Interview with J.R Reher

Recently I got to have a great chat with screenwriter & author, the very cool and insanely nice J.R Reher

J.R’s screenplay Red Machine has been turned into a movie that is coming out very soon and currently it is called Grizzly and stars Billy Bob Thornton, James Marsden & Thomas Jane, he also has a number of other screenplays coming up. He also has a book coming out – titled REX’d on the 18th of August (which Haddonfield Horror will have a review of for you all) – I started out by asking…

So lately things look like they are taking off for you – Do you feel lucky or blessed or do you feel it’s more of a payoff moment for the work you have done previously?

I definitely feel blessed. Each day is a learning experience and looking back to when I first began writing, really honing my craft, it has been a mind boggling journey. I’ve absorbed so much from all the creative people that I’ve met along the way and continue to encounter. Screenwriting & writing in general is an everyday process. One that can always be improved upon with every new script or project an individual tackles. The old adage is true for a writer. You’re only as good as your next page. It’s important to make every single one of them count.

Do you have one particular genre that resonates with you or do you like to change things up?

I really like noir, dramatic action thrillers, sci-fi and horror. There’s something about the rush one gets in the theatre with watching those films. From the classics like BRIDE of FRANKENSTEIN & FREAKS to TOUCH OF EVIL, FRENZY, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, BLUE THUNDER & KLUTE to Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN & ALIEN to more recent films from the 80s, 90s, 2000s like POINT BREAK, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, ALIENS, DIE HARD, SINISTER, THE ROCK, DONNIE DARKO, and THE CONJURING. Oh, and let me add SOUTHLAND TALES. I believe that film will be studied in the future. Dwayne Johnson’s finest performance to date. I’ve seen it like two dozen times.

You’ve stated that Grizzly was inspired by the death of Timothy Treadwell (aka ‘Grizzly Man’) – What in particular was it about that event that got you thinking about writing a film like this?

I remember reading that long Vanity Fair article about the man. It was intriguing. Kept saying to myself that THIS would make a killer film. I actually pitched the article to a couple producers with no bites. This was long before the documentary. Talking years before. Like 2002. I think the nature aspect is what compelled me. This guy died doing what he loved doing. Being with these animals. Communing with them. Not fully understanding them.

Was there anything else that inspired the story?

JAWS was on TNT. I was in a leg cast. Thought to myself that they hadn’t made a good film like that in forever. So three days of writing and the first draft was done. Two brothers, reconnecting at their Alaskan home after their parents’ death. These aren’t tweens running around in the woods doing dumb things. Beckett (Thomas Jane) and Rowan (James Marsden) know these woods. They know the ‘Grizzly Maze’ and how dangerous it is. They just get caught up in an unfortunate set of circumstances and horrifying things happen to them in the process of reconnecting.

I assume you had to re-write a scene or two – were you doing that with directors notes or face to face?

The producers flew me to Toronto to do a week of intensive rewriting with the director. We’d spitball their notes, he and his family kept me full of coffee, meals & generous hospitality and I’d pound away on my laptop in their attic-office. By the end of the week, I had really upped the stakes. More action and horror.

Is it hard to let go of what you’ve written and trust the director/actors won’t make mess of things?

No. I believe there’s a certain level of confidence and trust a writer gives to the director and talent to breathe life into the screenplay. It’s a process a writer needs to embrace. Collaboration and letting go. Now, if you see a tent-pole film that the studio has spent 180 million in production costs plus another 150 in marketing but the film misses the mark completely and you wonder why? It’s probably because the project had way too many chefs in the kitchen, a dozen or so writers all swinging for the fences with their drafts & polishes, yet it comes down to the WGA and their arbitration to see who gets the final credit. Most of the time it’s like two or three writers. Yet the film is really bad and you scratch your head wondering how the film ended up such a mess? Going into the production, before all the tweaks and changes, the initial draft of the project was probably stellar and that’s what the cast signed on for and the finished film, what the public sees is a completely different story. No one ever intends to make a bad film. Unfortunately, it just happens sometimes. 

Were there parts of the “Grizzly’’ story that had to be omitted?

I haven’t seen the final cut, so I’m not sure what has been left out.

Did you visualise certain actors as roles when he was writing?

That’s a slippery slope. A writer can do that, but if they write WHO they’d like to see in a particular script and a certain producer doesn’t like the imagined actor/actress that they’ve described within the text & subtext, it might ruin the chances of that producer wanting to be part of that script. So no. Just write a GREAT story and let the producers do their job. Writers write. Producers, directors and the studio cast the film to their liking. Not us.

As a child what was your favourite book/movie?

Halloween. Absolutely. I was 8 years old and experienced that. My favourite books were probably Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and The Thief of Always by Clive Barker. Always wanted to adapt those two.

What is the best advice you have received?

Keep your house in order. That came from Jonathan Hensleigh. Meaning your mind. His words of advice early on have always stuck with me.

What scares you the most?
Failure. Oh yeah, sharks, clowns and skydiving. I do want to try skydiving though eventually. And get in a shark cage. Possibly with a clown.

What is on the horizon for you?

I’m working on adapting FACTORY TOWN based on the upcoming novel by acclaimed author Jon Bassoff. It hits shelves in October from Dark Fuse. Bassoff is the author of Corrosion which I also adapted and Mike Macari (THE RING, THE RING TWO) is currently producing. I also have a novel hitting bookstores August 18th entitled REX’d. It’s a throwback to 80s horror books & films. Like The Monster Squad meets The Breakfast Club. It’s based on a screenplay that I wrote that’s being produced by Chris White (VHS: VIRAL, ABC’S OF DEATH).

Ryan Morrrissey-Smith

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