“Fright Night” screenwriter Marti Noxon knows a thing or two about vampires. As a writer and executive producer for Joss Whedon’s much beloved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she oversaw all manner of things that go bump in the night. She returns to similarly funny/scary terrain for this weekend's "Fright Night" remake, directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Anton Yelchin as a high school kid who suspects that Jerry (Colin Farrell), the dark-haired stranger that moved in next door, might be a vampire.
This "Fright Night" reboot is a welcome surprise – a horror movie that's actually stylish, scary, funny and genuinely suspenseful (Ramin Djawadi's spooky score totally slays, too). In short: it's a fucking blast. We recently got to talk to the outrageously talented Ms. Noxon about what drew her to the project, what earlier vampire material she was riffing off of, as well as her new project for DreamWorks and what her rewrite of David O. Russell's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" script entailed (Gillespie is set to direct that film as well). Here's what we learned:
1. Noxon's Work on 'Buffy' Helped Land The Writing Gig On "Fright Night"
After DreamWorks acquired the property, word was sent out that it was looking for writers. “When I heard they were looking for somebody, I got really excited, because I loved the original movie,” she said. “I had a real strong feeling about wanting to update the world.” Which isn’t to say she didn’t get a little help landing the job from someone at the studio who was enthralled with her previous work. “I had somebody over there who was a fan of ‘Buffy,’ who said, ‘She knows that.’”
2. Even Though It’s A Scary-Ass Movie About Vampires, She Had More Down-to-Earth Goals With the Update
In approaching the film, Noxon chose to take a relatively small-scale, character-based focus, instead of something more grandiose or technology-oriented. “The key thing that I pitched when I went in for the meeting was to explore the idea of friendship as you enter your young adulthood – how you change and you try and lop off parts of your personality that you don’t like,” she explained. “In my mind becoming a full person is when you start to integrate those things.”
She also used this as an entry point to address how geek culture has changed both in the mainstream and underground. “In this day and age, when geek culture is pretty mainstream, there are still fringier geeks who, if you want to be a popular kid, you don’t hang with those kids. So that was a major theme to me: the dynamic of these friendships and not denying who you are,” she said.
3. Noxon Was Pleased To Work On A Vampire Film That Ditched An Extensive Mythology
On the subject of whether or not she was keen on returning to the vampire-infested fold, Noxon said that it was the tidiness of the narrative that ultimately convinced her. “I hadn’t been keen to do it. I had some other offers to get involved in vampire stories. But I’m really drawn to a clean narrative that’s not too leaden with mythology," she explained. "And what I loved about this movie is that you have this simple Americana feel to it – it had humor and teenagers and it wasn’t so much about the something tribe against the MacGuffin people and the leprechauns in the background. It can get so complicated! This just felt really fun.”
She then gave an example of what she was really trying to stay away from (hint: it’s on premium cable every Sunday night). “I do enjoy “True Blood” but it’s super-thick with mythology. And it’s not that attractive to me.”
4. Noxon’s Script Borrowed From Another 1980s Vampire Classic
When our discussion turned to vampire stories, Noxon revealed her love for another gem of the genre from a recently minted Oscar-winner. “I’m a giant fan of Kathryn Bigelow’s 'Near Dark.' I saw an opportunity to go into that Southwestern, Elvis-y swaggering vampire that I love.”
When pressed for specificity on where that influence might be felt, Noxon pointed to a central scene from the film. “I would say that we border on a little bit more than homage in the car chase sequence,” she said, laughing, talking of a scene in which vampire Jerry chases down our heroes, on a stretch of desert highway, with the camera whirling around them, zipping in and out of the car, a la “Children of Men.”
It was this twist on the thriller staple that intrigued and inspired her. “I loved the idea of taking this really familiar action sequence trope and adding a vampire. And they did that in 'Near Dark' brilliantly. I racked my brain on how to nod to that while also taking it someplace else.”
5. Noxon Isn't A Fan Of 3D
With so many 3D movies besieging the marketplace, it’s hard to figure out which movies were intended to have extra dimensionality from the get-go from ones who have hastily post-converted shots in an effort to make a few extra dollars. According to Noxon, “Fright Night” is the former. “We always intended for it to be 3D. From the beginning that was the plan. But Craig had a very strong feeling about it, which was that he didn’t want to overuse it. He liked the depth of it and wanted to use it to heighten the immersive experience. But we didn’t write any gags specifically for 3D.”
Not that the writer is all that fond of the format. “I’ll be perfectly frank – I’m not a huge fan of 3D,” she said candidly. “With the exception of 'Avatar' and a few others where the technology and the glasses are super-great, I just find too often it muddies the picture and you feel like you’re underwater for half the movie. So I personally wasn’t thrilled about it, but they did a great job of having it not intrude on the experience.”
6. Despite What You May Have Heard, Noxon Is Not A Full Time Writer On "Glee"
After years spent on television (which have included stints on “Mad Men” and “Grey’s Anatomy” following her exit from the Buffy-verse), Noxon is currently making a splash on the big screen (she co-authored “I Am Number Four” which hit theaters earlier this year). Ideally, she’ll now split her time between the mediums.
“There’s an excitement level with movies that I never got to experience with television, which is that live audience reaction. So that’s pretty thrilling,” she said. “And as long as they let me do it, I’ll have at it. But I also love television because the process is so fast – you write it and eight days later someone is shooting it.”
She went on to clear up something about her television work – earlier this year it was reported that she would join the hugely successful and notoriously insular writing team for “Glee” (which includes only three people – Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy). However, that appears to have been an overstatement. “I’m doing some consulting so I’m only there a couple of days a week,” she explained. “I’ve done a little bit of scene work but I haven’t written any episodes.” C’mon guys! Let her sing!
7. Part Of Her Role On “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” Is Tempering David O. Russell’s "Demented" Ending
Noxon is scheduled to team up with her "Fright Night" director Craig Gillespie once more for their adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's literary mash-up of the Jane Austen classic, "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies." Famously, David O. Russell was attached to direct the film and even completed a much-talked-about draft of the script…a script Noxon is now adjusting.
"I worked off that script, yes," she admitted. "The David O. Russell script was really solid but it really goes to a kind of demented place towards the end that felt like a different movie." So Noxon had to step in to rein it in. "Some of my work was just pulling everything together and just doing some character work on the Lizzy character because, you know, I'm a girl."
Later, when we were discussing the strength of the two female protagonists in "Fright Night" (played by Imogen Poots and Toni Colette, respectively), she discussed another, slightly more depressing reason for taking on "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" – "It's kind of sad that I had to go back to Jane Austen to write a strong female character who was also the lead."
8. Noxon Is Currently Writing A John Hughes-Style Comedy -- With A Twist
Between "Fright Night," "I Am Number Four," and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," Noxon has been behind some fairly high-profile adaptations (literary and otherwise). So we wondered if she was working on anything wholly original, to which she replied – hell yes! "I am in the process of doing a script called 'Bad Baby' for DreamWorks," she said. "The best way to describe it is a John Hughes comedy, a little bit of a throwback, and the premise is – what if you were a 12-year-old kid whose baby brother is Jack-Jack from 'The Incredibles' – a really good natured kid who is preternaturally able to get what he wants."
We wondered if the kid was a troublemaker or if there were more fantastical, oversized elements, and Noxon confirmed the latter. "There is a fantasy element, for sure. Part of what's fun about it is that it's never explained why the kid is like this."
9. Noxon Would Love To Come Back For "Fright Night II"
The original "Fright Night" spawned a sequel (1988's not-entirely-horrible "Fright Night Part II," directed by John Carpenter contemporary Tommy Lee Wallace), so we wondered if Noxon would be willing to come back for a sequel, should this new "Fright Night" conquer "Conan" at the box office this weekend.
"I would love to! I think the Peter Vincent, Amy [Poots], and Charlie [Yelchin] show should continue. They seem like a really good team."
"Fright Night," which is way better than "Final Destination 5," opens today.