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INT: James Wong

Feb. 9, 2006by: Thomas Leupp

Most people who spend their days thinking of creative ways to kill people end up in prison or a mental institution. Others, like FINAL DESTINATION 3 director James Wong, parlay their unique skills into a successful career in the movie industry. The first two FINAL DESTINATION films featured elaborate (and gory) death sequences that were a big hit with horror fans, and the third film promises to deliver more of the same. Why mess with a formula that works? Check out what Wong had to say about FINAL DESTINATION 3, opening this week.

James Wong

How comfortable was it to be able to slide into the franchise again?

It was pretty comfortable in that once we figured out…the hardest part for me was, what are you gonna do for the opening incident? We didn’t want to repeat anything or be less cool than what the other ones were. When (Producer Richard) Brener said, “Let’s do a rollercoaster,” and we thought it was cool, then it sort of fell into place.

How about structuring the script? (* Minor spoilers follow *)

The hard thing is to have something new about it. So we added the pictures with the clues – that’ll hopefully add a different dimension to it. One of the first things we thought, well what if there was a…we wanted to add sort of a human element. If death was always this force, is there a way we can kind of add a person that is also a threat in some way? So we made (the character) Ian sort of so disturbed about how his girlfriend died that he was very willing to do whatever it took to kill off Wendy. So, those two elements we thought at least made it a little bit…had a little bit of a turn to the third one. And the rest is pretty much, how do you get the greatest, the best fun deaths you can have?

In terms of the death sequences, how do you keep things fresh?

For me, the hardest thing is not the other deaths, because to me the greatest thing about the deaths in Final Destination movies is that they take place in commonplace venues, things that we can all experience. So when you live your life, you go…we have friends who come up to us and say, “Oh my God, I almost had a ‘final destination’ moment. I was at a stoplight and this happened…” And so you can sort of make that happen, not easily, but you can sort of have a great death somewhere that we can all kind of experience. I think the hardest ones are the very inciting incidents. What causes a whole group of people to almost miss out?

The very easiest one was the airplane, because it’s a place where you can’t get off. You’re in the air. What are you gonna do? If things go wrong, you can’t escape from it. You need that kind of quality to the first death that traps people. So I think that’s the hardest thing to figure out. For this one, the one thing they kept on saying to us about the Final Destination movies is that the very best death moment is in the beginning and it kind of just goes down from there. In this one we added kind of the end big sequence to sort of help balance the movie out. So it takes another death opportunity out of the way.

Do you ever think that you might be a little demented?

I guess in a way. We sort of cut our teeth on X-Files. Before that, when we were doing like these cop shows like 21 Jump Street and The Commish and stuff. But X-Files really kind of opened up the thinking in ways that sort of…you really start looking at how the darker side of things and particularly Millennium, although that’s much more kind of a serial killer issue. So I think those shows sort of kinda twisted our thinking a little bit and helped propel us down this path.

Why do you think these movies are so popular with the kids?

Well, I think it’s like a rush, it’s a different kind of rush. When you get older, you go, “Well, I don’t want to get too excited.” (laughs) But I think kids are looking to get amped, you know? You want to feel something and this is a safe way to feel something that’s not gonna mess you up physically. Maybe in your head a little bit, but it’s not gonna mess you up in a way that drugs can or doing something really dangerous can. I think it’s a good outlet for your imagination and I think that’s why people like to get scared.

Is it easier to direct a movie like this, where the actors aren’t that well-known?

I’m not sure if it’s because of their experience that made them very easy to work with, or if it was just they themselves were really good guys. We’ve worked with people who don’t have half the experience that Ryan has and have been more difficult. So I think this is a matter that these guys, these kids that came together, they’re from…Ryan’s from Oklahoma, Mary’s from North Carolina or Utah. So they come from backgrounds that are probably less precious than somebody raised in Beverly Hills. They’re very down-to-earth, and I think their upbringing helped us work with them really easily. They were great.

Tony Todd makes a couple of vocal cameos, doesn’t he? Was that always in the plans?

It wasn’t until the end, when we were doing the ADR sessions. And our post supervisor said, “Why don’t we have Tony do it?” Would he do it? Because I know that Tony wanted to be in the third one as well, but we couldn’t figure out how to fit that in because it’s supposed to be a different place and it has no connections with the first two, really. So I thought it was a great opportunity to have him do it. Once you hear the way he did it versus anybody else who had done it before, it was like a no-brainer. He was great.

Were you nervous at all about Mary and Ryan doing their own stunts?

Well, they did their own stunts to the extent that that the stunt supervisor said they were able to. I didn’t feel like they were in danger. I encouraged it because it makes it looks so much more real, instead of having a stunt double who sometimes…just the way they move looks totally different. As long as they were safe. The stunt coordinator was very comfortable with stuff they did, and so was I.

Was it hard to get access to an amusement park?

Oh my God. We searched the entire United States. We asked every amusement park if we could use their rollercoaster. The only one that came back yes, preliminarily, was the one in Las Vegas.

State Line?

Yeah…but they wanted us to use their name, so it had to be that one. And you go, well, how are these high school kids gonna go to Vegas? (laughs) And I think once they read the script, they said, “Uh, I don’t think we’re gonna do this.” We were willing to go anywhere to shoot the rollercoaster, because nobody really knew how we were gonna crash a rollercoaster or even create a coaster that was…I think our coaster was 180 feet high. How do you even create that, you know?

At first we were just going everywhere thinking, how could we get a coaster to allow us to do it? We went to Florida, everything. As it turns out, no one would let us do it. I don’t know why. No one would let us do it, so it sort of forced us to use the coaster that would let us use it, which is an 80 ft. high coaster in Vancouver. From there you just have to say, “Well, here’s what we have. How are we gonna make it work?” So it forced us to kind of think that way instead of saying, “Well, let’s shoot at an actual, you know, the Viper, and manipulate it after that.” So it made us kind of have to work backwards.

So it wasn’t that you wanted to shoot in Canada. You had to go there.

Yeah. No one else would let us use a rollercoaster. It was either the Canadian rollercoaster – because it was government owned, that’s the other thing.

Do people ever come up to you with ideas for deaths?

People have come up and told me what’s happened to them, as if it was a ‘Final Destination’ moment. They’ve done that. They haven’t come up and said…I’d be more afraid of a guy coming up to me and saying, “What if you can kill some guy like this?” (laughs) And you go hey, don’t get too close to me.

Are you doing Black Christmas next?

Yeah. Actually, Glen’s shooting right now, as we speak.

What’s the vision? Is it different?

It is different. There’s the basic elements of Black Christmas, which is Bob Clark’s movie. But I think – I don’t want to give too much away – there’s stuff that is sort of much darker, in terms of who the killer is and how he got to be who he is. And who he actually is. There’s a twist on that.

What studio?

Dimension is distributing. And 2929, Mark Cuban’s company…Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, they financed it.

Are you going to be able to have it in theaters by Christmas?

That’s the plan.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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