Dialogue: Marti Noxon Talks 'Fright Night' and Graduating From the School of Whedon

Dialogue: Marti Noxon Talks 'Fright Night' and Graduating From the School of Whedon

Dec 14, 2011

The Fright Night remake gets no love, and that's probably putting it diplomatically. People seem to stomp their feet about how so many horror remakes bring nothing new to the table, and yet they scoff at a remake that breaks thematic rank from its original. But, I've been beating that drum for a while now. It's no secret that I think Fright Night is, while hardly perfect, both a lot of fun and more interesting than most studio horror movies these days, which is why it was such a relief to chat with screenwriter Marti Noxon and hear that her unique spin on the old formula wasn't accidental.

Movies.com: One of the things I admire most about the Fright Night script is how much it plays with gender expectations, even with seemingly little things like Toni Collette's single mother character seeing Colin Farrell as a sexual object but not turning into a school-girl around him. I'm curious how much of that just fell into place and how much was a concerted effort on your part?

Marti Noxon: I'm very gratified that you read it that way, because it was very intentional on my part. I think too often we fall into bad habits when it comes to female characters in popular culture movies. There was a really interesting essay in the New York Times not long ago about falling into the trap of the "strong female character" who goes on to become not particularly layered or interesting. I really do try, and this is when I approach any project, is to try and keep things real by showing that gender roles are constantly shifting and it's very confusing to be a man right now and it's just as confusing as ever to be a woman, but those roles should never be pacts.

I looked at the original movie and was like, boy, is that a product of its time. The girls are kind of sweeties and the mom is kind of dopey and I wanted to update that part of it, too. And what also really interested me is the idea of what is a man? What's a really integrated man? Is it an almost caricature of machismo that Jerry represents it? Or is it one who suppresses all his childhood interests? Or is it one that's really integrated who has those parts of himself functioning. And when we meet Charley, he's really trying to reject those parts of him, and that ultimately leads to tragedy. And by the time we get to the end of the movie he's both those things. He's a guy with a hot girlfriend who kept her because he found his courage, but he's also a super nerd.

Movies.com: I also love, and I don't say this to demean their importance in any way, but I love that even if you remove the vampires from the equation, your script can still tell the exact same story for all the characters involved. It's still about Charley trying to define his manhood in the face of the bro stereotypes at his school and the ridiculous alpha male next door, and I'm wondering if that was ever a directive for you or if it's just a side effect of telling a story that's not purely about vampirism?

Noxon: I think what I was hoping for and what the producers were hoping for was a movie that had a kind of grounded feeling. So I often applied the test of, if this were a serial killer movie, what would he do? As opposed to, if this is a vampire movie, what would he do. I tried to keep the choices grounded with the choices you'd consider in the real world. And thematically, I didn't want it to be too out there or too heightened. Obviously at the end, with all the corpses coming out of the wall and what not, we threw caution to the wind, but up until that point, we were trying to make it feel like this was a story that was really happening and the Jerry just also happened to be a supernatural guy.

Movies.com: Considering there were several writers over the years who all took a crack at the project, how hard was it, if it was hard at all, to pitch a character-driven story versus one that was high concept with the vampire and horror elements?

Noxon: Interestingly it wasn't hard at all. I have to give credit to the producing team, because they immediately responded to me saying, right when I walked in the door, that I really wanted to write about Charley and Ed and this rite of passage. That's what I hooked into emotionally, and then I also pitched this community that had been ravaged by greed. So when I came in talking about these human characters instead, at least from what I understood, that was refreshing for them.

But that's just what I learned from Buffy. That's how we approached every single story we ever told. What is this about, how are the characters changing, and what are the stakes emotionally? I went to the school of Whedon and when I'm doing it right I remember to ask those questions before I ask anything else.

Movies.com: Speaking of Buffy... beyond just the vampire connection to Fright Night, Buffy also has this huge, mammoth fanbase that isn't always nice with its opinions about directions the show took. To a much smaller degree, I think that same relationship exists with horror movie remakes, so I'm wondering how it was for you on a personal level to not only enter a remake of a beloved horror movie, but enter it with such strong ties to another beloved vampire franchise?

Noxon: It's interesting because I face that on a lot of projects, how deep should you go into the interworld? Especially on Glee, there's this instant feedback on what you're doing and whether people like it or not, so I think it's a really fine balance. Now there's this community that can instantly and willingly talk to you, and they may have something to say that you haven't thought of, but the challenge is not getting too reactive. Because once you get too reactive, you're trying to please all the people all the time. And the art of good drama, whether its television or movies, is having to hold back the stuff that people think they want. It's just not satisfying.

Is it personally wounding sometimes? Yeah, and that's why I tend to stay away from it. On the flip side, I also don't want to get high on my own supply, because there are people who are always willing to say very nice things to you as well. And neither of those things is particularly helpful to the psyche.

Movies.com: Since this was a big year for you and making two large jumps to big screen work, I'm curious how the process was different for you as a writer coming from the TV world. Obviously pilots get test-screened, but how was the process for you on Fright Night? I imagine it was quite extensive.

Noxon: Oh my God, it's exhausting. There are a lot of test screenings, but there are a lot for TV as well, especially the pilots. You sit in a room watching a lot of people with dials and they literally, as they're playing the show, watch the graphs go up or down. It's pretty gruesome.

There's always these legendary stories of that one time the test was wildly wrong, so you cling to that as you watch the dial turning down, down, down. And the same was true with Fright Night. We tested it a lot. But, again, the same is true. We felt the movie was really strong and audiences were having a good time and you just have to go with your instincts. DreamWorks was rare in the fact that they were very supportive throughout the entire process. And testing is the same for every movie. I've never heard of a movie that didn't get tested, unless it tests through the roof the first time, and that's super rare.

Movies.com: It seems like you had two very different directives when it came to both I Am Number Four and Fright Night. I Am Number Four is clearly meant to serve, if need be, as a franchise starter, whereas Fright Night, and this is rare for studio horror these days, actually has a conclusive ending. It doesn't end with a last minute gag, it has a full-on, character-driven ending. Was that the case from the beginning?

Noxon: You know, we did try a couple different things. Originally we had a kind of homage to the ending of the original Fright Night where there's a little Ed moment. The original has this call back to the spook across the street, and it ends with this little moment where you're like, "Ooh, it's not over..." And we did try that, but even initially I felt it was something Craig wasn't on board with because he felt it could be cheesy. And the audience kind of rejected it. They were like, "You can't fool us. We know what you're up to."

So that's how it evolved, actually. We were conclusive because of the tests. I did think it was a funny moment at the end of the original film, but it just didn't work for ours. It didn't seem true to the film.

Movies.com: When the film hit theaters, there was already talk that there were ideas for sequels, but no firm commitment. Since the box office didn't pan out, are those still a possibility? Is that something home video can make a difference in?

Noxon: I think that you nailed it. It has to do with what the afterlife of the film is and whether people buy the DVD and word of mouth spreads. We felt like the movie was received well enough by the fans, but it didn't perform, so hopefully it'll be something that spreads through gifts this Christmas.

Movies.com: In a hypothetical world where a sequel does exist, would you be interested in writing it?

Noxon: Oh my God, I'm already writing it in my head. If they could actually pay me for it, I'd be grateful. That's an unequivocal yes.

Movies.com: What is going on with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and why do you think it’s such a difficult project to get off the ground?

Marti Noxon: That’s a really good question and I really can’t say because my experience with Lionsgate was always great. They are committed to doing it and really smart and my experience with Craig [Gillespie] was, again, great. Everybody seemed very pleased with where the script ended up, so it’s really a little baffling. I would say it probably, in my suspicions, has to do with the marketplace. It’s very hard to sell a comedy-horror concept. As much as it’s already pre-sold and popular much in the same way Fright Night was, it’s still a little risky. At the same time, you get a success like Zombieland, but then something will come along that makes people nervous again, so I feel like there’s a little bit of that problem, particularly on the casting side. It’s hard to find an actress who is super hot because they might not be inclined to take a risk on something that has a 70 / 30% chance of working, you know? I think it’s more to do with the marketplace than the logistics of the actual project.

Movies.com: Is it as difficult as an outsider like me imagines to get a wholly original project made these days? Do wholly original concepts still have a chance or has the market made that much harder?

Noxon: Oh, it’s really hard. I would say it’s close to impossible to get something that’s not, in the genre world, already somehow branded. And even most solid dramas are still based on popular books. Writing something that’s just straight out of your brain without any kind of IP is really tough, but we do our best, but the market is why I’m tending to do stuff based on other material.

Movies.com: So what is next for you in the film world?

Noxon: A couple of things. I’m doing a re-write on Elizabeth Banks as Tinkerbell, kind of in theEnchanted world. It’s about her coming to the real world in a non-fairy form. That’s about all I can say about it, but part of my attraction to that was what we were talking about earlier [the aforementioned gender politics].

It’s hard to write or even find a movie for eight- or nine-year-old girls that isn’t about, ya’ know, “I need a boyfriend!” I mean, Tinkerbell has a job! She’s one of the few characters in that fantasy world that actually has a job. I have a seven-year-old daughter and I want more movies for her where afterward I don’t have to make something up like, “You know, the job of running a kingdom is really hard work, and she and the Prince are going to have to communicate a lot...”

Categories: Interviews, Horror
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