Monday, February 6, 2012

Interview With Todd Farmer

Todd Farmer
I first became aware of Todd Farmer around 2001. I was one of the writers on Halloween: Resurrection, and he had written Jason X. Both films were coming out within months of each other, and I was anxious to see how the movies would match up, head to head. While Resurrection ultimately did better at the box office, Jason X was undeniably a better horror flick, with genuinely inventive scares. Later, as my career meandered into other genres, most recently action and fantasy (Conan The Barbarian 3D, Hercules, Rambo 5), Todd went on to become a horror legend (My Bloody Valentine, Halloween 3, Drive Angry.)

I had a chance to catch up with Todd, and ask him some questions about Horror and the craft of screenwriting. Like the very best scribes in any genre, Todd is concerned, first and foremost, with respecting his characters, maintaining authenticity, and protecting the quality of his work from "the suits."

SH: You may be the only writer to write BOTH a Halloween movie and a Friday the 13th movie. To you, what are the differences between the character Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees? Do they behave differently beyond wearing a Shatner mask and Hockey mask, respectively?

Michael - the sociopath
TF: I was just thinking about this recently. In fact, I've written for Freddy, Pinhead and the Miner as well. My first slasher work was with FREDDY VS JASON back in the pre-SCREAM days. Followed that up by strapping a rocket to Jason. Later came the Miner, Michael and recently Hellraiser outlines, I've had a pretty good run with the icons and feel honored that I have. But that said, wow. All these years and no one has ever asked that one. After so many films in each franchise, filmmaker inconsistency has left both Michael and Jason with multiple personality disorder but at their heart I think they are both different and definable.

Jason - the psychopath
Jason is a psychopath. Michael is a sociopath. Jason knows the difference between right and wrong but chooses revenge. While Michael kills without emotion or morality. Jason likes killing. Michael is indifferent. Jason's like a baby duckling which fixates on the first thing he sees except when he sees you, he's going to kill you. Michael, however, makes choices. Jason is a hunter. Michael is a prick. Jason is a wolf who stalks and kills his prey. Michael is a cat who likes to play with his food first. My opinion, of course.

SH: How is writing a horror movie different from writing other genres (Thriller, Action, Sci-Fi, Comedy, etc.)?

TF: While there's always an exception, the simplest way to define horror is to look at the villain's goal. If the villain's goal is to kill with a weapon other than a gun and/or eat the hero, then it's likely a horror. Any good horror will have elements of action and even comedy, but the line between horror and thriller is very fine. Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, Misery...thrillers as defined by agents and media but several have made the argument they are, in fact, horror. The distinction isn't story or character. The distinction is money. Production value and casting. And every year the line blurs a bit more.

While horror is funny and others push the boundaries of taste and morality, all horror should scare you. Either physically or psychologically. The misconception is that horror should be dumb. That the characters should be dumb. It and they should not. Horror should be treated with the same respect as every other genre. Moreso even as Horror tends to make more money than most other genres. Especially now.

Todd Farmer Unmasked

SH: Where do most run-of-the-mill horror scripts fail?

TF: By disrespecting character and story. By disrespecting the audience.

When I started, horror was small and most studios looked down their noses at it. Dimension and New Line were your goto studios outside the indies. Most horror was written by n00bs because back then an A-Listers didn't filth themselves in the horror genre. What this meant was, many horror flicks were written by writers still in progress. As a result characters and stories suffered. Suddenly there was this misconception that horror should be dumb. Low brow. That only the lowest common denominator liked horror.

Then SCREAM came out. And SCREAM was not dumb. In fact, SCREAM changed all the rules. A movie that flopped its first weekend. Just over 6 million. But it went on to make over 100 million. Suddenly every production company and studio had a "genre" wing. Although even while cashing the checks it was a struggle for said companies to embrace the word "horror". But "horror" kept making money. Once the Williamson ripoffs ran their course, THE RING changed the game again. Then came torture porn. Then 3D which bled into all genres. Next came found footage, started years ago by Blair Witch and re-birthed by Paranormal Activity.

These days horror is getting respect in both character and story. You wanna see a screw up? Look at Devil Inside. (SPOILER) It's a good movie. A good horror. Without an ending. It was a cheat. Good story, great characters and sets ups that never pay off because of a gimmick. You think Paramount would dare end G.I.Joe the same way? "Hey! Let's go get the bad guys!" Fade to Black. Roll Credits. Nope. Because they would never dare disrespect the audience like that. But they'll do it with the horror genre.

SH: Why do you love horror movies?

TF: I don't. I love good stories and good characters. I love great movies that manage to survive the movie-by-committee, overdevelopment industry. I have no loyalty to a sports team. I appreciate talent. No loyalty to a political party. I appreciate intelligence. Nor do I have loyalty to a genre. I have loyalty to good story telling and good characters. That said, I am a champion of both horror and the audience. It annoys me greatly that so many studios are kept afloat due to horror, yet they refuse to acknowledge it publicly. When the bombs drop and the Revolution begins, I say we eat the suits first.

Pinhead - preparing to make a "suit" suffer

SH: What are some little known horror films that have inspired your writing?

TF: Four tiny unheard of films have made me who I am: Jaws, Halloween, Alien and Aliens.

Smaller known. Hmm. In the Mouth of Madness. Audition. Suspiria. And Halloween III.

SH: What kinds of producer/executive notes can ruin a horror movie? What kind of notes can help?

TF: Ego notes are the worst. Some execs give notes because they think they have to give notes. It's transparent too because they cannot give you a logical reason. It's just this random note so that they can tell the wanna-be actress blowing them in their leased BMW, "See how Bruce Willis just climbed into that red car? Yeah, I said it should be red."

The best notes are notes that aren't at gun point. I'll take a good idea wherever I can get it. I have no ego. But film by committee is a moronic way to do it. Stories should have one storyteller. I prefer that storyteller be the director. Once in production the director should be King. Granted there are some not so great directors in positions of power but I'm currently trying to push legislation to have them all beheaded. The point is, a filmmaker should have the final say. Not an exec or producer or even the studio.

If you pay me to build a house, it's your money. I'll do what I can to make you happy but I will not sacrifice the structure of the house. Nor would you expect that. But execs don't think that way at all. While admitting they cannot write or direct they have no problems telling writers and directors what to write and what to direct with no concern for the structure of the house. "When it's your money, do what you want. When it's our money, do what we tell you."

The Miner - My Bloody Valentine

SH: Do you write scripts in genres other than horror?

TF: Not often. It's frowned upon. Writers write. Story is story. Characters are characters. But the lazier agents/exes find it easier on themselves to put writers in labeled boxes. Notice though how those same agents/execs work on all genres. I love fantasy. Grew up reading it. Playing D&D after football games. Movies like Armageddon complete me. I consider Real Steel a sequel to Rocky. Fifth Element and Princess Bride and Lonesome Dove have dinner with Empire Strikes Back, The Freshman and Groundhog Day in casa de Farmer. I brush my teeth with Defending Your Life and go to bed with Ferris Bueller. And Lussier and I wrote Drive Angry which is a genre hard to define. While I do have non-genre stuff currently moving forward, I actually have no desire to ever fully leave horror.

SH: What is the single scene in one of your produced movies that you feel is the scariest?

TF: Hmm. Had to think about that one. The scene leading up the the nitrogen face freeze and smash in Jason X is a front runner, but I'd have to say the scene in My Bloody Valentine which begins with Frank meeting the Miner. We designed the top of the scene to be utter distraction. Complete with a little dog, a little person and lots of sex and nudity. The scene was designed to be so surreal that when Frank finally opens the door to his truck the last thing you expect is a pick axe. Just my opinion but that results in an additional 5 minutes of fear for a poor naked girl. And for the record, Betsy Rue, I heart you.

SH: What unproduced original screenplay of yours are you most proud of? What is it about?

TF: So many. I love everything I've written. Otherwise I wouldn't do it. I wrote a big budget time travel action with Bruce Willis. Loved it. Lussier and I wrote Three Days of the Condor in High School for Silver Pictures but we couldn't get it past the gatekeeper. I know without question Halloween 3D is a killer script. My first spec after Jason X was called Riddle Me This. A Thriller. Hensleigh was attached to direct years ago but the option ran out while he was making Punisher. But I haven't given up on any of these stories or characters.

 Good story is good story, gatekeepers come and go. We just have to wait them out.

SH: After writing horror films for so long, do horror movies still scare you?

TF: Everything still scares me. The day nothing scares you is the day you should get out of horror.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous interview with an eloquent and well-spoken man. Should be required reading for all the suits who think that the guys who write horror are as dumb as their audiences.