[This story contains slight spoilers forhappy death anniversary2U]
Just 16 months ago, filmmaker Christopher Landon revealedhappy death anniversary, a horror film that owes its creative debt to the 1993 comedy directed by Bill Murraygroundhog day. It starred Jessica Rothe as Tree, a college student who lives the same day over and over again when she is being pursued by a killer wearing a baby mask.
happy death anniversarybecame the biggest hit of Landon's career, earning $125.4 million worldwide on a budget of $4.8 million.Speaking of continuationwas online after its success, but what no one outside of Blumhouse knew was this: Landon already had a script for a sequel and pitched it to producer Jason Blum before the first film opened.
Happy Death Anniversary 2U delves into the scientific explanation for Tree's time loop and reveals that a minor character Ryan (Phi Vu) and his colleagues created a scientific experiment that is responsible for Tree's predicament. Trapped in a time loop again, she must enlist Ryan's help to set things right, and in the process discovers that the loop may be a way for her to reunite her late mother. It was a touching topic for Landon, the son of beloved actor Michael Landon, who died when Landon was 16, and Marjorie Lynn Noe, who died in 2015.
in conversation withDer Hollywood-Reporter, Landon explains how Rothe's real relationship with her mother helped bring this film to life, and reveals he has an idea for it.happy death anniversary 3.
You said during press for the first movie that you had an idea for a sequel. How long after you wrote the script?
What I didn't tell people was that at that point I already had a script. The idea for the sequel came to me when I was at the Post. It was an epiphany and I pitched the idea to Jason Blum and he was really excited about it. He said, "Write it. Let's just keep our fingers crossed and hope this movie does, and if it does, we'll be ready to go." We understood that the kind of movie I wanted to make was urgent. We couldn't wait too long because these movies are so connected that it felt like taking a break was working against us. When the first movie came out and it was successful, we were ready and kind of we jumped right into it.
How many drafts of this script did you go over and where did you write it?
I'm a total cliché, so I was probably at a coffee shop. I have a pseudo office, but it's actually a cafe. I wrote the first draft really quickly and it's just one of those crazy things I had in my head, so it took me about two weeks to write the first draft. Was fast. Not saying it was good, just saying I wrote it. So I seriously wrote about five drafts. Once we were into prep there was just constant tweaking, but a lot of that was based on changes that happened along the way and places that failed and needed to be fixed. But nothing seismic about it. It's pretty much the same since the first draft.
There are two main threads to keep this movie going: the scientific explanation for the time warp and the possibility that Tree will be reunited with her mother because of it. What idea did you originally pursue?
It was actually the scientific aspect of it. I sit in an editing room and watch this movie over and over and I think that all filmmakers eventually hate their own movie. “I am so tired of seeing this.” I keep watching Ryan walk through the door... Wouldn't it be funny if he was the reason? It kind of clicked. He's at a university, they clearly have a science and engineering department, he could easily be studying physics or something. It started from there and then the big "aha" moment came for me as I toyed with the idea of interdimensional travel and the idea of Tree reuniting with his mother. That was the biggest moment for me when I really knew what I was writing because, at the end of the day, that's what the movie was about. It became having to accept your past in order to move forward and have that "should I or should I?" That was the biggest epiphany for me, but it started with the roommate.
The desire to be reunited with a lost loved one is something most people can relate to.
I lost my father when I was 16 and my mother passed away about three years ago and I think anyone who has lost a loved one, especially suddenly, would like to be able to say what they lost, feel or see them again. When you actually do that, I think it hits a nerve. That's a hope I think we all have.
If so, what kind of conversations did you and Jessica have about Tree growing up?
One thing I learned from working with Jess on the first film is that she has an incredibly close relationship with her mother. Her mom came to the set of the first movie twice and spent a lot of time with us. The team and I fell in love with her mother. She's wonderful. Going into the second one, I knew it was going to be very raw and I had a strong feeling that it was going to bring out something good. Because it's so personal for them too. Especially in the scene where she says goodbye to her mother, it was very difficult for her because she was very emotional when we did that, but I think it's really worth it. It ends up being an unexpected and beautiful part of the film. I think everyone is a bit disapproving of genre stuff, but I'm proud that in both movies we tried to explore some deep themes in a fun way.
The first film paid its budget several times over. But this is Blumhouse, so I assume they haven't opened their wallets for a sequel?
No. There was a fantasy moment: "I'm going to have a lot more money!" And I thought, wait a minute, who am I working for? (ri). Much of the second film hinged on returning the elements. And using the same sites and so on. Then you go back to all these places. "Hey guys, we make a lot of money, but our budget is super small." They're looking at you like, "Fuck you!" So much for "extra money". The first movie cost around $5 million and this one around $7.5 million... I was still facing the same scenario which was an incredibly tight shooting schedule and I had to cut my shot list daily to shorten my days . It was a super challenging movie.
I really tried to add some breadth and scope to this. I did everything I could. Thank God I had great people around me. My line producer Samson Mucke, my DP Toby Oliver. These people were so efficient and so smart that they really helped make the movie feel bigger than a $7.5 million movie.
What were some of the specific challenges you faced in this case?
We had a scene with a lot of extras, which is unusual for us. We had the arena scene. We had over 800 people that day and that's very important to us. Jason saw the movie Who Are These People? Who paid for this?!”
The biggest challenge was the amount of time we had to recreate things. There was the hospital location that we used in the first movie we went back to. When we got back, they had vandalized the hospital. We had to recreate the hospital interiors and adjust them. That was a huge burden for us. Locate background individuals and make sure they are wearing the exact same clothes and location. It was very difficult.
Back to the Future IIit's a touchstone for that. Do you already have a touchstone in mind for part three?
I have the third film and I have already recommended it to Blumhouse. Everyone is ready to go again if this movie does well. I change the tone a little bit, the genre. The third movie I know will be a little different. It will be really cool and a lot of fun.