It has been almost 10 years since we've gotten a Friday the 13th movie. That famous horror franchise was last seen onscreen during the reboot craze of the late aughts when Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes rebooted it in 2009. Fans dug the movie. Its modest sub-$20 million budget was nearly quintupled at the box office. You'd think that by now we'd be three or four Jason movies deep in this new iteration of the popular franchise.
So, what gives?
I was able to sit down with Platinum Dunes producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller when they came through town showing A Quiet Place, which was the opening night movie of SXSW and, being an '80s kid that grew up with Jason Voorhees, I couldn't help but ask them to wade through the complicated legal tangle that is the rights situation surrounding this particular series.
I'm going to reprint that section of the interview here and then I'll be back to talk through a few things. Let's see what Fuller and Form have to say:
Eric Vespe: Can you guys help me understand why we're not three movies deep in the new run of Friday the 13th movies? Your reboot was good and it made a ton of money. Can you explain what's going on with the franchise?
Andrew Form: It's so sad. I'm sure the world knows, but we were four weeks from filming in Atlanta with Breck Eisner (The Crazies). We were there and the movie got shut down.
Brad Fuller: We never got a clear answer from Paramount as to why that movie got shut down. I think at the end of the day that administration, which is no longer there, didn't see horror as a viable part of what they were doing. Also they were coming off of Rings and that didn't help.
For studio heads who are not fans of horror there's not a tremendous amount of glory in it other than the financial. A lot of these studios want to make big movies with big movie stars and that administration could never get excited about it. I think the rights now have reverted back to New Line.
Andrew Form: Or Victor Miller.
Brad Fuller: There's a Victor Miller element, too. There's a lawsuit with Victor Miller. I don't know anything about that, but I'll say to you, I'll say to anyone we would love nothing more than to make another Friday the 13th movie.
Andrew Form: We were right there. We had Crystal Lake. We had the camp. The location was amazing.
Brad Fuller: It was such a bummer.
Eric Vespe: Were you bringing Derek Mears back as Jason?
Andrew Form: No, because we were going way back. We were going to the '70s.
Brad Fuller: We would have put Derek in the movie (somewhere) anyway because we love him so much.
Eric Vespe: He's one of the nicest dudes I've ever met.
Andrew Form: Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) wrote such a great script. It was what we thought the community would really want. It was such a bummer when that one didn't go.
Eric Vespe: It seems to me like it's a no-brainer. There's a reason why they pumped one out every year in the '80s. They were printing money.
Andrew Form: And now you see the hype coming out with the new Halloween movie. I think everybody's now going “Oh, my God. Why didn't we make that new Friday the 13th movie?” The Stephen King movies are getting hot, the IP is still strong, R-rated horror is what's happening. I mean, look at IT being over $700 million worldwide. Right now it's not happening, but we just hope one day that we can get the call that says the rights are figured out, let's go make Friday.
Eric Vespe: So it really is just a question of rights at this point?
Brad Fuller: That's all it is.
Andrew Form: I believe if the rights were clear we'd be shooting the movie.
Brad Fuller: We would have shot the movie!
Eric Vespe: Not to make this all about Friday the 13th, but...
Andrew Form: No, listen, we'll talk about Friday the 13th all day!
Eric Vespe: (laughs) The beauty of the Friday the 13th series is that all the audience wants from it is fun. That allows for so much freedom in being able to make something without it being crazy expensive.
Brad Fuller: And we're just the guys to do that!
Andrew Form: We had so much fun making the last one!
Brad Fuller: We're not keeping anything from you. This is the first conversation we've had about Friday the 13th in months and when we do talk about it we get sad and we start to cry.
Andrew Form: But you know, as more and more horror movies work, and Paramount's loving A Quiet Place right now, we're going to keep pushing to get Friday the 13th back. We have to. For us going to Crystal Lake would be so much fun.
Brad Fuller: We just don't know who's going to make the movie.
Andrew Form: Is it Warner Bros? Is it Paramount?
Brad Fuller: It's a complicated jumble, but I have looked into it. I think it's New Line. The rights have expired, or they expire next month, and they revert back to New Line, I think.
Andrew Form: But there's still an issue with the Victor Miller lawsuit.
Brad Fuller: Right, and I don't think anyone will touch it until that gets figured out.
Andrew Form: Yeah, that has to get figured out. It's just too hard with that litigation out there.
Brad Fuller: Looming litigation does not help movies get made. (laughs)
Andrew Form: No, it sure doesn't. Not big, high profile IP.
Let's examine what they said. The short answer is there's a rights confusion compounded with a looming lawsuit by Victor Miller, who wrote the very first Friday the 13th and has a story by credit alongside Sean S. Cunningham.
The rights issue is understandable. Friday the 13th started at Paramount, but then New Line bought the rights when interest in Jason Voorhees was waning. They took over the franchise with Jason Goes To Hell, tried the parody route with Jason X (aka Jason in Space) and then nothing until Freddy Vs. Jason finally made it to screen.
Paramount got involved again with the 2009 remake, sharing a presenting credit with New Line, and, as the producers say above, it looks like New Line is about to get full rights back, most likely because Paramount hasn't done anything with the franchise.
That leaves the Victor Miller lawsuit. Miller is suing for the ability to terminate and grant rights to further movies using a provision of the copyright law that allows original authors such power over their stories and characters. The only problem with that is the current rights holders say Miller was “work for hire” which means that provision does not apply to him.
No studio, even with a clear chain of title, will move forward with a new Friday the 13th movie if it's possible this lawsuit could mean the resulting film doesn't see release. Why take the risk and pay for a movie only to have it sit on a shelf should Miller win his lawsuit?
I've also been hearing that so many of the still valid deals involving any future Friday movies have tons of strings attached, that people like Sean Cunningham and Michael Bay get a significant cut of all profits whether they are directly involved or not, which is another deterrent for studios to invest money into something knowing they have to hit an even bigger benchmark to break even.
At the end of the day, if it becomes clear who is legally in control of this property it'll all come down to math. These movies are cheap to make and are wildly popular. If the studios can make money on them they will, but hopefully this gives you an idea of why these films aren't happening.
Keep an eye out early next week for my full interview with Form and Fuller which also covers how they helped John Krasinski bring the legitimately scary and awesome A Quiet Place to the big screen!