Q+A: Film Director + "Final Destination" Creator Jeffrey Reddick
For a decade and a half, frightened audiences have loved the Final Destination franchise. 2017 will see the sixth film in the series head into production, once again starring Tony Todd. The plot lines are motivated by accidents, but it is not an accident that the franchise has done so well. As the times change, people still love seeing people die in style in Final Destination.
For film director and the series creator, Jeffrey Reddick, his arrival as John Carpenter for the social media generation took years of effort. A Kentucky native – find him on the hilariously titled IMDb list called “A Kentucky Boy Can Survive” – he is the first to say he wasn’t an overnight sensation. And because of that, he isn’t about to disappear like some of the “promising new director” names we no longer remember.
Not every horror film is successful like your work. What is the secret of producing a good horror movie that stands out from the rest? And with the added requirement of how you know horror movies need gullible people to die?
In my opinion there are several key ingredients necessary to make a good horror film. One of the most important elements is a strong concept. People say there are not any original ideas out there. That may be true. People have been telling stories since the beginning of time. So the idea that someone will come up with a story that has never been told is impossible. But you can find a unique way to tell your story. If you look at the concept behind “Final Destination” it is that you can’t cheat death. We have heard people say that expression for decades. But we haven’t seen Death imagined as an unseen force like we did with “Final Destination.” So, it was a unique spin on well known idea. It’s also a concept that people can relate to because everyone is afraid of dying.
After the concept comes the characters. You want to tell a unique story, with realistic characters that audiences can identify with. People should be able to see a bit of themselves in your characters. Or the characters should remind people of someone they know. The best way to do this is to make the characters as realistic as possible. But you’re right, in horror films characters often do stupid things. Like stay in a haunted house. So when you’re writing a movie, you have to come up with a believable reason for characters to do what they do. Or have a killer that is able to outsmart your characters, even when they do the smart thing.
With the story, you also want to make it grounded enough that audiences feel it could happen them. While none of us can say that Death has chased after us…we can all relate to situations where we feel like we avoided death. Whether it’s almost getting hit by a car or almost falling down a flight of stairs. If you look at most franchises, they have stories that everyday people can relate to.
Of course the biggest thing people remember about a horror is the villain. People remember “Psycho” because of Norman Bates. And “Halloween” because of Michael Meyers. And “A Nightmare On Elm Street” because of the iconic Freddy Krueger. With “Final Destination” we had an unseen killer. This was actually a tough sell for the studio. They had a hard time getting their mind around how to make an unseen force scary. But James Wong (the director) and co-writer Glen Morgan, made it work.
What have you learned about business as a whole from having a film franchise?
I started working at New Line Cinema, which, in my opinion is one of the greatest studios ever. I got a strong education in the film industry long before I sold “Final Destination.” When I started out most studios were ran by people who loved film. So they would take lots of risks because they knew the rewards would be worth it. Times have changed and now many studios are run by business people. They look at movies from a business perspective and not necessarily a creative perspective. Studios play it safe. They rely on remakes, sequels or projects based off of books or video games. So, the business side has started to overshadow the movie (creative) side. Thankfully the independent market has opened up a lot of doors for people.
I learned that you should only make movies if you won’t be happy doing anything else. It needs to be your burning passion. I see so many people who get into the business seeking fame and fortune. Most of those people don’t make it because they don’t have the drive or patience. I was told it takes 10 years of struggling as an artist before you see any success. I laughed at that when I was 19. I moved to New York City, got an acting agent and started working at New Line Cinema. But it was 10 years after I graduated high school that I sold “Final Destination.”
Until you’re working in the film industry you don’t realize all of the hard work it takes to make a film. You also don’t realize how many times your work will get rejected before you find a home for it. So you have to prepare to stay in the business and work hard for years before you start seeing success.
I have also learned that there are times that you will have to decide between making a movie and keeping your integrity. There are bad people in any business. And there are so many wonderful, talented and giving artists in the world. But I have seen people turn on their best friends, and even their family, to try and get a movie made. So for all the glitz and glamor, there is a dark side.
But the biggest thing I’ve learned is you have to be strong and believe in yourself and always strive to grow as an artist. Because all of the hard work, rejection and struggle are worth it when you make a movie that touches people. The horror genre isn’t regarded as highly as other genres, even though they tend to be the most profitable. But when I meet fans and hear that my work has inspired them to pursue their dreams, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.
You once wanted to be an actor but faced racial stereotypes in the industry. What is your advice to actors who have suffered years of not getting as many roles as they should because they look different?
I started in the business in the early 90’s and diversity was not something people were focused on. My agent told me that since I didn’t rap or play basketball, she didn’t know what to do with me. At that time, the majority of roles for anyone who wasn’t white was playing a pimp, a drug dealer, a rapper or a basketball player. Things have changed over the years, but we still have got a long way to go.
My advice to people is to keep trying. There are so many more opportunities for actors and actresses of every size, shape and color. So, it is better. And now people can shoot films on their iPhones that are movie quality. So people can create their own content. So, if acting is your passion, you’ll find a way to do it. For me, I didn’t give up. I turned to writing. I have started to be more active about writing roles for myself in my projects. Just small ones. But I’m building up my resume. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box and create opportunities for yourself.
I read that you wrote to the head of New Line Cinema as a teenager and started chatting with him more frequently. What other funny things have you done in life to make yourself memorable to people?
I honestly can’t think of anything outrageous I have done. I have always just been myself. I think most people you’ll meet will tell you that I’m a nice, hard-working guy. I treat everyone well. I’m collaborative. And I have managed to keep my ego in check. So that is enough to make people notice you. Or at least remember you.
If you try too hard to “stand out,” people can sense that. I wrote Bob Shaye, the head of New Line Cinema, when I was 14 years old. I was a young kid living in the hills of Kentucky with no idea about how the movie industry worked. I had the fearlessness of youth, which impressed Bob. But he also took the time to respond to me. So it was me taking action. But also, Bob responding.
The times keep getting weirder when you see most people now do anything to be in the press or live their lives strictly online. What do you do now to promote your films that you would not have back when the first Final Destination was released?
Well, the biggest thing is all of the social media outlets that are available now like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. When you are filming a movie, you can have the cast and crew interacting with fans. It’s a great way to build an audience whil the film is still shooting. And it also allows fans to be a part of the process. It’s great. The only downside is that it’s harder to keep movie plots, or twists, a secret anymore.
What are you working on now for your next film projects? How far in advance do you plan?
The thing I’ve learned is that until you’re onset, a movie can fall apart at any time. So I am always juggling several projects at a time. I am getting more into producing and directing to keep more creative control. But I have several projects that are finished filming and others that are going soon. I’ll tell you about the main ones:
A) “Dead Awake” is a film we finished last year. It’s a supernatural thriller that deals with the terrifying real life phenomenon of Sleep Paralysis. It stars Jocelin Donahue, Jesse Bradford and Lori Petty and will hopefully be released within a year. We dedicated this movie to my mother, Betty Reddick, who passed February 2nd 2015. She lived to be 97.
B) “Car 86” is an independent movie we shot in Indianapolis. It’s about three college friends who go on joyride with a police officer and uncover an alien invasion.
C) “Superstition” is a thriller I wrote that Global Renaissance Entertainment is doing with Lionsgate: CodeBlack, which films this fall. It’s my first slasher film. It’s set on a campus where two people have died. Going under the superstition that ‘death’s happen in 3’s’ someone starts a ‘Dead Pool’ where people try to guess the third person to die. Needless to say, someone takes the game too far and mayhem ensues.
D) “Good Samaritan” is a feature I wrote and will be directing, based off a short that I did. Andrew van den Houten is producing. We hope to start film this Fall. It’s a supernatural thriller about people who witness a fatal assault and don’t help the victim. The witnesses start dying and you’re not sure if it’s a real killer seeking revenge or something supernatural. You can watch the final version of the short on YouTube. Or, you can watch the longer, original director’s cut on the free VIBBIDI app. It’s divided into mini-episodes, which you can watch and click “Like” if you like it.
E) I also directed my first music video, for Australian artist BP Major, based on a true story, about the real life horror of gay conversion camps. It happens more in the United States, but parents force their kids to go to these camps to try and “turn” them straight. This was a very personal project for me. And it’s shocking that this kind of stuff is still happening today.
F) I have several other feature and TV projects that we’ll be announcing soon. I won’t bore you all with the rest of them. But people can follow me for updates on Twitter @JeffreyAReddick or Instagram @JeffreyAReddick.
What do you do for fun away from your job? Would anything surprise people? Are you owned by a dog or a cat? Remember, people don’t own animals. Animals own you and your house.
You caught me, Nicole. My beautiful cat, Kittan, runs the house and me. So I enjoy time with her. Since, I’m working on so many things, I don’t have a lot of down time. But I guess the biggest thing is I’m a proud geek. I love horror movies, comic books and video games. I go to the movies and watch a lot of TV. I try to catch every horror movie that comes out on opening weekend. I also watch a ton of TV. All of the horror shows from “The Vampire Diaries” to “Supernatural.” As well as comedies like “Family Guy” and “The Big Bang Theory” to investigative shows like “Law and Order” and “Criminal Minds.” Since I’m a huge comic book geek, I watch all of the comic book TV shows like “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and “Green Arrow.” I also read the new comics when they come out on Wednesday. And finally, I like to play video games on my iPhone. I won’t buy a full game station or I would never leave the house.
Are you ever afraid of flying on a plane or anything else you do in real life that’s been done in the Final Destination movies?
I’m not afraid of flying. But I am really scared of driving behind log trucks. I am from Kentucky and there are log trucks everywhere. So whenever I go home and get behind one, I always switch lanes. That was the inspiration for the opening scene in “Final Destination 2.”