STEVEN QUALE (Director), CRAIG PERRY (Producer)
AND ERIC HEISSERER (Screenplay) Q&A
QUESTION: How does a concept to do something like this begin?
STEVEN QUALE: It starts with the script.
ERIC HEISSERER: I was attracted to the series because I was a huge fan of the first movie, and I had a number of favorite moments from the entire franchise that have hung with me. But I’m sort of first at bat with the Final Destination franchise, as is Steven. And I think our enthusiasm for this project that carried us a long way.
Mainly, though, I wanted to add something new. I wanted to add something that was basically a moral dilemma for the characters that they could push against—that would make them more proactive—and a decision that would divide the team about, would you kill someone or not and how do you choose who that person would be?
QUESTION: It seems that the audience comes to this movie for the death sequences, but with five films, how do you find a fresh way into that given the audience’s expectations?
STEVEN QUALE: Well, one of the things I did when I got this job is I watched all four previous Final Destination movies back-to-back and said, ‘What is it about these sequences that I like and what is about them that I don’t like. And what works and what doesn’t work?’
And as a filmmaker, I said, ‘Okay, well, the audience has certain expectations. I know that there are these deaths, but it’s not the deaths alone that work. It’s the suspense leading up to the deaths and the different twists and turns of how is that person going to die, with the audience trying to figure it out. Is it going to be the screw on the balance beam? Is it going to be the air conditioner falling on them? There are all these different things that are happening. And then, when it finally happens, if it’s done in a sort of suspenseful way and then a twist, you get that satisfaction.
So, what you do is you hit them with a really scary moment, but really quickly. It’s so shocking that they’re almost like, ‘Did I actually see that. I can’t believe that actually happened.’ It’s a fun experience and a horrific shock and a jolt and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I just saw that.’ Then you move on and there’s humor afterwards. It’s the combination of those two forces.
ERIC HEISSERER: Also, many times, laughter is just a natural human reaction to that. When you see something shocking you start laughing at it because …
STEVEN QUALE: What else can you do?
ERIC HEISSERER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s also a fair bit of teasing that you do, with all the things that could go wrong in the scene. How much of that teasing do you do before you deliver it?
ERIC HEISSERER: It’s a magic show, really. When you look at how magicians operate, it’s all about misdirection. There are plenty of elements at play and, at the end of it, you’re like, ‘How did they pull it off?’ So, we had to find that sweet spot in most of these death sequences to keep audiences guessing. Otherwise, that shocking moment that Steve delivered so well with all of these wouldn’t have nearly the impact and the result.
STEVEN QUALE: I think what helps, too, is the setting, like the kitchen. If you have it incorporated in the most benign situation, everybody knows what a kitchen is. There are some dangerous things in there, but for the most part everybody lives with that. And that, to me, is the ultimate. If you do it in some giant, dangerous factory that has big cutting machines or something, of course you know something bad’s going to happen there. But if you just go in a kitchen, what could happen in a kitchen?
CRAIG PERRY: It also has the take home factor. We all have kitchens at home. So, suddenly, when you’re in there cutting up carrots, you’re like, ‘Well, this didn’t work out so well in that movie.’ And that, I think, is the real challenge with this. You take an accessible, normal environment and then inject it with a sense of malevolent presence, so that each inanimate object that you have a normal, everyday interaction with, suddenly you’re going to question it. Like, ‘Boy, going on that elevator was a bad idea for them. I don’t know if I want to go on this elevator. Maybe I’ll take the stairs. Oh it didn’t happen well for the stairs either.’ So, that’s the fun part of this is the take home value too.
QUESTION: Has working on these movies affected the way you view real life?
STEVEN QUALE: There’s a certain vernacular where everybody calls it ‘an FD moment.’ You have something that’s a close brush with death or something and everybody says, ‘Oh that was an FD moment.’ So, you think about it. And if it doesn’t affect you, it gives you an awareness.
QUESTION: How do you keep the movie scary and not slipping into self-parody?
STEVEN QUALE: Yeah, I don’t like the word ‘camp,’ so you have to work really hard and you have to ground the characters in a certain reality. You have to make the situations believable enough that when those extreme things happen, it doesn’t take you out of the story. That was a hard thing to do. We worked really hard to make it happen in the scrip, the casting and the sensibility of how it looks and how you shoot it and how you stage things. As a filmmaker, you have to be really aware of all of those elements to make them organically fit.
CRAIG PERRY: Also, since the last one was successful, it gave us the opportunity to sort of readdress the balance that’s specific to your point. With the opening title sequence, we wanted to say to everybody that we’re taking this movie seriously. It’s not what you would expect given the last couple of movies in the franchise. We are sort of coming back home and we hope that audiences will appreciate it.
And I think that the idea of humor in this thing is very specific. The characters are funny. The situations aren’t campy. They’re not wink, wink, nudge, nudge. But the characters do have a sense of humor. Their comments have gallows humor, but it doesn’t take you out of the movie. The movie takes itself very seriously. There’s irony and that’s fine, but it’s not campy.
One of the things that Steve was adamant about was to make it grounded, palpable and real. And right off the bat, you can leaven it with all kinds of humor that doesn’t take you out of the movie. It’s still organic to the world of the movie. It’s funny. And I think that that’s why we found our way in terms of the tone; I think we finally found exactly the right balance.
QUESTION: Steven, so many movies are now in 3D. Can you talk about why you wanted to make this particular film in 3D?
STEVEN QUALE: I come from a slightly different background in 3D than maybe some other contemporary filmmakers in that I was working with Jim Cameron back in 2003 pioneering the 3D technology in our IMAX documentary movies, Aliens of the Deep and Ghostly Abyss. So, I learned early on what
the 3D cameras can do and what they can’t do and what works organically for a film. And then, on Avatar, we took that even further, having directed the second unit and doing some visual effects.
I have years of experience working in the 3D realm and I think it’s dependent upon the filmmaker to figure out what he or she wants to do with it to organically make it part of the movie. I think not all films necessarily need to be in 3D, but if the director decides to embrace it, they can do an amazing job.
With this movie, I wanted to make it organic and fun for the fans, to really punctuate it when you want to, but, at the same time, make it a little more subtle and more enveloping of the characters because, to be honest, some of the best 3D is just a medium close-up of a face. There’s something about that 3D face that is so real compared to a 2D version; if you get enveloped in it, you almost forget that you’re watching a 3D movie.
CRAIG PERRY: You’re in the scene, not just watching it.
QUESTION: But hasn’t it been something of a Pandora’s Box because of all the 3D conversion going on?
STEVEN QUALE: Well, this film is one hundred percent natively shot in 3D. Every shot in the entire movie was shot in 3D and projected in 3D, whereas the conversion process is a way of getting 3D that I think has diminished the quality of what people think 3D should be like.
QUESTION: Tony Todd indicated that it was a challenge at first to act in front of the 3D cameras.
STEVEN QUALE: Well, it is a little intimidating because what normally is a small camera is this huge giant contraption with technicians running around and adjusting things and so forth. And, as the technology improves, that’ll get closer and closer to what a normal camera is. So, it can be a little intimidating in that sense, but you just have to relax the cast and crew and get them comfortable with this giant mechanism that’s being put right in front of you as you’re shooting.
EMMA BELL (Molly), NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO (Sam) and TONY TODD (Bludworth) Q&A
QUESTION: It seems like the more gruesome the scene, the harder audiences laugh. Can you comment on that?
EMMA BELL: I think that whenever anything happens that’s very traumatic in our lives, we need a release. Sometimes it’s just too hard to handle or it’s too much. I know, in my personal life, I do that sometimes. I’ll be in a really shocking situation and I just giggle or something. It’s not even that I think it’s funny. It’s sort of a defense mechanism. I also think that we’re fascinated by these deaths and how horrible these people can die. But there’s also this element of, ‘Oh my God.’ We’re thankful that that’s not actually really going to ever happen to anybody, hopefully. So, that’s where that comes from, I think.
TONY TODD: Yeah, it’s a very cathartic thing. I mean, having been fortunate to be involved in four out of the five films of this wonderful franchise and watching the audiences, it’s like a roller coaster ride—just a slow climb to the top and then all of a sudden you’re in this car and you can’t get out and it’s screaming thrills of joy. So, it sort of makes people feel childlike, I think. And, like Emma said, they hope it never happens. These movies are so extremely plotted that I doubt they ever will. [Laughs] But, you know, people want to be tickled. It’s like a tickling effect.
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: And I think the other thing about the Final Destination franchise, which is great, is that is a bit fantastic. Sometimes the reality of some of the horror films that are out there, the sort of torturous ones, where it’s truly a human doing something nasty to another human is a bit much. I think that’s what’s genuinely different and nice about this franchise and this movie is that because it is this supernatural element, it allows the audience to go, ‘Okay, this is something that wouldn’t happen.’ So, you’re not relishing in the mistreatment of another person. You’re kind of laughing at crazy circumstances presented to you.
TONY TODD: Like a funhouse.
QUESTION: How do you draw the line between parody and what you guys are doing? How do you find that line?
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: The important thing is that you just have to have the cast. You have Tony, who really grounds the film in the reality and the setting of this world, which keeps the throughline throughout the films. Then you have a great, talented cast of people around, who really enjoy each other. And I think you just have to get behind the people. You have to believe in the arcs and throughlines of the relationships. And when you stop doing that, I think people will laugh and people will not take it seriously. But if you actually believe with the people who are going through this supernatural event, then I think you are willing to kind of suspend your disbelief.
QUESTION: Tony, how do you prepare for a role like Bludworth?
TONY TODD: Well, as an actor, you’ve got to believe whatever the situation is. So, people ask me, ‘Well, who is this guy? Is he the grim reaper? Is he the angel of death?’ It’s none of those things. When I first got it, I made a choice. And maybe that one day will be revealed, but I just try to welcome people. And if they ask me, then obviously they are curious enough to know how to possibly escape it. So, that’s it. They call me Mr. Exposition. [Laughs]
QUESTION: Mr. Exposition?
TONY TODD: Yeah, particularly in the first film. I mean, I was there to give this two-page synopsis of what’s going possibly with death. But I still have to make it human. So, I have to make human choices, but he comes off specter-like.
QUESTION: Do you believe that things just happen in the world, or there is some real list somewhere with a date and time?
TONY TODD: What’s weird is, I travel a lot. And whenever they say, ‘Welcome to your final destination’ on the plane, having done this, I always have a little tinge. And strangers look at me. ‘No, we’re good.’ [Laughs]
EMMA BELL: One of the great things about being in this business is the fact that we’re not playing ourselves. You don’t always have to go with what I personally, Emma, believe. I can suspend my reality and become somebody else. So, in these characters’ world, this is what’s going on. And it’s kind of fun to be able to put yourself in that head-space and see it from that side and that point-of-view. It’s all for the sake of entertainment. It’s all for fun and doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything more than that, really.
QUESTION: Part of the fun of a film like this is trying to guess who is going to get it. And who deserves to get it. Do you look at that when you first get the script and quickly check to see if you have a great death scene? Or, do you make it to the end?
EMMA BELL: It was really fun to watch everyone do their death scenes because then afterwards, we’d be like, ‘Oh, man, your death scene was the best!’ ‘No, your death scene was the best.’ That’s what this film is about—dying in the most horrific way. You almost want that trophy of ‘I died the best.’
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: it’s a game of ‘Top this.’
EMMA BELL: It’s fun though.
QUESTION: Is it difficult to talk about the film without giving away any spoilers about who dies?
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: It’s a challenge. This is a franchise in which people understand what they’re getting into. They understand what’s going to come. They understand how it’s going to be delivered, generally, but there are a couple of twists about this movie, which some are revealed in the trailer and some have been whispered about. I think there are some characters, some protagonists, that have lived. So, you want to try and keep them guessing.
QUESTION: How would you compare this movie to the others in the franchise?
TONY TODD: It’s as good as the first one, I think. And I really loved the first one because it was groundbreaking. It was a new form. It’s why we’re here at number five. I like moving on so I’m really shocked that people are still coming to watch this whole wonderful game that we play. It’s like a game of death, kind of.
QUESTION: Emma, you were saying you were able to watch the other actors’ death scenes. Were you on set for most of them even if you weren’t in the scenes?
EMMA BELL: Well, yeah, because we didn’t shoot in chronological order and we were working on these big sets. One of the major places that we worked was this big warehouse where there’d be like three or four different scenes going on. So, yeah, a lot of times we’d be working at one end and other scenes would be going on at the other end. We all were around. So when we’d have down time, like I would run over and look and watch.
QUESTION: What was it like working with Steven Quale, the director? He worked with James Cameron, right?
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: Yeah, that’s right. He actually got started on The Abyss way back in the day, like straight out of college.
EMMA BELL: Yeah, and he helped develop 3D for Avatar.
NICHOLAS D’AGOSTO: I had a great experience working with Steve. He was great.
The thing that was most impressive was that he knew what he wanted. And that’s what you want in a director—somebody who knows what they want. And, in that way, he put us all where we needed to be and we did our job. In that way, that’s the greatest credit you can give him.
EMMA BELL: He was the first one to say to us, ‘I have a lot of experience technically, but please keep the communication open with me as far as the acting goes.’ And he’s a wonderful, lovely person, just super sweet and, obviously, brilliant and knows exactly what he needs and wants to do. But, as far as direction for acting, I definitely felt very nurtured as an actress in the scenes where I needed to be more emotional. He was wonderful.
TONY TODD: I’ve never worked under 3D cameras before, and I’ve got to say, as an actor, it was kind of intimidating at first because you have to take so long. It’s so meticulous. Then you realize, you see the finished product and there’s a reason for that. Everything has to be in place. So, you have to be really grounded in your particular craft to survive that and deal with the repetition and the pace.
QUESTION: After being engrossed in this horrific world, while you were shooting, do you go home and have nightmares? Are there effects from working on a film like this?
EMMA BELL: There were definitely experiences. My senses were heightened to them. Actually, one of the first dinners that we had as a group was with the executives of New Line, who came and took us out to dinner. We actually hadn’t shot anything yet. The head of the company was sitting in this beautiful Italian restaurant, but there was this big wine rack behind him, like a huge floor-to-ceiling wine rack filled with bottles of red wine. All of the sudden, one of the bottles from the very, very top fell out and crashed on the floor, like literally maybe half a foot behind his head.
We’re all talking, engrossed in conversation, and we just hear this huge crash. We see him and he kind of makes this face and all of a sudden it looks like blood coming out from under his seat, because of the red wine. And we were just like, ‘What is going on?’ It’s like Final Destination starts now.
And if we got into an elevator and it would shudder, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God.’ So, yeah, there was a little bit of that definitely.