Through the magic of mini-tape-recorder technology, RevSF lets you listen in on a Q&A session held with the screenwriter and the producers of The Ring.
Part I: Screenwriter, Ehren Kruger
Q: The Ring is a remake of Ringu, a film that was massively popular in Japan, spawning several sequels and a television series. How did you approach adapting this material?
Ehren Kruger: We didn't want to change too much. My process in adapting was to really focus on a couple central areas, one of which was the mythology of where this videotape comes from, the mystery behind it. And we felt that we had to make some changes to our version. Come up with our own backstory for the videotape, with elements that would be more iconic for our culture thanÖ the original film had volcanos and psychics. And there are things that have different connotations in that culture than they would have here. One of the other major areas we made changes, was to make the threat of the tape feel more omnipresent through the middle of the film. Because a mainstream American audience might not have the same sort of patience that a Japanese audience had with the original.
Q: Recently, there was a movie released, FearDotcom, which had a very similar premise. Can you comment on the similarities, and are you worried that The Ring will suffer the same fate at the box office?
EK: No, I don't think it'll suffer the same fate at the box office. I haven't seen that film actually. It feels like it might have been influenced by the original Ringu
. I'm in no position to comment on cribbing ideas. There are many scenes in The Ring
that are taken from the original.
Q: What's scary to you?
EK: To me, a masked man chasing you around with a knife doesn't tap into a deep-seated fear. It's a pretty rare occurrence. But to me, terrorists are scary. Having children that you don't understand and communicate with is scary. You can quibble with whether or not these things should be treated as subjects for popcorn entertainment. But there is something valuable about acknowledging things that are genuinely scary, and finding a genre venue to talk about those fears. But those are things that are scary to me. Although, one of the nice things about this film is that it follows the structure of a traditional campfire story.
Q: Did you meet with Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu, and Koji Suzuki, the author of the original novel?
EK: I did not get the opportunity to meet Nakata and Suzuki, but I think we're all very interested to hear what their reactions are. We hope that they appreciate how we've adapted their ideas and their work, because everyone involved in making this movie very much liked the original ideas and their work. So in a sense the remake is an homage to what they came up with. We've just added a few rooms to the house and put a fresh coat of paint on it.
Q: Are there subliminal images in the film?
EK: There is some imagery from the videotape that occurs in the structure of the story, but nothing like the Disney animatorsÖ nothing naughty.
Q: You wrote Scream 3. Are you working on Scream 4?
EK: No. To my knowledge, no one is working on that project. There is no project.
Q: How would you state the theme of the movie?
EK: I think that there are themes of how it's human nature to want to see what we're told we shouldn't see. And then there's themes of "what are the moral choices or the moral guidelines that people move or shift when our own lives are in danger?"
Q: Is it your intention to continue to push the boundaries of the genres you work in?
EK: You always like to feel like you're contributing something new to the vast history of cinema. Sometimes you are, sometimes you're not. You can always at least shoot for that. Sometimes I don't know what genre means. Why some films are filed here in the video store, why some are filed there. To me The Ring
is more of a horror picture than Scream 3
. Scream 3
is a comedy, and the former is truly horrifying. It's possible to subvert the audience expectation of "I know exactly what I'm going to get when I go into the theater." Even when people have seen the trailer, they've read about the movie on the Internet, and they think they know what they're getting into, they still want to be surprisedÖ. I think there's a great deal to be said for a level of ambiguity. I think it's more horrifying to the audience. A man running around with a weapon has kind of run its course.
Q: Had you seen the sequels to Ringu?
EK: I'd seen the central three Japanese Ring
films. We wanted to take what we felt were the strongest ideas that would resinate with a North American audience. They presented us with a wealth of source material to work with.
SPOILERS. SKIP DOWN TO THE PRODUCERS' SECTION
Question from RevSFer Jason Myers: Okay, plot question. At the end of the film, the boy says, "What's going to happen to the next people that watch this tape?" Given that the main character makes a copy of the tape but then destroys the original, couldn't they just wait until after the boy's seven days have elapsed, and then destroy both copies of the tape?
EK: Um, I'm not sure that I understand.
JM: Well, basically, she's destroyed the original, so she's kind of negated what credit she gets by making a copy of the tape. Is there any reason that they couldn't destroy both copies of the tape at the end of the movie after the boy's seven days are up?
EK: Well, part of the premise is that destroying the tapes would notÖ. I would have to take issue with your notion of that there's debits and credits going on.
JM: She comes up with the idea of "I made a copy of the tape, and that's why I wasn't taken." Correct?
JM: Is her assumption correct then?
EK: Destroying the tape is neither good nor bad. Does that answer your question, or no?
JM: Does anyone else understand what I'm getting at?
Some Other Guy: Like, the equivalent of if you made the copy of the tape and put it in a box and stuck it at the bottom of the ocean, would that then end the evilÖ where you're at?
EK: The concept of the Japanese film and here is thatÖ likeÖ a virus must beÖ spreadÖ and a copy has to be shown. Destroying the tape would not hurt more, or negate.
Part II: Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald
Walter Parkes: There was a time when horror was a kind of staple of mainstream Hollywood. There was like a golden age there that probably started around with The Shining
and The Omen
and The Exorcist
and Rosemary's Baby
. An extraordinary time with big studios and big stars and really good production values and horror movies that were really aimed at a big audience. Then horror kind of went through a period where it was really the stuff of teenÖ. And I think it's greatÖ it started with M. Night [Shyamalan's Sixth Sense
] and The Others
, a kind of reclaiming of horror by mainstream Hollywood. And I think, yes, that will continue, because it is an inherently great genre. From Dreamworks' point of view, Laurie and I had had a good amount of success in the past trying to reinvent classic genres. Gladiator
was the first movie of that type of movie in a long time. Saving Private Ryan
was bringing back war movies. Even with The Mark of Zorro
, it was kind of a costume melodrama that hadn't been done in a whileÖ. We saw [Ringu
] a year ago in January.
Laurie MacDonald: One of our executives brought us the tape, in factÖ
WP: Badly dubbed.
LM: He called and said, "There's a Japanese horror movie. There's interest in it. You have to look at it quickly." And we said, "Well, great, we'll look at it tomorrow. And he said, "No. Now." He brought it and we looked at it and decided then to buy the movie. And by the end of the next day I think we had our deal in place. We responded immediately to it. To it's premise, obviously, but more so to the tone and style of the movie. We felt that it was a very strong genre premise but that it surprised you with what it went to. And that the potential for those character relationships was more intriguing than what one would expect from the premise. We decided very early on that we'd develop it with the director, with the idea of making it in six or eight months, which in this case happened.
WP: On one level it's kind of a detective story that follows the same genre turns that one associates with that, and yet instead of bringing you to the solution, it leads you to almost a spiritual metaphysical place that's more of a mystery than what you began withÖ. You're first attracted to what seems to be an extremely appealing premise of this videotape. But really what we loved about the Japanese movie was that that was the least of it. It was merely the starting off point of something a lot more interesting. As we're testing this movie, we're finding that audiences are very surprised that the movie goes in a more complex, different direction than is suggested by the premise alone.
Q: It seems that in general the horror genre has really under-performed since September 11th. Do you think that America is ready to be scared again?
WP: Yes. I mean, were there any highly anticipated horror pictures that didn't workÖ
LM: Ögiven the climate? I don't know.
WP: I'm not one that finds a direct relationship between the issues that surround us in our everyday lives and our entertainment. In terms of a national tragedy like September 11thÖ. It's certainly affected us. It's certainly affected Hollywood in terms of the movies it's chosen to make. But in terms of a movie audience, I think that really what always happens is that it takes a good movie to get people's attention. I mean, I think a great one is The Others
, which is this quiet, period costume picture whichÖ on the surface didn't seem like a commercial movie, but it was so good and so well executed.
As producers, how do you react when you're looking at your release calendar, and you see that a movie with a similar premise -- FearDotcom -- is coming out right before your film?
LM: We knew from what we had heard that it wasn't a strong movie, and that it wasn't going to have a big release. We weren't happy about it, certainly. Because the premise of The Ring
is one of its greatest strengths, and you don't want anything to soften that, or make it feel like it's old news, but ultimately it was the best time to release the movie, and we decided to just look the other way. Historically it doesn't effect movies, if you have a weaker version.
WP: There were two movies about kids that find themselves in adult bodies, and neither worked, and suddenly there was Big
LM: There were other issues. Ultimately, we just felt "we don't even want to draw attention to the similarities." So we looked the other way.
Q: Can you discuss your decision not to go with Marquee stars.
WP: Rachel was actually a role that was of great interest to another of actresses. You know, it's nearly impossible for older actresses, but even for younger actressesÖ there are not that many genres that offer actresses the lead role. That's why you'll see Jodie Foster in The Panic Room
, and you'll see Nicole Kidman in The Others
. So we actually had quite a lot of interest from very interesting performers, and from my point of view, what it came down to was seeing Mullholland Drive
. I remember Naomi's agent calling and saying, "You really should look at it." And the staff put up a couple of reels in the screening room at Dreamworks. And we looked at [the first part of the movie]. We only saw the kind of blonde, fresh-faced person, and I thought "She's good. She's not very interesting. I don't know where the sexy thing comes from." And then her agent says, "No. trust me. You have to see the whole movie. You don't know what you're talking about." "Okay, fine." We arranged to see it, and for some reason we invited Laurie's mother.
LM: It was the three of us.
WP: So here's Laurie, and here's Betty McDonald, 81 years old, and that scene happens. I paid attention. But you could see in that audition piece as well. It's such an amazing piece of transformative work, and it really got to the point ofÖ when you have a high concept movie, you really want to cast not for marquee. You want to cast for story. And one of the big differences between our Ring
and the Japanese Ring
is that we're much more invested in the relationship of our Rachel and her son. I mean, yes, it's a horror movie, but one way you can interpret an aspect of this movie is that it starts out with a woman who has no relationship with her son, who is in fact her caretaker, and through this rather harrowing journey comes to a place where she will do anything, anything to protect her son. That's interesting to me. That's a meatier sort of thing than you find in most genres like this, so the choice was made. We needed someone who would bring an emotionally legitimacy and intensity to the role of Rachel, that it's a real acting job.
Q: How did you cast Martin Henderson as Noah?
LM: Last minute. We were happy. We read him. We read four or five actors.
WP: He has this natural charm, but also charismatic, that played against [Naomi]. Once again, cast for the story value.
Q: How are you handling the marketing? Are you relying mostly on word of mouth?
WP: We can't. We initially went into this, aware that it was the sort of movie that would be talked about on the Internet. Very much a word of mouth movie. Our marketing has approached it that way. Did anyone here see the spots that ran really late at night, that just showed fragments of the tape itself? Anyway, we did a number of things like that. It was a really interesting experiment. But at the end of the day, and over the [two weeks prior to release], we are going to a somewhat more traditional approach to marketing the movie.
LM: In general, especially given how crowded the market is now, [it makes sense to] put the intense dollars into the last couple weeks. With [Red Dragon
] coming out, whatever message we put out before that would be kind of drowned out by that.
Q: The events of parts of the film are supposed to happen about 30 years ago. But the costume design makes it seem more like a hundred years ago.
LM: I think that there is a fairytale aspect of this that makes it a little out of time, that both makes it more eerie and more palatable in the same way. But we were equally surprised when we found out that [director Gore Verbinski] went in that direction.
Q: Ringu has become a huge presence in Japan, with movies, and a television show and comic books. Do you have plans to make it into a franchise in the US?
LM: The idea is to hope the first movie works. And if it does, it's a very challenging franchise to create. Because I don't think that when you look at the Ringu
sequels, that there's an obvious story to take. I don't think any of them were as good as the original. And I think they're even more obscure in narrative. We'd love it. We hope that it's a success that leaves itself open to interpretation for a second movie. But we'd be starting creatively with "Is there a story worth telling?"