Freddy vs. Jason: Mark Swift
The following is a Q&A with Freddy vs. Jason scriptwriter Mark Swift from September 4, 2003. This session is archived from Friday the 13th: The Website’s defunct fan forum. Fans posted questions on their forum and Mr. Swift was kind enough to answer. Read on to discover how Shannon and Swift landed the script for Freddy vs. Jason, what Swift thinks of the production, who he thinks won, and the other possible endings to horror’s ultimate showdown.
Friday the 13th: The Website: As a new-comer to writing, what was it like to have your draft of the Freddy vs. Jason screenplay picked from the slew of other submitted drafts?
Mark Swift: I feel a great sense of pride that we were the writers that got Freddy vs. Jason out of development hell. I think most people (including many from this board) felt that FvJ would probably never get made. When we first came in, the project was on death’s door. They had commissioned so many different screenplays, explored so many different ideas… it seemed like they had almost given up on it themselves. We always felt that part of our job then (in addition to writing a great screenplay) was getting the studio re-excited by the idea of Freddy vs. Jason. So one of the things we did, before we even started writing the script, was to write a Mission Statement that (hopefully) everyone could get behind. I still remember the first few lines of it:
Freddy vs. Jason is the fulfillment of a long-held fantasy for millions of horror fans (including us). We will not disappoint them. Fans want Freddy and Jason to go head to head, to find out once and for all who is the baddest motherfucker in the history of horror. We’re going to give them what they want. No cheap gimmicks, no teasing, no strings attached. Freddy and Jason will clash for good reason. One that not only makes sense for both series, but is also compelling and inventive. We will not insult the fans or take them for granted.”
We also wrote a list of Rules that we wouldn’t violate, and a summary (called The “How Are Freddy And Jason In The Same Movie… And Why The Hell Are They Fighting?” Executive Summary) so everyone could understand the basic concept, and get behind it. In the end, I’m proud of our screenplay and I’m proud that the movie is so successful, but I feel the greatest sense of pride in the fact that we played a role in saving the project from oblivion.
How did you meet your script partner Shannon? Could you briefly describe what it was like to work with a partner on a script?
I met Damian at USC. We were friends first, and became writing partners later. I think, by the way, this is a prerequisite for a successful writing partnership. You better be friends, because you’re going to be spending a hell of a lot of time together. As for what it was like working with a partner, that’s difficult to answer. It’s all I’ve ever known. Damian and I have worked on all our projects together. Personally, I think it’s more fun that way. Writing is a lonely job, and having someone else there fighting with you in the trenches makes it easier. Of course, with two people, it’s also a lot easier to waste time too.
Throughout your meetings with New Line execs, did you get a feeling that they were 100% behind the two franchises – or did it seem more like “The House that Freddy built”?
In our meetings with Bob Shaye, he seemed a bit more interested in the Freddy side of things. Of course, that’s completely understandable given his history. But that only made Damian and I that much more adamant in our defense of Jason. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that got cut from our screenplay (and from the film) was more from the Crystal Lake side of things. However, I don’t think that stemmed from a bias for one character over another.
Growing up, which one was your favorite, Freddy or Jason? What about Shannon’s?
This is going to sound like I’m dodging the question, but I’ve always just loved horror movies period. The Nightmare and Friday flicks are very different, and I enjoyed each of them in different ways. I can’t speak for Damian, but he’s always had a hockey mask hanging in his apartment.
How do you feel about the actors in the movie and about how Ronny Yu directed your script?
I think the actors did a good job, all things considered. Many of them were first-timers, it’s a movie that gets a lot of extra scrutiny, the kids aren’t really the focus, they have to say and do ridiculous things, etc. etc. I think it was Monica Keena in the FANGO movie-tie in magazine who said that she didn’t receive a lot of direction, and that she was basically responsible for her own performance. That’s a difficult position to be in as an actor. And for someone like Jason Ritter, who had to come in literally a couple days before shooting began – that’s unbelievably tough. I know a lot of people were concerned about having Kelly Rowland in there, but she got the job on merit, and she was great too. And considering there is some dialogue in the film the likes of which would make Sir Lawrence Olivier look bad, I’d say they should all be commended. I think Robert Englund’s performance was on par with his best work. And I definitely think Ken Kirzinger convinced a lot of naysayers that he was worthy of the mask.
Ronny had an even tougher job. When the budget people at New Line first looked at our screenplay, they said it would cost 60 million. Obviously, that was an unacceptable number. Ronny and his team had to figure out a way to deliver our script for half of that. When I saw Ronny on set near the end of the shoot, you wouldn’t believe how many things were going on simultaneously. He was really exhausted. Our script required so many different set ups and locations, not to mention all the pressure he had from the studio, the fans, etc. It’s a miracle he pulled off what he did. I couldn’t be happier for him that his movie is so successful, and that all his hard work paid off.
In Freddy vs. Jason, do you have a scene that you’re particularly fond of?
I’d have to say Jason’s bed kill. I remember when I came up with it, we were working outside at a coffee shop here in LA. I pitched it to Damian, and he couldn’t really picture what I was talking about. So I said, imagine a grape in the middle pages of an open dictionary, and then someone slamming it shut. He loved it, and we put it in. Months later, we’re sitting at New Line with some executives, and one of their notes was “Lose the bed kill. It doesn’t make sense.” We fought and fought for it, and finally convinced them to keep it in. Then in our meetings with Ronny, Damian and I literally acted it out on the floor for him. Thankfully, he loved it too. Then, a year later to the day, I was sitting in the first test screening. The scene began, and my heart started to pound harder. What would it look like? Will the audience like it? Well it turned out almost exactly like we wrote it, right down to Gibb’s “What the fuck do you think?!” line with bloody hands raised. And the audience EXPLODED at the kill – it got the biggest reaction out of everything. They were still cheering so loud at the end of the scene, you couldn’t hear the dialogue at the start of the next scene. It was an extremely satisfying feeling. (Of course, I was pissed that Fangoria put that picture in the magazine before the movie came out… but I think a lot of fans saw the movie without any knowledge of it beforehand. God I hate spoilers.) So for those reasons, I guess I’d have to say that’s my favorite. By the way (for those that haven’t read the screenplay): In Gibb’s dream at the cornfield rave, she runs into Trey again. She follows him into the corn at his beckoning (“Don’t make me ask you twice”). She sees he’s walking funny… and when they get to the clearing at the grain silo, we see Trey clearly, completely mangled from the bed kill (neck and back broken, bones jutting out of his body…) Unfortunately, the effects on Trey supposedly didn’t turn out well, and the entire thing had to be cut. I’m not sure if the unusable footage will show up on the DVD or not.
How do you feel about the finished product and its success at the box office?
I have a love/hate relationship with the movie: I love what we wrote, and I hate what they changed (kidding, of course). But when screenplays are trimmed during production, oftentimes they have to create new dialogue that condenses what was too long, or summarizes what had to be cut. And sometimes, you can be left with some pretty silly stuff, like characters magically figuring things out or explaining the plot to each other instead of talking like human beings. Lines that made sense in context now seem absurd, locations that were hundreds of miles apart are now next to each other, etc. But that’s par for the course. And I think the ultra-fast pace and sometimes unintentional humor were probably positive contributors to the box office… though they also probably ensured terrible reviews. Regardless, I’m really happy that most of the fans felt the movie delivered what they wanted. That was our one and only goal as writers on FvJ. And as I’ve said, if there was ever a movie in the history of cinema that was for fans and not critics, it’s Freddy vs. Jason.
As for the box office, Damian and I always thought it would open big. Of course, I thought it would end up with about 60 million, and it has already surpassed that. And it’s amazing when you think that we didn’t have a real big advertising campaign. Other movies this summer had marketing campaigns that cost more than FvJ’s production budget, and we opened bigger than a lot of them. I think FvJ’s box office says a lot about these characters, a lot about horror fans… and a lot about the power of the internet.
As there’s a debate raging – WHO WON? Was the very end with Freddy winking intended to be reality, or in the dreamworld?
As I’m sure most of you know, Damian and I wrote a number of different epilogues for Freddy vs. Jason, but they were all variations on the same idea. I know a number of different versions of our script are floating around out there (someone said they read the draft where Jason breaks up through the asphalt at the beginning… man is that an old version!) so let me do a quick recap:
First of all, the film always ended the same, with Freddy and Jason battling to the death on the dock. In our drafts, after the explosion, they end up in the fiery lake, and then something strange starts to happen. The water begins to move, churning… and the lake begins to drain. Within the water, we see a hole has opened at the bottom of the lake bed, glowing red. Freddy tries to swim away, but Jason puts a death lock on his ankle, and they’re both dragged down.
*(Like Frankenstein did to Drac in Monster Squad! RAWK! – DK)
Next day, Crystal Lake is completely dry. Lori is reunited with her father. Their story line, and what happened to her mother, is wrapped up here. Linderman and Deputy Stubbs are both alive as well. They walk down into the dry lake. Will sees Freddy’s claw on the ground (Freddy’s hand was cut off during the fight on the dock) and he picks it up, vowing to destroy it for good. And then, “ANOES” style, a red and green striped arm bursts through the earth, grabs Will’s leg and pulls him down. One leg buried in the ground, he screams for Lori, but is yanked again, his other leg breaking against his chest at an impossible angle. Then he’s gone. Lori claws at the dirt for him, screaming…
…and then we find ourselves someplace very dark. Freddy puts his claw back on his hand. He sees Jason near him, machete gleaming. They go at each other… but then, chains shoot out, slicing into both of them. They’re separated, struggling to go at each other… when out from the darkness comes PINHEAD, and he says “Now. What seems to be the problem?”
That was the very first draft. First, everyone said we couldn’t kill Will, so we changed it to Lori’s father who is dragged down. This still worked for us. We wanted Lori left damaged by this experience, so having Freddy make her an orphan made sense. As for the Pinhead idea, New Line didn’t like it. They didn’t like the fact that they’d have to get the rights, they thought Pinhead was too low rent (he’s STV now), etc. etc. No other cameos by other horror icons were seriously considered. And the more we thought about it, the more we didn’t like the idea of bringing in someone new.
Then we had a similar ending in hell that involved a shot of something sitting high atop a stone throne, only eyes and the tips of two horns visible in the darkness. Below it, Freddy and Jason battle in a Gladiator style pit. But then, Satan never works on film, unless it’s in South Park, so we dumped that.
Ronny also experimented with the idea of a GIANT HAND coming out of the lake at the end of the film, grabbing both Freddy and Jason in one enormous palm, and yanking them both down into hell. But this made everyone very nervous, because the cheese factor could be extremely high if it didn’t look good, so it too was dumped.
In our final draft, our epilogue ended with Freddy and Jason battling in a dark pit, surrounded by the eyes of a thousand dark demons and a million tortured souls. We figured there was a definite winner to the fight in the actual climax of the film, and in our epilogue, we wanted to suggest that the fight would continue.
During production, changes were made to the screenplay. It was decided that the final scenes after the fight on the dock, and the scene in hell, would be cut. So they still needed an epilogue.
Another writer wrote an epilogue where, six months later, Will and Lori are having sex for the first time. Will’s hand turns into Freddy’s claw, and he slashes at Lori, and we cut to black. To be perfectly honest, I never liked this ending. It didn’t make sense to me, and it raised too many questions (Does this mean Freddy won? Where’s Jason? Is this a dream? Is Will turning evil and is now some sort of Son-of-Freddy?) I must admit that I was relieved when audiences disliked this epilogue at the first test screening. Thankfully, it was cut from the film.
But the movie still needed an ending! Bob Shaye came to the rescue. They told us what he had in mind, and I thought it was perfect. They shot it locally, and that’s what’s in the final film.
So. Who won, you ask?
I think it’s interesting that the epilogue has become a sort of Rorschach test for fans. Jason fans think Jason won (I mean, he’s carrying the guy’s fricking head!!) and Freddy fans think Freddy won (C’mon – Freddy winked. This is a dream! It’s starting all over again, and Freddy is again manipulating Jason).
What is the truth? Well… I don’t know, I didn’t write it. But it does deliver the effect that Damian and I were originally going for. We certainly didn’t want a draw, but we wanted it to end up that both sides could claim some sort of victory.
But if you want my personal opinion? You gotta give it to the big guy. Jason won. However… it seems the war might not be over.
Will you be working on a Freddy vs. Jason II script? What kind of future projects are you going to be involved in?
First of all, don’t believe everything you read on the net. There are no definite plans to do a sequel as of yet. Everything is completely up in the air as far as I know, which honestly isn’t much. As for individual Freddy or Jason films, who knows. Though I suspect that, if there is another one made, it’ll probably involve Freddy and Jason together. And if they do make it, who knows if they’ll even want Damian and I to be involved. On this project, I think we’ve all learned that just about everyone’s replaceable. And by the way, I’m not convinced there needs to be another one anyway, are you?
Right now, we’re working on AREA 52 for Casey Silver and Universal. Next year, an animated movie we wrote on for DreamWorks called Sharkslayer opens on Oct. 1, 2004 (but that’s getting a name change), and up next for us is something really cool we’re working on with Johnny Knoxville.
Could you beat up Todd Farmer in a fight?
Absolutely. Todd was in Jason X, right? I remember, he was the guy in the VR scene. The dude with all the hair. Yeah, I could definitely take him.
I’ve never spoken with Todd, but he seems like a great guy who really cares about the fans. And he has great taste in lawyers.