many movies and so many kills,” Swift smiles. “You’ve got to do your homework because there’s going to be a fan that grabs you and says, You ripped this off. Or, It’s too much like this one! You’ve got to be careful.” What they ultimately found was common ground: Spin old kills (look for a sleeping bag roast) as well as create new ones. And to commemorate the reboot, Shannon and Swift created the blueprint for thirteen deaths.

This writer inquires if the presence of a wheelchair spotted in Jason’s tunnels is the type of reference to the older films that gets scripted. Swift says yes: “And if you put in twenty, just because of the nature of making a movie, four might make it. You hope you describe exactly what the sweater should look like for Mrs. Voorhees. Will it turn out? Maybe not, but you try. You got to make sure the fanboys get all of those nods.”

“We like to plant Easter Eggs for the fans and hopefully they’ll spot those,” Shannon beams. These fun morsels sprinkled throughout the film beg the question, however – where does this Friday the 13th fit into the existing series? It’s decidedly a restart of the Voorhees legend, but “fans can argue to themselves that this is kind of a sequel with the only returning character being Jason” Swift says. “I think that’s great because we’re not telling people those movies don’t exist. I love those movies and they’re not being thrown out, I hope the hardcore guys can still say this felt like a sequel in many ways.”

The two are continue to write together, focusing more on original fare than remakes. Within the last year they passed on Rosemary’s Baby. “The guys who wrote Freddy vs. Jason have no place doing Polanski,” Shannon rightly confesses. He adds they’re now doing a rewrite of an action-horror project called Inland Saints for director Joel Schumacher.

Just don’t hold your breath for a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash. “I don’t think we would be interested in writing that movie,” says Swift. “It would, by the very nature of its beast, be campy. I love Ash, I love Evil Dead, but once you put three in there, I wouldn’t have been interested in writing it.”

Shannon concurs, “We’ve done our version and they came to us and asked [for a sequel], but we told them maybe someone else should come in and tackle it because we shot our wad, so to speak. We don’t know what we could have done. We always said to New Line, you need to just reboot these characters.”

Friday the 13th opens in theaters on February 13th. Click here to read a full set visit.


Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor