Friday the 13th Screenwriters Interview

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift to chat about their new movie, “Friday the 13th,” directed by Marcus Nispel and starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, and Derek Mears as Jason.

"We were very lucky that writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who had written 'Freddy vs. Jason,' were excited to take the ride," says producer Brad Fuller. "We knew they cared as much about Jason and his legacy as we did and were confident that they would deliver a script that took all of the best elements of the first few films and combined them with some fresh, inventive stuff. They really nailed it."

Revamping one of the most recognizable horror villains ever meant going back to the franchise's roots. "We felt it was important to go back to the basics and put Jason back in the woods again," reveals Swift. “Our idea was to make the story much grittier than in recent years, with a fast and loose Jason like never seen before," adds Shannon. "We wanted to make him someone who was actually in the woods surviving off the land like a real human being would. We wanted the character to be territorial, like a hunter. It's not like he's just going around killing people randomly. If you invade his territory, he's going to protect his turf and you're going to pay an awful price."

One of the biggest challenges in writing and developing the screenplay was deciding where to start the film and what to include from the 11 previous films. "It's a lot of pressure to re-launch a franchise like this because you really have two different audiences to please." says Fuller. "There are the fans who already know the stories and are going to come to see it because of the curiosity factor. Then you have to try to also capture those who weren't necessarily fans of the title, but who love a good horror film. We felt that a way to serve both those audiences was to give them something they haven't seen before, but also tie it in with iconic moments from the original films."

Shannon and Swift wrote the box office hit "Freddy vs. Jason," starring Robert Englund. They are currently working on the drama "Inland Saints," for director Joel Schumacher. They have also co-written a number of projects currently in development, including "Jerry the Giant Killer," for producer Sam Raimi; the 1950s noir "Hawaiian Dick," for director Frank Coraci; an adaptation of Howard Chaykin's graphic novel "Power & Glory"; and "Spy Hunter," based on the classic Midway video game.

Damian Shannon and Mark Swift really know how to write murder and mayhem and we appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about “Friday the 13th”:

MoviesOnline: What was your interaction with Mark Wheaton?

DAMIAN SHANNON: You know what? We've never met him and we did not actually read his draft until the arbitration.

MARK SWIFT: Until the movie was done.

MoviesOnline: What similarities were there?

MARK SWIFT: I think in his, Jason finds a mask. I'm not trying to downtalk him. Jason finds a mask and teenagers die. I think that he had an idea that we also had which was that there's tunnels.

DAMIAN SHANNON: And a couple other similarities.

MARK SWIFT: Jason's real pissed off. He's got a machete.

DAMIAN SHANNON: It's in the woods. There's teens.

MoviesOnline: So you came up with the marijuana?

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yes, that was us.

MARK SWIFT: Actually, that was Marcus's idea early on.

DAMIAN SHANNON: That's true, that's true.

MARK SWIFT: Marcus, that was Marcus.

MoviesOnline: What did you learn from doing Freddy vs. Jason for doing a full blown Jason movie?

MARK SWIFT: We learned a lot.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Absolutely. One of the biggest things we learned was tonality, the sort of intermingling of comedy and horror and how best to do that. We don't think that worked perfectly in Freddy vs. Jason.

MARK SWIFT: Yeah, we're not totally thrilled with that movie. It got too cartoony for us so that's something we learned. Another thing we learned is there's nothing more painful in horror movies than having kids explain plot and trying to explain mythology to each other. I mean, it is brutal. So one of the things we wanted are the kids to sound very natural in this. We wanted them to just be normal, just be kids and just be talking. We didn't even want them to know this guy's name. We just wanted to have them sort of fresh and have this experience. That was something that we learned.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yeah, we definitely wanted to avoid the Scooby-Doo cliché where it's a bunch of kids trying to figure something out.

MARK SWIFT: Or solve a mystery. We just really wanted to avoid that.

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about the balance of the self-referential?

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yeah, well, we felt that had been done to death. The Scream series covered that so well. Why not play it straight?

MARK SWIFT: We wanted it to almost feel nostalgic, that it almost seemed like hopefully more like an '80s movie where they're unaware.

MoviesOnline: Did they use your dialogue or ad lib?

MARK SWIFT: They used all of it. If you hate the movie, we're the guys to blame.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yes, most of that comedy is ours but there were some great ad libs.

MARK SWIFT: I think they were great young actors. Aaron especially, very funny. Arlen very funny, Travis very funny. I thought those guys were great.

DAMIAN SHANNON: They took our dialogue and made it their own and they did a hell of a job.

MoviesOnline: Was it fun writing different ways to kill someone?

MARK SWIFT: It's a great release. In this troubled economy. Yeah, it's hard in the sense that you don't want to repeat anything, and there's been so many movies and so many kills and you gotta do your homework because there's going to be a fan that grabs you in the street and says, "You ripped us off!" and he gets really mad or it's too much like this one. So you've got to be careful.

MoviesOnline: Did you go online and read the fans?

MARK SWIFT: I read way too much. Always. Damian always yells at me.

DAMIAN SHANNON: I avoid that. I insulate myself in a bubble.

MARK SWIFT: But I know everything the fans think. I've read it all.

DAMIAN SHANNON: And that's why his blood pressure is much higher than mine.

MoviesOnline: Was there a mandate to do a different sleeping bag kill?

MARK SWIFT: Yeah.

DAMIAN SHANNON: That was our mandate. We like to take kills that we've seen and the fans love that we love, and spin them. That's how the sleeping bag thing came about.

MoviesOnline: Did you script the visual hommages like the wheelchair?

MARK SWIFT: No, I mean, we like to load up with references and then if you put in 20, just because of the nature of making a movie, four might make it. You hope, you describe exactly what the sweater should look like for Mrs. Voorhees. Does it turn out? Maybe not. But you try and you've got to make sure that the fanboys get all those nods. It's fun.

DAMIAN SHANNON: We love to plant easter egg surprises for the fans and hopefully you'll spot those.

MARK SWIFT: And then like Brad and Drew will say like, "Did you guys plan for there to be 13 kills?" And we'd be like, "Yeah." Stuff like that.

MoviesOnline: And red herrings like a chainsaw, did you put those in?

MARK SWIFT: No, that's probably Marcus winking at himself.

MoviesOnline: And thank you for writing so many nude scenes. That's an important staple of horror films that we've lost in recent years.

MARK SWIFT: Hopefully in that sense it's like a throwback.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Absolutely. That is a part of the F13 franchise and it's in its DNA and it would be foolish to excise that.

MoviesOnline: Did you have to come up with new ways to do that, like the wakeboarding girl?

MARK SWIFT: Yeah, I remember when we pitched that to Michael Bay, he had a big smile on his face. I knew that was going to make it into the movie.

MoviesOnline: What got lost along the way?

MARK SWIFT: There was a very complicated sequence at the end that was much bigger. Then with the budget, you just simply can't do it. A particular death was much more spectacular and it was our favorite and it just simply couldn't make it because you can't spend a lot of money on these movies and we understand that.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Whenever you write a movie, it's always your most favorite part that gets cut out, guaranteed.

MoviesOnline: Which death was it?

MARK SWIFT: ****

DAMIAN SHANNON: It was ****.

MARK SWIFT: It was spectacular.

MoviesOnline: That was a surprise.

MARK SWIFT: Well, that was what we knew. We knew that would be the big surprise of the movie so we had an elaborate kill for ***. It was great and we were so excited about that because we knew it would be the big shock of the movie and it got cut.

DAMIAN SHANNON: It was expensive.

MARK SWIFT: It was very expensive.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Also the kill with *** in the lake, waiting in the lake with Jason on the shore, our original intent was for *** basically to be stuck there waiting and didn't know what to do.

MARK SWIFT: For hours and hours.

DAMIAN SHANNON: And time passage.

MARK SWIFT: You cut back and it's nighttime.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Finally *** just drowns. We'd never seen anything like that, we were thrilled but they went with something a little more visceral as you saw.

MARK SWIFT: Because we had to write an alternate which was the dock and then they basically just tried to put the two together.

MoviesOnline: Were you on the set all the time while they were shooting?

MARK SWIFT: No, we were there for a short period of time.

DAMIAN SHANNON: We were there for a week which was a lot of damn fun. A lot of damn fun.

MARK SWIFT: And it turned out it's a lotta damn work so we wanted to get back to Hollywood and work on something else.

MoviesOnline: If you'd gotten to do Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash what would it have been like?

MARK SWIFT: I don't think that we would be interested in writing that movie because I think that it would by the very nature of its beast get too campy. I love Ash and I love Evil Dead but I think once you put three in there, and something like Ash, I wouldn't be interested in writing it.

MoviesOnline: Would you have been interested in a Freddy vs. Jason 2 rematch?

MARK SWIFT: You know, I think that's hard. Freddy vs. Jason feels like a one off to me.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Well, you know what? We did our version and they did come to us asking us about that and we thought maybe somebody else should tackle it because we shot our wad so to speak. Every idea we had about that was in the first. I don't know what we could have done with a second one.

MARK SWIFT: And then when we turned it down it turns out they never made it. So then all the fans were like, "Why isn't there a sequel?" I'm like, it's not our fault.

MoviesOnline: Rebooting seems like the right idea.

MARK SWIFT: That's what we always said to New Line, was what you need to do is restart each franchise.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yeah, the new Freddy and the new Jason will have their own vs. movie, 10 years from now when we're old.

MoviesOnline: What classic horror film do you think should be redone?

MARK SWIFT: Wow, I don't know the answer to that. There are ones out there that we hear about and then they'll maybe even ask us our opinion. I think there's a lot of them you cannot touch.

DAMIAN SHANNON: I think a brilliant one is The Thing and we love that idea but we would never try and remake it. We were kind of tinkering, we would be excited about actually making a sequel to The Thing.

MARK SWIFT: Because there's ways to make a sequel feel like a standalone.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Almost what we did with Friday the 13th.

MARK SWIFT: Because I think a lot of fans can still argue to themselves this is kind of a sequel with the only returning character being Jason, and I think that's great because we don't want to get over the original mythology. We're not telling people those movies don't exist. I love those movies and they're not going to be thrown out. So I know that hopefully hardcore guys can still say this felt like even a sequel in a lot of ways.

MoviesOnline: Were you aware it's kind of like IV, a brother's journey to find his sister?

MARK SWIFT: Well, that's a brother's journey trying to find a killer.

DAMIAN SHANNON: All these movies are seeped into our brain.

MARK SWIFT: It's unavoidable.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yeah, it affects us without us even knowing.

MARK SWIFT: For instance, I'll tell you honestly, Clay looking for his sister, we were not thinking about IV. So when people say, "Oh, they're definitely doing that for IV," I think that's a cool thing, but it wasn't intentional.

MoviesOnline: How did you rewrite Jason to be faster and how much is Derek?

DAMIAN SHANNON: Originally when we sat down with Brad and Drew, the first things we said to them were, "Let's make this guy lean and mean and fast."

MARK SWIFT: "And real."

DAMIAN SHANNON: "And real. Make this guy someone who actually survives in the woods. What would he be like in that case?"

MARK SWIFT: We also really wanted to get into his head. I mean, to us, I don't think he for this movie should be the shark in Jaws. We wanted him to be a little more intelligent, to set people up, to set a trap. And that was something that hadn't really been done and then I think Derek, who I truly believe when all is said and done at the end of the day is going to be the best Jason of all time. He brought a lot to it.

MoviesOnline: And we get that without having to do the childhood backstory like Halloween.

MARK SWIFT: Yes, very important to us not to show childhood, explain. I think that takes away mystery. It takes away magic and I think it takes away what makes him great.

MoviesOnline: But you gave him a home.

MARK SWIFT: We really wrote it more as a shack. It became a home but the shack was very important to us.

DAMIAN SHANNON: We wanted to keep it so realistic to the point that in our screenplay, when you're downstairs in the basement or in those tunnels with Whitney, you see that he has deer carcasses. He hunts, he survives and he actually eats.

MARK SWIFT: And then it turns out a deer carcass is $100,000 which I did not know. I remember the day that Brad called and said, "No deer carcass." Everything costs money.

MoviesOnline: It feels like an old school indie movie.

MARK SWIFT: Yeah, and the thing is it's Michael, Brad and Drew. This is essentially almost an independent movie. Michael gets his deal and then the studios release it. The studio didn't come down on us. It really felt like almost like an old school indie in a lot of ways.

DAMIAN SHANNON: But of course it's shot by an A list cinematographer, Daniel Pearl. It looks slicker than anything.

MARK SWIFT: And an awesome director.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Yeah, I think Marcus Nispel brought so much to it. I mean, never has a Friday the 13th movie looked so slick and cool.

MoviesOnline: What are you working on next?

MARK SWIFT: We've got a lot of stuff in development around town but right now, we're working on a couple things for Paramount and something with Joel Schumacher at Paramount.

MoviesOnline: Any more classic characters we know?

MARK SWIFT: Not at the moment. Hopefully getting some original things too because they can't all be remakes.

MoviesOnline: Which would you say you can't touch? Chucky?

MARK SWIFT: I love the Chucky movies.

DAMIAN SHANNON: The one that came our way that we said no to was Rosemary's Baby. You can't follow Roman Polanski. The guys who wrote Freddy vs. Jason should not be rewriting Polanski.

MARK SWIFT: You've got to know your place. I am not going to follow Hitchcock. It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen.

MoviesOnline: Have they come to you to punch up the Nightmare script?

MARK SWIFT: Oh, we can't talk about the Nightmare on Elm Street series. That's a separate issue.

DAMIAN SHANNON: We are not currently working on that, no.

MoviesOnline: What's the Schumacher project?

MARK SWIFT: It's a rewrite of a project originally called Inland Saints.

DAMIAN SHANNON: It's an action horror film set in the Inland Empire. It's really cool.

MARK SWIFT: Could be fun.

DAMIAN SHANNON: It's really cool.

MoviesOnline: Thanks guy. Great job.

MARK SWIFT: Thank you.

DAMIAN SHANNON: Appreciate it.

“Friday the 13th” opens in theaters on February 13th.

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