While the wave of prequels, sequels and remakes in Hollywood shows no sign of waning, original material has a tough time. „Drive Angry”, a brilliantly crafted grindhouse-style action-adventure with an interesting touch of horror-fantasy, has been an example for this. Starring the likes of Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner, the movie did so poorly at the box office that it went out of theatres almost unnoticed. For author Todd Farmer though, who has been working as a Hollywood writer for more than a decade now, the movie was a true dream project and the closest anyone could ever get to independent filmmaking with a bigger budget at all. In our in-depth interview he talked about the film itself, his approach as a writer, the dark sides of the industry, „Star Wars“,„Hellraiser“, children’s books and sleeping in a hammock.
screen/read: Let’s start out with „Drive Angry“, a movie obviously very close to your heart. And apart from that it’s a rarity in current Hollywood as it is, in your own words, not a sequel, not a remake or based on a toy, but completely original stuff. If I didn’t know better I’d pretty much consider it a comic book adaption though because that’s the closest it comes to. For you personally, what would you say are the decisive influences that went into the script and what was the initial idea?
Todd Farmer: It just came out of „My Bloody Valentine”. We had great success with that movie and back then 3D was really brandnew. Other than „Journey to the Center of the Earth” we were pretty much the only ones to do it. And so we were considering what do next in 3D and Patrick [Lussier] mentioned these road movies from the 70’s and what it would be like seeing the cars screaming down the road in 3D. And we thought that sounded like a good idea. So as we were putting the story together, it was going to be a guy who breaks out of prison and I finally had the chance to do something I was always interested in. When I first moved out to L.A. I met this guy named Dean Riesner. He was my mentor and he wrote things like „Dirty Harry” and „High Plains Drifter”, and I always wanted to do something along that line. And so for me this was the ideal opportunity.
screen/read: Would you say that from the first draft to the film there is a big difference? Did it change a lot with the actors coming in and the effects and stuff, or was it very close to what you wrote?
Todd Farmer: It’s almost identical. With the company that we worked with, Millenium/Nu Image, there was no interference. They didn’t give us any of that creative trauma that you get from most studios. They said: Go shoot it. This is your money. As long as you work inside this bubble of money, go shoot the movie you want. And that’s what we did. Now we did rewrite some stuff. And then of course the actors came in and changed a line here and there. But that ain’t a problem because they have to make the character their own. And sometimes the lines that I write just don’t come out of their mouth. Nic [Nicolas Cage] did a lot of that and Amber [Heard] and William [Fichtner], just everybody. The only person that didn’t do it was David Morse. With him you put it on the page, and he will deliver it that way. Bill Fichtner again, he likes to play around, he likes to find new things. And a lot of times while we’re shooting, we’ll add stuff. We’ll see opportunities that come out of the location and stuff. We did that with the scene that Bill and I had together. There are a lot of things that we added to it as we were shooting it. And that’s the fun part.
screen/read: It’s a very sad thing that the theatrical release of the movie was so unsuccessful. Although there had been a broad ad campaign it actually looked as if nobody had even realized that it was around. Which is even more puzzling and a very rare case. Was it bad marketing, or what do you think?
Todd Farmer: I’m really not sure. It’s hard to guess those things, it’s funny because I really thought it would be either a big hit or at least do real well. I never expected this. Maybe it was a combination of a lot of things. For me it was a bad first weekend here certainly. It was probably marketing. It’s funny, when I was growing up and going to see a movie I knew next to nothing about it. And now they put a lot of the stories into the marketing, so there’s not much of a mystery to a movie anymore. You get scenes online, big twists are revealed, big surprises. That’s different for me. A lot of the movie was online. But I’m really not sure about the actual reasons.
screen/read: What would you say, is it a bad sign for the status of the industry that movies like „Transformers 2” that are not very original big budget stuff with a strict fomula do really well because they are based on a toy or a comic or are a sequel or something, and then there are films with a lot of heartblood in it but based on nothing, that do not work at the box office at all? Do you think it’s a problem of the industry or rather a sign for the audience not being interested in original material?
Todd Farmer: I think it’s the audience. Hollywood will always be about the money. Always. But Hollywood’s doing what the audience wants. The audience wants reality tv. The audience wants remakes. The audience wants sequels. I started out in the business before „Scream”, when it was just New Line and Dimension doing horror movies. And it was tough to get a movie made. And then Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven did „Scream” and suddenly the world changed. Everybody was doing genre. And what was interesting is that they were all doing „Scream” knockoffs. That went on for a while until those movies started to fail. So Hollywood stopped. Then „The Ring” came out and everybody was doing „Ring” knockoffs until those movies started to fail. And then the same happened with „Saw” and „Hostel”. Suddenly everybody was doing torture porn. And so on. That’s what Hollywood does, it follows the success, it follows what people want to see. If people want to see torture porn, Hollywood’s going to make them. If people want to see remakes and sequels, Hollywood’s going to make them. „Tron Legacy” was a big box office success and so was „Transformers 2”. Anything that’s recognizable to the audience seems to work better. So until a big original movie comes out and is successful I don’t see Hollywood embracing the original for a while. They’re going to stay with the sequels and the remakes and the toys. That’s what people want to see.
screen/read: Let’s move a litte backwards in your personal history when you started out with writing. What was it that attracted you to writing for the screen instead of becoming a novelist?
Todd Farmer: Originally I thought I would be a novelist. But the problem was, once I figured out the story, once I had the story in mind, I didn’t have the patience to sit down and write a 500 or 600 page novel. It was frustrating. But what I found early on was the screenplay for „Reservoir Dogs”. I read it and it was about 100 pages long and it was just so clean and crisp and the action was very much like, this is what they do, this is what they say. And there wasn’t a whole lot of flowery description. It was just very straight forward and I liked that. I liked the idea to tell the story and then somebody comes along and designs it, somebody comes along and builds things, somebody comes along and acts it. So they make their choices and it’s like, I’m a part of this great big machine, and I’m the first part of it. And I should be respected for that. I love the part as a screenwriter, it’s just wonderful, and I don’t get bored with it.
screen/read: There’s this anecdote that you’ve been living for weeks and months in a hammock when you moved to L. A. before you got into professional writing. How did that come about?
Todd Farmer: A friend of mine went to school with a guy named Dean Lorey. His first movies were „Jason goes to Hell” and „My Boyfriend’s back”, he startet out in horror. And he had just finished the movie „Major Payne” with Damon Wayans. And through this friend I got to meet Dean over the phone and the internet. I was living in Dallas at the time, and we traded ideas back and forth. He finally said, look, this is what you want to do, you got to move to L. A. And so I did that and basically, well, there were four girls who rented a house, I think it was in Venice, California, and well, [laughs] I slept in a hammock for about a month. You know, it’s beautiful in L. A., it very rarely rains, so it was always nice and comfortable. So if you ever have to sleep in a hammock, L. A. is not a bad place to do it.
screen/read: I’d really love to see that in a movie. It’s actually a picturebook perfect example for a writer’s career.
Todd Farmer: [laughs].
screen/read: Then you got your first job for Sean S. Cunningham, who is famous for „Friday the 13th”, and later „Jason X” from that series was basically the first script of yours that actually got filmed. What did you do in the meantime for him, were you a staff writer or something?
Todd Farmer: I was. I worked for Sean for three years under contract and I was making maybe two grand a month. I wasn’t rich but that was enough to pay the bills and I was paid to write. At the time Sean wanted to break out of horror, so we were writing scripts about delinquent kids and Spanish Harlem and courtroom dramas and things like that. Eventually, „Freddie vs. Jason” was in development forever and I think Sean and everybody was getting frustrated and so he said, let’s do another „Friday the 13th” movie. And in order not to mess with what „Freddie vs. Jason” was doing, we decided to set that in the future. And that’s how „Jason X” was born.
screen/read: It’s interesting to see that the same happened with the „Hellraiser” franchise which got a space makeover at some point as well. Speaking of which, you and Patrick are working on a reboot of the series right now. Now this one is a huge classic and had a major influence on the genre itself, so it must be quite a challenging thing to work on. What will your approach be, if you can say anything about it?
Todd Farmer: Well, what we didn’t want to do was remake Clive’s movie. That’s what was presented to us, just doing a remake of „Hellraiser”. And we didn’t claim any interest. It’s because we’re giant fans of the original. If you watch the movie it’s a very personal story, it’s personal to Clive. So we just didn’t want to do that. But what we loved was this world he had created. It was huge, it’s vast. And this world inside this puzzle box, we never had a full glimpse of. We thought, what if we showed the audience that world? And so that has been a line of thinking. We’re officially writing now and we couldn’t be more thrilled. And Bob Weinstein is thrilled. He’s been amazingly supportive. It’s a wonderful world that Clive’s created and we’re just taking that world and telling stories within it. I know that this is maybe a justification, but in my mind I trust that Patrick and I will do it right. So if you’d ask, will it be a reboot or a sequel? Hard to say at this point. It’s fairly unique.
screen/read: With that one and „My Bloody Valentine” and „Jason X” of course, horror is the one genre at the moment that you get identified with. There’s also „The Messengers” starring a pre-„Twilight” Kristen Stewart, followed by a sequel, and you’ve been involved in both. What’s the story with these? The first one says „Story by Todd Farmer” and the second, actually a direct-to-DVD production, states that it’s „Written by” you. How did it come to that?
Todd Farmer: I wrote a story called „Scarecrow”. I wrote it eight years ago for a company called Revolution. At the time it was essentially about a family on a farm and everything’s going pretty bad. Then they find a scarecrow and put it out in their field and things start to change. The thing that happened was: Patrick came on board and that’s where I first met him. He was attached as the director. I did a re-write based on his notes. And then I was replaced by a fellow named Stuart Beattie who wrote „Collateral”. Then the studio decided they didn’t want to make the movie. So they put it into turnaround which basically means, another company can purchase it and everything that’s been invested in it. Ghost House / Mandate Pictures ended up buying it. And they took it into a completely different direction. They made it more into a supernatural kind of thriller. It still had the characters I created, at least the character names, but I think there were like six or seven writers who came on after that. So they all went through it and it just had changed more and more and in the end was a completely different movie. But it did well, and then years later one of the executives at Ghost House read my original draft and decided to make a prequel out of it. And that’s what actually happened. So the original draft of „Scarecrow” that I wrote became the sequel to the movie. The only change was maybe the third act which was a little bit different. But I love „Messengers 2” because it’s almost word for word what I wrote originally.
screen/read: A nice experience I guess. It must be a nightmare for a writer when your story gets torn into pieces as it happened with „Messengers” in the first place.
Todd Farmer: It’s certainly frustrating, yes. That’s what was so wonderful about „Drive Angry”. Because we wrote it and then we went and we shot it. There wasn’t a whole bunch of writers who came in and replaced things. It was our movie. And also that is what makes it so sad that nobody went to see it. It’s for the first time that I feel like, we really got to make a movie that we wanted to make. So I’m a little bit hurt.
screen/read: Now before you did „Jason X” you wrote about 20-something scripts that never turned into movies. Looking back at those, would you say it was just a training phase or is there still some of your older stuff that you’d love to see being made?
Todd Farmer: There are a number. A lot of those were screenplays that I didn’t want to be working on. But there are a few that I wrote back then that are still good, that are real good. One was sort of an exploitation vampire thing. I remember a monster movie that was so much fun, a couple of monster movies that were fun. So there are definitely scripts that I’d like to see being made, it’s just that I don’t own them and so it’s not up to me.
screen/read: It’s obvious that all your scripts apart from „Drive Angry” that got turned into movies were either sequels or remakes of some sort and they all did well, and this one was neither and didn’t work at the box office at all. That’s a constellation being in some way even scarier than any of the movies themselves.
Todd Farmer: Yeah, I mean, I’ve done it all. „Messengers”, which was an original, they made it a prequel, and it was fairly successful for what it was. And then „Drive Angry” was an original and had zero success. You can look back, „Messengers” came out at a time when those scary Japanese horror-kind-of-thing movies were around and that’s what probably helped it. But „Drive Angry”, I think we will be discovered, people will see it sooner or later and like it.
screen/read: There certainly is a market for it, and Home Entertainment should help explore that, although it really belongs to the big screen. It’s pretty much the type of B-movie style you don’t get to see at the theatres anymore. Quite a few people have been trying to re-imagine that style lately, although with a usually way too ironic pseudo-grindhouse approach. But in this case it’s different, it’s plain and straight, not buried under references and sophistication. And that’s not only the fun part but also the reason why the film is so exceptional and different. It’s obvious how you and all the people involved enjoyed returning to that type of filmmaking.
Todd Farmer: We did and we did that on purpose. I actually don’t read the reviews but I see little blurbs here and there, and some guy was criticizing everything that we did on purpose because he didn’t understand that we were going for the grindhouse feel. He was clearly a guy who doesn’t like grindhouse movies. Which is fine, you don’t have to. You don’t have to like my movies. But I love it if you do [laughs]. We did the same thing with „Valentine”. It was the love letter to the slasher movies that we grew up with. So if you love slasher and you see our film, you’ll get it, you’ll understand it. And if you don’t like slasher, then you won’t.
screen/read: Now there’s another slasher movie that you’re involved in which is „Halloween 3”. It’s been written by you but it’s not being made so far. What’s the deal there?
Todd Farmer: We were asked to do that right before „Drive Angry”. And I mean right before. It was so fast we had literally eight days to write the script. So we wrote it, we sent it in, everybody loved it, but unfortunately the person in power to greenlight it didn’t read it because even though we had moved very fast, what couldn’t happen was put financing together that fast. And so there just wasn’t the money to make the movie. That’s really what it is. It wasn’t that anybody didn’t want to make it. And then we went off and made „Drive Angry”, and so it got pushed to the side. I would still love to see it get made because it was so much fun to write. Granted, I was up all night, living on coffee, but I wrote it, Patrick wrote it, we worked on it like crazy and we got it done and it’s wonderful, it’s so much fun. We started with [Rob] Zombie’s movie and paid it respect. And what we ended up doing was taking the tone back to what John Carpenter had originally done with his movie. So we had a blast.
screen/read: It would be a sad thing if it ended up in development hell. What’s obvious though again in this case is that you have fun in not really re-telling but taking a new and expanding approach on existing classic genre material as you did with this one as well as with „My Bloody Valentine”, „Hellraiser” and to some degree even „Jason X”. Would you say that it’s pretty much a trademark thing that you feel at home with, like stepping into an existing world and expanding it?
Todd Farmer: Absolutely, I love that. You know, sometimes when I see a movie I think to myself, wow, that’s fantastic, I could never do that, and I’m so in awe of it. But on the other hand a lot of times I see movies and think, ugh, I wish I had a chance to do it. And that’s what sometimes the sequel or the remake feels like. It feels like your opportunity to tell the movie that you want to see. It’s not to take away from the original, it’s not to take away from any of the sequels that came before you. It’s just that everybody has their opinion, has their favorite way of doing things, and we get paid for that. Well, sometimes at least [laughs]. They’re certainly not paying well these days though.
screen/read: People are usually way too much focused on the director and forget that the writer is the first one to create the whole movie. And with that in mind it’s even more interesting that you and Patrick have a very close writer-director relationship.
Todd Farmer: Absolutely. What we do is, we protect each other. Because Patrick, he did a tremendous amount of work on „My Bloody Valentine” he got no credit for. He protects the story and I protect his ideas. By joining forces with me, he gets paid, he gets credit. And by joining forces with him, he makes sure our movie gets made. He can fight for no rewrites by other writers coming in. Not because of other writers in general but because we know what we’re doing. And as for writing, Patrick is a lot more action than I am, while I came to lean toward the characters a little bit. So together we’re the perfect combination. And because we complement each other so well, I’ve become a much better writer with action, and he’s become a much better writer with characters. So that’s kind of nice.
screen/read: Is it a different process for you when you write with a partner instead of writing on your own?
Todd Farmer: Well, I mean it’s funny because we’ve done this before, we went back and forth and came up with a story. And then normally I would start the first draft. And then I’d hand it out to him and he would do a draft. Cause we don’t live anywhere near each other, we don’t write in the same room, I’m six hours north. So it’s sort of the same way you would do it if you weren’t writing with a partner, you know, I’d write the first draft and then hand it to friends and they came back to me with notes, except the difference is now that Patrick is going into the script itself. And I love that, I love working with a partner that’s smart, and he’s way smarter than I am. He’s not been doing this for too long, he’s been an editor so he thinks outside the box. He doesn’t think like other screenwriters because he doesn’t come from that world. And as a result we get much benefit from that. Because he thinks like an editor, he thinks like a director. And to draw on that when you’re writing, that’s fantastic.
screen/read: I guess that’s an especially rewarding constellation after an experience like „The Messengers” where almost nothing of the original script remained after all those rewrites. And that’s probably the more usual case in Hollywood anyway.
Todd Farmer: To a degree it is, yeah. With „Drive Angry” it was certainly a much more enjoyable experience because at the end of the day it’s our movie. Look, movies are opinions and always will be. I love when people go like, this movie sucked. You know, it sucks in your opinion and there are other people who love the movie. And that’s what it is. Everybody’s got a different opinion.
screen/read: Now apart from writing scripts you’re also involved in comics. You’ve been doing a comic book series with actor Thomas Jane. Can you tell us something about that?
Todd Farmer: Yeah, I did a four-issue series called „Alien Pig Farm” which was sort of a comedy horror. The idea was, we know what happens when aliens attack the White House, we know what happens when aliens attack Sigourney Weaver, but what happens when they attack a Kentucky moonshiner town? So I wrote that, and it’s been optioned for a movie by the guys who did „Pineapple Express”. And then I wrote a six-issue series called „The Lycan”, which is a 18th century werewolf comic that hasn’t come out yet but will. Then I’m doing a thing with F. J. DeSanto, producer of „The Spirit” by Frank Miller. This project is called „Insurgents” which we’re doing for DC. What’s great about it is, you can write a comic and don’t have to worry about budget. You can do anything you want, you can blow up things, you can blow up planets. So your creativity has no limit. And that’s nice.
screen/read: Is there a different approach when you’re writing for a comic as opposed to writing a script for a film?
Todd Farmer: For me actually it’s exactly the same. I love comics and I always did. If you look at „Alien Pig Farm” it is literally a four-act structured screenplay. The difference is, you have to be a little bit more descriptive regarding actions and surroundings because you’ve got a limited amount of panels.
screen/read: Let’s talk about influences. When you grew up and went to the movies, read books and comics, what would you say left the most lasting impressions that sort of shaped you as an artist?
Todd Farmer: Certainly, when I grew up there’s been „Star Wars”, „The Empire strikes back”, „Halloween”, „Jaws”, „Alien” and „Aliens”. Those were the movies that made me what I am today and there’s absolutely no doubt about that. As far as the slasher is concerned, „Halloween” had a huge impact. There’s a reason why „Jason X” takes place in space, because of „Alien” and „Aliens”. And if you lookg at the structure of that movie it is actually the structure of „Aliens”. Everything about it. From the point where they try to escape from the ship to where the ship blows up. It’s the same structure. And „Jaws” was a movie that didn’t just deal with the monster, it was character driven, and so a huge influence in that respect. And then „Star Wars”, I mean, I don’t see anyone my age who is not influenced by the mythical story and the whole universe of it.
screen/read: It’s funny because everone working in the film industry around our age that I talk to keeps mentioning „Star Wars” as a major influence. No matter what part of filmmaking they are into, writers, directors, composers, the very first thing they say is usually „Star Wars”.
Todd Farmer: Well, you know, a big part of it was more than just the movie. When I was a kid, „Star Wars” was our culture. Those were the toys we played with. We had „Star Wars” characters, we had „Star Wars” spaceships. It was a part of our life. When we were out on the playground we pretended to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. And so it’s interesting to see people re-discover it. My daughter is four years old and loves R2-D2. She has no idea what it is, but she loves the character. And so I look forward to the day when I can sit down with her and we watch the movies together.
screen/read: Do you think that background might be one of the reasons for you being attracted to expanding existing fictional worlds and universes? I mean, when you step into „Hellraiser” or „Halloween” and you start to enter new ground within the existing formula, it sort of mirrors the step from „Star Wars”, the movie, to „Star Wars”, the culture. Would you say that is something that shaped you?
Todd Farmer: I haven’t thought of it that way but yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s that desire to see more of the world, the desire to expand stuff. „Star Wars” opens as a very small movie. And then suddenly it becomes this gigantic universe. Especially today when „Clone Wars” are telling a completely different view. It’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought of it but that’s exactly to some degree what we’re doing with „Hellraiser”. Because Clive’s story takes place in this part of the world and our story takes place in the other part of it.
screen/read: I had the impression that with „Drive Angry” you were trying to establish your own universe. It’s actually a movie that seems to be designed for sequels and spin-offs. I could imagine for instance a comic book series with the Accountant or a sequel with Milton in hell or something like that. It’s just so obvious. Was that an idea behind it, to make a universe of your own out of this?
Todd Farmer: Well, we certainly planned that this would be the entry. We had the sequel all planned out. We have a work structure of the third move all planned out. This was meant to be a peek to see that there was an interesting world, and then we would reveal that world in the sequels. You watch this movie, and you know, this one’s ambiguous. We never once said, Milton is straight from hell. It wasn’t in the script, it wasn’t in the movie. That knowledge comes solely from the trailers. At no point did we ever say, he broke out of hell. We kept all that stuff very ambiguous.
screen/read: Yeah, the marketing totally destroyed the surprise effect and it keeps happening everywhere. When I attend a press screening I might be in the lucky situation to know almost nothing about a certain film as long as I don’t read the press kit. But that is an experience the regular audience usually never has. And that’s all due to a destructive tell-it-all advertising strategy.
Todd Farmer: I guess they could argue that it works. But it certainly didn’t work for us. Today movies get advertised by saying, Dark Vader is Luke’s father. I don’t know what the reasoning is behind all this. There was very little left to be surprised by with our campaign. But I’m not a marketer, I just write the story. I mean, we’re living in a world where the internet is huge and there’s a lot of competition for exclusives. And if everybody gets an exclusive, then there’s not much left [laughs]. If every website is given an exclusive, a lot of the movie is going to get revealed. That’s good for the websites but maybe not as good for the movie. And I say this being friendly with many of the websites and their owners and writers. It’s just a different world that we live in.
screen/read: Do you as a writer react to that in some degree, so that you say, we must keep the surprises to ourselves as much as we can and focus the interest on something else? A plan B so to speak?
Todd Farmer: It’s tough because as far as „Jason X” was concerned for instance, I never in a milion years expected uber-Jason to be on the posters. I never expected him to be in the trailer. I expected it to be the big twist. It would be a Jason movie in space and everybody who went to see it would get this wonderful surprise and leave the theatre and it would be word-of-mouth. And then think of how they treated movies like „The Crying Game” or „The Sixth Sense”. Don’t tell the secret. Those marketing campaigns work. Why do you want to reveal everything? I don’t understand that. But some people do.
screen/read: Returning to the idea of expanding the universe of „Drive Angry”, do you have any plans in that respect, maybe like turning it into a comic book series or an animated series or something?
Todd Farmer: We can’t. We don’t own it anymore. We wrote it and it was original but in the States you give up all rights.
screen/read: Interestingly, that’s exactly what happened to Clive Barker when he did the original „Hellraiser”. So the more relieving it is to see that after all of those mostly inferior sequels, people return to the series who want to do justice to the material. Which is something that rarely happens. When you hear about the current plans of making a prequel to „Blade Runner” it’s just something that makes you feel very uncomfortable. How can you do justice to a classic like that? Let’s imagine you’d be asked to write the script, would that be something to try or would you rather refuse to touch it?
Todd Farmer: I don’t know what it will be but I bet people go see it. Regardless of whether it’s good or not. And that’s the sad part. Actually „Jason X” was originally supposed to be „Blade Runner”. That’s what I pitched it. I pitched that you wake Jason up 500 years in the future in sort of a „Blade Runner”-type of world. But it was way too expensive to do and that’s why we went on with the idea of „Alien”. But according to your question, it’s just like you can’t fight it, we all have to pay our bills. And when the only movies that are being offered or the only ones you get are remakes and sequels, how do you fight that system? We did it. We made an original movie and nobody went to see it. And that’s the proof that the audience wants to see remakes and sequels. They want to see a movie about a toy that they grew up with. And as long as the audience is willing to pay for that, Hollywood’s not going to make original movies. Not that much. I think original comedies are safe for the most part. But outside of that it must be based on something. Based on a book, based on a comic, based on something with name recognition. Until then people won’t stop. They will keep rebooting „Spiderman”, they will keep rebooting „Superman”, and „Batman” will be next in line. They’ll reboot it again.
screen/read: From your point of view, if you could go on doing stuff without restrictions, like you did with „Drive Angry”, what would the stories and genres and movies be that you aim at in the future? Which direction would you like to move into?
Todd Farmer: If box-office wasn’t an influence we’d certainly do a sequel to „Drive Angry”. We had a blast, we had a great cast, a great crew, a great story. And I would absolutely start shooting „Halloween 3” tomorrow if it were up to us. It’s a great script, it’s a lot of fun, and by the way, I’ve already been paid. It’s not that I’d get a ton of money if that movie gets made. I don’t. I’ve been paid to write, and that’s the last I’ll see until DVDs and stuff come out, getting a tiny bit of residual. But I’d still make the movie because it’s fun, because it’s good.
screen/read: That’s actually great to hear as it shows how much of a passion project this one is, or both of them are. I mean, working for money is a necessity but still there’s always the desire to work on projects that come from the heart regardless of any economics. In case you had the time, would small low budget projects on the side be something you might consider doing?
Todd Farmer: I think I would be willing to do that but it would also be an investment in probably making more money. Because on the long run, if it hits, you can make a lot more money than with a bigger budget thing. So, I mean, it’s not always about the money but the business has changed so drastically that writers have been squeezed a lot. It’s really difficult in Hollywood to survive as a writer. Therer are guys doing it, there’s the big guys, names you know, they’re fine. But the working writer has been squeezed. I’m fairly successful. I’ve had movies come out. But it’s not that I’m living in a mansion. Hollywood sold this ad campaign that if you move out here and have some success as a writer then you lead the good life. And that’s not true. It’s not even close. So that’s the frustrating thing. It’s one thing to be successful and another one to sit on a pile of money. Which you don’t get as a Hollywood writer. You get it if a lot of things click. If you write that hundred-milion dollar movie. Perhaps. But I think that even the guys at the top are getting squeezed a little bit. Hollywood is shooting itself in the foot, because they need the writers. I mean, there’s a lot of guys out there willing to write for almost nothing. But you get what you pay for. So I don’t understand it. There is a dramatic lack of respect for the writer in Hollywood. Always has been. And I guess it’s because everybody thinks they can do it. Everywhere else in the world for the most part the writer owns the property. But not here. A writer here is just a guy who’s hired to do a job.
screen/read: Let’s move on to a more joyful topic. I realised you have a lot of photos of your little daughter on your website. Now all of the films you did so far are clearly aimed at a grown up audience, but could you imagine writing a children’s movie one day, and would you enjoy doing that?
Todd Farmer: Actually my ex-wife and I – she’s the best ex-wife on the planet by the way – we are wrting a children’s book together. And I love to do that, it’s so much fun. It’s a little bit darker. But most children’s books are like that and have kind of a darker story. Even „Harry Potter” is kind of dark. Children’s stories can often have elements of horror. It’s funny, when I got started in the industry, I started in horror. Because the budgets were cheap and there was no competition. Nowadays, everybody does horror, so there’s a lot more competition, it’s a lot more difficult. It’s not like the best place to start these days. But back then that’s where you started. And I really got stuck in horror because I was good at it. And I enjoyed it. But I always thought that I would move on and do other genres as well. But I never really had that opportunity. „Drive Angry” would have been a way to step out of the horror genre a little bit because it was more action and based on the old 70’s road movies. Executives and producers, they can do all kinds of movies, be it action or comedy or whatever, they can be attached to all kinds of movies. But when it comes to the writer they think we can only do one thing. Only write horror. Or if you’re an action writer you go on and write that. Writers write. That’s what they do. So if I’m asked to write something horror or something scary, I’m going to write it and I’m going to scare the crap out of you. And if I’m asked to write something sweet and tender, you know what? I have that too. I have a four year old daughter. I know what it’s like to be sweet and tender.
screen/read: Well, I hope we will get to see a lot more different sides of you in the future and a lot of diversity. And I must say, actually I found an interesting feel of tenderness in „Drive Angry” as well, which sounds ridiculous at first but then ain’t it a movie about a real badass guy saving a little baby? And finding some sort of replacement mother for the little one? That’s what the movie is about.
Todd Farmer: That’s exactly what the movie is about. That was the whole intention. The idea was to present a movie that looks like this big rough ride but at the center it’s literally the story of a father and a daughter. And at the end of the movie, you know, people cry. And that’s good, that’s what we wanted.
screen/read: And that is exactly the one point that hasn’t been touched in the whole markting at all. Exactly not. It looked like a completely rough ride movie and nothing but. And it did not have the feeling of heart and tenderness that’s actually in there on a basic level. And that was certainly something that lead people into a wrong direction, like, this is a big action movie, but I can’t get my girlfriend to come watch it with me because it’s just guns and blood and cars. But then there’s actually a girl story in there as well on a very profound level. But none of it went into the marketing. And from my point of view that shows that the people in charge didn’t get the movie at all.
Todd Farmer: It’s interesting you noticed that. It’s the one surprise in the movie that’s not in the ad campaign. I hadn’t thought of it that way. And it was a big part of hiring Amber Heard because to me Piper was the key character in the movie. She’s got to be able to punch and beat the crap out of everybody, and then she has to be able to be soft and sweet and take care of this baby. It was a tough role because she’s got to be hold her own against all these guys she’s surrounded by, and at the same time she’s the heart of the movie.
screen/read: Well, I truly hope „Drive Angry” will become a belated hit via Home Entertainment and maybe, maybe there’s still a chance you get to do the sequels. Thanks for taking the time and speaking as open and honest as you did.
Todd Farmer: You’re welcome. I have nothing to hide, Hollywood is full of BS [laughs], I tend to tell it like it is.
[DRIVE ANGRY is now available in the US on DVD and Blu-ray.]
Recommended LINKS for further reading:
- Todd Farmer’s official Homepage
- Todd Farmer @Facebook
- Todd Farmer @Twitter
- Official Homepage: DRIVE ANGRY
- Michael Wandmacher: Interview with the composer of DRIVE ANGRY
[Images courtesy of: Todd Farmer (portrait), Raw Studios (Alien Pig Farm) Warner Home Video (Drive Angry), Kinowelt Home Entertainment (My Bloody Valentine), Ascot Elite Home Entertainment (The Messengers 2)]