While it’s always great to talk to actors on movie sets, if you really want to find out how a movie got put together, you’ve got to talk to the screenwriter. So when I was on the set of Drive Angry 3D in early May with a small group of online reporters, when we got to speak to screenwriter Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine), we all had very specific questions about the project. Thankfully, Farmer was more than happy to talk and he discussed writing for 3D, how the movie got put together, the violence, the hard R rating, the cars, the music, and so much more. It was this interview with Farmer that really got me excited as everything he was saying sounded great. Hit the jump to check it out:
For those not familiar with Drive Angry, you should start by reading my set report. But the quick synopsis is the film “centers on a man (Cage) driven by rage who is chasing the people who killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby. The vendetta/rescue spins out of control as the chase gets bloodier by the mile, leaving bodies strewn along the highway.”
What’s great about the movie is that it’s being filmed in 3D, it’s a super hard R, and it’s from the filmmakers behind My Bloody Valentine. Meaning…expect plenty of blood and guts! I’m super excited.
As usual, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
And if you’re going to Comic-Con this week, Summit is holding a panel Friday in Hall H at 2:15 – 3:15pm for Drive Angry. Here are the details:
DRIVE ANGRY 3D – In a Comic-Con exclusive, stars of the film including Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard as well as director Patrick Lussier will debut footage from the high-octane, blood-spattered road trip through hell. In this newest action horror shot in 3D, a vengeful father hunts down the people who brutally killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby.
Question: How have you been enjoying Shreveport?
Farmer: Shreveport has been perfect. We’ve been able to, when Patrick [Lussier] and I wrote the thing we wrote it so that it’d be basically a roadmap. They would travel across the United States and we’ve been able to find different looks for that here in the area. So it’s worked out nice.
Can you talk about writing for 3-D?
Farmer: 3-D. We did it for ‘Valentine’. For me it’s always going to be the story first, for Patrick as well. We did it with this. We did it for ‘Valentine’. I know that a lot of guys think that ‘Valentine’ only plays in 2-D, maybe some of you. Those of you who think that are wrong. We really did it write it for the story but once you get into production, once you start doing this process certain things will jump out at you. Some shots will be more 3-D than others. I love the 3-D. I’m not one of those guys who’s scared to death of it and think that it’s going to take over everything. I love the fact that you have the immersive 3-D and the voyeuristic 3-D and then you have the in your face gimmicky 3-D and we’re going to do both. I think there’s a place for both. So we have that, where there are moments where it’s just Nic Cage and Amber Heard and you’re in the car with them and it’s not stuff flying at your face but you’re literally sitting in the backseat. You’re sitting there and it’s just sort of interesting. At the same time we’re going to throw cars and guns and bullets and frogs and naked people at your face because it’s fun and that’s the roller coaster. We do write some things for 3-D.
Did you write anything in the script where blood drips down the frame?
Is there a lot of that stuff?
Farmer: Nope. Currently there’s one shot and I mean Patrick can elaborate on that. I think that it was more or less an accident but it’s the kind of thing that when you have somebody like Max Pinner who’s here and working with 3-D, he saw it and pulled in on it and so suddenly the audience is watching the drip through the back window, all around them. So it can be kind of fun.
This is an original screenplay, right?
When does it take place, is it modern day or some weird time?
Farmer: It’s modern day. It is modern day. Some of the cars are older but it is absolutely modern day. There are modern cars in it, modern people, modern clothes, modern talk. We wrote ‘Valentine’ to sort of pay tribute to all the old slasher movies that we grew up with and I think that we did that. In a way it was a modern story but it played to all those 1980 slasher movies. We did the same thing with this. Patrick wanted to do a 1970’s road movie and if you’ll see, this is a modern story but it’s got so much 1970’s in your face feel to it. So that was the point, to take that stuff that we loved growing up and sort of do it for today. I think we accomplished it. We’ll see.
Are there certain movies that you find yourself re-watching?
Farmer: Yes, but I want Patrick to talk about that because he was the one who sold me on it and so I don’t want to steal that thunder. This is why we’re such a good partnership. I would’ve never done a 1970’s road movie. It just wouldn’t have occurred to me. So when he started talking about it he brought up all these movies and he’ll do that with you guys and you’ll feel the Goosebumps as you start realizing the story that he wanted to tell. So I’ll leave that for him since he was the one that inspired it.
When did Nic come onto the project and did anything change after he came on?
Farmer: Yes, we got the green light. Nic is more than just a fantastic actor. He will get your movie made. The first thing that we did is that we went to producers and there were a lot of great producers. A lot of them said, ‘This is what we’d do. If you’d do this, this right here, it would be perfect.’ When we met with [Mmichael] De Luca, he immediately started quoting dialogue and he was just the most excited guy into the room. Five minutes into it we knew that he was the guy and while we were talking to him we asked, ‘What would you do differently? What would you do? What notes do you have?’ He said, ‘Go shoot it.’ When you’re coming in as writers and some producer says, ‘Lets go shoot it,’ that never happens. So that’s why we came on with De Luca and because of the whole ‘Ghost Rider’ thing Mike sent it over to Nic. Nic read it and loved it and here we are.
How violent is it?
Farmer: Yeah. It’s as violent as you can get and still get an R, I think. We start and the moment the movie opens it’s in your face. All the stuff that you guys are going to see, it’s fun.
Is that what sold him on it?
There’s a shortage of really hard R.
Farmer: There is a shortage of hard R. It was the story and the character. He’s never played a character like this and so that was the thing that really won him over. The story itself, on the surface – Patrick and I love actors almost in a geeky kind of way. We write for actors and even down to the smallest character in the film, they all have their moment. You take that and you put it in a story that’s in your face and there’s tons of hardcore R action, nudity and you name it, but at the same time there really is a story there. It’s got heart and at the end of the movie people will feel it. So I hope they’ll their friends and want to see more.
What did you guys learn on ‘My Bloody Valentine’ that you were able to apply to this film?
Farmer: We learned things that I can’t tell you because the people who read this will know what we learned but for the most part we learned that our partnership works. It’s a weird partnership. For me and Patrick, if you’ve met him, we’re not very much alike. But we bring such different tools to the table. He doesn’t think like me. I don’t think like him. He thinks like an editor. He thinks like a director. He thinks completely outside of the box when it comes to writing and so because of that he leads me down roads that I would’ve never gone down. And he sucks at grammar. So together we’re perfect. I put in all the dirty words. It works really well. The thing that we found with ‘Drive Angry,’ more than anything else is that we wrote the movie that we wanted to see. I’ve done that before. I’ve wanted to see ‘Jason X’. It did not become the movie that I thought it would be. That happens. It’s happened with every movie I’ve ever done. It didn’t happen on this one. We wrote it and it’s there. Nobody changed it. Nobody gave us notes and said, ‘We want this. We want the girl to be more this. We want the hero to be a dog.’ We didn’t get any of that crap. This is the movie that we wrote and it’s never happened before. So while we went in changed things for locations and we had rain one day and we rewrote things, little things like that, they were our changes. So it wasn’t that we were forced to do anything that we didn’t want to do. As long as we work within the budget and are responsible, which by the way it’s amazing how many people aren’t but we are. We’ve worked within the budget. We’ve worked within the time and we’re making the movie that we want. That’s the reward and I couldn’t be happier.
Does the story take place in more than one location?
Farmer: It’s a road movie. I mean, yes. We film it here and it takes place from basically Colorado to Louisiana. That’s the road trip. So we’re all over the place. We go through bits of Texas and bits of Oklahoma.
Why is it considered a road movie; are they running somewhere or trying to get to somewhere?
Farmer: They’re both running and chasing. The quick version is that a cult has killed Nic’s daughter and taken her child and Nic has basically busted out to go get her and he’s going to get her back. He meets Amber Heard along the way. She has some fast wheels and she helps him.
Is it a Satanic cult?
Farmer: It depends on who you ask but it’s definitely a religious cult. The one rewrite that we did, and it was our own rewrite, was to the character Jonah King played by Billy Burke, played deliciously by Billy Burke is the cult leader. The way that we wrote it, we wrote it very snake oil salesman. He’s a conman and he knows that he’s a conman. That’s the first way that we wrote it and we decided that he should be a believer. He should totally believe in his religion and when we wrote that suddenly he became scary because these guys that really believe, that brings an extra level to it. We didn’t see that when we first wrote it. I think that’s the only rewrite that we did. From that point forward this is what we wrote in March of last year. So we’re coming to screen really fast considering. It’s original, too. And look, I love remakes. As long as a remake is great I love it, but this is an original and so we’re kind of excited.
Are you yourself a car guy?
Farmer: Not as much Nic. Nic is definitely a car guy because Nic and [William] Fichtner and Billy, these guys go on and on about the cars. So we had no choice but to do our research and get everything right because they were going to nail us if we didn’t. You should talk to Eric tonight because the Chargers are all his. He tells this story about how hard it was to get the Charges because ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ wrecked them all. There weren’t any Chargers left. Originally we wrote it as a 1969 GTO, a beautiful car. But we did some 3-D tests and there was some weird kind of anomaly reason the Charger looks so beautiful in 3-D.
So the aesthetics of the car goes into play with the 3-D?
Farmer: Absolutely. I mean if you look at the Charger and you compare it to other cars, the way the lines work, the tires, in 3-D it’s gorgeous. One thing that we found was that the reflective surface was weird. It does funny things in 3-D. So you have to deal with that. I mean, 3-D adds a whole level of ‘oh my goodness’ to the movie in good ways and bad ways that you have to deal with. We’ve overcome any obstacle that we’ve ever had because we have a great 3-D crew, Max and the guys at Paradise 3-D. We’re shooting in 3-D. You’ll see tonight. While we’re shooting scenes you can put the glasses on and watch on the monitor and it’ll all be there in 3-D to see. We’re going to do conversion just like everybody else but we’re going to convert back to 2-D so that the guys with the flat TV screens can see it later.
Do you think you’d go back to shooting it in 2-D and converting it to 3-D later?
Farmer: I think it’s just as viable a way of telling a story as anything else but for right now we like playing around with the new ways to do 3-D because I think it’s only going to get better. I think that eventually we’ll come home, we’ll sit in our living room and there will be a little hologram that’ll pop up and you’ll watch these 3-D movies but you’ll be able to walk around it. I think that’s coming just like anything else. I don’t think that it’s just going to be 3-D. I think that 2-D is going to be around forever. I think that we’ll go back and forth.
Is Nic’s character always a badass in the movie or does he start out a normal guy who gets pushed over the edge?
Farmer: Nic, period, is a badass just on his own. I’ve never seen anybody fire a gun like this. Our props master, he’s been over and served in the military and he said the other day, ‘I’ve got thirty five kills and I’ve never seen anybody shoot a gun like Nic Cage.’ He’s a badass, but the character, yes, he’s always been a badass. He was pretty much always a badass. He was – some back story – the kind of guy who got mixed up in the wrong crowd and as a result wasn’t around for his family. As a result, when his daughter got mixed up with the cult he wasn’t around. So this is kind of a story of redemption in some ways, in a lot of ways because he screwed up and so he’s going to make things right.
Where is the mother?
Farmer: All of that gets some back story, yeah.
Can you talk about the look of the character because I heard through the grapevine that Nic was going to shave his head and cover it in tattoos?
Farmer: I have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s common knowledge. Yes. He was certainly playing with the idea of shaving his head completely and having a huge wraparound delicious tattoo.
How did you feel about that because he has a cool look now?
Farmer: I love his look. I think it’s phenomenal for what we wrote and perfect for the character that we had wanted to see onscreen. The only thing, and Patrick and I both agreed, the only reason was a character reason why we didn’t want to do it. We were afraid that if he had done that he would look so ominous, so badass that Piper’s character, that they would never ended up on this road trip together because she would’ve never believed him. She would never trust him. He would be too scary. He would come across too scary. The way that he comes across now, he’s just a normal guy that’s going to make things right.
So it’s a good day that he didn’t just come in one day during preproduction and say, ‘Look what I did’?
Farmer: Yeah, exactly. The great thing about Patrick is that he started with [Wes] Craven. He started way before the ‘Scream’ films but people were recognizing him on the ‘Scream’ films for editing. We’re like this now, it doesn’t matter what you throw at us we’re going to improvise and overcome. We’ll adapt to the situation. We’re going to get the shot. We’re going to make the movie. We’re going to make the movie that we came here to make. We’re not going to bellyache. We’re not going to bitch to the studio. We’re going to make the movie whether they like it or not and most people don’t do that. Most people bitch. They want more money. They want more this, more that. We don’t do that. We’re going to make the movie because this is what we wanted to do.
Does the film have an ironic sensibility, a wink/wink or does it play more straight?
Farmer: I mean there are moments, moments of fun but it’s never necessarily a wink/wink. It’s just interesting and odd and crazy things happen inside the world just like a crazy thing happened inside our world. So we don’t shy away from that stuff. We take semi-ordinary characters, even though they have their own skill sets, we take those guys and we drop them into extraordinary situations and watch how the get out of them.
Any one-liners in the movie?
Farmer: Yes, there are some one-liners. Some of those we wrote. Some of those Nic came up with. I love writing and I’m good at it but the script has to change. The actors come in and they make characters their own and so Patrick and I have never been the kind to think that our script is the bible. We want to make sure that the story is told, that you stick to the story but if you have to make changes to the character then that’s fine. A lot of times there are some funny one-liners, funny things that happen that are out of the ordinary. I like it.
What have been some of the challenges that you guys have faced on this movie?
Farmer: Well, the weather in Shreveport is completely unpredictable. So that’s been one thing. We’ve done several scenes; we’ve had backup plans. A, B and C backup plans for a lot of different scenes because of weather. We had one entire, huge twist in the movie, a massive scene that took place outside and as we approached that the forecast called for rain. So we changed it and put in a church. We did that and now I like it better. It’s not like we were forced to do something we didn’t want to do. I mean, when you see that scene you’ll realize that we’re really lucky that the weather came at us because now it has a lot more meaning that wasn’t automatically there. There’s some sort of undertones that wouldn’t have existed had we shot it outside. So we got lucky on that and what we try to do is take whatever obstacles come our way and make them work in our favor. Just like in any other movie, too, we’ve had car troubles. We’ve had issues with weather. We’ve had issues with you name it. You can’t predict this tough but as long as you go at it with the mindset that it doesn’t matter what happens, we’ll just figure out a way around it – that’s the reason that I’m here. The reason that I’m here is that Patrick and I are partners and when crazy stuff comes our way we’ll sit down and brainstorm and think around it just like we do when we’re thinking about a scene. So, while the masters might not understand my being here, or at least they didn’t at first, but they do now because we really are a partnership. If he’s on set I’m on set.
Is classic rock music something that is an element in this?
Farmer: We played more rock music when we were writing the script. ‘Renegade’. All of the Styx songs. All of the old ’70’s and ’80’s music, that’s the stuff that’s pounding in the background while we were doing this stuff. It’s a part of those movies. It’s funny, if you go back and look at all those old movies a lot of times they didn’t have the budget for music. Each scene here was written to a different time, whether that be ‘Breakfast in America’ or just different soundtracks that we had for different parts of the movie. I’m interested to see how it all plays once it’s all put together.
Do you think that it’ll carry over to the soundtrack?
Farmer: I don’t know. That’s post and we can only keep our fingers crossed.
Would you like it to?
Farmer: I would love it to, absolutely. I would love to have the music that was in our heads when we wrote the thing.
Are there scenes that use specific songs?
Farmer: There are a couple of scenes. There was one scene where Amber is in the Charger and she’s had a rough day. She turns on the radio and is singing a song. We had a bunch of songs in mind and she suggested a song and we got the song that she was suggesting. I don’t want to tell you what it is but it’s the most in your face song. It’s a good song.
Was there ever a time you guys thought about this as a graphic novel, or
maybe pulled inspiration from a graphic novel
Farmer: The graphic novel? I love comics and so, yes. I don’t think we talked about that. We weren’t influenced necessarily by graphic novels but we certainly, once the screenplay was done, we talked about the idea that you could continue, you could tell back story, you could do things in sort of a graphic novel world just because we kind of like that world. I’ve done some stuff with Thomas Jane and Tim Bradstreet in the comic world and it was interesting to me how close to a screenplay a comic can be. Certainly a four issue comic can be a four act structured screenplay and so I would totally be for that.
Can you talk about what else you’re working on right now?
Farmer: I think there’s not many who don’t know that we did ‘Halloween 3’ and we would still, Patrick and I both, would still very much love to do ‘Halloween 3’.
Have you written a first draft of that?
Farmer: We have written a first draft of that and so now it’s in the capable hands of the Weinstein Company.
Did you do ‘Clock Tower’?
Farmer: I did, yes. I did ‘Clock Tower’ a dozen years ago. As you guys know, the business is a weird business and when I first started my influences were Jonathan Hensleigh and Dean, guys who were already sort of established and they used to tell me that you have to fight for your screenplay. Then there came a time when you fought for your screenplay you basically just got fired and replaced. So ‘Clock Tower’ was during that time when everyone was scared to fight and so I didn’t fight. So my draft of ‘Clock Tower’ sucks because I wrote exactly what I was told to write and it’s horrible. There have been seven writers since then and I don’t know how good it is or anything. It’s based on ‘Scissorman’. ‘Scissorman’ is terrifying. The studio at the time didn’t want Scissorman because they were afraid that he’d look silly to which my response was, ‘Well, then why did buy this because that’s what the game is.’ But I lost that battle.
They never played the game, obviously.
Farmer: I think that they were afraid that it would look like Edward Scissorhands and it wouldn’t because that’s not what the game was. I don’t know where it’s at now. I’m hopeful that someone will make it because it’s a scary story but I hope they go back to the game and do that version. But I haven’t heard anything.
We were told earlier that you guys made this movie in a really short of period of time, from creation to filming. Was there something that lit a fire under your ass or has that speed been a hindrance at any point?
Farmer: Personally, I think that it’s better. I think longer that you sit on a screenplay the longer you sit. I’m a firm believer that you can write the magic out of a movie, out of a screenplay. I’m not saying that the first draft is always the best draft but a lot of times the magic is in the first couple of drafts. That’s where the inspiration was and so the more that you rewrite and the more you rewrite and the more the numbnuts are coming in to give you notes then the more problems you run into and the more it suddenly doesn’t seem like the movie, the story, the characters changed, watered down and we don’t have that with this. This as hard an R as we wrote in the beginning. It was fast. It was fast mainly because of De Luca. We came in with De Luca. Nic I think had a deal with Millennium and so we ended up with Millennium quickly and they said, ‘Go make the movie that you want to make. Basically, here are the ground rules; stay within the budget, stay within the time and go make your movie.’
It’s awesome that you guys were afforded that opportunity.
Farmer: Yeah. It really has been a blessing because you can go and look at our other movies we’ve done in a studio system. We didn’t get to make the movie that we wanted to make. We made the movie that someone else wanted us to make. That can be a little disheartening, a lot disheartening. While there have been struggles, it doesn’t matter which table you’re at because you’re going to have obstacles, but I kind of like being able to make the movie that you want to make.
Can you talk about Frank at all?
Farmer: I play a character in the movie. I play Frank. A lot of people, I’ve seen it on the internet, it’s all about Nic’s look and his hair and this is Nic’s movie. This is Frank’s movie. You can ask Nic and he’ll tell you himself that this is Frank’s movie. I’m a big part. I am Luke Skywalker coming home and finding his uncle and aunt destroyed and going on the journey. Frank sets this movie going. So, yeah, I play a small part. I play a guy named Sid with a gopher.
Does Frank get off’d?
Farmer: Do you really want to know that? I’d love to keep that as a surprise. We talked about it and we talked about it for ‘Bloody Valentine’. I said, ‘The next time it’d be nice if I could live.’ I’ll let you guys decide how that conversation turned out, but it was an interesting role because on the surface it’s probably number six on the call sheet. It’s a pretty big role.
Farmer: Dude, seriously, why would I not? I’m all for the balance and fairness of nudity in movies. Yes, most likely there is some nudity involved.
Any concerns shooting a hard R that when it comes time for the MPAA to look at it that you might have a scene or two that won’t make the cut?
Farmer: No, and it’s less me and more Patrick. Patrick has edited all of his movies. He edited ‘Scream’ and worked for Wes all these years. He worked for the Weinsteins all those years. He sort of knows what he can get away with and what he can’t. With ‘Valentine’ we knew had some very graphic moments. So we shot a whole lot of the fuck scene and we sent that to the MPAA and that’s all they could see. They didn’t know that there was any blood on the screen. All they could think about was this five minute sex scene. So we cut that down to what it was supposed to be, what we intended from the beginning and we got our R.
Will you have to do that here?
Farmer: I don’t know that we’d have to. I don’t think we’d have to. I think everything has been smart. Everything is shot really smart and the hard R is definitely there, but the hard R is there in tone more than anything else. These characters have had a long, hard road.
Drive Angry gets released February 11, 2011.
For more Drive Angry 3D coverage: