New Line Cinema on Working with Wes Craven
New Line execs Bob Shaye and Sara Risher tell their side and reminisce about the making of the film that started it all…
By Frederick S. Clarke
Published in Cinefantastique, Volume 18 Number 5.
New Line CEO Bob Shaye and Sara Risher, president in charge of production, both expressed shock and dismay at director Wes Craven’s remarks about why he’s leaving the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series behind. “I’m sorry the relationship has turned to one of animosity,” said Risher, who is co-producing the new film in the series, based in L.A. “I think Craven’s recollections are faulty and I’ll be happy to set the record straight.”
“I’m always astounded when things like this from Craven get back to me,” said Shaye, who once responded with a letter to remarks Craven made about the reasons he wasn’t involved in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE. “When I see Craven it’s always kind of cordial. And, he has an ongoing profit participation in the series.”
That’s right. Craven will make money from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, even though he had nothing to do with it. “It’s a big financial participation as a result of his contracts on the first and third film,” said Risher, who declined to be more specific.
Though Shaye and Risher affirmed that, indeed, Craven was approached to rewrite William Kotzwinkle’s script for PART IV: THE DREAM MASTER, they fail to see why Craven was offended by the offer.
“When the script we had didn’t work I went to Wes [Craven) and Bruce [Wagner] to see about rewriting it and directing it, “said Risher. “He [Craven] didn’t respond to me, personally. He had his assistant call me to say he wouldn’t do it. He was too busy.”
At the time, Craven was reshooting scenes for his Universal release, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. “Initially, I approached Wes for an idea for the fourth film,” said Risher. “I always go to Wes first each time. His idea was illogical. It was about time travel within dreams that broke all the rules of dreams. We decided not to go with that. When we decided to go with Kotzwinkle’s ‘Dream Master’ idea, which we thought was terrific; I told Wes we were doing that.”
Shaye confirmed that Craven had been approached first on the new sequel. “He, Sara [Risher] and I had a conference call together, said Shaye about the time travel idea Craven pitched for Part 4.”I told him I thought it was kind of interesting and that I’d get back to him. After a lot of discussion, it was decided his idea didn’t really have the impact we were looking for. Ultimately, we felt it wasn’t workable. We had to make a producer’s creative decision about whether we wanted to go ahead with his idea and we decided not to. I think Sara [Risher] sent him a copy of Kotzwinkle’s script afterwards as a courtesy.” Shaye said he thinks he understands why Craven is unhappy with the way his and Bruce Wagner’s script for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS was changed. “They thought they had it nailed,” said Shaye. “We thought it needed more work. But there was never any acrimony as far as I know. And I think the tremendous success of the film speaks for itself.”
Risher is less sanguine and diplomatic. “I don’t understand why he [Craven] doesn’t give credit where credit is due,” said Risher. “Chuck Russell made the script [for Part 3] work. I give Wes the complete credit for the terrific idea of these kids—the Dream Warriors—I’m not faulting that. But Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont turned that script around. We wouldn’t have made it with what we had [from Craven]. They [Russell and Darabont] rewrote 70% of it.” Risher added that Craven had also been offered the chance to direct Part3. “He thought he was going to get SUPERMAN IV and turned it down,” she said.
Shaye denied that he ever referred to the Elm Street films as “a good cheeseburger. “”That’s a misquote,” said Shaye. “We do think the films should be ‘date movies,’ and that they should be entertaining. I may have talked at some juncture about the idea of popular entertainment being more a ‘fast food’ kind of entertainment, as opposed to film as ‘art.”‘ But Shaye emphasized that he doesn’t shy away from film as art, citing PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA, which Ron Nyswaner just finished writing and directing for New Line. “It’s his vision and his ideas,” said Shaye, who added that, as a producer and distributor, he’s been involved with more art films than Craven. “There’s a big difference between being a producer and a financier,” said Shaye. “We are not financiers at New Line. We are producers. The team that we assemble is generally one that has a mutual and common respect for each other, not only in the specific functions they perform, but in the overall creative point of view that they bring to the table.”
Risher said she couldn’t believe that Craven was still grousing about the ending of the first film. “A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was a collaborative effort.” said Risher, who co-produced the original film. According to Risher, Craven spent a full year rewriting the script with input from New Line. And she and Bob Shaye spent days in the editing room, putting the film together. “There was never an ending in the script,” said Risher. “The sky turned black. Lots of birds came out. It was apocalyptic. Wes [Craven) came up with the ending that’s on it and he shot it. He also shot the ending Bob [Shaye) wanted Freddy driving the car. Both of them looked at the footage and it was agreed to use Craven’s ending-Freddy pulling Heather’s mom through the door. Bob’s ending isn’t there.”
Concluded Shaye, about New Line’s approach to filmmaking, “Films very much are the creative children of a real complicated, complex gene pool that comes from the writer and the director and the producer and the editor and the director of photography and the actors. All of those people bring their own stamp to a film. Any belief in auteur filmmaking, I think, does a disservice to the process because it’s too hermetic and way too inbred.”