“Dear Mr. Reddick, Thank you for your aggressive introduction…”
That was how the letter began that Jeffrey Reddick received from New Line’s Bob Shaye so many years ago. Young Jeffrey was only 14 and had been so inspired by New Line’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that he wrote a story for a proposed prequel that would tell the story of Freddy Kreuger before he became the nightmare man of our dreams. The Kentucky native was extremely upset when he received his story back with a letter telling him that they could not read unsolicited stories and scripts, so he sat down and penned a letter to Shaye to let him know just what he thought about it.
“I said, ‘Look Mister'”, the writer recounted to me while laughing hysterically, “I spent $3 on your stuff and I watched your movies. The least you can do is take five minutes to read my story.”
To his surprise, Shaye did read it and sent him a letter telling him what he thought of the story and also explained why they couldn’t do anything with it. Reddick wrote Shaye back and Shaye responded in turn. Over the next five years, Reddick became pen pals with Shaye and his assistant Joy Mann. Joy would send him memorabilia from the movies and he would send her stories to read. At age 19, he left Kentucky for New York to study acting and to begin an internship for New Line Cinema. Reddick would stay on with New Line for the next eleven years and it was during this time that he was struck with the idea that would grow to become his breakout hit, Final Destination.
It all began on a plane ride back to Kentucky to visit his mom.
“I was reading an article on the plane; I think it was in People magazine,” Reddick began. “This woman was on vacation and her mother called her and told her not to take the flight she was scheduled for the next day. She had a bad feeling about it. The woman changed her flight to make her mother feel better and found out later that the flight she was supposed to be on had crashed. And there it was, just a small kernel of an idea.”
The idea came back to him later when he was attempting to get a TV agent. He had to write a script for an established TV series to show his work, and he penned a story for “The X-Files”. In his script, Dana Scully’s hitherto unseen brother Charlie has a premonition and escapes death but then weird things began to happen around him. A friend who read the script told him, “This should be a movie not a TV episode.” From there, the idea took on a life of its own, but the road was still uphill.
Reddick submitted a feature outline to the people at New Line, but he admits , that it was a hard sell. The execs argued that it would be impossible to sell the idea of Death hunting down the protagonists, especially as Death never appears in corporeal form anywhere in the film. The writer stuck to his guns, however, and eventually the deal was made.
New Line brought in James Wong and Glen Morgan to work with Reddick to complete the script, and Wong would go onto to direct the film.
“It was really kind of ironic because both James and Glen had worked on “The X-Files” which is where this all began,” he added.
Casting soon began and everyone had suggestions, some of which ultimately paid off for the film. Craig Perry, who was producing a film was also producing American Pie at the time and he told the Final Destination crew that they had to get Sean William Scott into the movie. Kerr Smith was currently on the long running hit series “Dawson’s Creek” and Reddick knew Devon Sawa’s work from Casper and Wild America. At the time, Ali Larter’s star was on the rise after her turn in Varsity Blues and Kristen Cloke who played teacher Val Lewton had been on a series regular on “Millennium” and “Space: Above and Beyond”
And then, there was Tony Todd.
“Mr. Fucking Candyman!” Reddick exclaimed when I brought up the famed horror master. “A lot of people think he was in the movie for a lot more than he is, but that’s because he made such an impact. So big an impact in fact that when they decided to leave him out of the third one, the fans were not having it. They ended up putting his voice in the third one at the last minute. You have to have Tony Todd in the movie.”
As to whether Todd’s character was actually death or simply a man who knew a LOT about the way that death work, the writer remained ambiguous saying he wrote the character that way on purpose. He also says that’s a testament to Tony’s talent as an actor to flesh out that ambiguity. He also points out that Todd is the kind of actor who is grateful for the work and to have the opportunity to do what he does unlike some who have tried to distance themselves from their horror pasts.
“He’s an actor who is just obviously very grateful for working. He wants to do great work no matter what he’s in,” he explained. “It’s not like Johnny Depp who ran away from A Nightmare on Elm Street forever. It was only about five years ago that he began to really embrace it and that was a great movie. I don’t care what genre it was. That was a great movie. So you should just shut your mouth, Johnny, and be happy that was your first movie in your half shirt.”
Reddick made sure to point out that he was proud of all of the stars of Final Destination. He recently produced a short film directed by Devon Sawa and cheerfully talked about Sawa’s new television show that’s just been picked up. He also pointed out that the film was one of a handful that ended with a real “final boy” instead of a “final girl”, even though the original ending was quite a bit different.
In the first cut of the film, Sawa’s character, Alex, died saving Clear when she was trapped inside the car by fire and the fallen power line. Alex grabbed that wire and died, his body catching fire, from electrocution. It took a turn from there, however, and ended on a positive note. In a deleted scene, Clear and Alex had sex out on the beach and she was carrying his child. She was caring for the baby and even felt Alex’s presence from time to time like a protective shield around her. She was safe, the baby was safe, and Kerr Smith’s Carter was alive and well, as well, due to Alex’s sacrifice.
The ending didn’t test well with audiences, however. They questioned why Carter, and undeniable asshole in the film, was allowed to live and generally seemed to have a problem with a horror film that left them with the warm fuzzies at its conclusion. New Line brought the actors back and filmed the ending we saw in the released film with Carter being crushed by the sign in Paris and Alex ultimately survived to the end of the film.
The writer said that Clear was pregnant at the end of his first draft as well and Death could not get her because she was carrying new life. However, as she gave birth in the final moments and the doctors were caring for the newborn baby, Death rushed in to take her.
With the film finished, Reddick finally lived a moment he’d been waiting for his entire life. A film premiere of his own movie back in his small home town in Kentucky.
“It was at the theater where I grew up watching movies a kid,” he told me. “To have my mom and relatives and old teachers come to this premiere and to be able to show them what I’d done, that meant a lot to me.”
The writer is clearly proud of the work he did on Final Destination and the first sequel that followed, but he willingly let it go after that saying that was the business. The franchise went on and he loved that the fifth film tied directly back into the first, admitting he went to the theater to see it four times to watch audience reactions as they realized the characters were getting on the plane with Alex and his classmates at the end of the film.
Click on the next page to see what Reddick’s working on next!—>