Dave Neustadter talks about the new Freddy Kreuger movie and more.
So how does a guy from small-town Missouri end up in Hollywood?
I was at Indiana University, I graduated and had moved on to graduate school and I found out that the program just wasn’t for me. As I was doing my course work, going to class and working, I found that at night, the only thing I wanted to do and the only thing that was making me happy was that I was working through the AFI top 100 movies. I initially wanted to, and I still do work creatively with writers, go out to Los Angeles and be a writer. (This was before I knew the job that I have now even existed.) So I applied to Loyola-Marymount’s screenwriting program and got in. Actually, I was lucky enough that I was working at Scotty’s Brew House, a brew pub in Bloomington, and ran into the mother of the story editor at New Line. She then introduced me to her son who was at another table, a guy by the name of Luke Ryan. He talked me out of doing screenwriting and just moving out to L.A. So on a whim of just these few conversations and a few e-mails, I just decided to quit grad school, sell off most of my belongings and drive out there. This I did in August of ‘03.
Do you ever regret dropping out of school to be an unpaid intern at New Line?
Not at all. It is funny, my mom, Sharon, she was a little frightened at first. I don’t think any mom wants their son or daughter to quit college and graduate school. Especially when you are already halfway through and, if you stick it out for one more year, you would have you’re master's degree no matter what. Unfortunately that sounded like the worst thing on the planet to me, to spend one more year doing that. So, for me, it was funny when three years later, Sharon called me and said, “Though I never said it, I just want to tell you, I am sorry for ever doubting your decision to do this. You always needed to give it a shot.” So that was a really funny moment.
Was this a field you always wanted to be in?
I think you always kind of know what you like. Growing up in Maryville (Mo.), and this isn’t to say anything against Maryville, in high school at MHS there was no film class. All I know is that I always loved movies. In college I took History of Film for fun. When you have two parents as teachers, you really have no way in. You don’t know anyone who lives in L.A. Hollywood and movie-making is this foreign thing that you don’t even think exists, you know. You are like, how am I ever going to break into this? It seems impossible. That Hollywood hill where you see the sign and it is this huge wall that you can’t get past. I always knew that I wanted to work in movies but never thought that I actually would because I never had a way in. It wasn’t until after college that, when you are 22, 23, 24 and are going into that quarter-life crisis, you don’t like what you are doing and you start seeing that there is no more school really and all your other friends are out doing what they want to do. It is at that point that you figure that you have to figure your life out and for me that was the only one thing that I really loved doing and that was working in movies or watching them. So the only answer for me was to figure out if there was anything out there for me. So the short answer, yes, but I was so intimidated that I never thought I would do it.
What does an executive producer actually do?
It’s funny, when I first got out here I had no idea that this job existed. Executive producers are the buyers. We are the people that read scripts. My day to day is that I always have a stack of scripts to read. We are kind of like the guy behind the guy behind the guy. For example with "Going the Distance" coming out in August, that was an idea that I had that I pitched to a friend and developed the script with him, then we bought the script, and once we had the script developed further and to our liking we found a director. Once we found a director, we developed the script a little bit more and then we started getting a cast together. Then we got the movie green lit and it went into production. So I would say that we are kind of like the event planner. We put it all together. We find the writers. I buy pitches and scripts when they come in here, which are called specs. So we find material way before it is a movie. We are there with every single element of the development phase. We are, and this may be more New Line than other studios, but we are mostly hands off once it gets into production. Like, I am not on set every day. That is the producer's job. My job is to get that movie to principle photography.
How did you become involved in the “Nightmare” series?
For the “Nightmare on Elm Street” reboot, one of the other executives here, Walter Hamada, walked into my office and asked if anyone had thought about restarting “Nightmare on Elm Street” over here.
How much input did you have on this project?
Walter and I put together an outline that we gave to all the presidents of all the different departments explaining that this was a valid idea to do. We developed it from the ground up and found a writer. We worked with the writer to develop a script. There were other writers along the way. Other producers came on board. Again, we found a director and put the cast together and went off and made the movie.
When you were at Comicon in 2009 promoting the new Freddy, how was the reception by diehard fans?
You know it was very polarizing. There were some people who absolutely loved the idea. There is a lot of good will for Jackie Earle Haley because he is such a spectacular actor. There are always, though, going to be some people, no matter what you do, are never going to be happy from the moment they hear that Robert Englund is not going to be returning. For those people, there is nothing we can do. On the other side there are some people that think it is time or were weary of the direction that the original “Nightmare” was taking. They felt that it was becoming too campy and becoming too comedic and wanted to go back to the original that was more scary and horror-related. That was the direction that we wanted to go. So it has been interesting over the last two years with developing this and with it coming out a few weeks ago that there is no middle ground. It is like you are either an A or an F. You have people who absolutely love the idea and are excited about the return and seeing Jackie Earle Haley and the new reboot of the franchise. Then there are other people who are furious that you’ve taken something that is beloved to them and tried to change it. If you get on any website you can see the fan reaction. One person is saying that they love it, they love it, they love it. Then another person is saying that they hate everyone that was involved with this. It is such a beloved franchise that you will never make everyone happy.
As far as Freddy, why not go with Robert Englund again?
We wanted to completely move on and reboot the entire franchise. With that reboot was reimagining Freddy, reimagining the tone, reimagining the story and reimagining everything.
What similarities does this version have to the original?
There a few classic death sequences and scares that I think people who are familiar with the franchise will recognize from the very first one. Obviously the Kris death, while we have a little bit more technology and can make it look a little cooler, it is similar to the past. Also the bathtub sequence and Freddy coming through the wall were similar as well. One thing we did change was that Freddy was now a pedophile as apposed to a murderer. That was more because of the sign of the times. If Freddy Krueger was a child murderer, everyone in Springwood would know and there would be no mystery to uncover because with 2010 technology everyone would be able to find out anything with one click of a button. Whereas something as taboo as Freddy being a molester would be something that the parents would want to hide from their children.
Were you looking to improve on the series or were you trying to pay homage to the original with a new updated version?
I think a combination. I think the biggest thing was that we wanted to go back to the original. We wanted to get away from the campiness and the comedic direction it had been going and go back to making a scary film. Make it a horror movie and not make Freddy cute. Obviously you have to have those Freddy one-liners. At the same time, though, we wanted to make a horror movie and have people jumping in their seats. The initial premise of this film was to make people afraid of going to sleep and we wanted to get back to that.
Based on opening in first place at the box office and by having a successful run, will there be part 2?
We shall see.
What was the best thing about working on the 'Nightmare' project?
A lot of things. As a kid, my brother introduced me to the franchise. On a personal level it was a great moment to call my brother and tell him I am working on one of his favorite movies of all time. He actually flew out from Kansas City and was my date to the premiere. So on a personal level, that was a really cool moment for me to watch the world premiere of the film with my only brother and the guy who introduced me to the franchise in the first place. Beyond that, just working on the project in general, I mean it is such an amazing, beloved franchise and it was an honor to work on it. As a cinephile, it is an honor to work on any beloved movie that had some profound effect on yourself as a child. We had great producers and an excellent director, a terrific cast that I hope to work with in the future. It was just a good group of people altogether. It was a good collaboration and a lot of fun.
So what do you do when you are not executive producing?
Well it is an 8:30 to 7:30 job, and there is a lot of reading at night, so I tend to, as someone that is not from L.A., always feel like a visitor here. Which isn’t to say that I don’t love L.A., I do. Most of my life is not in L.A. My nephews are in Kansas City and Mom and Dad are in Maryville. A lot of my best friends are spread out through the Midwest, so I do a lot of traveling.
What is life like as a typical New Line Cinema employee?
I started interning at New Line in 2003 and as of now, knock on wood, I haven’t worked in any other companies yet. So to me, the coolest thing about New Line is that they’re very entrepreneurial. Our bosses really encourage us to be creative and think outside the box. One of the greatest things about New Line is that no one really knows what a New Line movie is. We have done everything from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to "Austin Powers" to "Boogie Nights." More recently, we have been having a little luck with these female-driven romantic comedies such as "He’s Just Not That Into You" and "Valentine’s Day." We are trying to reprise the horror movies with "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare On Elm Street," and obviously we had a good show with "Final Destination" last year. So to answer what is life like, it’s fun every day. We have great bosses with good vision of what they want the company to be. It’s a lot smaller than what you may think. When you think company, we used to be bigger, but there is really only 43 or 44 employees.
What do you look for in a pitch when someone presents their idea to you?
Oh, a lot of things. Marketability for sure. Is it a good story, is it original. I really, personally, I don’t like reactive ideas. Just because something works well in the theaters before, I am never looking for the next followup to that. I like original ideas, original ideas that I can see the marketing campaign in my head and can see the trailer and one sheet as it is being pitched to me. As it gets harder and harder to make movies, we are always looking for franchise potential. It is always great to make a sequel. The tone is also big for me. I work on a lot of comedies, so I am always looking for really fun, original comedy ideas that, and this is the biggest thing, aren’t reactive, that are wholly original. So I guess marketability and originality are the biggest for me.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I have quite a few things. We may or may not be developing another film in the "Final Destination" franchise. I have a comedy that I am very excited about that deals with the world of Vegas magicians. Oh, just recently mentioned in the trades is that we are trying to tell the N.W.A. story called "Straight out of Compton."
What advice would you give a student who is trying to get into the same business as you?
Now that is an excellent question, because I feel like a lot of these young guys come out here and most of what they know about Hollywood comes from watching the show "Entourage" or "Swimming with Sharks" or from reading a book or two. The truth is that it is like any other industry. You have to start at the bottom and you have to work hard and you have to do a lot things that you really don’t want to do. When I came out here for four months, all I did was make copies. If an assistant was sick sometimes, I would sometimes get to sit at their desk. You start at the bottom and you put in your time and if you really want something it will pay off. The truth is, though, it is like any other job except it’s movies and the other thing is that it is a lot of time. Moving out here, the downside is that I am 2,000 miles from my family, but the upside is that I am doing exactly what I wanna do with my life. If I was going to talk to a student, I would say get ready for long hours, make sure you really want to do this because it is going to take over your life to a degree. If you are dating someone, there is going to be stress on that.
Maryville (Mo.) Daily Forum