Last June, along with several other genre journos, I had the opportunity to visit the Chicago set of Platinum Dunes A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot . You can read my full set visit report here. Below you'll find the bulk of a very revealing conversation we had with Platinum Dunes producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. These guys are great, horror fans at heart and always telling it like it is. Among the many topics of discussion we touch on why Robert Englund and Wes Craven are out and what's happening with the much rumored Friday the 13th Part 2. Hit the jump for our full discussion and a big thanks to my fellow journos for all of their great questions!
Q: So why Freddy this time?
Brad Fuller: We always loved the character. We pursued it for a really long time. Our company, for the most part, has been making these remakes, and we find ourselves always attracted to a very charismatic antagonist; charismatic either in their weaponry or their personality. I feel like Freddy is the jewel in the crown. Personally growing up, I loved those movies, and Michael loved those movies, and Drew loved those movies.
Q: It seems like this one’s more real.
Fuller: We went for that on [Texas] Chainsaw also to try and keep that as real as possible. Even when Marcus came on to our first movie, the Chainsaw movie, he always said, “I want to make it like a snuff film, make it feel real, kind of like the original.” I think you’re right in what you’re saying in what we are trying to do with Nightmare. Sam came on and a lot of things we had heard early were, “How can you make A Nightmare on Elm Street without Robert England?” That was the first thing. We hear everything out there, you know, the internet. Obviously, we had to change the make-up. We had to change everything. We wanted Freddy to look like a real burn victim, and it started there.
Andrew Form: Also I think that if we’re going to try and restart this franchise or at least bring our take to the franchise, it had to be different from what the other one was. It felt like the first A Nightmare on Elm Street was kind of a scary, straight ahead horror movie, and then as they went on, they became funnier. In an effort to differentiate ours from what it had become, we wanted ours to feel much more real. Is that right?
Q: One of the trademarks of your films, and I don’t think it’s any secret that you guys get some flack for it sometimes, is the backstory idea. Where do these people come from? Why do you guys think that’s necessary or what do you like about that aspect of these stories?
Fuller: I think when we’re making a movie one of the first questions we ask ourselves is who’s our audience? For the most part we felt, whether we’re right or wrong, that our audience is really two groups of people. They’re the people who are going to go see the movie because they are fans of the original, and then there are groups of people who’ve heard of the title, but have never seen the films and who are not familiar with the legacy necessarily. When you have to balance those two groups and attempt to satiate both which I don’t know that we’re ever successful in doing. But you can’t turn your back on either of those two groups. So we try to figure out a way to get the backstory in there so that everyone’s up to speed by about ten to fifteen minutes into the movie. Everyone has the same amount of backstory knowledge going forward.
I’ll tell you a story. On Friday the 13th when we tested the movie, there was no backstory really in it necessarily. The first time we tested the movie it didn’t have that in it. We all felt that the movie would benefit story wise from having that there.
Form: The audience told us they wanted it.
Q: Is that a product of this generation? Cause you look at the original Nightmare, and I mean, it starts. It’s Freddy, and you kind of find out about him along with Nancy. I think there’s something to be said about that type of horror movie. Why do we need to know everything?
Fuller: I don’t know that you need to know everything, but we feel in telling the story that in order to understand how scary he is, you have to understand some of the background. It’s a creative choice. We didn’t necessarily go into the backstory on the first Chainsaw.
Form: We didn’t think we needed it there.
Fuller: No we didn’t, and we didn’t front load Nightmare either with backstory. On this movie you go on a journey with Nancy also. We don’t open the movie with here’s everything you need to know about Freddy and here you go. It’s throughout the film [that] you learn about him.
Q: How did you come to enlist Sam Bayer as a first-time feature director?
Fuller: Every one of our features we’ve gone with a first-time feature director. That’s the mandate of our company: to give commercial and video directors the opportunity to direct their first film. When that’s the talent pool that you’re looking at for your films, Sam Bayer’s name always comes to the top of the list cause he is one of the best that there is and has been for a long time. Us going to Sam Bayer for this movie is nothing new. We’ve gone to him on a lot of other movies, and he’s passed on all of them. This was the first time that Michael actually convinced him to say yes. Drew and I went to his office and begged him, and he said no, and then Michael said, “Would you get involved?” Really, this was the first time in a long time…I don’t remember that with Andrew Douglas and with Marcus on the first movie (Chainsaw)...
Form: Those guys wanted those movies badly.
Fuller: I guess that’s true, but Michael really wanted Sam to do this movie, and I think that when Sam realized that, that made a big difference to him.
Q: Why did Michael really want him?
Fuller: Sam is a really talented director, and visually he’s as good as it gets. This movie, because so much of it is about dreaming and creating a visual landscape where people are going to get scared, he feels like he is the perfect guy to do it.
Q: I’m sure you guys have heard the stories that Wes Craven says he hasn’t been approached about the project and he was slightly offended by that. Do you have any reaction to that? Have you thought about actually contacting him for his blessing?
Fuller: As some of you know, we were not involved in the movie when New Line started writing [the] script.They had already hired a writer. By the time we came onto the movie, the Wes Craven component of the dealings was already being decided, and we weren’t privy to any of that. Are we unhappy that he is not blessing the movie? Yeah. I’m a huge Wes Craven fan. I’m sitting here today because of the films that he made.
Fuller: Yes, but more than that, we got into this business because we love those movies, so is that an upsetting thing? Well, yeah, but I think there had to be some dealings that happened before we got involved in order to extricate the material so that they could bring on other producers. New Line didn’t include us in any of that, so we don’t really have a say in that. In this movie more than any movie we’ve ever made, we are truly producers-for-hire that they brought on. Like I said, they started developing the script. They had a draft of the script before we came on. We’ve never had that situation before. We’re guns-for-hire on this one. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel as passionately about it as we do. We pursued it for two years to get it. This is New Line. This is one of their most valuable assets. You all know it as The House that Freddy Built, so they’re very protective about everything on this movie.
Q: How much has the script changed from when you guys came on board? Is it still pretty close to that?
Q: So it’s changed quite a bit?
Fuller: Yes. When you say “you guys” I want to be very clear that we have partners in New Line, so we’re all in it together, but yes, the script that was distributed online is a far cry from what it is now. It’s very different.
Q: I’m wondering how prevalent the dreamscapes and the nightmares will be. Will you have a lot of that other worldly aspect to it because I know that you do like to ground things in reality so much, but with Freddy Krueger, it’s about the dreams?
Fuller: I think that’s what drew us to the project in the first place. To us, it’s one of the best concepts for a horror film we’ve heard. You fall asleep, you die. All you have to do is stay awake. All the stuff you can do with your characters while they’re trying to stay awake and while they’re dosing off, and how you can blend the lines of reality and dream, and the audience never knowing until it’s too late if you’re in a nightmare or not. That’s what we talked with Sam about early is doing those transitions and how important those transitions are which are done very well in the original Nightmare when you’re not sure if someone fell asleep. Did they fall asleep? No, they’re still awake. Tricking the audience – it’s a dream; no it’s not a dream, and then taking them all the way through until you’re truly in the nightmare, and it’s way too late, and he’s right there. Then bringing Sam in to elevate those nightmares with his visual style to a level that we never thought they could get to and they have. So yes, the nightmares are completely elevated in the movie.
Q: How early was Jackie on the radar, and can you talk about the process of finding your Freddy?
Fuller: That was the guy, from the get go. That was it for us. Let’s dispense with the Robert Englund part of it first, and then I’ll get to the Jackie part. With Robert Englund, that was the decision that we made that we were going to try and start a new version of the A Nightmare on Elm Street story. We felt in doing that it was important to have someone else play Freddy Krueger because if we didn’t, it would just feel like a sequel movie, and we didn’t want that to happen.
Then you’re confronted with these huge shoes that you need to fill to play Freddy Krueger, and you know from the get go half of your audience, maybe more, is gonna outright dismiss the choice cause they feel that Robert Englund should be the guy. We hear that loud and clear every day. What we tried to do to ameliorate some of that was to get the best actor that we could find and someone who can be creepy and who is an amazing actor because unlike our other movies, our bad guy needs to act. You can’t just chase someone. You have to act. When you look at the landscape, and at the time, we were hearing such amazing things about Watchmen and it all kind of fell into place at least conceptually very quickly. Sam and I went out for drinks with Jackie early on in the process, and he was gung ho and we really wanted him, and it just becomes a process when you’re casting that role.
You have all of New Line, all of Warner Brothers and everyone, and it just took a little while to get everyone on the exact same page, not just with him as the actor, but also he’s…I haven’t seen his deal necessarily or claiming that I have, but there has to be an element to a second and third. I don’t know. It takes a long time to negotiate that deal, but the short answer [is] he was the only guy who really worked for us. The fact that we have a guy who was nominated for an Academy Award playing Freddy Krueger is very exciting to us. It feels like it elevates our movie. In addition, the actors that we got to play all the other roles, that list changed once we got Jackie, so there are even some actors potentially on set today who passed on the movie, and then when they saw that Jackie was involved, they changed their mind. It felt like getting him also elevated all the other roles also.
Q: I think it’s smart that you’re allowing Jackie to bring the demon of Freddy out. I like the original Freddy, too, but it had that pointed face. Having Jackie do that for you and he’s such a great actor, I think that he’s going to be the deciding factor.
Fuller: And he does do that. You’ll see him where he just walks up slowly and then when he lets it out.
Form: The hard part is that when you get an actor like Jackie Earle Haley to play this role, which every time I say that I still can’t believe that that’s the case, he’s bringing something to it. I think that although he would never say this, I think he is adamant that this Freddy Krueger is his. Robert did his, and this is his. One of the things that we talked about because we’re all aware of the stigma of remakes, but the fact is that The Mummy has been remade a million times and Wolfman has been remade, and I think that these characters we’re working with now, I don’t think we’re the last guys to remake these movies. I think these are characters that the reason people want to pay to see them is because they’re iconic and audiences respond to them, and we’re just the guys lucky enough to have them at this time in history.
I’m sure ten, fifteen years down the line, there’s going to be, maybe my son, someone else is going to be remaking these films, and they’re going to make their own Freddy Krueger and their own Jason and Leatherface and bringing their own thing to it. You know, over time, Boris Karloff was identified with those roles, but over time other people have to, you know what I mean? You have to bring your own thing to it, and hopefully not having that nose or being demonic that way, Jackie brings something else to it that audiences will respond to.
Q: Can you talk about casting Rooney as Nancy?
Fuller: Sure. I think the worst possible thing we could have done for Nancy was to get a girl who was big boobs and blonde hair. We would have been annihilated for doing that. I think one of the things that made the character of Nancy so great in the original films is that she feels like a real person. It’s amazing how difficult it is to find that in Hollywood now a days. Going into the movie we limited ourselves because we didn’t want anyone who’s older than the characters that they’re playing. We think it reads ridiculous when you have twenty-five or thirty year olds playing eighteen year olds, so we really wanted to get kids this age group. When you eliminate people who are over twenty/twenty-one to play that role, you limit [yourself]. You can’t tell me the names of a lot of actresses who have careers who are twenty years old. There are a couple child actresses who kind of tried to make it work, but for the most part, you have to take the shot. Rooney was someone who, to us, embodied that kind of natural, real girl thing that Nancy had in the original.
Some of the actors we torture and bring them back and bring them back and bring them back. Although she was the last one cast, she only came in once. Everyone saw her audition on video and that was basically it. It was very important to us to put a fresh face in there. There was that early rumor that Lindsay Lohan was going to be playing that role, and that was ridiculous. It’s not a slight to Lindsay Lohan, but how do you put Lindsay Lohan in a Freddy Krueger movie? It’s a Freddy Krueger movie, you know what I mean? Freddy Krueger is the star of the film, and everyone else has to be able to have the chops to keep up with him, but that’s the star of the movie. For all of the actors, we tried to find kids who had chops to be really good actors.
Q: What is your slate for the next year?
Fuller: Our company is a tiny company. It’s Michael, Drew and myself and we have an assistant. There’s no development person, and as some of you know, Drew and I are on set every day or at least we try to be on set. Drew has been on set for every movie, every frame shot, and I think I’ve been there for about 90% of it. There’s not an ongoing development process at Platinum Dunes where we’re getting new material and developing it while we’re shooting a movie. It kind of starts when we start a movie and then when this movie’s over, we lift our heads up and we say, “What are we going to do now?” Now having said that, we’re very excited about the prospect of making another Friday the 13th. We had a great time making that movie. It was a blast. We loved those kids and being outside. So many of our movies are contained and dismembering bodies in a basement and finally we’re outside running around, and that was a blast, and we’d love to go back and do another one of those. We’re getting a script in within the next couple of weeks and hopefully if that script meets everyone’s expectations that would be our next movie. Beyond that, there are projects that we’re getting in that are kind of being developed and you know all of them. There’s nothing that you don’t know about, but frankly, beyond Friday the 13th Part 2, I don’t have any plans. Do you?
Form: I don’t.
Q: Would you match up Freddy and Jason?
Fuller: Yeah, we’d love to do that, but I don’t feel like that’s even something that’s close to being imminent. You can’t do that for years. You have to establish Jason as his own character. We have to establish our own Freddy. That’s five, six years away, if ever.
Q: There were some fan gripes about the kills in Friday.
Fuller: Some? Only some?
Q: I hate to bring it up. You guys have addressed it in interviews. Have you guys thought about those when you were doing these kill scenes?
Fuller: Every time you get your ass handed to you online, it hurts. It does. We read it. We pay attention to it, but on some level it’s very easy Monday morning to quarterback all these films. I can tell you that when we did the kills on Friday the 13th, we didn’t think, “That kill is okay.” We strived to do the best that we could within the confines of the budget and the date and all the resources that were available to us. This movie is the same thing. We’re just doing the best possible thing that we can and trying to be as creative as we can. I guarantee that the audiences will rip us apart no matter what, so we’re just putting our heads down and working as hard as we can.
Q: You talk about getting ripped up a lot, but some people have good things to say.
Fuller: Yes, but we ignore those.
Q: What have you found that people do like about your films and what encourages you to keep going?
Fuller: You don’t get in the position we’re in because you love the accolades, honestly. It’s great and we’re lucky that we continue to make movies, and that in itself is good enough praise for us. The fact that the studios are giving us these incredible titles and letting us run with them…beyond that we’re in the business of pleasing people.
Form: We sit in the movie theaters on opening night, and we watch people watch the movie. We watch people jump out of their seats. We’ll use Friday the 13th as an example. We watched that in many theaters around Los Angeles that opening weekend. We watched people laugh and scream. We heard them come out of the theaters when the movie was over and that they had a great time. That makes you feel really good.
Q: There’s a scene online that definitely people who don’t like things will post and people who do have something positive to say, we’ll never hear from them.
Form: No, you really don’t. It’s amazing. The comments always skew very negatively.
Fuller: By the way, I’m not sitting here and being a victim about it. Michael’s having a horrible time right now on Transformers 2, and we read other comments. We love horror movies, and we read what other people write about it. This is something that is part of the system now. This is not something that is specific to Platinum Dunes. The only movie that got away without any negative press was Drag Me to Hell. Every other horror movie gets it, and it’s part of what we do. We’re just not immune to the pain. We pay attention.
Q: At the risk of shooting us all here in the foot, do you think there’s too much attention paid to that stuff? There’s the theory out there that the fans want to see the war in Terminator Salvation. So Terminator Salvation came out, and it didn’t happen. Everyone wanted to see all these mutants, so they stuffed them into X-Men and it turned out to be a mess. Is it too much? Can it be a bad thing to pay too much attention to the criticisms out there?
Fuller: I think at the end of the day, I heard this from Jerry Bruckheimer and Drew worked for Jerry for four years, so he heard it a lot more than I did, but when I was talking to Jerry about what you are saying, Jerry says, “At the end of the day, I go with my gut. I just go with my gut.” When you talk to Michael, who spent a lot of time with Jerry, Michael just says, “I go with my gut.” These guys who are the guys that we look up to and who have done what we want to do, I think that Drew and I have this great way of working where we talk back and forth and we go with our gut. Whatever the fans tell you what they want, they’re still not going to be satisfied. There’s going to be a contingency that’s not going to be satisfied. You can’t play to that exclusively cause it feels like they’re insatiable now. We try to do our research, and when I say “research,” we watch all the films, try to discern what works for us in it, and try to bring that to it. Inevitably, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. I can’t speak for what other producers do. The internet has really changed the game, and you have to decide as a producer what your role is going to be with that group of people.