Interview: Jeffrey Reddick talks Final Destination, Day of the Dead, directing ‘Don’t Look Back’ and more!

We were delighted to speak with Jeffrey Reddick; the writer and creator of the massively successful supernatural horror Final Destination which has spawned it’s own franchise, ahead of the world premiere of his directorial debut Don’t Look Back at Frightfest 2020 (October Edition).

“I’m not scared of monsters or ghosts or hockey masked killers. The thing that really scares me is how easily people can turn on each other”

How did the idea for ‘Final Destination’ come about and how was this journey from script to screen?

So the idea for Final Destination first came to me when I read a newspaper article. I was on a plane actually flying home to Kentucky. And I read an article about a woman who was on vacation and her mother called her and said, “don’t take the flight you’re on tomorrow. I have a bad feeling about it”. So the woman changed her flight and the flight went down. So I read that story and that actually put the idea in the back of my head. But I didn’t know what the story was for it yet. And when I was trying to get a TV agent, you know, back in the day, they would have you write a spec script for a show that was already on TV…I was a big fan of The X Files. And so I originally wrote a sample for the X Files using that setup about a person having a premonition and getting off a flight. And fortunately, my friends at New Line Cinema, the studio I worked at,…they were like, dude, this is a feature….don’t give us to a TV show…come up with a feature for it. So then I wrote an outline for a feature and developed it with these producers, Craig Perry and Warren Zide. And, you know, after months and months of back and forth with the studio, because they weren’t able to get their head around the idea of a movie where you didn’t see the killer, where death was a killer.

So that was like a really tough selling point to get them to buy the property. But when we threatened to take it to another studio, they finally bought it. And, yeah, that’s that’s how it started. And it was a really interesting journey because, you know, originally the concept was that the characters were all going to be adults that didn’t know each other. And then Scream came out and all of a sudden teenagers were hot again. So they’re like, you have to make it all teenagers. And so, yeah, I wrote the first draft of the script, and then we went out and got James Wong and Glen Morgan, who ironically worked on the X Files TV show…they worked on some of my favourite episodes. And, you know, they did it. They did a pretty big rewrite on the script and directed it and turned it into what ended up on the screen, which I think is a really fun, cool movie. I’m really, really proud of that property…..Really proud of that film. 

What did you think of the film’s subsequent sequels and the prospect of a sixth film and did you ever envisage the film having such a lasting legacy?

I actually wrote the story for the second film, so I had a lot of fun with that one. What I wanted to do with that film was to expand on the mythology of the first film and bring back some original characters and also kind of set up a group of teenagers that you thought were gonna be the leads and then have them get killed spectacularly. So I wrote the story for that. But Eric Bress and Jay Mackie Gruber wrote the screenplay and they obviously added a lot to my story as well.  And I honestly, I love the second one a little bit more than the first one, to be honest, like it’s just more fun. I just…Love the freeway pile up in the beginning. Like, I think that’s kind of become the iconic opening for the franchise. And, you know, I came up with that after going home to Kentucky and getting stuck behind a log truck as well.  

And David Ellis, who is no longer with us unfortunately directed this opening so well that….I just have so much fun watching the second one. I love it. And I love the fifth one, too. The last one that came out. I’ve enjoyed all of them, though. I have to be honest, like I think they’re all very entertaining films. And I love seeing different creative people bring to the table when they kind of interpret the concept and, you know, come up with their take on it. So it’s been a really fun franchise to see. 

And yes, there will be a sixth one. It was in the works for real…it was really in the works before Covid hit. So that’s kind of obviously put everything on hold with development. So I think once…Hollywood kind of gets back into the groove of things, you know, they’ll start working on that again….but there will be a sixth one. Absolutely. And of course, just being a horror fan myself, I love sequels. So I’m like, make as many as you want. Just keep making them. I love it. It’s it’s awesome!

I had hoped that there would be sequels, but I don’t think you can ever imagine a film becoming kind of a cultural touchstone. Like, you know, I still hear people today. Something will happen and they’ll be like, ‘oh, that was a final destination moment’. And so to have it be part of the Culture, the popular culture is something I never imagined. And….just as I always go back to being that horror fan, you know, living in the small town in Kentucky, you know, always wanted to be in the business and work in horror. So it’s just really I’m just so grateful that it touched as many people as it did. And just it’s fun entertainment. You know….it’s got a deep theme, of course, like mortality.  But it’s just it’s a fun horror franchise…And I’m just I’m glad that it’s found the audience that it has and that it’s lasted as long as it has….It’s really exciting and thrilling. 

How did you approach adapting George A Romero’s work for 2008’s ‘Day of The Dead’ and what are your thoughts on the Zombie genre?

When I first was approached about that, they already had Steve Miner attached to direct the movie. And I always liked his work a lot. So to get a chance to work with him was something I really wanted to do. And when I first wrote it, because I knew….you know, I’m a fan myself, I knew that there was going to be a backlash against remaking a classic film. So, you know, the pitch that I sold the studio was very faithful to the original film. I liked the original film a lot. I look at the themes of it and the characters. I love it. You know, I love zombie movies. I love all kinds of horror films. 

So when I when I first got the job, I was really excited because I was like, well, I’m going to get to make a pretty faithful adaptation and just kind of update it for modern times and put some twist on it. The only issue is that once we got into really developing it before we started shooting is I kept getting notes that, you know…take it away from the original. So everything all the connections that I had made towards the original film in the parallels…they wanted me to change. And of course, you’re getting paid for a job at this point. So you can’t really fight people on that. So at the end of the day, I think the movie, if it was just called Anything But ‘Day of the Dead’ I think people would enjoy it. But…you know, obviously tackling such a big legacy a George Romero’s, which, you know, you really can’t do…I think that Tom Savini’s ‘Night Of the Living Dead’, was a really great example of just modernising the original film and not deviating too far from it.

So, you know, that was my only qualm…..when I first got the job, I was doing interviews. I’m like…”The fans are gonna love it”. And then later interviews, I was like, “it’s a movie” because I kept telling myself you were gonna get killed for…getting so far away from what George Romero did with the first film. Like, it’s really we’re gonna get killed for this. So I definitely enjoyed the movie. I think it’s well shot. And I love the actors and actresses in it and Steve Miner, but I just do wish it wasn’t called Day of the Dead now, because it’s like I knew before it came out. I’m like, yeah, the fans are going to hate it. 

But I think if you watch it on its own as just movie, I think it’s really well done and better than a lot of, you know, well not better than a lot of zombie movies. I shouldn’t say that, but I think it’s it’s a really well done zombie movie. I just wish it was called something else. 

What can you tell us about your directorial debut ‘Don’t Look Back’ and how has the transition to the Director’s chair been?

It is kind of a supernatural mystery about a group of people who witnessed somebody being assaulted in a park. And don’t intervene to help. And the person dies and the witnesses get outed to the public. And then something or someone starts killing them off. So our lead character, Caitlin Kramer, is somebody who’s overcoming some tragedy in her past. And she’s got some issues like she has hallucinations from this tragic incident that happened in her past.  And she becomes convinced that she’s seeing signs that are pointing her to the something supernatural being after them. And everybody else around her thinks that it’s all in her head and that somebody physically is trying to kill them. So it’s kind of a what’s doing it as opposed to who’s doing it, because you don’t know if it’s supernatural or a killer or if it’s all in her head until the end. So for me, it was a really fun challenge for a first time director because we had to do it independently, like the studios that were interested in really wanted me to either make it a straight up supernatural film and, you know, in the vein final destination or make it a slasher movie in the vein of Scream.

And I didn’t want to do that with this one. I wanted to kind of play in that middle ground where you’re not sure what’s after them. Just because I thought that was you know….it’d be easy for me to do one or the other, but to kind of keep people guessing required a different skill set. And it was a pretty big challenge. And so that’s why I really wanted to tell this story. And, you know, I think it’s gotten more resonant, unfortunately, as time has passed, because we’ve seen it, especially in the last year or two, that when people see something horrible happening, their first instinct is to pull out their cell phone and record it and not call the police. And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, especially here in the States.

And I feel like people have just lost the human connection that we used to have in that empathy that we used to have for people. Because, you know, I don’t expect people to jump in the middle of a fight where they put their life in danger. But if you have a cell phone, you can call the police. You know, you can yell out stop, but people will just whip out phones and start recording and then run home and are posted on the Internet, like right away because they seem to want to get like Internet fame. So that’s something that’s kind of sad, I think, and frightening about where we’re at. Kind of as a society. And that’s definitely like kind of the undercurrent of this film is like, you know, where’s the empathy for people? You know, it also deals with fate or karma and faith and guilt. So there’s other themes in there. But, you know, it’s still like a fun. You know, there’s still the scares. It’s not a it’s not a more verbose kind of preachy movie….it’s still a fun mystery. But, yeah, I wanted it to kind of deal with those themes. 

You know, the transition to directing….it’s funny. You don’t know what you don’t know until you do it. Like I’ve been on a lot of film sets and thought that out. Like watching a lot of amazing directors work. And I’m like, oh, I know how to do this.  But as a writer, especially in features, once there’s a director and stars on board, it’s kind of like the writer is completely like, you know, ‘the help’ at that point. It’s just like if they want you to do something, you do it. And if you don’t want to do it, they’ll get somebody to do it for you. Like, so you either do rewrites or they’ll just rewrite it. So you’re kind of like, forgotten at that point…I’ve always gone to sets being mindful, like my script is in this director’s hands now, and it’s his vision that he’s filming. So I’ve been very mindful of going on sets and like kind of just staying back and watching and learning. So to be on the other side of that, where it’s like it’s, you know, you’re in charge and your dictating everything. It was a little different because I realized, like a lot of the stuff that I had written, you know, practically we couldn’t shoot it as written, you know, because of budgetary reasons and location reasons.

So there are a lot of things that came up that kind of figured into the final equation of how the film turned out that I didn’t necessarily appreciate when I was a writer on something, because I’m like, why didn’t they do it more like I wrote it? And then once you’re actually filming, you’re like, oh, there’s a lot of reasons that a film doesn’t turn out exactly as you wrote it. So it was definitely a great learning experience for my first film, and I think it turned out well.

What can you tell us about your involvement with ‘The Call’ starring Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell which your are producing?

Yes, I produced ‘The Call’ with Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell, and that was directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., who did a movie that I co-wrote with two writers; Bill Helfand and Jonathan Doyle called The Final Wish that came out a couple of years ago. So I’ve always been a fan of Lin’s and got to know her really well on the final wish. And Lynn actually brought this project to Timothy and Timothy came to me to kind of produce it. And it was a great experience. Obviously, working with Lynn Shay anytime is a wonderful experience. But to also put her and Tobin Bell together onscreen is just magic. And we had a great cast and a great crew on that film. Everybody was wonderful. All the younger talent was wonderful. And it’s a supernatural thriller, which tends to be my jam about these kids that pull a prank on you.

There’s these kids in a small town who keep kind of pulling these pranks on this woman who they believed was responsible for the death of one of the lead characters younger sister’s and one of these pranks leads to tragedy. And I guess you can spoil a little bit of it because it’s in the trailer. But Lin Shaye’s character ends up committing suicide and then she’s buried with her phone. So the kids are called to this this house by Tobin Bell, who basically says, you know, I’m going to go to the police unless you fulfil my wife’s last wishes and go upstairs and call this number and stay on the phone for a minute. And then if you do, you’ll get like ten thousand dollars. And so the kids do it and then they realise that she’s been buried with phone. So whenever they call her, they’re connected to her spirit and supernatural mayhem occurs. So it’s a really fun, crazy film. And I had a lot of fun, you know, helping develop the script and, you know, talking with Tim about it, the talent and helping them cast. And I was on set pretty much every day as well. Just doing what I could to make sure things run as smoothly as possible. So that was a that’s a really fun horror film that’s out now and then mine comes out in two weeks. So it’s like it’s gonna be a fun Halloween. 

It’s almost Halloween, and this year has been scary for different reasons, but can you tell us what Really scares you?

Yeah, you know what, really? You know, people have asked me this before and I gave it thought and it’s it’s been the same answer because it’s true. 

But, you know, I’m not scared of monsters or ghosts or hockey masked killers. The thing that really scares me is how easily people can turn on each other. And, you know, whether it’s racism, whether it’s sexism or homophobia or Islamophobia or any phobia of any kind of prejudice. Like, I’ve just seen how people can just have hatred and fear stirred up into them and just do horrible things to other human beings. And so that capacity for…evil, I guess, you know, or that capacity that we have to harm other people and how easily that can be turned on to turn us against one another really frightens me a lot. It it frightens me more than anything, to be honest. 

What are your personal favourite horror movies and inspirations?

My favourite horror films? A Nightmare on Elm Street, is my favorite movie of all time. From every aspect, from the writing to the directing, to the set pieces and the music and the characters. I love that movie. 

But I also love Halloween. I love Suspiria. I love Friday the 13th… I love Candyman

There’s just so many movies….I continually get inspired, inspired by the classics like Psycho and The Omen and The Exorcist. But, you know, new movies come out that inspire me tot like, you know, Get Out really inspired me a lot. And Mike Flanagan’s, a director who continually inspires me with his work, and John Carpenter, you know, I already said Halloween, but, yeah, I just I get inspired by seeing something that’s fresh and new and that gets under my skin in a way that that a movie hasn’t done in a long time. So but those are my kind of big top, you know, film inspirations. 

I mean, Stephen King and Clive Barker are my writing inspirations. You know, those are my writing gods, growing up it was William Shakespeare, but he’s not horror. Well, he is kind of horror. 

Any other upcoming projects?

I’m working on two projects, two animated series for Netflix right now. 

One of them hasn’t been announced yet. So I. But hopefully that’ll happen soon. But the one that has been announced is a spinoff series of Usagi Yojimbo, which is a famous Japanese comic book. And it’s about a samurai rabbit and his group of wacky friends. It’s it’s a really great comic book. And we’re working with the creator of the series on the show to make sure that we’re very faithful to the mythology of the series. And it’s just a really fun show. And it’s it’s a lot different than the dark, bloody stuff that I write. 

So that’s that’s what I’m working on currently. And in addition to that, I’m I’ve just got some TV shows and some features I’m trying to get off the ground. 

Obviously, this pandemic has put a wrench in everybody’s, you know, lives and definitely the business. So, you know, I’m just kind of getting my arsenal filled with stuff to see what can what can I can fire first. When business gets back to normal in Hollywood. 

Follow Jeffrey on Twitter

Check out our review of ‘Don’t Look Back’
The film has it’s premiere as part of the virtual Frightfest lineup on October 23rd 2020.
Pre-Order the film here:
It is released October 16th 2020

Order Final Destination – The 5 Film Collection

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