Dark Dreams

Oh, the Horror: Behind the Nightmare on Elm Street Documentary


For those of you who have been living under a rock or eschewing all things horror the last decade, Thommy Hutson isn’t an up and coming player in the Hollywood horror scene – he’s long established with a few impressive awards to his name already. That’s because in addition to writing and producing projects for feature films and animation he’s also known for making the definitive documentaries/retrospective of several horror film classics, including Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Hutson’s resume includes companies such as Starz, The Biography Channel, Warner Bros. Animation, 1428 Films and more. He’s now keeping busy releasing the follow-up book to his award winning documentary Never Sleep Again – The Elm Street Legacy through Red Rover Books, a project he successfully funded on Kickstarter with the help of fans and former cast members. The Escapist was glad to sit down and chat with the writer/producer about what brought him to horror, his latest project and more.

DS: Can you share a little with our readers about your background? How did you get involved in writing horror documentaries?

TH: I grew up in upstate New York and have always loved movies. I didn’t gravitate to horror right away, though; that came about after a relative forced me to watch “Salem’s Lot” on television. I was young and definitely terrified. But it got me into the genre and I kept on watching. It wasn’t until I saw the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, though, that I really felt the full impact of a film that was smart and scary-and one that stayed with me for days (and nights!) to come. I had always wanted to be a writer and at one point, after moving to Los Angeles, going to UCLA and working a few development jobs in the industry, my writing partner and I did some work on some Scooby-Doo animated movies, some script assignment work and then I met people who were making their living in the genre. After some time spent throwing project ideas around, it was decided to do a documentary on Friday the 13th. That ultimately became His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, which I wrote and produced. I quickly realized that crafting a narrative from the stories and memories of cast and crew from films I grew up watching was a really fascinating and fun experience. So, in addition to scripted work, I kept doing it.

DS: Never Sleep Again The Elm Street Legacy is nothing short of amazing. It has fantastic interviews with Wes Craven and Robert Englund as well as virtually every big name player from the iconic Nightmare on Elm Street series. You’ve also created retrospectives documentary films on Friday the 13th, Return of the Living Dead, and Scream. How difficult is it to get all of the former cast and crew to sit down and talk about their roles from these movies?

TH: It’s as hard as it is fun! Getting the people takes a lot of leg work and, pardon the pun, it takes a village. There is always a team of people (myself included) on the shows I’ve done who are busy making calls to agents, managers and publicists, or finding people on Facebook and, sometimes, it’s just through personal connections. Often the most difficult part is the scheduling; I’ve rarely encountered cast or crew who flat-out refuse to take part. Most of the time when familiar faces aren’t interviewed, it’s simply that we weren’t able to make the schedule work. As much as we’d love to just interview people whenever or wherever, there’s usually a schedule to keep to (the crews on the docs have always loved it when I remind them-gently-we’re behind schedule) and we film at a specific location. It’s just hard to make it all work for everyone. But what is great about doing these shows is meeting the cast and crew who are so charming and funny and fountains of fascinating information about the movies in the genre we grew up with. On all the retrospectives, I’ve loved getting a chance to meet everyone, hear their stories and have them share their experiences. The genre is a place that really feels like a community. It’s like once you’re a part of it, even if you were only in one movie, or made one movie, fans remember it; you’re a part of something people remember forever. That’s nice.

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DS: How long did it take to put together Never Sleep Again?

TH: The documentary, which I like to call my Elm Street baby, literally took 9 months to put together, which was a feat considering its length and all the information put forth. We had an amazing directing team of Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch, an amazing editing team and people running around tracking down materials. Again, the village! The book on the other hand took just around three years, but that includes the research, new interviews, getting materials, writing it and everything else I am probably forgetting. My editor on that project, Lito Velasco, was great in keeping me on task and on deadline, while my research coordinator, Michael Perez, worked tirelessly to keep finding materials and setting up interviews. Then there was Peter Bracke, who did the incredible and eye-popping design and layout of the entire book. (Incidentally, Peter wrote the incredible book on the entire Friday the 13th franchise, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.) It was a village as well, just a little smaller. Maybe a hamlet.

DS: There would be no Nightmare on Elm Street without the beautiful and talented Heather Langenkamp. In the documentary she reveals why she feels she escapes the role of the typical Scream Queen. She also joyfully pitched the idea for the Kickstarter in your promo video. What was it like working with her?

TH: It’s always a pleasure working with Heather. She and I have known each other for a long time, so it was nice to have a familiar face on camera with me pitching the project, but also someone who was one of the stars of the original film. We had such a good time that day. The video that we launched the campaign with was definitely the “professional” one; a short while later, Lito put together a compilation of bloopers and outtakes from the shoot. It was funny to watch that and actually see how much fun Heather and I were having while we made that video. We wanted it to feel like two friends talking about a project that meant something to us and I think that came across.

DS: Why do a book on Elm Street now, five years after the documentary came out?

TH: The idea for the book actually came about years before the documentary. Dan (Farrands) and I were talking about potential book projects because he edited the “Crystal Lake Memories” book. We were throwing around ideas and concepts and things we’d want to do in the book format and I brought up Elm Street. Then, Dan and I ended up doing the Elm Street documentary. The book was always in the back of my mind and when I realized it was going to be the 30th anniversary of the first film, I thought I better do it as the timing is perfect.

DS: You did such an amazing job of covering everything in the four hour award winning documentary. What surprises will the book have that haven’t already been revealed? What do readers have to look forward to?

TH: It seems almost impossible, considering how much the documentary did cover, but there was a lot we couldn’t cover in the doc because of time. The section of the documentary on the original Elm Street is actually the longest in the whole show, but there was just so much we didn’t cover; there were many stories left to discuss, or explore in more detail. A simple example is Tina’s opening nightmare: in the book, I have the time and space to go into more detail about the mechanics of filming that and even actress Amanda Wyss’ feelings about working alongside the lamb. But there was also the opportunity, which really helped opened up new information on the making of the film, to speak with people who were not available for the documentary, or, frankly, who had never spoken about the film before. There are great stories and insights from assistants, hair and makeup people, craftsmen and even cast. I was thrilled to have interviewed some of the jump rope girls from the film. For a long time nobody really knew who they were, how they felt about being in the film or what they remember; now, we do. Aside from all of that, I’m happy that most of the main cast is interviewed in the book, giving a really robust, deeper look into what it was like to make the film. It was also nice to interview Wes Craven and Robert Shaye more pointedly and in-depth not just about the film, but their careers prior to Elm Street, which I think helps put the film into context in terms of where they were in their professional lives at the time. Taken together, the book paints a picture of Elm Street and its legacy in a way that is simultaneously broader and more wide-ranging as well as intimate and full of interesting, new detail.

Scooby-Doo ChillOut

DS: I’ve read that you also wrote a couple episodes of Scooby Doo. How did that come about? What was it like writing for a beloved children’s show? How different was it writing for kids than for adults, or was it?

TH: I actually co-wrote (with my writing partner) the story for one of the Scooby-Doo animated movies, and then additional material for another. The process was not all that dissimilar to writing any other project. What was interesting was the fact that, at the time, there was a small window where the executives were interested in doing something ever-so-slightly darker than what might normally be expected. (We were hired after submitting a fairly dark and scary, but character-driven, horror script sample.) What was challenging was writing for incredibly well-established characters that almost everyone knows in some way. Audiences have expectations for these characters and there were, in a way, “rules” on what they would and would not do or say. I vividly remember in the development process one of the executives laughed out loud at a joke we had written, then turned and said, “That’s really funny, but the character would never say that.” While we all thought it was funny, and worked in the context of the story, it wasn’t something that fit within the universe of Scooby-Doo. It was a really valuable lesson to learn and understand early in my writing career in terms of taking notes, managing expectations and working with an established franchise. It still does go down as one of my favorite things to have done, and I would love to do it again. Who wouldn’t want to write for Scooby-Doo!?

DS: You’ve become a defacto expert on all things horror. What’s your favorite scary movie of all time?

TH: I appreciate that sentiment being out there, but I’ll be the first to say I can’t claim to be an expert on all things horror, though I do believe I know a thing or two about the franchises I’ve explored. It’s a genre I enjoy delving into and seeing what makes it tick. I am also flattered and honored that fans, cast and crew of the films I have done docs on have entrusted me to help tell their stories. As for my favorite scary movie of all time? What a tough question! There are clearly so many incredible films in the genre…to pick just one would make me feel like I’m leaving all the others out in the cold. A Nightmare on Elm Street, of course, immediately comes to mind. It had a real impact when I first saw it. Again, it was smart, scary, had a fantastic villain and characters that felt like people you knew going through a terrifying experience. I also love the films of Hitchcock, DePalma, The Exorcist, The Shining, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Scream, Alien…the list goes on and on and on, as I am sure it does for every genre fan. It would be like trying to pick your favorite child!

DS: Rumor has it that you are working on something with Clive Barker and his company Seraphim Films. Can you tell us more about this secret project and when it might come out?

TH: That might be true. It might also not be. A boy has to keep some secrets until the time is perfect.

DS: What’s next for you?

TH: I am currently preparing to write another book and I recently produced and directed an independent film that is in post-production. I’m also developing some other film and television projects, hoping to get a pick-up interview with Johnny Depp and trying to find a way to work with many of the people I admire in this business (hint: Greg Berlanti, Kevin Williamson, and Craig Zadan & Neil Meron … in case they’re reading this).

DS: Where can fans learn more about what you are doing?

TH: You can keep up with me on Twitter: HutsonRanch and on Facebook.

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