Kruger, Ehren (The Ring 2)
Back when the final Scream sequel was getting ready to roll, it was announced that Kevin Williamson had left the project after writing the scripts for the first two films and a relative newcomer by the name of Ehren Kruger would be handling the duties of bringing the Ghostface Killer’s murderous rampages to an end.
We’re horror fans, so of course we were wary about the new blood even though his credits included the underrated Arlington Road, which was certainly not what you’d call a horror pedigree. Well, Scream 3 came and went, but Kruger stayed his ground and was soon working on what could’ve been any Asian horror fans worst nightmare: an American remake of Ringu.
The Ring, however, did not come and go and showed us that Ehren Kruger was a writer with a few tricks up his literate sleeve. Soon after that it didn’t seem like a project was announced that he wasn’t attached to, and when Terry Gilliam announced Kruger’s script for The Brothers Grimm would be his next movie, we knew this was more than a one-trick pony.
Through the course of the last few months, Mr. Kruger and I have conducted a lengthy interview about his work so far and that which is to come, and I would like to pre-empt this interview with a hearty thank you to him for sticking with it. I had a lot more questions than I originally thought, but he handled each like a pro. I hope you will find the results pleasing...
Johnny Butane: So how did you get into the world of screenwriting to begin with?
Ehren Krueger: I started trying to write screenplays when I was in high school. Emphasis on "trying." I had always loved movies and found the screenplay form fascinating. In some respects, it has a lot more in common with architectural blueprints or programming code that it does with prose fiction. It doesn’t exist for its own sake; it exists for another, quite different, end result. When I attended college at NYU, I continued writing there. In all, I probably wrote 10 scripts before I ever attempted to get an agent with one. I read as many professional-caliber scripts as I could, and I waited until I felt my own work was at that level. Had I ever tried to get my career going based upon the earliest scripts I wrote, those doors would have closed in my face real quick.
JB: So what was the first script you felt confident enough to show to an agent, and what was the first one you sold? What was the time frame between those two?
EK: The script that got me agency representation was a creature movie, actually, and it was called Mythic. However, when we sent the project to studios, nobody bit. So I kept my day job. About six months later, I was one of the winners of a screenwriting competition called the Nicholl Fellowships – but for another script, Arlington Road. I owe most of my subsequent good fortune to that screenplay. Although no studio initially wanted to buy it, an independent producer who worked diligently to find it a director and a home optioned it. The movie, as you know, was eventually made. But it took about a year from the point I signed with an agent to my first actual paid writing "job". That seemed like forever to me, but I think most writers would tell you that time frame was quick.
JB: Ah, yes, Arlington Road, that was a really cool movie. I bet you were pretty psyched when you heard who was taking the leads...
EK: Yes, we had a good cast on that one. Interestingly, Tim Robbins was initially going to play the hero, but by the time his deal closed, he changed his mind and signed on for the villain’s role. That was one where the movie’s financiers were very, very nervous about whether the audience would accept the ending. It made the entire experience a bit anxious…but fortunately the finished film plays as we intended.
JB: So how did lead you to your involvment with Scream 3?
EK: Well, from there I ended up selling a script called Riendeer Games to Dimension Films, as part of a multi-picture deal where I would owe them work on several projects. That script was written as a strange hybrid of Reservoir Dogs and It’s a Wonderful Life, and the subsequent movie (perhaps understandably) didn’t quite come off. But it gave me the chance to work with the legendary director John Frankenheimer, for which I wouldn’t trade anything.
Anyway, while I was in Canada on the set of that movie, Dimension called me and explained they were in a bit of a bind. They were scheduled to start shooting Scream 3 in two months, and they didn’t have a script. As in zero script. Apparently, Kevin Williamson had been overworking himself on other endeavors and Scream 3 was the project that lost out. Now while studios do this kind of thing all the time – setting a production start based upon actor and director availabilities, before a script’s been finished – this situation was unusual because no script had even been started. So the cast and crew had all been hired with essentially no idea of what movie they’d be making.
So I wrote a treatment in two days, faxed it to Wes Craven and he basically approved it. I wrote a first draft in two weeks and worked with Wes up until production on revising it. There were some unusual parameters I’d been given from the outset. For instance, the movie’s star (Neve Campbell) was only available for a third of the shoot, so I had to write around that, and in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy, the studio was skittish about the blood-and-gore factor, so I had to write around that and emphasize more comedy. Some people like the movie; others don’t – but the making of it was a real obstacle course and it’s a minor miracle it turned out as well as it did.
Oh and naturally, one of the reasons that I took the job was that I had certainly heard my share of Freddy Krueger jokes in my youth – what with my last name, of course. So I felt that if I could in any way make Wes Craven’s life difficult for a few months, the payback would be worth it.
JB: Ah, sweet revenge...
So how did you feel about the final result of Scream 3 in relation to the rest of the series? Did Craven stick pretty close to your script?
EK: I think that in general, no matter how successful the sequel, it can never recapture the freshness and surprises of the original that spawned it. So in making a sequel, the odds are always against you. I think the third Scream, while imperfect, was a satisfying conclusion to the series. Of course, the first two were imperfect too, but the first one was ahead of the curve. Whether or not you liked the first one, it felt new and different, and no sequel could ever quite recapture that. But when a story is as self-reflexive as the first one was, really the only way to advance it was to keep spiraling inward. So yes, the final product was very much the script. Everything is cyclical in the pop culture business, and thus two decades from now, that series’ tone and style will no doubtlessly be back in vogue – for a three-year window or so.
JB: So after that, the next horror project you were on was the one most of us horror fans feared the most; The Ring remake. The first thing I’d like to know is how familiar were you with the Japanese original?
EK: I had seen Hideo Nakata’s Ringu prior to being offered the remake job. I saw it the best way there is to see it – on a beat-up videotape from a cult-movie video store, viewed alone late at night. It was one of those rare genre films whose images stuck with me the next day.
JB: That is the best way to see it, definitely. So when you were offered the job, were you concerned about living up to the first film, or more concerned with making something unique?
EK: It’s much easier to write a remake of a film you feel is flawed. However, none of us involved with The Ring felt that that was the case with Ringu, so we took great pains to be as respectful as possible to the source material. I completely sympathize with anyone who was opposed to remaking it in the first place – I’ve felt the same way about remakes of movies I’ve really liked. But the original will always exist, and anyone who is a serious film fan should always seek out an original version before viewing its remake. It’s like rock songs and cover versions, same deal.
With that said, on a purely creative level, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see how Ringu’s themes, pace and style – which are very Japanese in character – "translated" into a Western setting. Which of its ideas were universal to the genre and which were more culture-specific? This sort of thing made it a fun process for me, and of course, Gore Verbinski’s vision for the movie was inspired. Hideo Nakata has always been very respectful of our version (he especially likes the horse stuff), but you better believe he thinks he made the better one!
JB: I have to say that I, personally, was surprised as hell by how good it was. It really did take the themes of the original and add just enough to make it effective on a Western audience, as was evident by its box office take. It’s taken the place of films like The Sixth Sense, a mainstream horror film that a lot of people have seen and were scared shitless because of. And, in the interest of full disclosure, we were non to kind to the idea of the remake on the site previous to it’s release.
EK: Well, "mainstream" horror is always a challenge. Having movie stars and too much production value very often works against you in this genre. But occasionally you’re able to find a workable fit.
JB: Did you meet Nakata previous to writing the remake?
EK: No, I didn’t meet him at any point while working on the first movie. Only via the sequel.
JB: So since you brought it up, what can you tell us about the sequel?
EK: The Ring 2 primarily takes place in Astoria, Oregon, where Rachel (Naomi Watts) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman) have moved to seek out a quiet small-town existence and to put the events of the first film behind them. Naturally, things don’t go as planned. Bad things come their way. Very bad. Is that vague enough for you?
JB: I guess if that’s all you can say, that’s all you can say.
EK: One thing I can tell you is that the storyline doesn’t follow the first Japanese sequel, Ringu 2, at all. So in that sense, Hideo is not doing something he’s done before.
JB: So have you been on set at all since the filming started?
EK: Yes, I’ve spent a number of days on set. The work looks great so far.
JB: How do you think Hideo is dealing with his first big U.S. film?
EK: Hideo is enjoying himself and, to the best of my knowledge, enjoying the challenges that are specific to making major studio movies. He made Ringu for about a million dollars and this one costs many, many times that. However, simply having more toys in his proverbial toy box doesn’t make his job any easier. If anything, it’s the opposite. But I think he appreciates working ten to twelve hours a day as opposed to the endless, marathon days that he often shot with his Japanese films. (They don’t have the same strong unions that we do.) As for Hideo’s English, he’s almost totally fluent.
JB: Well, since we can’t go much further into Ring 2, what can you tell us about Skeleton Key?
EK: The Skeleton Key is a mysterious Southern Gothic creep-out. It’s hard to describe in a short summary, but it belongs to the category of horror movies like Don't Look Now or Rosemary's Baby where ideas, suspense and dread are the driving factors. It’s set in and around modern-day New Orleans. Kate Hudson plays a live-in nurse hired by an elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) to care for her dying husband (John Hurt) in a foreboding plantation mansion in the Louisiana bayous. Intrigued by the couple’s secretive ways and their rambling house, Kate explores the mansion and discovers that the skeleton key she’s been given opens all the doors in the house except one. Her efforts to discover what lies behind it spiral her into the middle of a terrifying mystery.
In many respects, the story has the form and trappings of a ghost story, but it plays out (we hope) like no ghost story you’ve ever seen. Peter Sarsgaard and Joy Bryant have the other significant roles and Iain Softley is directing. We’ve got about another month of principal photography to go.
JB: Where did the idea for Skeleton Key come from initially? How long had the script existed before it was picked up?
EK: The idea for the script came from an interest in writing a ghost story that was, in some respect, specifically American. Most examples of the genre aren’t rooted in a real cultural identity and so they often feel bland, generic and inauthentic. New Orleans as a city is so representative of America’s "melting pot" of races, classes and cultures – and buried secrets – that it was really a case of the setting inspiring the tale.
I wrote the script two years ago and Universal picked it up. We were set to shoot last year, but it wouldn’t quite have been appropriate for Kate’s character to be pregnant, so we postponed production until this spring.
JB: Did he desire for writing a ghost story that was specifically American have anything to do with your experiences on The Ring remake? Granted that wasn't strictly a ghost story, but it does have elements.
EK: Yes, I’m sure it did. Working on Japanese source material and analyzing what aspects of its mythology were specific to Japanese culture was a process that got me thinking about what mythology and lore was specific to American culture. And yes, The Ring is absolutely a traditional ghost story, as it’s all about a restless spirit seeking retribution. By that standard, The Skeleton Key is very non-traditional.
JB: If I may, I'd like to ask you about The Brothers Grimm, as well. You had this script for a while before it was picked up, didn't you?
EK: I wrote The Brothers Grimm as an original screenplay in 2001, which is when MGM bought it – only to nearly abandon it later. We developed a.k.a. rewrote it for a year and a half before Terry Gilliam got involved. He really changed the tone of the material and made it his own. He has a very distinctive, playful and macabre vision of the way he sees the world. He’s a wonderful creative force that inspires everyone around him. It was one of those projects that looked like it was all going to fall apart right before production started (and Terry certainly knows about those), but luckily the stars aligned and the movie got made.
JB: How did Terry hear about it originally? It's really such a great match for the material from what I've heard about it.
EK: One of the film’s producers, Charles Roven, had worked with Terry on 12 Monkeys and an unmade project called Good Omens, and brought the script to him. Terry read it at a time when some of his other more personal projects were having trouble getting off the ground, which made him willing to consider doing a "studio movie." Ordinarily, he is not the biggest fan of the Hollywood corporate juggernaut/process/machine. Of course, no Terry Gilliam film can ever be described as a typical "studio movie" and Grimm is no exception. His imagination runs wild once more.
JB: So tell us a bit about it, where did the idea come from?
EK: The idea came from reading about the actual Brothers Grimm, who were essentially librarians when they embarked upon a project to "collect" European folk tales (mainly tales for children, passed down orally from generation to generation) and create a book of written versions. To their surprise, they became the J.K. Rowlings of their day. Most people think that the Grimms "invented" famous fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, however that wasn’t the case Those stories were the people’s tales, widely known, and the Grimms were simply the first to transcribe and publish them. In the 1800’s, this made them scholars. In our day and age, with copyright laws and intellectual property cases and so forth, it might make them thieves. So this notion became the seed of the movie – what if the great Brothers Grimm had been charlatans and con men? (Although, somehow I doubt they were.) It seemed to be a good point of departure for an adventure story.
JB: Sounds like a very cool idea. A bit about the casting; Obviously Monica Belluci is perfect for pretty much any role that requires a beautfiul woman, but were you happy with the castingof the leads?
EK: Both Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are going to surprise a lot of people with their performances. When you think of nineteenth-century Germanic authors, Matt & Heath probably don’t pop into your head, but they make it work. They really vanish into their roles and have terrific fun with them. Besides, the real Brothers Grimm were not quite as handsome. I’m not sure they could have carried the picture.
JB: I can't wait to see what Gilliam does with it, it's a very original idea that fits his style perfectly. Have you been on set at all for the shooting?
EK: It was shot in Prague and yes, I was there for a short while. The movie looks very lush and inventively designed, just as you’d hope.
JB: Very cool!
Onto a film I'm very excited about, Blood and Chocolate. I know it was based on a novel, what've you done differently with the script from the novel?
EK: OK...Blood & Chocolate. That one is just getting up and running. We’ve just hired a director and we’re hoping to start shooting at the end of the year. Our version deviates a bit from the source novel at first glance, but is considerably faithful in tone and spirit and mythology.
The novel examines a hidden society of werewolves, a bit like Anne Rice explored all those vampires around us, and focuses on Vivian, a young female werewolf who falls in love with a human man and finds her loyalties divided. The novel took place in America, with most of its characters high schoolers. We’ve made the protagonists a few years more adult and have moved the setting across the Atlantic, to better capture the rich history of a culture that’s lived among us for centuries. But hopefully the novel’s fans will allow us these liberties when they see the end result. Most werewolf movies take a campy approach and end up being not very frightening; this one should be quite different, assuming we all do our jobs right. It has fierce suspense, a gripping romance and lots of genuine scares. I am always reluctant to talk about any project before shooting has begun, but as of this particular moment, the odds look pretty good.
JB: Sounds very interesting. Is the title going to stay the same, considering the changes done do it? Anyone in mind for the design of the werewolves?
EK: Yes, same title. Rupert Wainwright will now be directing, which is very good news for the movie. He has a keen understanding of the genre and its lore and mythology and he’s very conscious of the need to portray this society in ways that we haven’t seen before. You should be able to count on strong performances and an exciting visual palette for the film, which is now tentatively slated to start production early in the new year.
JB: Can’t wait to see how it turns out!
So what can you tell us about your work on The Talisman script?
EK: I wrote a few drafts of The Talisman (an adaptation of the Stephen King/Peter Straub novel) last year. A couple writers worked on the project before me, and a couple writers have worked on it since. However, the producers and studio were pleased enough with my version to expose it to filmmakers. Two directors signed on and later signed off, after being unable to agree with the studio and producers on what the precise tone and style of the movie should be. This is usually called "creative differences," which is not a euphemism but a very real and worthwhile reason to part ways on a project.
The reason the project has spent such a long time in development is that it is no easy task to condense an 800-page odyssey of a horror-fantasy novel into a single two-hour movie. To adapt the book faithfully would require an 8 or 10 hour miniseries. And yet there is a wonderful, simple story at the novel’s core that a feature film could certainly do justice to. Hopefully the right director will come along and make the project a reality. As for now, I’ve moved onto other things and am not actively involved with the script.
JB: Since you're not actively involved as of now, can you give us an idea of what was different in your version, or what you had focused on the most in your draft?
EK: In my drafts, a lot was changed from the book. The focus was on the book’s strength (in my opinion) – Jack’s cross-country quest to save his mother’s life and his unlikely alliance and friendship with Wolf. The time frame was condensed to a few days to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and so a number of Jack’s stops along the way and many secondary characters were excised entirely. The novel is a horror/fantasy hybrid and my drafts emphasized the latter. My mandate was to write a two-hour PG-13 movie, so most of my story choices were made with that in mind. If my mandate had been to write an R-rated cable miniseries, my drafts would have been notably different.
JB: I had heard a lot of the quest stuff was removed from your draft, like you said some of the stops made and so forth. What about The Territories? Was there any action taking place there or was it more focused on our side of things?
EK: Sounds like you are pretty familiar with the book. In my drafts, the Territories were visited on several occasions, but not as often as in the novel. It covers much more ground than we possibly could. Some of this was for budgetary reasons, and some was due to the fact that the novel’s "parallel world," of course, affects the real one. Since the movie’s focus was to be on Jack and Wolf, many of the most valuable parts of the book for our purposes involved those where Wolf was a stranger in Jack’s world. And of course, I can only speak to the drafts I was involved in; subsequent writers may have changed my choices of what to keep or discard quite thoroughly.
JB: I really hope that if and when it does get off the ground they're able to treat it with the respect it deserves. From the sounds of it you had the right idea for condensing it to its barest essentials, which would be necessary to make such a long book into a two-hour film...
Are there any other projects you’re working on now that you can tell us about?
EK: There are a couple other projects, which should hit the news this fall, but it’s a little early for me to discuss them. Thanks for asking though.
JB: No problem, thanks for taking out so much time to talk to us!
And boy, do I mean that. Mr. Kruger and I traded e-mails for many months to get the sum total of what you just read, which is more than you'd expect from someone so deeply involved in Hollywood.
The Brothers Grimm is set for release on November 23rd, 2005, Skeleton Key will creep out audiences sometime next spring, and the release for The Ring 2 was recently moved to March 24th, 2005. So next year could be the Year of the Kruger! Stick around Dread Central for the latest on all these projects!