We had the chance to sit down with The Final Destination Producer Craig Perry the other day and chatted about all things horror including dealing with the MPAA, re shoots and going up against Rob Zombie’s Halloween II in theaters this Friday.
FEARnet: The Final Destination series is known for its outrageous opening sequence and deaths. What’s the process like for coming up with these unfortunate events?
At this stage in sustaining the franchise, obviously there is a formula. And the thing we've learned is the more you try to completely deviate from the formula the more the audience rejects it. They want each set piece to be fresh and new and that's where the real challenge comes four movies in. We have the mandate that all the set pieces take place in locations that we would find ourselves in, either all the time or with real opportunity. We've all been in a swimming pool, we've all had to get on an escalator, we seek to find places you and I might find ourselves in and place a malevolent energy in it. We usually figure that out first and then we figure out what kind of characters would be in a situation like that and then we come up with the characters, why they would be friends and then we work our way backwards towards the opening set piece. It's a weird way to develop a movie but it does 2 things: it allows [us] to preserve what makes the franchise work, preserve the formula the audience expects yet forces us to come up with bigger, newer [and] better ways to kill people.
How did the two accident set pieces in Part 3 come about? The film started with the rollercoaster and ended with the train crash.
[The] train crash was a re shoot. The moment when they walk out of the park at the end, after Ian gets hit by the crane, that was the original ending. It was clear it didn't work. But we needed the preview numbers which were great, except for the ending where they tore the seats out of the theater (laughs). It allowed us to go in with a very clear mandate from the audience as to what they wanted. The good news is we'd already figured out what the ending could be. In the post mortem meeting after that first preview, we pitched the solution, which was that subway sequence and they immediately said go shoot it. And it wasn’t a cheap sequence [to shoot] as you can imagine. Not a single real subway in the entire sequence. Everything was done on stage.
I’m sure there are ideas that don’t make the cut as well?
In the first draft of The Final Destination there was a supermarket sequence, we figured, hell, everyone goes food shopping, right? And it was really forced. We couldn't find enough credible ways in such a wide expansive area to have a real threat. Like maybe you have a leaky fridge, or a broken jar of mayo in aisle 7 but it didn't work in concert with each other. David [Ellis] came up with the idea of replacing that sequence with the hair salon, which I thought was inspired. And it has provided us with one of those sequences that really delivers. It's just disturbing if you think about what's there; it's chemicals, sharp scissors around your throat, eyes, ears and there's a chair that may not be too stable, and a ceiling fan overhead, goop on the floor, there's a symphony of potential threat. But you just don't know what's gonna cause that threat to manifest itself.
There was also a sequence on a bus hanging over a bridge and another [with] a massive air conditioning unit [that] was gonna fall and crush people. We wrote about 10 sequences that didn't make it into the movie.
Do you find that some of these ditched ideas make it back into a film later in the series?
No. They're usually so specific to the character or you've set up the pipe to get there that you'd be aping the movie that already exists. Sometimes you try them, but usually they don't work.
Ever feel the need to break the formula you’ve created?
Every once in a while we have a moment when something inanimate does something it wouldn't normally do, because we want to keep the idea that there is a supernatural presence. We want there to be a palpable sense that there is something else in the room with you. There's a definite logic with a slight superimposition of supernatural which I think makes it tingly and cool and also allows you as an audience member to maybe see the supernatural in your own apartment.
Did you run into any issues with the MPAA?
We've never had an MPAA issue the entire 10 years. Every first cut we gave them, they gave an R, but what's interesting is that the test audiences often find it to be too violent. And by that [I] mean we really want to have women who are a big driving force for horror films not be taken out of the movie by having it too gross. There's a definite line that if u cross it with them, they will reject you. There have been - in every movie – instances, not too many, but usually 2 or 3 moments where they just say that's too much. If you just cut back a little bit there it allows everybody to go to the threshold of what they can withstand and not go over the line. And that's an even better visceral experience for the audience. Guys have a much higher threshold for that stuff but if the girls get right up to what they can possibly withstand and yet you keep them safe, they'll tell all their friends. We've been able to survive the past 10 years by accommodating everybody, but [also] not letting them off the hook. If I'm gonna have an R rated movie, I want it as R as it can be without becoming NC-17. Why waste the R?
How do you feel about going up against Rob Zombie’s Halloween II this Friday?
I think it's tragic [and] it's embarrassing that we have to do this, but we don't have a choice. We can't move because of the nature of 3-D scheduling. If you're gonna spend the extra money to make a movie in 3-D and maximize the value by releasing it on as many 3-D screens as possible you want to stay on those 3-D screens as long as you can. This date happens to be the best median between the two other 3-D releases that are closest to us. We can't move because it's going to impact the very reason for making the movie in 3-D. The Weinstein’s could have moved they could have pushed a week; weirdly they're cannibalizing their own weekend with the second weekend of Inglorious Basterds. I don't understand why they stayed, I feel very confident that we're going to be very successful. I feel very confident in what Warner Brothers is doing for marketing the movie. The Final Destination is everywhere [and] they're doing a really fantastic job. They're [The Weinstein’s] going to cannibalize us with Halloween II, we are going to destroy them because our movie is fun. I have the feeling that their movie is really dank and smells bad (laughs). And I love these movies, I love horror movies, I think their film is the grungy version, the 42nd street version from 1977 and ours is a very fast, fun paced thrill ride with bright clever weirdly associated things that you and I might understand in our lives. I think we're gonna do very well.