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Screenwriter Todd Farmer & His 'Bloody Valentine' with Heart

By, Vince A. Liaguno

Todd Farmer is anxious for you to forget about Jason in space - also known as Jason X - the ill-fated tenth installment of the iconic Friday the 13th franchise that he's largely credited (and discredited) with writing. Now he's moving on to blood-soaked, heart-shaped candy boxes and is confident that fans will see more of his work - and less of intrusive studio execs - in the upcoming 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine (due in theaters on January 23, 2009).

ToddFarmer1.jpgThe 6'2" Kentucky-born dark scribe projects a good 'ole boy easiness and sense of humor that only slightly masks his antipathy for the current workings of the Hollywood machine. And while he's smart enough not to bite the hand that feeds him, he's not averse to the occasional nip with a well-aimed potshot at a particularly deserving studio honcho. Farmer calls it as he sees it, and what he sees right now is too much moviemaking by consensus and less filmmaking by vision.

He's hoping that changes with the upcoming redux of My Bloody Valentine, the cult-classic 1981 slasher flick in which a madman miner with a pickaxe dispatches with the usual collection of clueless young folk. It's a tall-order with genre fans weary from the spate of lackluster remakes of late like Prom Night, The Fog, Black Christmas, and When a Stranger Calls. Farmer understands that fans are rightfully wary of what's in store for this latest update, but promises that this remake will reverse the trend.

In this in-depth interview, Farmer opens up about the realities and frustrations of the modern screenwriter, makes a case for remakes, and shares his enthusiasm for the new My Bloody Valentine - championing everything from director Patrick Lussier and cast to the new 3-D technology that will put Harry Warden in a theater seat next to you.

Dark Scribe Magazine: How did your involvement in My Bloody Valentine come about?

Todd Farmer: This project has been in the making for several decades. I met Patrick Lussier while hunting Snow Yetis ToddFarmer.jpgalong the coast of Norway. Apparently, they are endangered; a small bit of information to which Patrick and I were not privy. The Norwegian government, however, was. During our chase across Sweden and our short stay in a Polish prison, Patrick and I became good friends. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and worked together on assorted development projects and pitches. As the writer’s strike neared Patrick was working on a different movie for Lionsgate. I read some scenes, offered my two cents and apparently that lead to my being discussed for Valentine . Unfortunately the strike hammer fell so Patrick and I traveled to Costa Rica to hunt chupacobra. Again, endangered. Shouldn’t there be a website or something? Fortunately for us, Lionsgate cut an early deal with the WGA so Patrick and I returned to the States and I got to work on My Bloody Valentine .

Dark Scribe: How does the new My Bloody Valentine differ from the original story wise?

Todd Farmer: Our story has a lot more cowbell. That’s not to say that the original didn’t have enough cowbell. On the contrary, for the times, I believe it had exactly the amount of cowbell required. However, we live in a post 9/11 world with TiVo and iPhone. There’s just no escaping the sheer poundage of cowbell required to make entertainment acceptable these days.

Dark Scribe: What did you incorporate from the original into this new treatment? What did you excise?

MinerMaskCropped.jpgTodd Farmer: I was young when I saw the original. Too young perhaps. I remember a woman stuffed into a dryer, layered in cotton candy. It was one of those disturbing images you see as a child that never fully dilutes over the years. When I watched the movie again, pre-rewrite, I was shocked to discover a whole new movie. I was pleased at how intricate the story and characters were. Of course, that’s the stuff my pre-teen brain chose to dilute over the years. Although Friday the 13th started this way, it quickly moved into Halloween territory. No real mystery. No story twists and turns. You have the hunter and the hunted. But with MBV you’re not quite sure who the hunter is and most of the time you think it’s the guy standing next to you. If you were to track the ancestry of Silence of the Lambs, you’d find MBV sitting in the seat of great-great-granddaddy. Campiness aside, the original MBV was a real story. That’s pretty cool, and I think all involved with the remake gravitated to it. Sure, we’ve got blood and 3-D, and perhaps one of the most surreal moments ever seen in a horror movie, but beneath it all, the story and the characters feel very real, very…this could happen to you.

Dark Scribe: Did you cringe when you heard the word ‘remake’?

Todd Farmer: I’m used to it. When I first started hearing about remakes, it was great. I mean, The Fly? The Thing? I love remakes. I grew up with remakes. But it’s not really the same is it? Not anymore. The Fly and The Thing were remade because someone had a great idea to layer on top of a great old premise. These days, it’s all about making a name that people recognize. Some yoyo with an accounting degree did the numbers some years back and showed on paper that movies with name recognition statistically do better than those without. They cost less to advertise…yadda, yadda, yadda. Welcome to the new, corporate-owned, bottom-line Hollywood.

So did I cringe? I shrugged. And while I would prefer writing something original, feeding my wife and kid is way better than starving on principle. Besides, I love a good challenge and remakes present a whole unique list of challenges. So, while I didn’t cringe, I did pass. At least at first. Until I heard that Lussier was directing. For me that changed everything. I can assure you, Patrick Lussier is the real deal. He’s Charlie Heston and the rest of us are all damn dirty apes. Hollywood may be cashing in on name recognition, but Patrick tells stories he’s passionate about. I knew this wouldn’t be just another cookie cutter remake in his hands. And one thing I love more than money is being right. I was right. This movie is going to be wonderful. Not sure I’ve ever been able to say that about one of my movies before.

It’s tough, this business. As a writer you pour your heart into something and then you are forced to stand back and watch it change and change and morph and alter and dumb down and fade until there’s not much of you left. Then it comes out and some reviewer blames you, the writer, for everything, when in fact you haven’t been a part of the silly thing in three years. I knew with Patrick that wouldn’t happen. Oh, it tried to happen. With any other director it probably would have happened. But not with Patrick. Did I mention he’s the real deal?

Dark Scribe: Why do you think remakes get such a bad rap? Even from the announcement stage, fans go wild denouncing them.

Todd Farmer: Because fans and consumers in general aren’t stupid. They know they aren’t getting The Fly and The Thing anymore. The passion for making movies isn’t what it used to be…or I guess it’s just a different passion. It’s a bottom line passion. How much can we make opening night, opening weekend, on the DVD sales? The creatives are no longer in control of their own creations. Friday the 13th isn’t being remade because Tarantino or Guillermo had this brilliant idea for it. But wouldn’t that be cool? No, it’s being remade because suits know the name will sell tickets. Personally, I miss the passion. I miss Cronenberg’s passion in The Fly. Carpenter’s passion in The Thing. That’s why I love MBV so much. Because I’m sure it started just like every other remake - for reasons of bottom line. What Lionsgate didn’t figure on was Lussier’s passion. Oh, they knew he was good - but now they know just how good.

And this is one thing that fans should consider about remakes. There are plenty of cons but this, I think, is a pro. When I first got started things were obviously different. A writer trying to get his foot in the door started in horror because it was cheap and the competition was green. The playing field was even, and the chance of getting in was better. Back then studios hated horror. Considered it beneath them. Embarrassing. Then, along came Scream and everything changed. Now, every numbnut with a production company has a genre department. Everybody makes horror. The embarrassment was destroyed by the bottom line. Horror costs little and makes lots. Even if your horror movie tanks, at a cost of ten million you’re still gonna make money and buy an Audi. So, now to my point. Most of these old classics that are now being remade were originally made for nothing. No stars, no production value, no real shooting days. At least now days these remakes are getting some first class treatment. Well, at least Business Class. I mean, the idea of seeing Friday the 13th made with some semblance of a budget is intriguing to me. MBV was originally made for ten bucks and carton of Canadian smokes. For me, most of the originals are better while the remakes are more pleasant to look at. Shame we can’t get both. I think that’s because in the old days, passion made horror movies. These days money makes horror movies. In a perfect world, I’d love to see the money given to the writers, directors, actors and crew and then leave ’em alone and let them do their jobs.

Dark Scribe: Were you a big fan of the original My Bloody Valentine? Are you a big fan of the old-school slashers in general? If yes, which are your favorites?

Todd Farmer: Fan of it [the original], no. Again, I saw it young and it sort of freaked me out so I just subconsciously stayed away from it over the years. Welcome to the inner workings of psychology. Of course, now I regret that because in many ways I prefer it to those that I have for years called my favorites. That said, Halloween was, and still is, a favorite. Nightmare on Elm Street, in my opinion was brilliant. Friday the 13th was great, if perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Cheap and dirty and naughty and somehow that translated to a fun ride that nine films later bought me an Audi. Go figger. Curtains, obscure but wonderful. The Fog - yes, supernatural - but counts as slasher in my book. Silence of the Lambs, yes, it too is slasher in my book. Gore, female lead, stalking scenes. Slasher.

Dark Scribe: In your opinion, which of the old school slashers would most benefit from the remake treatment? Which one could be improved upon the most?

Todd Farmer: I’m really not that militant in my views that we should never remake a classic. It’s not like we’re building bonfire out on the old church softball field with the plastic corpses of original DVDs. The original still exists. That said, anything that originally had crappy production value is ripe for some princess treatment in my book. F13, MBV, Curtains. All in all, I think Halloween was perhaps the better movie of the above (granted just my opinion) and thus didn’t need a remake. But then the idea of seeing Rob Zombie’s version of Halloween? Well, that’s certainly intrigued to me. And falls more in line with what we saw from Cronenberg’s Fly or Carpenter’s Thing. A re-envisioning of the story. Those are my reasons for remaking a movie. Better production value or a different take on the premise. Or both.

Dark Scribe: You’re pretty frank in your observations about the Hollywood machine on your blog. One particular statement caught my attention: “ I used to think my job as the screenwriter was like a novelist, in that he/she writes a story and Hollywood does everything in its power to nurture, protect and bring that story to fruition…No, like it or not, in today's Hollywood the screenwriter's job is to take many different opinions, ideas, visions and work those into a cohesive and compelling story.” Has screenwriting really become more writing by consensus?

ToddFarmer4.jpgTodd Farmer: Unfortunately. Like it or not, the business is out of balance. It happens. Balance will eventually return. But right now the companies are in control. I watched the shift happen. Oddly enough, it all started with horror. Companies started hiring kids fresh out of college to head up their genre wings. Then came this influx of young hungry writers willing to write for magic beans and make any change they were asked to make in order to keep their job. The business changed. Suddenly, more seasoned writers were being replaced. Because seasoned writers argue. And seasoned writers get paid more. Thus, seasoned writers - needing to feed their families - began taking less money. Began arguing less. Stories suffered. Solid stories were turned into creations of compromise. Instead of Cronenberg giving you The Fly, you end up with a whole bunch of writers and executives giving you The Fog . I’m not saying The Fog is a bad movie, it’s just… eh . Screenplay by committee. Same thing can be said about The Messengers and most of the genre movies we’ve seen lately. Granted we’ve had some exceptions. Saw, Hostel…but both of those were independently made and snatched up later via acquisitions. They did not go through the studio development system. And although you can find this very sentiment plastered throughout the Internet, the audience too is to blame for this mess. Because the audience has been continually rewarding bad movies with strong box office.

Dark Scribe: How were the folks at Lionsgate to work with? You hint at some animosity on your blog…

Todd Farmer: I don’t know. They’re a little sneaky. Sexually, I’ve had better. Although I love their marketing department. Sarah and her partner are forces of nature. Perhaps the best in the business. And you cannot dispute the brilliance of LG’s acquisitions department. Saw? Hostel? Those were pretty good investments, don’t you think? But when you compare the movies LG bought to the movies they developed…well, I think a pretty clear pattern reveals itself. Fortunately, MBV will be the exception due mostly to Patrick Lussier but also to some great actors and a very talented crew.

Dark Scribe: Did the 3-D aspects of the new My Bloody Valentine pose any challenges from a screenwriting aspect? Should fans expect the same cheesy 3-D “stunts” with arrows flying at them – or does the new technology everyone’s talking about serve a different purpose?

Todd Farmer: The new technology is a whole new world. You really have to forget Friday the 13th 3D and Jaws 3D. That whole flat, flat, flat…suddenly-something-flies-at-you-thing is gone. This is tomorrow’s 3-D and it is remarkable. It’s not about stuff flying at you; it’s about being immersed into the world. Suddenly, the killer really could be sitting right beside you. It’s stunning to watch. I can’t wait.

Dark Scribe: Some of the films in the recent spate of remakes get criticized for what many see as CW-casting – young, attractive name actors from popular youth-oriented TV fare. Did you have any involvement or input in My Bloody Valentine’s casting, and what are your initial thoughts on Jensen Ackles and Kerr Smith in the lead roles?

Todd Farmer: Outside of TV, writers have zero say when it comes to casting. Granted, there are hundreds of single writers sitting in bars right now, flashing their WGA cards, who do not want the girls to know this. But the truth hurts. The powers-that-be don’t want us getting out. They don’t want us talking in public, and they certainly don’t want us rubbing up against the talent. In fact, we rarely even see an audition tape. But it was different this time. Patrick allowed me access to the inner circle. I would watch audition tapes then call or IM about who stood out to me. Jaime [King] was a stand out from the start. I remember Patrick’s excitement after first meeting her. Normally he wouldn’t tell me who he liked until I weighed in. But with Jaime, he was too excited to keep it secret. Then there was Kerr. I knew his face. But it was his acting that grabbed me. He was simply in a different league. I told Patrick and, of course, he felt the same. At first Kerr was our favorite for Tom, but then Jensen arrived and we were torn…until Patrick suggested Kerr play Axel. It was perfect! I remember Edi [Gathegi] being a stand out. We kept referring to him as ‘Big Love’ since we loved his run on House, MD. But his interpretation was so… A-list. He and Kerr were so good together that we kept making their scenes longer. Then later when casting started for [the character of] Irene, again Patrick broke protocol and phoned saying, “You gotta check out Betsy [Rue]!” Patrick would get so excited. It was infectious. I mean, I’ve become so mean and bitter and angry all the time that it’s just so refreshing to be around someone who lifts you up and reminds you why you drove to LA in your old pickup with several garbage bags full of clothes and slept in a hammock for two months back in 1996 when gas prices were a buck fifty-five.

And when it comes to the actors something happened this time that I’ve never seen before. Many times someone will be brilliant in an audition but just the opposite on set. Or at least struggle on set. It’s the gamble you take. Not the case this time. In fact, the actors just kept getting better and better. As Jaime’s role became more and more physically and emotionally demanding, she nailed take after take. I knew Jensen’s work from watching Smallville and Supernatural. But I was not prepared for the performances he was giving. Patrick calls him a young Steve McQueen. Jaime, Jensen, and Kerr playing three incredibly complex characters. The movie is better because of them. In fact, I’d put those three up against any of your big budget movie stars. Any day of the week, twice on Thursday.

Dark Scribe: How did [genre veteran] Tom Atkins come to be involved? This has genre fans very excited! Is his role substantial or more a stunt casting move like Rob Zombie did with just about everyone in his Halloween reimagining?

Todd Farmer: Patrick knows every actor who has ever acted by face and name. You’ll be sitting at Starbucks and some vaguely familiar looking face will walk in and Patrick will say, “Hey, that’s Coffee Cofferson from Episode 22 of Love Boat.” There was this one rather small role in MBV that was very…important. Not the sort of thing you want to hand over to a day player. So Patrick was pushing for Tom. That was the initial plan. But the more he and Patrick talked, the more in love Patrick fell until he ended up giving Tom a much bigger role. And thank goodness. He’s so wonderful. And the fans are right. Tom Atkins is horror royalty. I’m sorry, but if you dis Halloween III in my presence, you and I are going to roll (laughs).

And I’m such an idiot. The night I arrived on set, Tom was shooting one of his scenes. I saw him. There were plenty of moments for me to go up and say ‘Hi.’ Introduce myself. Fumble awkwardly through some semblance of a greeting, but I was too star-struck. Seriously, I’m such a dolt.

ToddFarmer6.jpgDark Scribe: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention your (in)famous screenwriting work on Jason X, a rather poorly received entry in the Friday the 13th franchise. Do you think the film is underappreciated by fans? What are your recollections about working on this project?

Todd Farmer: Underappreciated? Not at all. Fans aren’t stupid. I wanted to make Aliens with Jason. I thought we could. Sure, I knew others had tried to make horror in space and failed, but so what? That was them and this was us. Aliens with Jason would be cool. Even today, it would still be cool. So that’s what I wrote. But that’s not what we made.

That’s where I learned that executives will often rewrite the magic right out of a script. Writers and directors - and even actors - have this basic wiring ability to constantly look for ways to improve a story and characters while never forgetting what was so magical in the first place. Executives always forget what was magical in the first. Shame really. Would Jason X have made more money without the 11th hour rewrites dumbing it down? Doubtful. Jason in space, two years in a can, DeLuca leaving New Line…just too many factors going against it. But it would have been a better movie.

Dark Scribe: Where you pleased with the final result with The Messengers? What can you tell our readers about The Messengers II: The Scarecrow? Is this a sequel? We heard it’s currently shooting in Bulgaria (!).

Todd Farmer: Was I pleased? Well, I liked it. I thought it was a cool premise. Just not my premise. It wasn’t the movie I wrote. When I saw it, I was very detached. I kept thinking, ‘why couldn’t we have just made the movie I wrote?’ Everyone liked it. Loved it even. Heck, even Patrick Lussier was attached to direct it. Then, for no reason I was ever able to understand, the studio had it rewritten. By Stuart Beattie, who by the way is a great writer. But he was given some crazy studio notes, which essentially killed all of my big ideas. So, Revolution decided not to make it. It sat in turnaround for a year or so, and then Sam Raimi grabbed it and breathed some life into it. Six writers later and it was a much different movie. Although very understandable because they had to come up with a whole new big idea. And that’s where the idea of children being able to see ghosts that adults cannot came from. I like that. But I liked my idea as well.

Thus, years later in the craziest of twists, J.R. Young, a Raimi executive, read my original draft and took it to Sam. And Messengers II was born. One script enters, two movies leave. Truth is, I have adored every moment working on it. The budget was smaller so we had to tweak, but the creative freedom has been unbelievable. J.R., Sam, and the Mandate twins actually restored my faith in executives. Their notes were smart. They think like writers. There’s no other way to put it. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat. And Martin Barnewitz has done an incredible job on a tight budget and tighter shoot. We spoke early this morning and he’s a week away from flying to LA where I’m going to hound him to see the early cut and try to bribe him with vodka.

I complain a lot - okay...more than a lot - but I had two movies shot this year and both are very much… me . That’s…well, that’s cool. What I wrote got shot this time. Yay for me!

Dark Scribe: With all the studio involvement disrupting the creative flow on a film project, do screenwriters unfairly take the brunt for the finished product? Conversely, when a film comes together, does the screenwriter get due credit?

Todd Farmer: Hard to say. I’ve certainly received my share of hate mail for Jason X. And if you hated his being in space, then I’m the guy to blame. Send your hate mail and I will read it and feel poorly about myself for about 20 minutes. But it’s hard being judged when you know the movie is not what you intended. And I guess on Messengers it’s both better and worse. Because there’s hardly anything of it that’s mine. A family living on a sunflower farm. Some crows. Three of the character names are the same. The rest is different. Yet I get hate mail proclaiming it the worst movie ever written and I need to do everyone a favor and go back to building houses. Yet on the other side of the coin, it opened number one its opening weekend and I would never pretend to require credit for that.

My reward came when J.R. read my draft and took it to Raimi and they said, “Hey, let’s make this.”

Dark Scribe: How did a boy from Kentucky end up in Hollywood trying to navigate the studio system? Was screenwriting always a professional goal?

Todd Farmer: Always knew I wanted to write. I was the guy telling stories around the campfire. And having discovered ToddFarmer5.jpgStephen King, those stories were always ghost stories. I was a double major in Marketing and English because I wanted to write, but figured if that failed, I needed some business to fall back on. I toyed with novels but found I didn’t have the patience to write 300 pages once I’d figured out the full story. Then I saw a screenplay at a used book store in Dallas and saw…wait a minute…110 pages? Seriously? That I can do. A friend of a friend - Dean Lorey - had just written Major Payne. We chatted, I tossed out some ideas, and he optioned a script from me. Later, he told me if I was serious about writing movies then I had to move to LA. So I did. He had written Jason Goes to Hell and later introduced me to Sean Cunningham. I worked for Sean for three years. I wrote dozens of scripts, including a draft of Freddy vs. Jason which New Line sent back unopened. Long story. Eventually, we started toying with F13 /10 and my stunning rise to wealth and fame was unleashed.

Long story short, I was stupidly lucky.

Dark Scribe: Which of your fellow screenwriters do you most admire? Favorite screenplay of the last decade?

Todd Farmer: Impossible to name just one. I love several for different reasons. Tarantino changed the face of Hollywood. Kevin Williamson changed the face of horror. John August gives me goosebumps. Peter Jackson, Steve Kloves. They have single-handedly poured life into the fantasy genre. Russio and Elliot had me at Shrek , tripped me at Pirates III but I forgave them because…well… Jason X? Goldman…a moment of silence, please . Koepp, we should all hope to be the sweat off this man. Although Darabont’s Crystal Skull was way better. Who else? Kasden! Empire- freaking- Strikes Back? I’m not freaking worthy.

Oddly enough, I’ve met several of these guys. Having dinner with one of them at Comicon. You know, my life’s not so bad.

ToddFarmer3.jpgDark Scribe: Speaking of Comicon, tell us a little about your work writing comics with actor Thomas Jane (The Mist). What are the challenges of writing in this medium?

Todd Farmer: Well, there’s no money in comics. But by creating a comic book, we own the idea rather than a studio owning it. In every other country in the world, the screenwriter owns his or her story. Not the case in the America. So, sometimes screenwriters will write novels and comics as a way to both own and back-door their way into a movie. I mean, we have discussed the whole name ToddFarmer8.jpgrecognition thing… video games and comic books certainly fall into the arena. Hollywood likes ’em. So, Tom and I did Alien Pig Farm with that in mind. We’re doing The Lycan - an 1800’s werewolf story with Tim Bradstreet - next.

Dark Scribe: What’s next after My Bloody Valentine? We read somewhere that you were once attached to John Carpenter’s next film…

Todd Farmer: Yeah, John Carpenter’s Psychopath. Catchy name. Lots of rumors out there, but it’s still happening. It’s coming out as a comic this year. Same reason as above. We want to own it. I’m finishing Monkey’s Paw for RKO. Perhaps the most disturbing script I’ve ever written. Tim Bradstreet and I are writing Devil’s Commando’s for Tom Jane to star and direct. Tom directed Dark Country for Sony and this would be his follow up. In fact, we’ll all be at the RAW booth at Comicon most likely working on the script if anyone wants to drop by and yell at us. I have a couple of animated TV shows based on video games that I’ve written pilots for and will shortly start on episodes. There’s roughly a six month lead time so lots of work yet to do. Lussier and I have another movie together. Don’t know what it is yet.

Dark Scribe: Let’s end on a My Bloody Valentine note. Answer the burning question: Will there be a Mabel character, and will her demise involve a Laundromat dryer? At least tell us there’s a bloody heart in a candy-box somewhere in your script (!).

Todd Farmer: (groans loudly) Have we not discussed my hatred of spoilers? All I will say is, “Yes and yes.”

Learn more about Todd Farmer at his official website and MySpace page.

Posted on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | CommentsPost a Comment

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