Monday, February 20, 2017

Script Review - Friday the 13th: 3-D by Nick Antosca

Cody takes a look at a rejected Friday the 13th script.

The Friday the 13th franchise has gone from feast to famine. When the series was starting out, Paramount Pictures was releasing a new installment almost every year - from 1980 to 1989, we got eight Friday the 13th movies. The only years when there wasn't a new F13 in theatres were 1983 and 1987. Since then, the output has slowed down considerably. After the release of Part VIII in 1989, Paramount felt they had gotten all they could out of the series, and the distribution rights passed over to New Line Cinema (which soon became a subsidiary of Warner Bros.) The original F13's producer/director Sean S. Cunningham made two new sequels, Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, released in 1993 and 2002, while New Line spent a decade trying to figure out how to mash-up Friday the 13th and their Nightmare on Elm Street franchise for 2003's Freddy vs. Jason. A span of fourteen years, and we only got to see Jason on the big screen in three new movies.

The process of getting Freddy vs. Jason to the screen was the definition of development hell. Multiple screenplays were written, around fourteen screenwriters were employed over the years. It all paid off when FvsJ was finally released and became a big hit. When a slasher movie makes over $100 million at the global box office, you would think the glory days of Freddy and Jason had returned. We might get a few sequels out this, right? Wrong. New Line tried to get a Freddy/Jason sequel made that would have added the heroic Ash from the Evil Dead franchise into the mix, but when Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash fell apart - because Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi didn't want to loan out his character and have to split the profits with so many other rights holders - New Line gave up on the idea of a Freddy vs. Jason sequel entirely.

The company switched gears. This is the era of the remake and reboot, and they decided to give Freddy and Jason that treatment instead of making anything that would pick up after the events of the crossover movie. To get a Friday the 13th reboot made, New Line/Warner Bros. had to team up with Paramount, since Paramount still held the remake rights. The producers at Platinum Dunes, the company behind many a remake, were brought on to craft this one. The resulting film doesn't actually remake any specific film that came before it, though. It keeps the established back story intact while returning Jason to the quicker, more human killer he was at the beginning of the franchise. I enjoyed the film and felt like fans had dodged a bullet - we got a "remake" that didn't actually mess up any of the story. I liked that the fast, human Jason was back, and I wanted to see more. The movie made $91,379,051 at the global box office, and the studios looked ready to get a sequel into production as quickly as possible. But while Friday the 13th 2009 was a success, its success was very front-loaded. Its opening weekend was huge, then it didn't build on that weekend all that much. The movie had a budget of $19 million, the sequel's budget was going to climb past $20 million. The studios were getting nervous. And there were two studios involved. To make a sequel to the '09 movie, Paramount and Warner Bros. would have to be working together again. They'd have to split the profits, which there might have been less of this time. The green light became a red light.

Years passed with no progress on Friday the 13th front. Then Christopher Nolan, who Warner Bros. had worked with on the Dark Knight trilogy, set up his sci-fi movie Interstellar at Paramount. WB wanted in on the action, so in exchange for being allowed to get involved with the Nolan film, they handed the Friday the 13th rights over to Paramount for a period of five years. Paramount would be allowed to knock out as many F13 movies as they could between 2013 and 2018. The Paramount of the '80s would have produced three or four movies in that window of time. How many Friday the 13ths did today's Paramount make? Zero.

Instead of getting cameras rolling on new movies, Paramount just dropped Jason right back into development hell. Since the studio had such great success with the Paranormal Activity franchise in recent years, their first instinct was to make a Paranormal Activity style F13: that means found footage. David Bruckner, who directed the 'Amateur Night' segment of the found footage anthology film V/H/S was hired to direct, and a script was written by The Autopsy of Jane Doe scribes Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing.

After a regime change at Paramount, the found footage approach was abandoned, and Nick Antosca, best known for being a co-producer and writer on the Hannibal television series, was brought on to write a new script that would share a similarity with the Goldberg/Naing version: the fact that the story was set in the 1980s.

For whatever reason, Antosca's draft was rejected, and Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners, Contraband) was brought on to write what was described as an "origin-ish" story. Since Bruckner had been stuck in development hell with Friday the 13th for so long at this point, he was let go to pursue other projects, and eventually Breck Eisner, director of such films as The Crazies remake and The Last Witch Hunter, was hired to direct.

The Guzikowski/Eisner iteration of the new Friday the 13th got six weeks away from filming. It was in pre-production, locations were being scouted in the area around Atlanta, Georgia (the same area where 1986's Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI was filmed), it was good to go for a release on October 13, 2017. Coming in right under the five year deadline. But then Paramount released their "thirteen years later" sequel to The Ring, Rings, a film they had been delaying the release of for fifteen months. When Rings had an unimpressive opening, Paramount lost faith in horror and pulled the plug on Friday the 13th, deciding not to do anything with the rights they had been given. Again, this decision was largely budgetary. This Friday the 13th was going to have a budget of over $20 million, an idea that is baffling to fans. How the hell can a Friday the 13th movie cost more than $20 million? Why did the '09 movie cost $19 million? It doesn't make much sense.

I was extremely disappointed when I heard that Paramount had shut down Friday the 13th. I desperately want to see more Jason. We've only gotten four movies in twenty-eight years. I need more Jason! However, it has since been revealed that Guzikowski's script was actually a remake that completely rewrote the entire Voorhees history, mashing the early films in the franchise together by giving us three different killers: as the film begins, Jason's father Elias is the killer, wearing a sack over his head like Jason did in Friday the 13th Part 2. After young Jason drowns, his mother Pamela becomes the killer, just like in the original Friday the 13th. After Pamela is decapitated by an intended victim, Jason returns to kill camp counselors while wearing a hockey mask. Spanning from the '70s into the '80s, it changes dates, it changes ages, it sounds like it was a disaster in the making. I'm not disappointed the Guzikowski script wasn't made, I'm glad that Paramount spared us from it.

Of all the ideas presented during Paramount's four years of wasted Friday the 13th development, it was Antosca's "Jason killing camp counselors in the '80s" script that sounded most promising, and I kept hearing good things about the script from people who had been lucky enough to read it. I wanted to get my hands on it so I could read it for myself. Now I have.

This draft of Antosca's script was dated 6/4/15. I'll say it right up front: the movie Antosca and Bruckner were plotting together, which they described as the Dazed and Confused version of Friday the 13th (since it would be a music-driven period piece where the teenage slasher fodder characters would have more depth than usual), should have been made. This script is far from perfect, it needed to have more work done on it, but the foundation is there - this could have been a really good Friday the 13th movie. Instead of replacing Antosca and Bruckner and going in a different direction, the producers should have just spent some time polishing this script.

The title page says Friday the 13th: 3-D, although there's very little in the script that cries out to be seen in 3-D. The setting is Camp Crystal Lake in August of 1988. As the story begins, it's the last day of camp for the little kids who have attended this summer, and one of the first events is reminiscent of the drowning of Jason Voorhees, the tragedy that started it all. The counselors aren't paying enough attention to the kids, and one of the campers nearly drowns. Thankfully, history isn't repeated - unlike Jason, this kid is saved by a counselor.

The young campers don't figure into the story beyond this near-drowning, they are picked up by their parents the next morning, leaving the staff behind to clean things up and close camp. There are eight teenage counselors, four girls and four guys, as well as an older head counselor, the camp nurse, and the groundskeeper. There's also a local boy who comes around the camp to see one of the female counselors. These are our characters and Jason's potential victims.

The telling of a scary story around a campfire reveals that this isn't the original Camp Crystal Lake, it was built across the lake from the camp where a young Jason Voorhees drowned, and where his mother was decapitated while killing counselors to avenge his death. The telling of the back story is my main problem with the first half of this script. It has been established in other films that Jason drowned in 1957 - this script says he drowned in 1966. What is the point of shifting the date nine years? The original film showed us Pamela Voorhees killing a couple counselors in 1958, then returning to kill more - and getting decapitated - in 1980 or 1979, depending on whether you go by the movie or by the date on her headstone in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. This script says all of Pamela's murders and her decapitation happened in 1967. Why bother making these little tweaks? Why even mention dates at all? We got by with a campfire story that didn't mention dates in Friday the 13th '09, and this should have done the same. That's a change I would have wanted to happen in revisions. Remove the years.

After discussing the Voorhees legend and the long-abandoned original camp, the teen counselors decide to cross the lake to see the place for themselves (just like the character Sandra wanted to do in Friday the 13th Part 2). Unfortunately for them, they draw the attention of Jason Voorhees by entering his territory and trespassing in his camp.

Maybe the producers didn't like that it takes so long to get to the killing in this script. There is no opening death or attack here, the first 30 pages are used to build both anticipation and a sense of dread. We know someone is watching the counselors as a storm rolls in. A figure moves in the darkness. Branches snap out there in the dark woods. We know it's Jason, we're waiting for him to strike. Even when he does starting killing people, the first couple kills happen offscreen.

We follow the counselors through another day after they've stirred up Jason (with a somewhat lackluster kill being performed by Jason along the way), as they come to realize that someone is stalking around the campgrounds. It's during this time when the attempt to give us better characters than the average Friday the 13th has really comes through. This section of the script reads like a "coming of age at camp" teen drama; these kids aren't stereotypes, they're not what you expect them to be, they have depth and their interactions tend to feel very real and grounded. If this film had been made, a group of young actors would have been given a chance to bring to life an interesting group of characters - who then proceed to get hacked to pieces.

As for the music we'd be hearing while getting to know these kids, Antosca names some great songs in his script. "One More Try" by George Michael, "Sax & Violins" by The Talking Heads, Guns N' Roses' cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", Ben E. King's "Stand by Me", "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House, "Drive" by The Cars. "What Have I Done to Deserve This" by Pet Shop Boys gets a radio reference, leading into the last song - "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper. This section of the movie would have been great to watch and listen to.

I really want to see some of these scenes play out on the screen. I want to see these counselors hang out while "Stand by Me" and "Don't Dream It's Over" play on the soundtrack. I want to see the unexpected hook-up that accompanies "Drive".

These kids like their weed and alcohol like any Friday the 13th character does, they're horny teenagers and there is sex, but - aside from one character who goes too far when he's joking around and comes off as annoying (his dialogue is sometimes awful) - they're not over-the-top about it. It's just the reality of this teenage social scene.

The character work and the building dread of the first half of the script is the best part of it. When Jason really gets to work on his killing spree, that's when things kind of fell apart for me. Following a bloody, brutal death on page 55 (the fourth in the script, the second where we'd actually see how the person dies), there's a body discovery that I didn't like, but that would be an easy fix. The issues really start on page 65 of the 103 page script.

Jason, having acquired a hockey mask, is seen standing at the edge of the woods in a shot that sounds pretty great, with smoke from the campfire blowing across the screen, partially obscuring him. Problem is, he has just been spotted by a group of five people, and he runs at them with his machete in broad daylight. This scene reads incredibly awkwardly, with Jason running off in one direction to slash one person, then turning around to run after another person in another direction. This doesn't work, it sounds ridiculous. Jason shouldn't be running after groups in the day, he should be picking people off one-by-one. He watches, he waits for people to isolate themselves, he strikes. He has been biding his time stalking these characters for all these pages, now he's just going to do this? It's very sloppy.

This is also a problem I have with a lot of post-'80s slashers. Slashers used to work a lot more smartly back in the day, picking people off without their friends even realizing it until it was too late. Too often now you have whole groups discovering the presence of the slasher together, and it's just not interesting to watch a slasher chase a bunch of people at the same time. That's the scenario that this script devolves into, tossing aside all that excellent build-up. From page 65 on, Jason always has an audience, there's always someone witnessing every murder, screaming and yelling while they watch every move he makes. It doesn't read well, and I imagine it would look even worse.

In my opinion, most of the last 38 pages needed to be rewritten, Jason's killing spree needed to be presented in a very different way. The kills also had plenty of room for improvement, because we mostly just have Jason slashing people with the machete. There needs to be more variety.

Things do get kind of interesting for a moment when the last few characters escape the camp, reaching a nearby house... although the inhabitant of this house, like some of the Crystal Lake locals we saw in Friday the 13th '09, feels like she stepped out of a Platinum Dunes Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Some of the violence that occurs in this house sounded very intense and cool, but it ends in a way I didn't like very much. Attack scenes really are not Antosca's strong suit.

This brings us to the final scene, where Jason is presumed dead but ends up bursting out of the back of a morgue van, bonesaw in hand, and massacres the Crystal Lake police force (including a terribly written sheriff and deputy) right there on the main street of town. Once again in broad daylight. What is Antosca and Bruckner's fascination with having Jason attack groups of people in broad daylight? This reads like it's supposed to get the crowd on their feet, cheering, but I'm not certain it really would have looked that good. The final confrontation between Jason and the surviving counselor(s) didn't read as very impressive, either.

So somehow this is a Friday the 13th script where the violence is the disappointing part and the characters are the best part. There is a lot I would want changed in the last 38 pages, but very little I would want changed in the first 65. I do have some problems with the script here and there beyond the back story dates and the underwhelming presentation of the killing spree, but they're minor - for example, Antosca has the characters dropping F-bombs way too often. It's not that I mind the word, I am a fan of Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, it's just very unnecessary in this context. These kids don't need to be swearing like sailors; the kids in the Friday movies of the '80s weren't constantly saying 'fuck'.

There is some bad dialogue in there, and when Bloody-Disgusting did their write-up on the script they managed to show off some of the worst examples, but a lot of it is perfectly fine, and there are a couple callbacks to dialogue from the first F13 - specifically, the "We ain't gonna stand for no weirdness out here" line and the Marcie character's blood rain "shower dream".

We also get a callback moment where Jason is distracted by something that reminds him of his past, like Ginny pretending to be his mother at the end of part 2, little Tommy Jarvis shaving his head to look like young Jason at the end of The Final Chapter, Freddy Krueger appearing to him as his mother in Freddy vs. Jason, and Whitney resembling his mother in F13 '09. In this case, a counselor has found a charm bracelet that belonged to Mrs. Voorhees, and when Jason sees it he reaches out for it. It's not exactly on the level of those other things, and a bit too reminiscent of the locket Whitney found in '09, but it's the sort of thing that happens from time to time in these movies.

There is enough good to work with here that with some rewrites and revisions - and they could have even spent a year and half doing them and still gotten the movie out in 2017 - this could have been a really good Friday the 13th movie. I don't understand why the decision was made to completely scrap what they had here and go in a different direction, a direction that doesn't sound appealing at all. If the Antosca/Bruckner version had been polished to perfection and put into production, fans would have gotten to see Jason Voorhees killing camp counselors in the '80s again, and it could have been a glorious thing.

Instead, we get nothing. And it might be a while before there's any chance of another Friday the 13th movie happening. The rights revert back to Warner Bros. in early 2018, then in the summer of 2018 the rights are going to court - now that more than thirty-five years have passed since the release of the original film, there's a chance that the rights could go to the movie's writer, Victor Miller, and he has filed a lawsuit in hopes of claiming those rights. We'll have to wait until that lawsuit is resolved before we have any idea what the future holds for Friday the 13th.

Whatever it is, it won't be a movie made at Paramount, and the characters Nick Antosca built up in his script will never make it to the screen.

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