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Tuesday
Feb192013

BLOOD TYPE: THE TODD FARMER INTERVIEW

One of Hollywood’s most respected genre writers, Todd Farmer will soon revisit Australian shores to present his two-day industry and writing seminar at The Gold Coast Film Festival. As to be expected of the man behind such gruelling splatter classics as Jason X, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Drive Angry, the event won’t be your average ‘three-act template’ screen-writing gabfest.

“I guarantee Robert McKee does not have blood as part of his seminar, but I will,” Farmer says with a laugh, chatting with SCREEN-SPACE from his Los Angeles base. The 45-year-old Kentucky native has found constant work since landing in Hollywood in 1996, his commitment and natural talent catching the eye of screenwriter Dean Reisner (Play Misty for Me; Charley Varrick; The Enforcer). One of old Hollywood's finest craftsmen of thrillers, Riesner (pictured, right) mentored Farmer before passing away in 2002.

“He taught me how to deal with the gatekeepers, how to deal with the guys who can’t do what we do.” says Farmer, recalling the industry knowledge the veteran imparted about the new regimes, who bombard young writers with often inane ‘script notes’. “He taught me to argue those kinds of notes three times and if you can’t convince them, let it go and cash the cheque. We are here to tell the best story we can tell but at the end of the day, somebody is paying for that story. And I listened, because he wrote Dirty Harry, High Plains Drifter and Starman, all great stuff.”

Farmer got his appetite for the horror/fantasy genre from many of the same sources as the rest of his generation (“I grew up reading Stephen King, so that’s a big part of it, as well as Jaws, Alien, Aliens, Halloween and the Star Wars trilogy.”) and has parlayed his talent into a career highlighted by new spins on old franchises.

“I wrote a draft of Freddy vs Jason, which was fun, so I’d like to actually work with ‘Freddy’. We also did a draft for a new Hellraiser, which was a thrill and I would’ve like to have seen come to life,” he says. “I grew up with those movies and I like re-telling their stories.” Also doing the rounds are unproduced treatments for the Halloween and Ghost Rider properties; these works are highly favoured amongst genre-friendly industry insiders, but are unlikely to see the light of day.

His most successful films to-date have been the spectral thriller The Messengers, on which he recieved a 'Story by' credit (featuring a pre-stardom Kristen Stewart; pictured, above left), and the three-dimensional remake of the seminal 1981 slasher, My Bloody Valentine, helmed by his professional partner, director Patrick Lussier. The $100million global take of his 2009 reworking of the legend of ‘The Miner’ still eases the sting of failure the pair felt on their 2011 follow-up project, Drive Angry, starring Nicholas Cage and Amber Heard.

“That was a tough one because, apart from some constraints that were imposed because of the budget, Drive Angry was exactly the movie we wanted to make,” Farmer recalls of the experience. The critical drubbing and meagre box-office still rankle the writer, though his outlook has become pragmatic over time. “The fact that people just didn’t go and see it, that hurt. Those that saw it seemed to have really liked it. Those that didn’t (like it), I’m fine with that, too. We knew we were making a film that was either a love-or-hate prospect. What I don’t ever want to do is make movies that people go to see and forget after a while.”

The vicissitudes of fanboy response was also experienced after the release of Jason X (pictured, right), his 2001 relaunching of the iconic hockey-mask killer of the Friday the 13th franchise, directed by the late James Isaac. “With Jason Vorhees, there had been nine other movies and it was time to do something different. Because of Freddy vs Jason, there was no way we could tell a story that took place in the present,” recalls Farmer of the narrative logic that took the machete wielding villain into orbit. “I suggested we set it in the future, the original idea being to have it in sort of a Blade Runner-type world. But early on we knew we couldn’t afford to create cities of neon and stuff that like that, so I said ‘Alright, fine, let’s make it Alien and put it on a spaceship.’”  

Todd Farmer is enthused about the future of big-screen horror, an optimism he hopes to share with young Australian screenwriters at the event in April. When asked if the glory days of horror films were a thing of the past, he riles up. “No, man, they’re still around!” he bellows, the Kentucky accent peeking through for the first time in our chat. “Back when I started, there were only a couple of outfits making horror movies, Dimension and New Line. Everybody looked down their noses at it, thought that horror was beneath them,” he recalls. “Then Scream came out and changed the landscape. Then The Ring was a hit, and there were a whole lot of films taken from Asian horror. Then, torture porn ran its course. Now, every studio has a genre department, though admittedly some are doing it not so good and others are clearly better than others. But horror is here to stay.”

Todd Farmer will be hosting The Gold Coast Film Festival’s 2013 Screenwriting Seminar, a two-day event to be held April 22-23. Bookings are essential and available at The Gold Coast Film Festival website.   

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