Perry, Craig (Final Destination 3)

Craig Perry and FD3 star Mary Elizabeth WinsteadLast week I had the chance to participate in a round-table discussion with easily the coolest producer in the business: Craig Perry. Most producers in Hollywood are all about the money, but Craig is that rare exception who has a real love for the genre and making a quality product first. Of course, the topic of conversation was his latest film, Final Destination 3.

Question: You guys went back and re-shot the ending of the film; can you talk a little bit about that? What feedback have you heard from people that have seen the movie already?

Craig Perry: In-between the first time we screened it, we did a pretty significant re-shoot, as I am sure you”ve heard about, to mitigate an issue at the end where it just didn’t feel like we provided enough closure. We had the second screening this past Monday, and How-dee-doooda-day! We spanked that horse in the fanny; the numbers went up to the point where it’s now the best-tested movie of all three of em’. I shouldn’t give you the numbers because I am not 100% sure of them, but I think 68% of the people said it was better than the first two. So we’re feeling really good and really confident, and it was a really nice demographically mixed audience, so it didn’t feel like it was skewed one way or the other. It was a nice cross-section, so were very excited about the prospects of the movie. I think it delivers exactly what the people who liked one and two would want. But, as I have said in the past, I think we took pains to combine what worked in one and what worked in two, and quietly maybe shoved aside things that weren’t so good from both, to hopefully create something that really does service both two films in the best way, and create something certainly new after that.

Q: So the subway sequence was the re-shoot?

CP: Correct

It’s a really fun sequence in an underground subway, where a lot of people die in great graphic fashion, but there are some surprises narratively in terms of the foundation that was built in the first, continues in the second movie and then I think satisfies the third movie. That really engages the audience more than just the spattering of brain matter, which was really gratifying, because sometimes you know you’re going to get them with that but when you actually get them with a quick little visual or reveal, and everyone goes “OHHH!”, that”s when you realize that you have actually been able to generate a sense of dread and anticipation.

Q: Didn’t you have to do the same thing with the first one as well?

CP: Yes we did, but the difference is that in the first one the ending was a little bit more contemplative and thoughtful, and I think it was such a ride up to that point that people were like, “The hell with that. Take us out with a big bang!” I think that Jim and Glen came up with an ending for FD3 that combines a contemplative and interesting dovetailing of story elements, but still has the bang because of the backdrop, which is the subway crash. That’s what was so gratifying Monday night to see… Holy Shit it works! Oh My God! So we’re very, very excited about it.

Q: How did it originally end?

CP: Originally it didn’t really end. It ended on this odd sort of narrative ellipse where a certain character gets dispatched and taken out in a various gruesome fashion. And then the survivors just kinda go, I guess that’s it, literally, and then we fade to black. So we were all in the theater going, oh shit we really screwed this one up. Okay, let’s get back into it.

But look, you know hindsight is always 20/20. I have only been on one movie that I didn’t have to do re-shoots on. I had to leave the preview process. Especially for a movie like this, where the audience will be very clear. Thankfully for this one they were really clear. They really enjoyed the movie up until the last 45 seconds. And I don’t even think it’s necessarily fair to call this a re-shoot because we just loped off the last 45 seconds and added this eight and a half minute sequence. It not like we had to completely dismantle it, there was more of that in the first one. There we had to excise storylines, and add sequences to build enough narrative pipe to earn that ending. Not so here, it was a simple (plop sound effect)

Q: There are some major set pieces and a lot going on. Was it difficult to get the studio to say OK?

CP: That’s an excellent question. It actually was surprisingly easy to get the studio to agree to the significant re-shoot and the significant price tag that associated with it because the movie tested so well. Because the audience was very clear about what they were not satisfied with, it made pitching very easy. It seemed a pretty simple fix, in respect of the actual price tag, it just wasn’t that complicated to put your head around. So they went forward and they just opened the vault and said make it great. And apparently we did OK.

Q: Were the sets available or did you have to create them?

CP: There were no sets, it was all original stuff. Not a single thing (outside of some costume pieces – shoes and stuff) was brought back because it takes place five months later. In Men in Black 2, remember the sequence where the worm eats the subway? We actually got a hold of all those subway cars and had them shipped up to Vancouver. We mounted that actual 40-foot long subway car on this mounted gimble that could spin 60 degrees on either end and moved on a track. We built a platform for the underground subway station. Literally the train could move in and out of the station so on film you really can’t tell that it’s not a working subway station, because it isn’t just a façade. There are whole cars moving in and out. That led a lot of credibility to the weight of the action as people are getting tossed from side to side. There’s another 200-foot section of tunnel on a curve we built, and added fires and corpses, and it’s just no good, I don’t recommend it!

Q: So how much more did that add to the budget?

CP: It was a significant percentage, but there was nothing that gave them pause. They were happy enough with the movie to feel very comfortable paying for this sized sequence. Knowing that not only will it make the movie better, but it would not in any way hinder their prospects of making their money back

Q: Because of the success of Hostel and Underworld, are your anticipated opening weekend numbers what they were before those films came out and were so successful?

CP: Well, you know they really don’t predict that stuff until about two or three weeks out, because you really can’t get a sense of the movie and its marketing campaign has taken root. Thankfully we’re doing well, we’re pretty happy with it. We haven’t actually spent even 20 percent of the marketing budget so far. They typically spend the bulk of their media about two weeks out, so they impulse buy, especially a movie like this and the kind of fans that it caters to in that age bracket. I don’t want to say how much… I have my own predictions. I know that other studios that have other movies opening up on the same day are predicting numbers. I don’t even want to say what they are because lord knows if we hit those. Keep an eye on the news you will see me running naked on Wilshire Blvd screaming for joy.

I think it’s very interesting how crowded the weekend has become though. The good news is that Failure to Launch moved off of our date. Because it’s a PG-13 date movie, and it was near Valentines Day, it seemed like the kind of thing where people would buy tickets to that and sneak into our film, because we are a nice solid Hard R. That’s one thing I want to make very clear. Very R… here’s NC-17 and we’re right here (positioning his hands together), doing exactly what I think the audience expects of us, but with a sense of fun. The thing about Hostel is that it’s a brutal movie, this is just bloody. I think you understand the difference between the two of them and the dynamic and the experience between both movies. It’s oddly more digestible to see in Final Destination 3 than in Hostel where you’re like “uhhghh the basement” and “ohhh my lord…” but you keep watching.

Q: Did you have any problems with the ratings board?

CP: Nope this is it.

Q: Is this the uncut version then?

CP: This is it. One stop shopping.

Q: Did you put extra stuff in?

CP: We put in what we thought was right for the movie, and they were fine with it. It just so happened that what was right for the movie was just spectacularly gruesome!

Q: I saw the animatics of the roller coaster scene and it seemed more graphic than what ended up in the movie, was that my misperception?

CP: It is your misperception, not because your wrong because when you have that kind of visceral movement and perforce and just the timing of the individual FX shots it”s different. Everything was ultimately darker than what you would see on an animatic. Just white and black and skeletal, so it seems more violent to see it in that form. But everything is actually in there. In fact, we actually had to add a shot digitally to better foreshadow that crossbar, because if it just sort of happened out of nowhere, and people would be like “what the hell happened”. When you have to think about what the hell just happened you lose em’ (audience) for about 45 seconds. We just wanted Wendy’s fall to have the impact that it needed to kick off the rest of the movie.

Q: What’s your favorite “Big” sequence of the three movies? Meaning Plane, Car Crash, or Roller Coaster.

CP: You want me to actually say which children deserve more love??!! I would have to say that the car crash is my favorite. I think it’s my favorite because it trades off of different energy. There’s a very clear succession of graphic gruesome deaths, but its very oddly compact, and in close. Where as we trade that with a sense of vertigo on the roller coaster that we trade with kineticism that you really couldn’t quite get with the car because you’re just pointing out the window and seeing it this way. There’s a lot of movement in the car crash, but it’s also punctuated by the hits. You just can’t do that on a roller coaster because then it’s just … the rides over.

So, if I have to say my favorite, the one that has all of those elements working, I really do like the car crash. I actually think the roller coaster is my second just for the very reason I described before. The plane crash is great because it feeds off of everybody’s innate fear of being in a plane, but I don’t think it necessarily lives up to the other two. Which is to the credit of everybody involved, we’re learning as we go along. Crawling at the beginning, standing at the coffee table for the second one, and look we’re walking for the third one. Who knows what will happen next.

Q: The scooter of death? Will you get to the point where you run out?

CP: Exactly! However, there are 6 books published in England based on the original movie, and they are now starting to make their way over to this side of the pond. Some of the sequences that they have described have wound up in this movie. Not because there’s not much more to do, but because there are a couple that they have that are very interesting that we wouldn’t have had necessarily thought of. The least of which is a glass elevator on the side of a building. Again, that sense of being that far up plays into everybody’s fears of being in an unprotected environment 150 feet off the ground…but your not falling you are just about to fall. It’s a little different. I love that fact that these movies explore real fears that people always have and then put them in places where they find themselves. Like imagining what could happen in this press room if everything just went completely south.

Q: Assuming this does well, will there be a part 4?

A: People asked that after one and two, and all I can say is that I have had such a great time working on these movies and with the people that help make them successful. The only people who determine that are the people who see it. If we did a good job and they like it, then we will at least have the reason to have that conversation. If you just make a movie that is good but it feels like the end, then I think don’t push it. The idea for the roller coaster was first mentioned to me at the premier party of FD2. And I said Hey! Immediately all sorts of the permeations start rolling through your head and that felt organic and felt OK. But when you really start shoehorning ideas… we’ve all seen those movies where it’s just like this is just working to hard! So the bottom line is I hope this movie is successful enough to have a reason to have that conversation, and if it’s not than we haven’t earned the right to.

Q: Do you think James or Glen would be back for part 4?

A: We were lucky to get them this time, we would be even luckier to get them for any other subsequent projects be it FD or anything else. They’re great guys to work with. They always have an eclectic and unique viewpoint on not just the world but also these kinds of movies which makes them unique and interesting.

Q: Who is mainly responsible for coming up with all these great deaths, do you sit around at dinner and just go at it?

CP: Well, for FD2 there was a part of that. But Jim and Glen came up with everything literally on there own with the first one. The second one was a little bit more democratic because we went “how the heck are we gonna top what they did with the first one?” For this third one, there were conversations; I know the roller coaster was given to them. I think that’s what sparked their interests in the first place, because they hadn’t really put much brainpower to it. Everything started dove tailing appropriately afterwards. Glenn is a research savvy guy, he spent a lot of time walking around those home improvement stores. He actually went to a tanning bed! He didn’t get in because he was like “no one needs to see me, let alone see myself without any clothes on”, just to see what could happen. And obviously terrible, just terrible, things happen.

Q: There’s gobs of nudity, was there any troubles getting the actresses?

CP: There are two things that helped us wage the concerns that I think any actress would have. If you look at it, it actually wasn’t shot with overt gratuity. There’s one shot that’s sort of a butt shot, everything else is pretty much chronicling what’s going on. There was a tactical decision to not let the nudity stand in the way of getting this thing to happen. After a while you are not looking at these nude girls, you’re looking at these nude girls that are vulnerable and exposed and they’re kind of annoying at the beginning, but you like seeing them naked, then after a while it”s not sexy anymore because they are in danger. You get past the fact that they are nude girls. I know that sounds really silly, that we actually thought about that, but we really did. I think the sequence works because the titillation is over about a third of the way through. That’s what we were going for. You have to have gobs of nudity, because if you just show a quick shot it’s just for titillation. We wanted to completely get past that as quickly as possible. Just vulnerable girls with no resources trapped in a place that’s really bad.

Q: What else do you have going on right now?

CP: There’s a whole bunch of things, nothing is set in stone yet. I have something at New Line that I am trying to get into the studio and see if we could land a couple of targeted actors. It’s not horror related. As much as it’s a nice market for horror movies right now, you want to come up with the right one, not just churn and burn some retched piece of crap just to flip over to make some cash. On the direct to video market you can see all of those, and they’re fun, believe me, I like a lot of those. There’s a lot of fun to be had in seeing the worst things, but if I am gonna be working at a studio… let’s at least try to make something a little different. If you know that it’s gonna be good, in the classic sense of what “good” means, make it fun because there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in those too.

Q: What is it you are working on?

CP: It something called All You Can Eat, a comedy set in the world of competitive eating.

Q: Is there vomit?

CP: Interestingly, there is only one vomit instance. I actually excised a couple of them, because for me what’s funny about this after you get over the initial glut of seeing them eat, when you see 50 crab cakes put in front of someone, you are like OH GOD! Then you don’t need to see it because the characters are very funny. It”s patterned after every great sports movie, because that’s what you need in those things. The gags will come, if you have a great underdog sports movie you can hang a million different hats on it to make it funny. I’m not going to clear the mantle for an Oscar for it, but it is actually more fun that you expect.

Thanks again to Stephanie Yang and Nicole Butte at New Line Cinema for their hospitality. Final Destination 3 is in theaters now; make sure you get out there and support it!

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Jon Condit