Todd Farmer was a struggling writer when he was hired to develop the screenplay for the tenth Friday the 13th movie. Set in twenty-fifth century deep space, Jason X saw the franchise receive a big budget makeover (although the subsequent sequels would be even more high tech) and Jason Voorhees left behind Crystal Lake for spaceships, androids and virtual reality.
Taking his love of James Cameron’s Aliens and relocating it into the slasher genre, Farmer’s script for Jason X would go through numerous rewrites, taking the darker tone from the original concept and leaving the tongue firmly in cheek
Todd Farmer discusses the process of writing Jason X.
How familiar were you with the Friday the 13th series when you were given the job of writing Jason X? Were you a fan of the movies and, if so, which was your favourite?
I’m a teen of the ’80s so it was impossible to ignore Freddy, Jason and Michael. I loved all three for different reasons. They are and will always be a part of my generation. I was a fan of scary. I loved and devoured everything Stephen King. So when I got the chance to work for Cunningham and later actually be a part of the Friday franchise, I was pretty stoked. My favourite is probably Jason Lives but you can’t deny the impact the original had on me. Nor can I deny how much I’ve grown to appreciate Jason X over the years.
Was it always your intention to make the script so playful and humorous or did the idea start out as a serious horror?
Not my intention, no. From the beginning the tone in my head was Alien or Aliens. Alien is dark, secluded and scary. That’s what I wanted, although I appreciated the Bill Paxton humour in Aliens. But it wasn’t jokey. It was simply Paxton freaking out and doing so in a way that made you laugh. But over the course of development, more and more humour seeped into Jason X. I think the overall feeling was that this was the tenth film and you could no longer take it seriously. I still disagree but it was the choice made and I can’t argue that one is better than the other. As for the character of Jason, I did think more could be done. For instance, the one consistent in most of the films was Jason’s momma’s boy loyalty. I thought we could flip that on its head. In the original draft, after Jason returned as what has affectionately been termed Uber Jason, I thought we could show not only his physical change but an emotional change as well. When the kids are screwing with the virtual reality (in an attempt to distract Jason), originally they created the image of Jason’s mother drowning within the virtual lake. Jason then approached her and, rather than save her, held her under, attempting to kill her and thus screwing up the program. But I was told that Jason’s mother was his one consistent and I couldn’t screw with it.
The budget for Jason X was considerably higher than that of the previous entries ($14m). How did Jim Isaac manage to secure such high funding and what caused the release to be delayed by over a year?
My understanding was that the budget was around $10m, which translated closer to $14m in Canadian. Jimmy was coming from the FX business and brought with him a clear vision of what the sets should look like. They were huge and detailed. CGI was the new thing back then so we were certainly far more FX heavy than previous instalments. Sets and CGI made up for the bigger budget. As for the delay, we always assumed De Luca’s leaving New Line was the bigger factor in the delay. De Luca gave us our greenlight, so when he was gone we were a movie without an executive. Had the movie been released on time I think, yes, it would have been more successful. Not sure it would have been ‘far’ more successful though. I don’t know what would have made it more successful but I know what I would have done had the power been in my hands. I would have made it darker. Humour is fine but more situational humour than jokey humour. And I would have kept Uber Jason out of the trailer and off the poster. That should have been the surprise. I wonder what it would have been like to go see the movie and not know about that big twist. I think it would have made for a much better experience. And perhaps more success in the long run.
Did you write the character of Dallas with the intention of playing him yourself and how much fun did you have being killed by Jason?
I didn’t write Dallas for myself. I read somewhere that I named him after the character in Alien. Although Alien and Aliens were in fact influences, I’d forgotten that Tom Skerritt’s character was named Dallas. I named the character Dallas because I’d moved to LA from Dallas. Then, when we started talking about my doing a cameo that was the character that seemed to most fit me. Playing a victim in a Friday movie was a blast. I get to die twice. Only two Friday alumni can make that claim. It was great. I remember being annoyed that they wanted a stuntman to do the long shot of my head getting slammed into the wall. There was a hole cut into the wall with a black foam pad. The concern was that I’d miss the pad. Bah. So they brought in the stuntman. Big hulking bald fella. He’s the actor who fights Wolverine during the cage fight in the first X-Men movie (which was filming not too far from us). Great guy. It was his job to keep me from getting hurt. The man did his job… and did it well. You’d think that Kane’s job as an actor is to slam the guy’s head into the wall. Not the case. Kane’s a stuntman and that ain’t how it works. The stuntman does the driving and Kane simply keeps his hand on the back of the guy’s head in order to maintain the illusion. Problem is, my stuntman missed the foam pad. The bridge of his nose slammed into a 2×4 running across the base of the hole. You could hear the CRACK all the way outside. His nose was destroyed. There was blood everywhere. I owe the guy my nose.
The movie boasts probably the sexiest cast of any Friday the 13th movie (with Lexa Doig, Melyssa Ade and Lisa Ryder). How were their characters written in the script and was Rowan intended as a Ripley-style heroine instead of the typical slasher ‘final girl?’
There was a huge casting call in Toronto and, oddly enough, Jimmy was looking for acting chops over sex appeal. But we got lucky in that we found young women who had both. This was a high school field trip and sexy was certainly intentional. In fact, Jason’s initial waking was provoked not by some voodoo ritual or religious incantations. He woke up because two kids were having sex. Which I thought was both funny and in keeping with his character. If you do drugs and have sex then Jason’s gonna get you. And yeah, Rowan was written as a Ripley-style heroine in keeping with Ripley from Aliens. She wakes up and knows Jason is bad news. Just as Ripley knows the aliens are bad news in Aliens. She tries to warn them all but, like Ripley, no one believes her.
Overall, how would you rate your experience working on a Friday the 13th movie and do you think Jason X had an affect on your career in any way, good or bad? Would you ever work on the series again in the future?
Jason X was an eye opener for me. It was a learning experience. It shattered all the misconceptions. It was learning to survive in the trenches. At the time, when the movie sat in a can forever, when the opening only made seven million, when I couldn’t get an agent after the movie wrapped. Well, I figured my career was over. Jason X was supposed to get my foot in the door. It really didn’t. I sort of had to reinvent myself. I wrote a thriller, got an agent and sold it and that’s how I got my foot in the door. Back then, horror movies were still frowned upon in Hollywood. Now that’s not the case so the fact that I wrote a Friday movie is looked on as cool. I still get emails either loving or hating it and that’s cool too. I would work on the series again if nothing else to make sure Jason comes back. He should always come back.