The makers of Juno tackle horror
For whatever reason, the horror genre has always revolved almost completely around the name recognition of the director involved, which is why names like Romero, Carpenter and Craven tend to be remembered by horror fans long before or after the names of the actors in their movies (with a couple obvious exceptions).
When it comes to the new Fox horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body, about two high school BFFs whose friendship is put to the test when one is seemingly possessed by a demon, the movie is not just getting attention for the fact it stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfriend and that they have a sexy make-out scene. It’s also been very much on everyone’s radar at this year’s Toronto Film Festival because it’s written by Diablo Cody and produced by Jason Reitman, who were last at the fest two years ago with the comedy Juno, which went onto be nominated for multiple Oscars, including a win for the first-time screenwriter.
Because of this, Jennifer’s Body has become one of the few horror movies where the people involved with writing and producing it are almost as important as the director and cast, also because it gives the movie a very different feel than all the other horror movies out there.
ShockTillYouDrop.com was hoping to sit down with Cody and Reitman together, having failed to arrange it when they were doing press for Juno, but instead, we talked to them separately again, but we also had a chance to talk to them about other things that have been going on since their hit movie.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: So was this a script you wrote around the same time as “Juno”?
Diablo Cody: I wrote it around the same time. It was after, but “Juno” hadn’t gone into production yet, so I had no film career when I wrote “Jennifer’s Body.” I think it’s similar kind of tonally to “Juno” in a lot of ways, the teenagers and the way they kind of banter with each other. That was definitely the frame of mind I was in at the time.
Shock: And this went into production after “Juno” already came out?
Cody: Yeah, it was, let’s see â “Juno” came out in December and then all the crazy awards hoopla happened in February and we started shooting in April.
Shock: Did you feel like you wanted to go back and readdress anything in that time or did you just want to make the script you had finished earlier?
Cody: Honestly, I kind of felt like I did want to go back and readdress things, but I didn’t because I felt like I was at a really insecure point in my life where I felt like I was being watched and every word I wrote was going to be judged and criticized. I thought that I can’t let that kind of pressure govern the kind of writer that I am. I just have to continue to be true to myself and write for myself and so I kept the script the way it was.
Shock: I noticed that your publicist removed the copy of “Eye Weekly” out with her.
Cody: That’s weird.
Shock: It is because I was reading it, but also because it’s pretty strange to see a screenwriter on the cover of a magazine.
Cody: Really strange.
Shock: I think the only people who do that are filmmakers like Woody Allen or Spike Lee, who also act and/or direct.
Cody: Yeah, I know, I’m just a writer. That’s what’s odd about it. I’m not auteur, like, I don’t see myself as influential in any way. I just write scripts. I know tons of screenwriters, we all do the same thing. So it is weird to be visible in that way. I’m not used to it for sure.
Shock: Well, the change in your look should help so that you won’t be recognized by everyone in Toronto.
Cody: That’s why I do it.
Shock: At what point did Karyn come on board, and what was it like working with her? First of all, why did you pick her to direct the movie?
Cody: Well, they said that Karyn Kusama was interested in directing this movie. She had read the script and I thought, “Okay.” I was excited because I thought she was really talented, but I kinda thought that we were gonna get a traditional horror director, but I said, “All right, I’ll meet with her.” Within 10 minutes of talking to her I was begging her to direct the movie. She brought in this book of images that inspired her and sort of visual references for the movie. When I looked through the book, I realized immediately that she and I were kind of on the same page, no pun intended, because we both wanted to do kind of a vintage, warm feeling kind of old school horror movie.
Shock: Some of references and influences are fairly apparent, and the influence of “Heathers” is almost impossible to avoid, especially when you have a movie like this set in high school.
Cody: (almost beaming) I love “Heathers” so much.
Shock: What about the horror influences? Generally ’70s and ’80s stuff?
Cody: It was totally ’70ss stuff and also some of the sort of classic teen genre thrillers like “The Lost Boys.” Visually we talked about Brian de Palma, Dario Argento, and in terms of storytelling, we talked about “American Werewolf” and “Fright Night” and of course, we talked about “Heathers.” “Heathers” has probably informed everything I’ve ever written, not just this. Yeah, “Heathers” was and is a huge influence on me as a writer.
Shock: Have you had a chance to meet Daniel Waters, who did “Heathers”?
Cody: I have never actually met him. I even read an interview with him where they mentioned me. I guess he had gotten kind of reclusive and they were like, “Do you think Diablo Cody will disappear like you?” I was like, what a weird question.
Shock: (Laughs) Oh nice!
Cody: I know! I feel like this happened. I’m not kidding. I feel like I read that. I mean, I could be wrong and I was like â
Shock: I know enough journalists to know that a question like that would not be above or below most of them. Obviously, it’s difficult when you’ve got horror-comedy like this, because you have to figure out the right balance, what point you want people screaming or laughing, What was your take on that? You had the script already done. When you were working with Karyn on this did you know that you had to shift it at one point?
Cody: I didn’t know what to do. Tonally, the hardest thing to do with this movie was finding the zone, and especially when you’re dealing with a big studio–who were very supportive by the way–but they’re accustomed to making a comedy or making a straight-ahead commercial horror film. Fox was not really in the business of putting out ambiguous, creepy, like homages. (Laughs) So it was very important to us that we were able to package the movie in a tight commercial way and at the same time retain the weirdness and ambiguity that was important to us because I feel like this is a weird movie first and foremost.
Shock: It also started at Fox Atomic I believe, right?
Cody: It started at Fox Atomic which is now no more.
Shock: Was Fox nervous about any of the stuff in the movie like having the two main actresses making out?
Cody: They were cool with that. Oh, yeah. That was just fine. No, that’s not so much the stuff you have to worry about. It’s more like everybody is always looking for the easiest way to market a film and if it’s kind of a little of this and a little of that, it’s not as easy.
Shock: Right. And I think there was one trailer you did yourself.
Cody: Yeah, Jason and Karyn and myself did kind of our own little Red Band trailer just of fun and there was also a theatrical trailer that was a little more traditional. The thing with the trailer was that it was so important to me that the first glimpse people got of the movie was true. I’m not in the business of scamming people into seeing a movie that they think is going to be “Final Destination” and instead it’s more like “Suspiria” God willing.
Shock: It is tough to market a movie because you have to convince people to go into theaters to see your movie at all, since not everyone will read reviews or other things about a movie. They go just by commercials or trailers they like.
Cody: It’s an example of something that I never thought of in the past. I just did things impulsively and I didn’t think about stuff like marketing. It’s a weird side of the business.
Shock: Has all of this stuff affected you being able to just sit down and write whatever you want?
Cody: It’s difficult to write and especially since I’ve started producing, you start to think about projects in a different way. My thought process feels a bit obstructed. It used to be just imaginingâ¦ just sitting down and playing pretend and now it feels a little more, logic comes into play.
Shock: In many ways, “Juno” was an independent film, even though Searchlight was involved, it could’ve been done independently I think if Jason really wanted to do it. Are you thinking of going back in that direction maybe at one point?
Cody: Yeah, I wrote something recently that it could be done on such a small scale and I like the idea of doing something kinda small and personal again. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind writing something huge.
Shock: As far as the gore elements in the movie, did you know how far you wanted to go in terms of the level of it, because you could do like “Saw” and show it all or just be more subtle with it.
Cody: I think that was definitely Karyn’s call. In the original script I wrote a lot of gore into it to be honest, like I would describe people being disemboweled and how I envisioned the scenes. I have to admit, I was influenced a bit by the sort of modern class of horror films that are very violent and I enjoy those movies.
Shock: And most of those filmmakers are generally influenced by Argento as well.
Cody: Right, so I had no problem with the guts and violence. I think as the film started to come together it became clear that we weren’t so much doing a “Saw” as we were doing something a little more atmospheric. But Karyn and I both enjoy movies like “Saw” so it wasn’t like we were trying to get away with that, it’s just our film’s different.
Shock: What about some of these other scripts? Have you gotten to the point yet where one’s going to be the next thing? Obviously “The United States of Tara” will be keeping you busy and that’s shooting soon, right?
Cody: We’re shooting it right now. Yeah, we’re taking a break to be here. The show is my life. Television, you’re there every single day. Your directors are changing every week, so as a writer, you’re the one who is in charge of maintaining the feel of the show. That’s totally different and I spend most of my time there.
Shock: Have you been getting more into the way TV writing usually works where you have a writers’ room and you’re all throwing out ideas and notes on each other’s work?
Cody: Oh yeah, yeah. I work in a room and I have never done that before. At first I didn’t know what to do. I was so used to being alone and making all the decisions myself, and leas season, man, I had trouble with it. I didn’t have any personal issues, but professionally, I didn’t really know how to write as part of a hive. This season, it just gelled. It suddenly fell into place for me and I am so incredibly proud. We’re just finishing, we’ve basically written the entire season at this point. I am so excited for people to see what I can do because I don’t know if last season illustrated that.
Shock: Do you generally have the outlines for each show and then you come in and work from there?
Cody: We create the outlines together. We do everything from scratch. We create characters together. We sometimes collaborate on the actual writing, we punch up each other’s scripts. It’s just this totally Communist atmosphere and it’s kind of awesome.
Shock: Have you ever thought about doing a movie that way? You’re now producing, so are you looking into other writers or filmmakers you’d like to produce?
Cody: Yeah, I’ve been doing that actually. There’s this book called “Breathers” that’s being adapted into a film by writer Geoff LaTulippe and I’m producing it. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Shock: How has that experience been being on the other side, giving other’s notes?
Cody: I am very hands off. I am not a control freak. If anything, I had to learn to be even somewhat authoritative. It’s not my personality. I don’t like being the boss. I’ve spent my entire life resisting authority so it’s like, why would I want to become that person? I feel like the best movies happen when writers are given freedom, I do.
Shock: You mentioned how so many people are watching everything you do, but you’re constantly on Twitter interacting with people as well.
Cody: I like being on Twitter. The thing is though, even if I was a bank teller I would be on Twitter all day. That’s my personality. It’s just kind of nice to communicate with people.
Shock: Are you constantly getting tweets saying, “Oh, I love you! I love your work!”?
Cody: You get a mixed bag. It’s funny ’cause at this point–I hate to use the word “fans” because it’s so cheesy–but people that appreciate what I do, it’s almost like we’ve sort of grown up together and a lot of them have been around since I was just a blogger. So we can just communicate in short hand. It’s not so much, “I love your work,” but, “Oh my gosh, did you see this new flavor of pudding? You would love it.” (Laughs) They know what I love. There’s that but also, for some reason Twitter is like a very civil place. I mean, I get sh*t occasionally. Maybe once a week somebody will send me a gratuitous mean tweet.
Shock: Are you gonna stay off Twitter when “Jennifer’s Body” opens next week or are you gonna be on there seeing what people say about it?
Cody: Absolutely off. I’m taking like a complete media fast. I don’t read reviews. I don’t read blogs period. I had to stop a year ago, which sucks because I miss it. I love blogs. Yeah, I’m definitely going to stay off Twitter. I really don’t like to be a part of the conversation because if you’re being praised it doesn’t matter, if you’re being criticized it doesn’t matter. You can’t allow either reaction to change what you’re gonna do, because then it’s just toxic.
Shock: Do you see yourself at all as a feminist icon? With this movie especially, I know many young women who want to see this maybe because of the whole empowerment thing of killing boys. Have you felt that at all?
Cody: I feel like I would never consider myself an icon of any stripe, but I have to say that I feel like I’m very vocal about feminism in a way that I can’t think of a lot of sort of mainstream media figures who are. So I feel proud of that. I don’t intend to stop because it’s kinda cool to get to be in “The New York Times” talking about feminism. When I was in college, if someone had told me that I was gonna have that opportunity someday, I would’ve freaked out.
Shock: Have you been doing anything outside of movies and television as far do you get called to do talks at places?
Cody: I’d like to write another book. Yeah, I do get calls to talk and stuff. I wish I could do everything. I’m open to everything. I’m obsessed with roller coasters. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s my hobby. I travel around and I ride roller coasters. I’d love to do a documentary about roller coasters, like I have a list of things I’d like to do. I’m definitely strapped for time right now.
Shock: One of the things about staying off Twitter and away from blogs is that you’ll have more time to write. I’m probably a bad example of that because I’m close to 11,000 tweetsâ¦
Cody: You have 11,000 tweets? Oh see, you’re crazy! Oh my God!
Shock: Yeah, but I still get stuff doneâ¦ just that I’d get more done if I wasn’t on Twitter. I’m just saying that will be a good thing about a media blackout.
Cody: Media blackout is like so key. It always helps me.
Shock: What’s with this Spielberg project you were doing?
Cody: I’m still writing it. I finished it and then I got notes and I’m rewriting a little a bit of it right now, but it’s actually pretty much shaped up, kind of ready to go and I hope that we could put a director on it and move forward. I’m excited about it.
Shock: Does he have any interest in directing it himself?
Cody: Not that I know of. Of course, that would be wonderful, but I don’t think that’s what’s gonna happen in this case.
Next we have the film’s producer, Toronto native Jason Reitman, who was at the festival with three films including his latest, Up in the Air:
ShockTillYouDrop.com: So, I just talked to Diablo and got the general timeline for how this movie came together.
Jason Reitman: Let me fill in the holes.
Shock: Fill in the holes, exactly. You had finished up “Juno” before you started production. Did you know when you were taking on “Juno” that this was another script she had and you wanted to be involved with it?
Reitman: Yeah, I remember her kind of mentioning it while we were doing “Juno,” but “Juno” was done by the time we started this.
Shock: Were you kind of just working on it and said, “Okay, I’ll come on as a producer?”
Reitman: No, they had actually already set it up and gone out and grabbed Megan Fox and then I got involved.
Shock: What was your impetus to want to get involved as a producer?
Reitman: Well, they needed a producer to actually do the film, and I’ll do anything Diablo wants to do. I’m just in awe of that girl and it was a great screenplay. I’ve always loved horror films. There was no reason not to frankly.
Shock: What were some of you own horror influences? Do you come from the same place as her?
Reitman: Well, we’re the same age and because of that, I think for whatever reason, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series kind of had a similar effect on both of us. I remember watching the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” and just being completely floored by it, I mean, life-changing, wanting to see it for so long and then finally seeing it and then exploring the full series.
Shock: Did you see it in the theater or did you see it on video?
Reitman: Laserdisc. Yeah, and then horror films I’ve always loved: I love “The Shining,” I love “The Omen,” I love “The Exorcist.” This movie just reminded me ofâ¦ and everyone involved has the same thoughtâ¦ the warmth of the 80’s horror film when you cared about the characters. When they seemed to be a metaphor for teenage life and we’d all kinda grown tired of the cold, modern horror films which seem to be all about brutality. I think modern horror films for the most part push people away and ’80s horror films embraced you.
Shock: When you came on as producer, what did you see to be your role compared to the other producers?
Reitman: My role frankly was to protect Karyn, protect Diablo, protect the actors and to make sure that they all got to make the movie they wanted to. There was another producer who focused much more on budget and the day-to-day goings on of set, and it was my job to protect them.
Shock: How do you do that? Do you actually just stand there when the Fox executives show up and block them?
Reitman: I lift weights, and I am in amazing shape. No, it’s when they want something, I make sure they get it. When they feel like they’re getting pushed to do something they don’t want to, I intercede.
Shock: I know Karyn had read the script, so were you involved with getting her on board to direct?
Reitman: Oh yeah. I think it was either the first or second time I ever went to Sundance with one of my little short films, I remember seeing Karyn there with “Girlfight” and I just was really impressed by her. When it came down to finding the right director for this movie, she just seemed to be that perfect fit. She had a similar love of horror films. She was extraordinarily gifted at telling the stories of young women and kind of getting at the heart of their stories. The way she would talk about the script she just understood what was important about it.
Shock: You mentioned your shared love of horror movies with Diablo and Karyn. I think some directors like say Darren Bousman, they do horror and they’re really good at it and they become known as being a horror director. Do you think any director could tackle the horror genre if they approach it in their own way?
Reitman: No, I think horror is a lot like comedy in that I think a lot of people think anyone can do it and in fact it’s extraordinarily difficult. I think it’s harder than drama I think in both cases. Horror and comedy require pushing the audience to do something they do not want to do, and it means that you have to a.) be a good storyteller but b.) be good at understanding what the audience is feeling at any given moment and how to manipulate them to do something else.
Shock: Comedy is the same thing so did you think it would be very difficult to put the two things together?
Reitman: It is difficult and there’s been very few successful cases. You’ve got the “Evil Dead” films, you’ve got “American Werewolf.”
Shock: “Shaun of the Dead.”
Reitman: Yeah, “Shaun of the Dead.” There are very few films that are able to walk that line, hold that balance. It starts with a great screenplay and then you have to have a director who understands tone.
Shock: In the last couple of months you’ve finished some of your own films. I saw “Up in the Air” earlier. It was great.
Reitman: Thank you.
Shock: When you started working on “Up in the Air,” did you have to step away from this one to concentrate on that?
Reitman: The shoots worked out so that I was actually able toâ¦ I was finishing writing “Up in the Air” while I was doing “Jennifer’s Body.” So I was on set, but I would literally be on set, go back to my trailer, write “Up in the Air,” go back to set and kind of just be up there writing while I was producing. Then towards the end or during post on “Jennifer’s Body” I started shooting “Up in the Air.”
Shock: When Karyn was editing the movie, did you get to see one of the earlier cuts to offer notes?
Reitman: I felt very honored. Karyn really trusted me and I tried from the very beginningâ¦ it’s tricky as a director to produce other directors because it could easily be seen as interference if I come in with anything. I tried to establish from the very beginning that, “I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to protect you and if I give you an idea, it’s an idea, it’s an option. Do what you will with it.” I feel like we developed a level of trust very early and when it came to editing I saw the first act, when she cut the first act. She was very open with her cut with me. I had a lot of pride in that. There’s something nice in that.
Shock: It’s funny that you both are at the festival with your third movies, although it’s been a lot longer for her from her first movie.
Reitman: I’m moving at the speed of light though to be fair.
Shock: Do you have other directors or writers you want to work with?
Reitman: Yeah, I’m producing the Duplass Brothers next movie.
Shock: The Fox Searchlight one?
Reitman: No, a new one.
Shock: Oh, great. Is that gonna be an independent movie?
Shock: Do you have another script written or another thing you’re going to tackle?
Reitman: I have a book I’m about to adapt and I got a screenplay I’m working with Jenny Lumet on.
Jennifer’s Body opens everywhere on Friday, September 18.
Source: Edward Douglas