Has Marti Noxon been dubbed a genre queen yet? She darn well should be. The writer/producer/singer (!) made a name for herself on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. After some time on non-genre projects like Mad Men, she's back now with not one, but two movies: I am Number Four, a teen sci-fi/action flick (think Twilight with less moping and more monsters), and Fright Night, a remake of the classic '80s vampire flick. The vivacious writer (who also cooks and bakes!) took a few minutes during dinner prep to chat with us.
How did you get involved in I Am Number Four?
I had just done Fright Night for Dreamworks, and they were looking for addition work on I Am Number Four. They had had a couple other writers on it, and it had been through a couple different versions. They specifically wanted me on the character stuff, but I ended up on the project for a few solid months and I ended up doing a lot of work on it.
With all of these different writers and sources, how did you manage the script? Did anyone else have input?
It was a very collaborative process. Steven Spielberg [Dreamworks produced the film] had a lot of input because they were getting close to shooting and there were a lot of things he wanted developed, visually. We did a lot of work on how much backstory was necessary. There was some back and forth with the author, although at that time - during the draft that Miles Millar ad Alfred Gough did - they were talking back and forth with [author] James Frey, and the book was actually changing based on their input. It was a kind of symbiotic relationship, which is rare. Usually the book has been written and you have to toe the line. At that time, the book was still in galleys. The guys had read a first draft [of the novel] and they were able to tell James what they thought would be cool - and he was really receptive, apparently. I came in later, when the book was about to be published, so I couldn't make any changes like that!
There are a fair amount of creatures in the film. Does knowing what a creature will look like alter the way you write an action scene?
It can. Every time you are writing action, you are looking for something unique about that sequence. You want something fresh that, hopefully, your audience hasn't seen a million times. So if the creature has any unique properties, that will really help. However, the creature design was going on concurrent with my writing. Plus, most of the action stuff had already been written, and DJ [Caruso, the director] and Guillermo [Navarro, director of photography] did a lot of work on that stuff. The huge set piece at the end, I did all the dialogue and character stuff there, but in terms of visuals and [choreography], that was already in place.
Are you guys already planning a sequel? Perhaps I am Number Five?
I think everyone is waiting to see how this movie does. It's part of a quadrilogy, so it ends with the promise that there might be more. Hopefully the movie is satisfying in and of itself, but there is the opening there for something more with these characters.
You definitely feel like the characters are going to go find Five and Seven and Eight and Nine.
And number Six is so awesome, so you want to see more of her. We left the door wide open.
Six had a very kick-ass, Buffy kind of thing going on.
More like a Faith kind of thing. [Laughs.]
Do you have a particular affinity to that type of character?
Absolutely. I love me a kick-ass girl. I feel like there is a dearth of them right now. There have been great movies with female action characters, but never enough for my tastes. It is great to get to write a character like that. She's not looking to please anybody, and she's not a moper. We really, really like that. Teresa Palmer is a great actress and really brought a lot to the role. Because of the book, we were limited in our introduction of her, but hopefully it will make people want to see another [film].
How does the process differ when adapting a book for the screen, versus writing a remake of a film, like Fright Night?
There is a roadmap with both of them. The source material for I am Number Four is not particularly well known, so you don't feel like you have as much obligation to the fans of the material - the fans don't exist yet. When you are dealing with a book, you also have to make sure not to derail the franchise. With Fright Night, I knew it was a movie that a lot of people had a strong affection for. Some love it because it is a campy classic, others love it because they just love it, some love it because there were boobs in it... everyone has a reason. You are striving to make it feel new and fresh, but make it respectful to the original. With a book, there is more room to set tone because from page to screen is a lot different than screen to screen.
What kinds of changes or updates can we expect to see in the new Fright Night?
It feels more contemporary. We don't have midnight movie hosts anymore, so we tried to find a contemporary counterpart to that. We went with a Las Vegas magician. I kind of based it on Penn & Teller because I read that they have an amazing occult collection - they collect occult artifacts and stuff. Even though they are not believers - they are debunkers - they still collect it.
Actually, it's really just Teller who collects that stuff.
Oh yeah? [Laughs.] Well, when I read that, I thought, "Wouldn't it be something if one of these kinds of guys were an authority on all things creepy and vampirey." Plus I thought it would be a good character. You can pull the curtain on the creepy, gothy magician type. So our character has a show called "Fright Night" on the strip [instead of a late night TV show].
When I first saw Fright Night, I was a kid, so I don't remember how the tone of the movie was received originally - whether it was considered scary or goofy. Watching it now, it definitely feels campy. What tone will yours have?
I think it definitely falls more in the traditional, dark vampire category. It takes the world it is in... not more seriously, but it is a little more grounded. One of the goals the director [Craig Gillespie] and I shared was that we wanted these kids to feel like real teenagers, in a real world. Hopefully we achieve that. At the same time, it is self-aware. Times have changed in the 20 years since the original Fright Night, so there is a lot of self-awareness. We have some fun with the vampire genre. The other fun thing was that I got to write about the relationship between Ed and Charlie. In watching the original, I was always like, "How the hell did those guys know each other? What brought them together?" So we really went into that. I think tonally, it feels more real, but it is meant to be fun. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and there is a lot of humor to it. One of the highest compliments I have ever gotten was from Mr. Spielberg, who said "If Amblin ever made a horror movie, this is what it would be like." [Amblin Entertainment was Spielberg's now-defunct production company - it merged with Dreamworks - that boasted projects like Gremlins, The Goonies, and Back to the Future]. We'll see if it turns out that way, but that was how he felt. That was one of the better days of my writing career. Tonally, that is the goal: funny and scary, but not over-the-top.
Back in July, you told one of our reporters that the idea of a Buffy reboot without Joss Whedon was "ridiculous." I'm sure after the news broke that a reboot was indeed in the works, you knew that comment would come back to haunt you. Any comments now?
[Laughs]. I guess I should address it. God bless, them, good luck to them, but I still think it is ridiculous. I stand by my quote! I hope that I am proven wrong. But the show was so much a product of Joss's voice. We loved his vision, and stepped to it, but it is hard to imagine anyone else capturing what is supremely him. I totally get that there is a fan base that wants more, and if he can't do it, somebody ought to. But it is hard for those of us who were together, in the trenches, at the beginning, to imagine someone else trying to capture that.
I am Number Four hits theatres February 18, 2011