Independent Filmmaker's Guide
October 27, 2020
Horror King: Jeffrey Reddick
The Horror genre has long been a cornerstone for independent films. Today, we speak with a writer whose love of (and unique takes on) the genre has helped carve out his own place among horror films and fans, both in the past – with the launch of the Final Destination franchise – and into the present and future with his latest movie Don’t Look Back.
Jeffrey Reddick: The producer called me one day. She’s like, “Well, we’re green-lit to shoot. That’s the good news.” And I said, “Oh, great. What’s the bad news?” And she goes, “Well, the executive at USA Networks thinks that your script is too clever for their audience. So they’re having somebody in-house rewrite it to dumb it down.”
Steven Pierce: That’s crazy.
Jeffrey Reddick: They always say that when you’re writing a script, you’re actually writing the script for the reader so that they can kind of get the story. So, sometimes when you’re writing stuff, you have to repeat things… It’s a very interesting story how I got into filmmaking.
Jeffrey Reddick: It started off when I was 14. I grew up in eastern Kentucky. So I was this hillbilly in eastern Kentucky, and I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at the drive-in and flipped out over the movie. I loved horror films. So I went home, and I wrote a prequel idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street. And I called information and found out the name of the studio and the president, and I mailed it to him. He sent it back because it was unsolicited. So I’m like, “Look, mister, I spent like $3 on your movie. So I think you can take five minutes and read my story.” And it was Bob Shaye, who ran New Line Cinema and founded New Line Cinema. So he read it and got back to me and thanked me for my aggressive introduction and gave me some pointers. And from 14 to 19, I stayed in touch with him and his assistant, Joy Mann. This was back in the day. This was ’80s. I’d wanted to be an actor. So I went to New York for the summer to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. And when I was in New York, Bob, because I had this relationship with him and his assistant, Joy, they offered me an internship at New Line. So I got an internship at New Line Cinema. The acting wasn’t panning out well because, by now, it was late ’80s, early ’90s, and if you weren’t white, then all the roles you could get were drug dealer or pimp. And they’re like, “You’re more like a Michael J. Fox type, and we just don’t know what to do with you in acting.” So I decided I was going to pursue writing because I knew I wanted to be in the business.
I stayed in New York and just stayed on at New Line Cinema and ended up working there for 11 years. During that 11 years, I learned pretty much everything about the behind-the-scenes part of show business, which was really helpful creatively because I realized so many decisions weren’t based on how good the script was. You’d get a really horrible script in with Jim Carrey attached, and then you’d get a great script in from somebody that was a new writer. And they would go with the Jim Carrey script because it is a business. So I learned early on to separate my ego from the writing process so that… I mean, I still get bummed if there are certain jobs I don’t get, but I don’t get crushed like I know a lot of my writer friends who have moved to L.A. to be in the business. They just don’t know how the business works. So, if they get one rejection, they’re devastated. And I have learned that level of not taking things personally.
Jeffrey Reddick: But I just kind of evolved with the business. When I wrote Bob Shaye, back then, that was VHS. There were no DVDs. There was no emailing people or following them on Twitter. I had to type something and mail it in the mail, which is crazy. Yeah, so I’ve just learned to evolve with the business over time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wanted to have more control. So I’ve started producing more, just directed my first feature. Again, I think that’s the key no matter what area of the business you want to work in, is seeing what the landscape is because the landscape’s changing so much. The theatrical part of the business has changed a lot because, if you look at what the studios are doing, they’re doing sequels, remakes, things that are based on worldwide bestselling books because the studios, if you look at them, the people that run them now, a lot of them are businesspeople. I saw that transition because Bob Shaye, when he created New Line Cinema, it was a film lover. He loved film. He was just like a filmmaker. He wanted to get his stuff out there. He was showing John Waters films and other films at campuses across the United States. He was just doing things very differently just to get films seen, and then Nightmare on Elm Street really put the company on the map as far as a force. They call it The House that Freddie Built, and it really was the studio that Nightmare on Elm Street Made. But then I saw they brought in a businessman who’s very smart, but he was very focused on the business side of stuff, to run New Line. You see that happening across studios everywhere, businesspeople making the decisions now as opposed to creatives. So any business is looking at the bottom line. That’s why you see studios taking safe bets on… We’ll make sequels, or we’ll do remakes, or we’ll find a book that has an audience already.
Steven Pierce: Does that affect how you approach, and did that affect how you approach your creation of the content you’re pitching and that you’re making?
Jeffrey Reddick: Not really because they would still take chances on things. New Line was really kind of a maverick studio. They made Blade when everybody was like, “Who would want to see a Black superhero movie?” Sorry, Black Panther. But they made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when the businesspeople were like, “Who’s going to go see a movie about turtles?” And The Mask. So they would take chances on movies that a lot of places wouldn’t. But for me, especially with horror, horror’s kind of the genre that never goes away, it’s finally getting the respect it deserves, kind of still. But back then, it was like the porno films. It’s like, “Well, yeah, people watch it, and they enjoy it and get off on it. But it’s not art.”
Steven Pierce: Right, it’s not artistic. It’s not artistic. Yeah.
Jeffrey Reddick: But there’s always an audience for that genre, in the horror. Fans are very faithful. But for me, certainly if I’m producing something, I look at trying to attach either a production company or an element that I think is going to put it above the rest of the heap. It’s always the concept. They want something that they can sell on one line.
Steven Pierce: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What is the saying, the same but different, that Blake Snyder uses?
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. So it’s like Final Destination… I had a hard time at New Line with that one, and I worked there, because they were like, “Well, we don’t understand how you can have Death as a killer. You can’t see it, and you can’t fight it.” I’m like, “That’s the point.”
Steven Pierce: That’s what makes it thrilling and engaging.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, and they were still very nervous about it. They wanted, at some point, to make it a kind of a Grim Reaper monster. Luckily, when James Wong and Glen Morgan came on, they were like, “No, we don’t want to do that. We want to make sure that you don’t see it.” They actually came up with the whole Rube Goldberg idea. But, actually to your question, though, because I worked at New Line, everybody thinks, “You work at a studio. You have a special in there.” You do, but the only problem is a lot of the employees that worked there were writers. So you’re always still going to be like, “That’s the kid from Kentucky that Bob Shaye brought in.”
Steven Pierce: Definitely. I mean, I definitely understand that feeling. Sometimes it feels harder to go vertical because you kind of get slotted in where you function in those large machines. And sometimes I think it can be hard to get out of that and say, “Hey, I actually want to be doing this.”
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, because a lot of people would take jobs at studios as a stepping stone to get to… And the studios know that. So I actually went to some producers who had a deal at New Line through a friend of mine who was working with them and got producers attached before I brought the project to New Line.
Steven Pierce: So you kind of went out to get in.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Steven Pierce: That’s really interesting.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, because I had submitted stuff directly, and I had stuff that got good coverage and made it to Weekend Read but just didn’t get pushed over the top. So I’m like, “I got to try something different on this one.” So I went with producers who had a deal there.
Steven Pierce: So you went out and you partnered up. You came up with the idea. You wrote the script, and then you partnered up with some producers you’d known, surrounding, that had a deal with New Line. Then they helped you get in to pitch it at a higher level?
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, I wrote a treatment. Back in the good old days, you could actually sell a treatment.
Steven Pierce: Wow.
Jeffrey Reddick: So I wrote a 12-page treatment. My friend, Chris Bender, worked for Craig Perry and Warren Zide, who also produced the American Pie franchise. They created a big horror franchise and a big comedy franchise. I worked on it with them a little bit. Then we’d take it to New Line, and New Line would give us notes. At first, all the characters were adults that didn’t know each other. Then Scream came out, and then they’re like, “Let’s make them teenagers.” I’m like, “Okay, fine.” So I made them teenagers. I want to stay creatively true to my stuff, but I’m also very collaborative because if you want to be-
Steven Pierce: Well, I think you build it up.
Jeffrey Reddick: If you want to be an auteur, you almost have to produce and direct your own project first if you want to, like, “I can’t change anything.” But they kept coming back with the Death thing. Finally, I remember Craig and Warren said, “Well, if you guys pass on it again, we’re going to take it to Miramax.” And they’re like, “We’ll buy it.”
Steven Pierce: Wow.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, because it was good. It was a really god idea, and we were-
Steven Pierce: Well, obviously. It’s been, what, five films total?
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. Yeah.
Steven Pierce: That obviously was a discussion whenever you were making the first movie, right? How did the process go from… Or were they? Were they looking for something they could merchandise that large and package and be like, “This could be a huge franchise for us?”
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, New Line was always very much about a brand. They would make some one-off movies, but they always wanted… because obviously, with Nightmare on Elm Street, they learned very early. Even Bob had made them re-shoot the ending of Nightmare to open it up for a sequel. But I’d always thought of it as… I didn’t think it was going to do as well as it did, but I always had plans to do another one. So that was definitely always in my scheme of thinking. I kind of had the story for the second one in my head before we did the first one even. I just didn’t write it out. So they were always looking for something that could be franchisable for sure.
Steven Pierce: So what was it like making that first film? At that point, I mean, you were kind of unproven. You were then moving, I guess. Did you leave the studio and go full-time into writing?
Jeffrey Reddick: No, no. I did not do… That’s the funny thing, is I’m like, “Yep, I should’ve moved to L.A. after the first one.” But I’m kind of a creature of habit, and I loved New Line and working there. So I decided to stay in New York. So I’m like, “Oh, this is easy. I can just write in New York and just sell stuff and don’t have to ever leave.” Then it wasn’t until I sold the story for the second one where my boss… I’d worked with Bob Friedman for the last five years there, who was the head of marketing and television. He was talking to me. He was like, “Jeff, I love you, but it’s time for you to leave the nest, brother. You’re a writer now.” I was like, “Okay.”
Jeffrey Reddick: So the making of the first one was very surreal because I was in New York, and obviously all the creative stuff was going on in Los Angeles. I’d come out for some meetings, but I basically, since Bob was bi-coastal, they would just send me every update, send me castings. They just kept me involved. I went out to set and shot a cameo. So it was fun, but there was kind of a disconnect because I was still working a full-time job.
Steven Pierce: Right, that’s interesting. Man, that’s really interesting. I never thought about that you’d be…
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. It’s kind of weird. I’m kind of weird like that. I should’ve just quit and moved out to L.A. But I think I would’ve been a… I always joke because I moved to L.A. after 9/11. I quit New Line, but after 9/11, I’m like, “Okay, I think it’s time to go to Los Angeles.” And I got sober once I got out here. So part of me thinks it’s probably good that I did what I did because, otherwise, I would’ve probably come out here and been one of those douche bags who’s like, “I’ve got a movie,” and then drinking or doing coke. I never did coke, but just drinking and partying all the time like an idiot. So I think it worked out for the best in the long run. But, yeah, it was pretty interesting. I didn’t sell it and then… Everybody else I knew that had ever sold a project left immediately, but I just kept going into work because all my friends were there, in New York. And I had so many friends at New Line, and I loved the studio.
Steven Pierce: Did you sell the second one before the first one was released?
Jeffrey Reddick: No. No, it came out-
Steven Pierce: So what the hell was it like whenever you went into work on a Friday? You’re like, “I got to leave a little early today, guys. I got a premiere I got to go to.”
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. No, it was fun. They had the L.A. premiere, but I had them throw a premiere for me back in my hometown in Kentucky.
Steven Pierce: Oh, okay, back in Kentucky.
Jeffrey Reddick: A town in… We just had a drive-in in my town.
Steven Pierce: Oh, trust me, I’m from the middle-of-nowhere Missouri. So I absolutely understand the, “I was a hillbilly that moved to the city.” Yes.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. Me, too. So, in the next city over, in Hazard, Kentucky, they had a theater. They bought out the theater, and we had a premiere back there with all my family and my friends and people I went to school with. So that was amazing. Yeah, and then I came back to work.
Steven Pierce: You just got on a plane back. “It was fun. It was a good premiere,” huge, huge movie as it turns out to be.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, it is funny because even working at New Line, I got to go to premieres a lot in New York. So it was just a fun experience, and I think it opened at number four at the box office or number three. It didn’t open at number one, but then it started climbing the charts. Even up until it came out, New Line was still nervous about it because they were just like, “We don’t know if people are going to go for this or not.” And then, after it opened well and they started coming, they were like, “We always knew this movie was special.”
Steven Pierce: Yeah, that’s easy at that point.
Jeffrey Reddick: And then they started putting more marketing money into it because they’re like, “Hell, the word of mouth is really spreading on this movie.” I think it’s the first… It’s the first one that I remember. It’s the first movie where they used audience test screening reactions in their follow-up marketing. Like for the bus scene, everybody in the theater screams. So they started using that in the trailers, which was cool.
Steven Pierce: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s one of those… It feels very ’90s now, looking back on it, the trailers with the, “In a world,” and then they have all the reactions in it.
Jeffrey Reddick: It was fun, and it was surreal. Again, I think if I took off and came to L.A. and got an agent out here and started doing all the Hollywood stuff, it would’ve been more whirlwind-y in a Hollywood kind of way. But for me, it was more like my family and my friends and people I knew back home were proud. The people at New Line were friends, and they were proud, and I was proud. It was just a fun thing.
Steven Pierce: How did it develop across time? When it turns from one movie into a franchise, what happened then? How did that evolve, and how did that change your role and your position?
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, it is funny because I ran into that old, “He’s a guy that works at a studio that got lucky.” So, for the sequel, and I always give Craig Perry one of the perks… He’s been the godfather of the series as far as taking care of it and keeping it on track and just being very mindful and stuff like that. But I wrote a treatment right away. Then it’s funny because then I find out that they’re meeting with every writer in Hollywood. So, at the end of the day, they still ended up buying my treatment for the story. So I’m like, “Yay.” And they hired J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress to write the screenplay because they had done The Butterfly Effect for New Line, which was another big hit. And I love the second movie. It’s actually my favorite because I did all the stuff I’d want to do in a sequel and not just tell the same story but expand the mythology. I wanted to start off with a group of kids that you think are the leads and then kill them all off in the highway accident. I originally had written Alex and Clear both to come back in the sequel, but then they killed him off with a brick in between movies because he wasn’t available. It was just kind of a stupid thing they did. But it did all the stuff that I wanted to do in a sequel.
Jeffrey Reddick: I think the biggest transition for that one was, again, James Wong and Glen Morgan came up with the Rube Goldberg aspect of the first film because in my original version, since Death had kind of screwed up the first time, it had to make the characters commit suicide. So there was a very Nightmare on Elm Street vibe to it where you had Death bring their fears to life, and then they would kill themselves. So it was very dark. It’s not a fun Final Destination.
Steven Pierce: Honestly, that sounds awesome. I really love that. That’s so-
Jeffrey Reddick: I still love it, but I can see why the suicide might have been a little heavy, you know?
Steven Pierce: Right. Yeah. Yeah, totally.
Jeffrey Reddick: But then, I just readjusted my story for the sequel to fit in with the Rube Goldberg thing and not the suicide thing. And, yeah, then they made me an executive producer on the second one. So I had more say on the behind-the-scenes stuff than I did on the first one. Then, after that one, since I “created” it, I still get payment whenever they do a new one and stuff like that. But I know the studio, and I am really good friends with Craig. So we bounce ideas off of each other and things like that. But the sequels are fun. I love the fifth one. I thought the fifth one was brilliant because they kind of… Yeah, I just love the fifth one. But I think they’re all fun. For me, I’d love to do something different with it because, in my mind, Death can have many designs and use different… including suicide to get people. But they’ve got a formula. It works. So, at this point, it’s like, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Steven Pierce: Do you consult you at all for anything that comes later on? Or are you just told, “This is what we’re doing”?
Jeffrey Reddick: Craig usually talks to me and gets my input or ideas about what’s going on. He’s very good about doing that. So, yeah, I know stuff.
Steven Pierce: But on the second one, they made you an executive producer. It literally sounds like years before that, a year, maybe, even before that, you’re working in an office in New Line Cinema in New York. Then, all of a sudden, you’re an executive producer on a Hollywood film. That’s a big jump. How did you approach taking that job on, and what were the roles that you fulfilled as that on the second film?
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, to be honest, sometimes an executive producer is just somebody who finances the film. I know, for the second movie, I just helped with casting and things like that. I wasn’t really… I mean, I went to visit set, but I was just… On the first film, Bob Shaye kept me creatively involved, like giving me every draft of the script, asking for notes. On this one, the producers did that more. It was just asking me for advice. So it wasn’t like I went on set and hired people, which would be more of a producer role.
Steven Pierce: It was kind of just keeping you, making sure that the world filtered through you a little bit, and making sure that it didn’t totally shift in a way that you were uncomfortable with.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Steven Pierce: So then, what happened after that for you? We’re moving forward into your career. You say now you’re more into producing, and obviously you’ve just directed your first feature. How long did it take you to transition into that, and what was it like directing now versus being a writer and producer?
Jeffrey Reddick: After Final Destination 2, I had other movies come out, Tamara. I did the Day of the Dead remake that everybody loves.
Steven Pierce: Oh, yes.
Jeffrey Reddick: Actually, that’s Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead that everybody loves. Everybody hates mine. But that’s okay. It’s a fun movie. They just shouldn’t have called it Day of the Dead. And I think what got me more into wanting to produce and take more control of my career is just I had a lot of films where a studio would option it or a studio would buy it. But then stuff would happen at the studio, and then it’d go into turnaround and never get made. Or a lot of my films ended up getting taken out of turnaround and getting made for under $1 million. That became a trend after a while, and a lot of the films, I loved. And some of them, you just… You learn to love all your films at some point. I think the only film that I cringe at is the Return to the Cabin by the Lake TV movie. But the thing is the script that I wrote was really good. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve written some shitty scripts. I will say I have written some crappy scripts, but that script was really good. And they actually got Judd Nelson and the director back based on my script. But then the head of USA Networks at the time… The producer called me one day. She’s like, “Well, we’re green-lit to shoot. That’s the good news.” And I said, “Oh, great. What’s the bad news?” And she goes, “Well, the executive at USA Networks thinks that your script is too clever for their audience. So they’re having somebody in-house rewrite it to…
Steven Pierce: That’s crazy.
Jeffrey Reddick: And these are her words, “to dumb it down.” So then they literally went through… All the scenes are there in order, but everything’s just been dumbed down. The director who, in my original script, was… I didn’t want to make him a sleazy director. I wanted to make him like he’s dating the lead actress, but he’s got all these other actresses trying to sleep with him to get bigger parts. And he’s like, “No, no, no. I’m in love with them.” And they’re like, “Why doesn’t he just sleep with all the actresses? That’s what directors would do.” And I’m like, “Because that’s stupid, and that’s cliché.” So, anyway, they just really dumbed the script down. I think the director… I can’t speak for him, but he ended up directing it more like a comedy.
Steven Pierce: Interesting.
Jeffrey Reddick: He was probably just like, “Yeah, they screwed the script up. What the hell, I’m just going to go with a comedy on this one.”
Steven Pierce: What is it like? What is the process like? How do you get a script in their hands? And then what is the process of it getting optioned and made? How, also, are they making the decisions to have somebody come and rewrite your story that they optioned from you, you know what I mean? That’s really interesting that that can happen.
Jeffrey Reddick: I think probably, in three cases, it was just the timing. I would sell a script, and the executive that was really hot on it would be championing it. Then that person would leave to go to another studio. And anytime an executive leaves, it’s just common knowledge that the new executive will come in-
Steven Pierce: He’s going to clean house. They’re going to dump… Yeah.
Jeffrey Reddick: And clean house. For me, it’s like, “You can clean house on the bad scripts. But if something’s a solid script, you should probably just keep it.
Steven Pierce: So, if that happens to you, and your script gets dumped because an executive left and it just kind of gets swept out the door, do you get it back, then, to go sell it somewhere else?
Jeffrey Reddick: No, no, no. That would be too nice. You have to have somebody buy it from the studio.
Steven Pierce: Wow. So, when they option it from you, it’s totally just-
Jeffrey Reddick: Oh, if they option it from you, but they usually will buy it. Before Final Destination, it was very much an option, and that still happens on occasion depending on the company. If they’re confident that they can make it, they’ll buy it. But a lot of times, they will just option it for a year and a half or something. So I’ve had that happen, where they’ve optioned it and sat on it. Then, by that time, there was a lot of buzz around it with different studios, but because it didn’t get made, then all of a sudden, you can’t recreate that buzz. And you can go back and say, “Hey, this script’s available again.” And they’ll be like, “Oh, we’ve got something like it in development.” So then you just sell it wherever you can sell it. But if they buy it from you, then if somebody wants it, then they have to pay the studio all the money they put into it, plus they’ve added interest on to it. So it ends up becoming expensive to buy a script back from a studio.
Steven Pierce: Wow, that’s fascinating. So you sell a script to a studio as an idea, or as a script, as a thing, and then they can do whatever they want with it, basically, it sounds. They can have somebody-
Jeffrey Reddick: After they buy it, yeah. My frustration with this has always been that scriptwriting is really the only art form where they buy all your rights and can do anything with it.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, that’s crazy. That’s insane. Yeah. I mean, that is. You can’t do that anywhere else. How can you buy someone’s script idea, totally change it to a totally different thing, and have that just be okay. That’s so weird.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. With a book, you can buy the rights to a book, but you don’t take ownership. You actually sign the copyright over to the studio when you sell a script. I’m sure James Cameron doesn’t sell the rights to a script, but most of us are never going to be James Cameron. So, yeah, they end up buying the copyright, the ownership of your scripts.
Steven Pierce: Do you have any scripts that you’ve ever sold, didn’t get made, and they’re just sitting somewhere? And you think it’s a fantastic script, and you, one, can’t get it back because you can’t get it bought back and, two, really can’t ever rewrite it or do something similar with it because it’s owned by the studio.
Jeffrey Reddick: Not really, because the great thing is you can’t copyright a concept. It’s all about the execution. I couldn’t go out and use half my script and just change a few things and sell it somewhere else. That would get me in trouble. I certainly have taken ideas in scenes from scripts that I’ve written, even that I’ve sold, and repurposed them for other films. If there’s a set piece that I liked in a script, I can certainly recreate that in a different scenario in another script. I do do that.
Steven Pierce: So you took everything you learned from writing and this process with the studios, and you turned that into, then, you becoming a director for Don’t Look Back. How was that different for you?
Jeffrey Reddick: I learned that no matter how many times you’ve been on sets and watched people direct, it’s not the same until you actually do it. I think because I’d been on so many sets, and I’d seen so many directors with different directing styles and things like that, I think I knew how important everything was, but time is the biggest thing that you need. You need as many days as you can get. But we were really like an indie shoot. This wasn’t a studio-level shoot. So we were really doing a indie shoot.
Steven Pierce: How many days did you end up filming?
Jeffrey Reddick: A lot.
Steven Pierce: Oh. Well, that’s good. That’s good.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. We had a lot of company moves. It was funny because once I got down there. We went down for a month ahead of time to do pre-production. Once I got down there, I started realizing there is no way that we can shoot all these places and do all these things. So I rewrote the script as much as I could, but I was also rewriting while we were shooting. It’s good to be the writer, but it’s also very hectic when it’s all of a sudden like, “We’re running behind, and we don’t… We’re not going to be able to shoot these five scenes.”
Steven Pierce: Right. You don’t have anybody that you can then turn to and be like, “Hey, can you make them not do this and combine that into another scene?” Because then you have to physically sit down and do it while everybody in the world is asking you a question.
Jeffrey Reddick: Oh, yeah. No, there was one day in particular where I realized there was a scene where five things happened, and I was like, “Because of what we shot, we can get rid of four of these things. So I need to rewrite this.” And they’re like, “Okay, five minutes.” I’m like, “I can’t rewrite it in five minutes. I’ll rewrite it as fast as I can.” So I had to go upstairs, and they kept knocking. “Is it rewritten yet?” I’m like, “Guys, go away. Let me rewrite the scene.” It was a great learning experience. We had a wonderful team. We had great talent, and it was a lot of fun to do. It’s definitely something I wan to do again. I learned a lot about writing while I was doing this, and I also learned a lot about directing because it was almost like we were doing it guerrilla-style, which I think I needed for my first film because I think if I’d have got spoiled with $5 million budget, then I wouldn’t have learned as much as I learned on this project.
Steven Pierce: This was also based on a short film that you guys did, right, called the Good Samaritan?
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah.
Steven Pierce: And that is pretty different, the short film, from the trailer. What morphed? Why did you make the short film? Did that help you get it sold? I’m sorry, not sold, but was that how you get the financing together to make it? Then how did that morph into a feature film?
Jeffrey Reddick: When I did the short, I decided that I was going to take a character from the short and expand his storyline and make it straight-up supernatural. But you just don’t know if it’s real or in his head. So the short is definitely more horror focused, and the movie is more suspense/mystery with horror in it. So that was the biggest difference.
Steven Pierce: Gotcha. Sounds like they’re kind of two different pieces that share a similarity of concept.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. Yeah, they share the concept of not watching. In the original feature, Nathan was agoraphobic, one of the characters in the film. So that’s why he didn’t help. So I used that, but when we were doing the film, we couldn’t find any locations where we could find a building overlooking the park. And then it just felt too weird. So we just have him actually at the park now. The agoraphobic stuff is gone.
Steven Pierce: Were there any specific scenes or things that you totally ended up dropping the script, and you would’ve written it differently now, having directed that scene? So now, whenever you actually physically got there, is that going to change your writing style moving forward?
Jeffrey Reddick: It was funny. I realized, in the script… The lead character, her name’s Caitlin Kramer, and she and some people witness somebody being assaulted and don’t help. Then something starts coming after them. The guy that gets assaulted dies. So then they’re outed to the public, and somebody starts coming after them. A couple of funny things… In the script, I realized once we were shooting, I had her boyfriend bringing her food a lot. His name’s Josh, and he would come in with Chinese takeout, or he’d be cooking. And I was like, “Wow, there’s… And we shot all the scenes in the house in one week. So I’m like, “Oh, shit. Every time he’s coming in the house, he’s got food with him.” I ended up changing that. It’s things like that and transitions, too. You can always end a scene on a dramatic line, but that doesn’t tell you: how does that scene transition into the next scene? Because, yeah, when you’re reading the script, it’s dramatic line, cut to next location, we’re on a character sitting at a table. But visually, that’s not a transitional kind of thing. So it’s got me thinking more about transitions. When I started writing, I remember when I wrote the first draft of Final Destination, Craig Perry sent it back to me. And he marked out so much of it, “Quit directing, quit directing, quit directing,” because I would have like, “We come into the room and see this.” I was directing the movie. Then I learned very quickly that, as a writer, you’re not supposed to write like that.
Steven Pierce: Do that, yeah. That’s interesting. I assume you’re probably going to… Well, let me ask you. Are you going to direct again? Is that an ambition you still have after doing it once? Or did it burn you out and you’re like, “I’m going back to writing”?
Jeffrey Reddick: No. I have a couple projects that I want to direct. There’s one that I’ve sat on for a long time. I tried to sell it before, but it’s very Stephen-King-ish and Nightmare on Elm Street. And every place that wanted to buy it wanted to make them all teenagers, and I’m like, “No.” So, that one, I’m going to definitely direct. There’s a couple projects that I want to direct. It’s interesting because people tell me, “After you direct the first time, you’re going to either hate it or love it. You’ll know.” So I definitely didn’t leave the process saying, “I don’t want to direct.” I don’t want to become a director full time. I have certain stories in mind that I want to direct and tell. Then, also, I have scripts that friends of mine have written that I think are great that I want to help them get made.
Steven Pierce: So kind of moving into producing, directing, writing, just all over, handling all of the aspects, it sounds like.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. The good news is, with how the business has changed now, there are a lot more production companies. Yeah, we have our major studios, but there are so many other production companies out there. There’s so many places looking for content. Obviously having something on DVD or premiering on Netflix or Amazon is not a dirty word anymore. They have huge stars in a lot of their stuff. So there are so many more avenues to get your work out there than there were when I was starting. There are so many more opportunities out there than there were when I started off. You just have to be on top of what’s going on and who’s doing what.
Steven Pierce: Absolutely. It all comes down to story, right? Everything comes back to story. For Don’t Look Back, where is it going? Where can people find it, and what’s your distribution look like for it?
Jeffrey Reddick: It’s coming out in fall. We’ll be announcing the date pretty soon. And I don’t know if this is going to happen. We had originally planned for a 10-city limited release like a week leading up to the film coming out on demand.
Steven Pierce: Was that with a distributor, or were you guys just four-walling stuff?
Jeffrey Reddick: The distributor was going to do that.
Steven Pierce: Let me just ask this question: how did you get connected to your distributor?
Jeffrey Reddick: Well, my producer, Andrew van den Houten, he does a lot of distribution himself. He’s very connected in that world. When the film was done, we sent it out to people that I knew at studios and production companies that I knew. He knows pretty much everybody. So he kind of just sent it out to everybody. Then we just settled on the place that offered us the best deal, which was a limited theatrical and on-demand. So it was cool.
Steven Pierce: Is that your overall strategy? Was it the strategy from the beginning, probably, to hit TVOD, SVOD, AVOD to try and make the money back?
Jeffrey Reddick: Obviously, when you make something, your first thing is you want it to… because you want to see your movie in a theater, you know?
Steven Pierce: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.
Jeffrey Reddick: You just want to. But as we went through the process, the film is really good, but it’s not easy to categorize because you can’t say it’s a horror film. And I used to hate films that were like, “Oh, we’re not really a horror film.” I’m not saying that at all, but the one I chose to do wasn’t a straight-up horror film because we couldn’t show too much with the kills because you don’t know if it’s supernatural or an actual, physical killer. So we couldn’t show anybody running around stabbing somebody with a knife or strangling somebody. It kind of fell in between genres. That ended up being a little tough with the studios because we don’t have any A-list stars in our movie. We have a great cast. They’re amazing. I’m very excited for y’all to see their work. But since, from a sales point, we didn’t have any A-list cast members, they’re like, “Well, this isn’t really horror. So we can’t sell it as a genre film. We need the name because it’s more of a mystery/thriller.” That turned into the double-edged sword. I kind of knew going in. But at first, our plan was to have a $5 million budget and throw a couple of big names in it.
Steven Pierce: Big names in there that can go on the poster and draw people in.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah, but now it’s going to have to rely on the story, back to story. I wanted to start promoting it now because I’m like, “October’s not that far.” But the distributors are like, “Well, we usually wait more until September.” I’m like, “Okay, feels like it’s cutting it close to me, but okay.”
Steven Pierce: Overall, to have a film that gets made, first of all, that is a first-time director, that has distribution in place is already a very, very, very big step. What do you think you would say to young people that are either screenwriters or young filmmakers or people that are starting to make their first film? What have you learned along the way that you wish you knew when you started off?
Jeffrey Reddick: I think a couple of key things are you have to be patient because it takes time. I hate all these cliches, but they’re all true. There’s no overnight successes. We’ll focus on that one person who was this wunderkind who sold a script at 20 and aim for that. And we don’t realize the thousands and thousands of people that come to L.A. or try to get stuff made every year that can’t get things made. So you really have to stay patient. The rule is you have to be willing to dedicate 10 years of your life to this craft and focusing on it before you start finding success. And that means finding work. That doesn’t mean becoming a millionaire and having a mansion. I think that rule is because this has to be your passion. I meet too many people who are like, “Well, I’m going to write a movie, and if nothing happens, then I’m going to go sell insurance.” It’s like, “Well, just go sell insurance.” If you’re just doing this as a hobby, it’s not right for you. Be open to constructive criticism because I find a lot of people, especially when they’re younger, myself included, was a little cocky about taking criticism. And that hindered me a lot from growing as an artist.
Surround yourself with good people. That’s the biggest thing. In any business, you’ll find a lot of shady people, but I always joke, in the film business, if somebody has a chance to get a movie made, they will throw their mother in front of a bus. A lot of people will to get a movie made. You’ll find that in a lot of your colleagues and friends. They will go around you. They’ll do stuff to undermine. You just have to surround yourself with good people. Make your own content, if you can. I think that now because there are so many outlets out there that will view content or you can get content on. I have friends that have done shorts that have ended up on Amazon and on Amazon Prime. So you can get a short or do a feature. When you meet people that you really vibe with and connect with, stick with those people. Those are the people that I think you build the longest creative relationships with because it’s such a small business. My first AD on Don’t Look Back ended up working as a first AD on a short my best friend was working on two months after we finished. And I never introduced them. They just met through somebody completely different. Then I found out they were… It’s just a small business. You don’t have to be in L.A. to find work. There’s great film communities in Louisiana. Florida’s got a good one. Texas is building up really well and has a really solid one, Atlanta, obviously. There are film communities all around the United States. I mean, there’s film communities in every state, too.
Also, networking the smart way, especially if you’re a writer… I always tell people to pick a genre. I know we like to show how creative we are, and we can do everything. But you have to think of this as a business, and because there are so many people… My old boss, Robert Friedman, said, “You have to cut through the clutter.” There are so many people coming to L.A. every day to be actors, to be writers, to be directors, to be producers, to be… Every day, they’re coming. So you have to be in it for the long game and figure out how to cut through the clutter. So, if you’re a writer, pick a genre because if you sell a horror script, everybody’s going to want your next horror script. You can say, “I’ve got this great comedy.” They’re going to be like, “Yeah, let me see your horror script,” because it takes time. Chris Nolan had to do two Batman movies, not just one, he had to do two Batman movies before they’d let him do Inception. He originally thought, after the first one, “Okay.” And they’re like, “Well, we’ll finance Inception, but you got to do one more Batman movie for us.” Just realize that the business side of it is a business. It’s cruel because, as artists, we put so much of our heart and soul into our work.
Steven Pierce: Heart and soul, mm-hmm.
Jeffrey Reddick: It’s a cruel business in that they don’t care about your heart and soul. They care about: is this movie going to make money? Is this TV show going to get viewers?
Steven Pierce: And it makes sense in a way because whenever you look at their lineup every year, every distributor’s trying to make money. That’s the whole point, and it’s a damn hard business to make money in. So I get it. That absolutely makes sense. I think you hit the nail on the head a second ago whenever you were saying, “It’s not really a horror movie. It’s more of a thriller, but we don’t have an A-list name. So everybody’s kind of pushing back on it.” I feel like every idea I’ve ever come up with is like, “Yeah, but it’s this plus this and meets this.” It’s just kind of… That’s such good advice to be like, “Just pick a lane, especially in the beginning, and just go down the lane.”
Jeffrey Reddick: In the beginning, yeah. Yeah. It’s a smart business move. That way, if you like at it like, “If I could direct, or if I could write, or if I could act in a certain genre for 10 years,” pick something that you’d be happy doing so that, yes, if you sell a horror script, if you sell a comedy, if you direct a horror movie or you direct a comedy, pick something that’s going to make you happy because that’s the lane you want to focus on. You can make a brand, create your own brand in that space because, when people think of horror… or when people think of me, I should say, they think of horror. The other way sounded way douche-ier. When they think of me, they think of horror. It’s funny because every time I say horror into Siri, she writes our whore. I don’t know if I’m saying horror wrong, or I’m just saying it too fast, but Siri always writes whore. I’m like, “No, not whore, horror.”
Steven Pierce: It’s a hard one to get around, that middle R.
Jeffrey Reddick: Yeah. Yeah, I got to work on that one. Every time, I almost hit messages. I’m like, “Ooh.”
Steven Pierce: Well, if you ever write something for yourself to act in, just avoid that word like the plague. “It’s that type of movie which has a lot of jumps, and people are generally afraid. Popcorn gets spilled everywhere a lot. I can’t remember what it’s called.” Make somebody else say it to you.
Jeffrey Reddick: And then I’ll go, “Horror.” I’ll just do like a Stewie Griffin and be like, “Horror.”
Steven Pierce: Well, Jeffrey, it’s been wonderful to get to talk to you. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your advice and all the stories.
Jeffrey Reddick: Thanks, Steven. Yeah. It was great being here. Again, we’re artists, and we’re sensitive. We have to realize, again, a lot of the people that are putting out… When it comes to putting out money for stuff, they don’t understand. They don’t understand that an actor will come in for an audition, and they’ve prepped for a week and they’ve memorized all their lines. And they leave, and then one of the producers is like, “She looks like my ex-boyfriend,” or some guy’s like, “He looks like my ex-boyfriend. We don’t want to use him.” That has nothing to do with the person’s talent. It’s just a stupid thing that gets in some producer’s craw, and then they don’t cast somebody.
Jeffrey Reddick: Once you know that, that it’s not about your value as an artist and it’s not about you, it’ll hopefully, A., not crush you, but it’ll just inspire you to go out and make your own art. You never know. If you put your passion out there, you never know who’s going to see it and what it’s going to lead to. But if you don’t, if you sit at home and procrastinate or just think about it and don’t actually do it, then nobody’s ever going to see it. So just think about it that way. Just put your art out there, and it’ll eventually get seen by somebody who needs to see it.
IFG is created by Framework Productions. This episode was directed by James Allerdyce, produced by Matt Mundy, edited by Audrey Rae McHale, and hosted by Steven Pierce. The music is by Glass Boy. Find his music on freemusicarchive.org