Screenwriter Thomas Fenton (Saw IV, I Spit On Your Grave 2) is the latest guest in our Q&A series. The horror writer took time to share his experience working on I Spit On Your Grave 2 and offers advice to aspiring screenwriters:
Can you tell our readers a bit about your previous work that led up to you taking on I Spit On Your Grave 2?
Years ago I wrote a script called PRODIGAL SON – it was set up at Beacon Pictures with Twisted Films producing. Ultimately, the deal fell through but that put me on the SAW radar. It was my work on that franchise that led to work on IS2.
How did you become involved on the sequel to I Spit On Your Grave? Was this a story that you pitched to the producers or you were hired specifically to work on an idea they had?
When I got the call, they had a story they were working from. But then, just after we started working on that idea – it was decided the storyline was not strong enough so I had to come up with a new take of the project. Thus: the family and poor dead Jayson on the floor.
How long did you have to work on the script? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
This script was a tough one since we had so little time – it was just a handful of weeks. What made it more challenging, is that I had go home to Rochester NY and take care of my mother who had a broken hip at the same time while I was writing – so I’d fix her a bowl of chicken soup then run downstairs and write a torture scene.
Usually my process is a real “shoot from the hip worry about it later” style. I’m a true believer in getting a first draft done as fast and as well as possible knowing that the draft has bumps and bruises that will be fixed later. Getting held up on plot points is a momentum killer. I truly believe that writing is in the rewriting.
How much input did the producers, actors, and director have on the story/screenplay?
The producers and director had a lot of input on the script. We’d sit around the table eating Chinese food and try to figure stuff out. By the end of the meal no one would eat the wonton soup – if you’ve seen the movie you get what I’m talking about.
When it came to the filming of the movie, were you on set? Were there any instances where you needed to help adjust/re-write scenes to fit changes on set?
There was talk about me going to Bulgaria to be onset but it never happened. I was off re-writing a French horror film, plus they really didn’t need me on set – they had Neil to do punch ups and changes. He did a good job on that.
How close was the final movie to what you had in mind when you started writing the script? Were you happy with the final product?
More than any movie that I’ve worked on this is the closest thing to the script I’ve seen. I am very happy with the final product I think it serves well the point of these films – which is to put a face on a horrible crime. A crime, a lot of films will gloss over this crime. In any another film – she’ll scream and hit the floor, then fade to black. In this film, rape is in your face. It makes you squirm – as it should. It’s a heinous act. It’s one of the epitomes of human horror.
What are some of your favorite horror movie screenplays and what writers serve as an inspiration for what you do for a living?
The script for ALIEN which was originally called Star Beast it was written by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett. It’s amazing how little there is on the page. There’s an axiom in Hollywood which says “you want as much white on the page as possible,” and that particular script is all visuals – no padding. It’s very stark. I also enjoy reading scripts from Alan McElroy (Spawn, Halloween 4) who is also friend of mine – he writes very cool, sleek narrative. I’d like to combine the two. Cool and stark – sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important to remember that scripts are meant to be seen, not read. Think about it. It makes sense.
What advice would you give to any of our readers who are looking to write screenplays for a living?
It’s like I said before, write as much as you can and finish your draft but it’s very important to then put that draft away, wait six months and then go back and read it, and be amazed at how bad it is and how you can fix it. Anyone who thinks they can get it right in the first draft is crazy – or Aaron Sorkin. You have to hone your craft. It’s like anything. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
Do you have any horror-related projects coming up? What can you tell us about them?
I knew you were going to ask that – and I have this awesome answer all prepared. And that answer is – yes, but I can’t talk about it. Hollywood is a lot like Fight Club in some ways – there’s a lot to say but you’re not supposed to talk about it.
“I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2 stars newcomer Jemma Dallender (Community, “Hollyoaks”) as Katie, a young woman, trying to make it in the cutthroat world of modeling in New York. When Katie innocently accepts an offer to have new photos taken for her portfolio, the experience quickly turns into an unthinkable nightmare – Severely beaten, battered, bruised, and left for dead, she will have to tap into the darkest places of the human psyche to not only survive her ordeal, but to ultimately find the strength to exact her brutal revenge. The film was made by the same creative team as the controversial 2010 film: Director Steven R. Monroe, Producers Lisa Hansen and Paul Hertzberg, and Writer Neil Elman teaming up with Thomas Fenton (Saw IV).”