Jeffrey Reddick is best-known as the creator of the hugely popular ‘Final Destination’ franchise, which has spawned five films so far with talk of another on the way.
For his latest film, ‘Don’t Look Back’, Reddick has stepped into the role of director for the first time. The film will be having its European Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest later this month and it’s sure to be one of the standouts.
I caught up with Jeffrey recently to talk about ‘Don’t Look Back’, discuss his first time as director and to find out what impact ‘Final Destination’ has had on his life and career…
Hi Jeffrey. How are you today and how have you been keeping busy during the pandemic?
I am doing well, all things considered during the pandemic, I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of writing assignments to keep me busy and obviously, having ‘Don’t Look Back’ come out in October has been something I’ve been excited about. I’ve had some positive stuff to focus on, obviously dealing with the same stress as a lot of people and I’m very empathic so I definitely feel horrible for all the suffering that’s going on around the world. I’m keeping busy with work and watching a lot of movies.
Your new film ‘Don’t Look Back’ is having its European Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest this month. What’s it all about?
My new film ‘Don’t Look Back’ is my directorial debut, which is really exciting and I’m honoured that it’s playing at FrightFest. The story of the film is about a group of people who witness somebody being fatally assaulted and they don’t get involved. Somebody records the assault and the witnesses are outed, and something or someone starts going after them and killing them. Our lead character is trying to solve the mystery of the attack because she thinks that something supernatural is after them but you’re not sure if it’s the victim’s ghost, if it’s karma or if it’s a killer. It’s a mystery suspense thriller with horror elements in it. I’m really excited about it. I could have done a straight supernatural version or I could have done a straight slasher version but I really liked the challenge of trying to do a mystery where you’re not sure what or who it is.
Where did the inspiration for ‘Don’t Look Back’ come from?
The inspiration for ‘Don’t Look Back’ came initially from the story of this woman named Kitty Genovese. It’s a pretty famous story here in the States. It’s a true story about this woman who was assaulted in the courtyard of her apartment complex in the 60s. The story that came out was that 30 neighbours heard or saw her being attacked, and nobody called for help. That story always stuck with me for my whole life. As I’ve gotten older, and especially in society today, I just see so many people that when something bad is happening to someone, their first instinct is to pull out their cell phone, and record it, and not call the police first. They just want to record it and try to get viral fame. It’s kind of troubling almost how we’ve become as a society and I think it’s especially bad here in America because so many people are trying to chase celebrity. Maybe it’s the same around the world, I just notice it here a lot. I feel people are just recording awful things happening to other people. I think we’re just disconnecting from each other and losing empathy for other human beings and it’s really troubling.
In Kourtney Bell you really found yourself a Scream Queen for the modern age. How did you get her involved in the film and what do you feel she brought to it?
Kourtney Bell… I am so thrilled to have found her for this film. This is a hats off to people who take initiative. I found Kourtney’s website and on her website, she had all this footage from all these different shorts that she’d done. Through those shorts I saw pretty much every aspect of Caitlin that I’d written. I saw her and I wanted her as Caitlin. For me, it was two things. Firstly, it was important because she was the best actress for the part. Secondly, I’ve been in Hollywood for many decades and when I started off in the 90s in Hollywood, people of colour were not cast as leads in horror films at all. Even if I wrote leads that were African-American or Latino or Asian, they would always cast them with white actresses or actors. They would always say, ‘well, we found the best person for the part’ and that’s just not true. I sit in casting sessions all the time. We’ll send out a casting notice saying that we’re open to all races and 99% of the submissions we get are white actors and actresses. When we specifically ask for a certain race, then all of a sudden they send us hundreds of applications. I know that the talents out there but white has always been the default race of a lead character in a film. For me, it was exciting to not only find a great actress who loves the genre, and she desperately wants to be a Scream Queen and I think she has the lungs for it, but also just being able to give an opportunity to somebody who I don’t think would normally have been cast in a lead role in a genre film. I adore her. She’s an amazing person and an amazing talent so I hope this movie really launches her in a big way.
This is your directorial debut. Why did you decide to direct this project and what was your experience like?
I decided to direct this project because I’ve had a lot of projects in the past where other people have interpreted my scripts, and a lot of times it’s been in a way that I didn’t envision it. At one point I decided I want to direct my vision for the story. When I was trying to set the script up, when I wasn’t directing it, I kept getting the same note from everybody where they were like, ‘we like it but we want you to either make it straight up supernatural or make it a straight slasher movie’ and I didn’t want to do that. I realised that if I wanted to make the movie I wanted to make, I would have to direct it myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge because it’s not a straight-up genre film so it’s not as easy to market. We also shot it independently so I didn’t have a huge studio budget to do it. It was a challenge for my first film and I wanted to be challenged with my first film, and also say something too. I’ll always love killing pretty young people in movies, but for my first kind of time out of the gate I wanted to say something about the human condition with my film as well. This was the perfect combination of the right project and the right time in my life. It was a great experience. I’ve been on a lot of film sets throughout my career so you think you know everything about directing and planning, but you really don’t know until you get on set. It was a great learning experience, because I found out how much I didn’t know.
What was your biggest challenge in terms of bringing this film to life?
I think my biggest challenge in terms of bringing this to life was finding a place that understood what I wanted to do with the project. I didn’t want to go straight supernatural or straight slasher. It was a hard sell because people were like, ‘well, we can’t really sell it as a horror movie so then you need big stars in it before we’ll finance it’. (I was told) ‘if you make it straight horror, then you can cast whoever you want but since it’s more of a mystery thriller you a big recognisable name for the lead, and you need big names for some of the supporting characters’. That was the biggest thing, getting it financed as the film I wrote. That’s why we ended up doing it the independent route because we could wait forever and not have the film made.
It would be remiss of me not to mention ‘Final Destination’. The original film reinvented the genre in many ways and inspired plenty of films after. Tell us a little about how that film has impacted your life and career…
I have to say as a horror fan in general, I’ve said this many times,and I mean it, I could die tomorrow not having done anything else and be happy because I know that something that I created, has had an impact on the genre. I worked at New Line Cinema for 11 years and they produced the film and put it out. I definitely got in my system that if you write something, especially in the genre, you hope that it becomes a franchise and it has sequels. I have to say, I never imagined that it would have the cultural impact that it does. I still hear people today, where they’ll talk about, ‘oh my god, that was the Final Destination moment’ and it’s just crazy. I’m so humbled by that and so blessed by it. A couple of times a week somebody will send me a picture of them behind a log truck on a freeway and be like, ‘thanks for screwing up my life’. On that level, it’s been such a blessing because this business is a roller coaster ride. You have a lot of ups and downs and a lot of times movies fall apart, or movies don’t turn out like you’ve written them and there are disappointments. It’s a tough business to work in. To start out of the gate with that film was good because I can always go back, and especially if I’m feeling a little down, I’ll watch the opening of Part Two with the log truck and it cheers me up.
It’s been a blessing personally but it’s also been a bit of dragon that I’ve been trying to chase. When you have that big of a hit as your first film, then everybody’s like, ‘bring us something like Final Destination’ and you’re trying to recreate that, and you can’t – a successful film is like a genie in a bottle. It’s definitely opened a lot of doors for me. The funny thing is, a lot of the people that are executives at studios now, were teenagers and kids when the first one came out, so it does keep a lot of doors open for me professionally. I’m so grateful for it and the fans but it is funny because there is that pressure on yourself. With ‘Don’t Look Back’, I’m really proud of the movie but we had such a small portion of the budget we had on ‘Final Destination’. I know a lot of people will go into this expecting ‘Final Destination’ and it’s not that. It’s something I constantly feel like I have to try to live up to. It’s impossible to understand what alchemy will make a film a success like ‘Final Destination’ so I’ve been chasing that dragon for a long time.
What’s the one horror film you wish you’d written, and why?
‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is my favorite film of all-time. The original. I love everything about it from the villain to the concept to Nancy, who’s one of the best final girls that I’ve ever seen in a film. Especially when you look at the times when final girls just ran and screamed but then they would kill the killer at the end. Nancy put together a plan and booby trapped her house and went in a dream after Freddy. Everything was wonderful about that movie. That was a movie that I think seismically changed the genre. If you look at touchdowns throughout history, I think ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is always going to be in the Top 10 or 15 of the of the record books of impactful horror films in the genre. It’s so imaginative and so well-written and so well-directed. I wish I’d done that one.
What projects do you have coming up next?
It’s a cool time right now, because ‘Don’t Look Back’ opens on the 16th. Another movie that I produced called ‘The Call’ with Linn Shayne and Tobin Bell is playing in theaters and that’s coming out on the 31st (October) on VOD, so I’m excited about that. Speaking of how crazy this business is, I’m actually writing on two animated series on Netflix. They haven’t announced one of them so I can’t say what it is but the second one is a spin-off of the Usagi Yojimbo Japanese comic book series. We’re working very closely with the creator of the comic books so it’s faithful but it’s really fun. It’s about a samurai rabbit and his motley crew, and it’s just an amazingly fun project. It’s been fun during this really dark time to have some levity in my life and not focus on killing people for a while. I’m working on a couple of things that I’m out with, a couple of TV projects and a couple of features that I’m trying to get set up that I want to direct as well. It’s going to be a really interesting time once this pandemic passes and business gets back on track to see which project takes off next, but I will definitely let you know. You can always follow me on Twitter @JeffreyAReddick and that’s the same on Instagram. I’m on Twitter more because on Instagram I feel like you have to be having pictures of you doing something really interesting but I just write a lot so that’s not interesting, or you have to have like shirtless pictures. I haven’t been going to the gym so there’s no way I’m taking my shirt off to get followers on Instagram so Twitter’s probably the best way to keep track.
‘Don’t Look Back’ will screen at Arrow Video FrightFest on Friday 23rd October 2020 at 1pm in the Arrow Video Screen. For tickets and more information, please visit www.frightfest.co.uk. You can see the trailer below: