Five Nights at Freddy’s became a viral sensation when first released in 2014 – and Hollywood has been trying to make a movie adaptation ever since.
After several attempts to get it off the ground fell through, including an iteration to be directed by Home Alone filmmaker Chris Columbus, it fell into the hands of Emma Tammi. Getting the call was a massive surprise, not just because she was unfamiliar with the franchise, but because she wasn’t even a gamer.
“I played a ton of video games as a kid, but less so as an adult”, Tammi explained to Zavvi. “I became familiar with this game through the project, (producer) Jason Blum reached out and mentioned that they were trying to adapt this into a film, and it was after that call that I started playing the game and became familiar with the lore and the franchise.
“That was the start of my crash course education into the world of FNAF, which was far more expansive than I could have expected. There was already a draft of the script when I signed on, and between reading that and discussing with Scott (Cawthon, co-writer and creator of the game) what he thought were the most important things from the game to include in the movie, we had a real blueprint when it came to rewriting it.
“Scott was really the guiding compass for figuring out which elements of the game and the lore to bring into the story for the movie.”
On the face of it, the story closely resembles the first game. Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson plays Mike Schmidt, the new security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a long closed-down diner which the owner refuses to let anyone demolish – and it doesn’t take long for him to realise that the animatronic robots inside have bloodthirsty minds of their own.
However, as Tammi admits, this isn’t enough to sustain a feature-length narrative, so the challenge whilst writing became finding a way to expand upon the character arcs and the lore without sacrificing the simple thrills fans love about the games. In a nutshell, she faced the problem any filmmaker comes face-to-face with when making an adaptation of a video game that’s light on story.
She continued: “Working with Scott was crucial in cracking this – this movie was tied into the first game and I think that as you play that, which mostly consists of being a security guard and looking through security monitors, there’s not much story that you’re experiencing. And so, there was a lot of room in this movie to find new character arcs and storylines to build out a satisfying feature length film.
“It was all about expanding that first game; it’s directly connected to the story, but in a way that gave us more room to explore the backstory of the characters and the pizzeria, incorporating the lore from later games that fans know and love so well.
“We filmed this earlier this year whilst The Last Of Us was airing on TV, and Super Mario Bros. became this beloved box office hit. It felt like a renaissance of video game movies was happening, and it meant that I never once felt like I was handling a “cursed” genre – although, we did try to forget we were making an adaptation so we could focus on just making the best movie we possibly could, even if we always had what the fanbase would want in our minds every step of the way.”
One of the key steps in bringing this world to life, making it distinctively cinematic whilst honouring the source material, was via collaborating with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Tammi is quick to say that working with them to create Freddy and co. was a major career highlight.
She continued: “They were the perfect team to bring these characters to life – their designs are unique, quirky, strange and fabulous. These characters are so well-known in their digital form, so the challenge was finding their dimensions, looking for texture and colour that would help flesh them out in a real and practical way, which was completely uncharted territory.
“With Jim Henson’s Creature Shop we were working off the original designs from the game, figuring out the most optimal way to bring them to life, and how to get them to move in a way both realistic and threatening. It was a magical process working with them, from the design period to the build phase and production, just an incredibly satisfying journey to getting the animatronics on their feet.”
Of course, bringing the animatronics to life is only half of the challenge, as the team needed to ensure they had a lead actor who would help ground the more ridiculous thrills. Step forward Josh Hutcherson, in his first major role since The Hunger Games franchise concluded in 2015.
It’s a perfect comeback vehicle for the actor, with Tammi praising his instincts for playing the tortured protagonist, who is still burdened by nightmares of a traumatic childhood incident.
“He had a very grounded approach, which helped deepen that character throughout shooting the film. This film puts him in a lot of extreme circumstances, and he always managed to make it feel genuine and authentic – I feel like he’s now stepping into a whole new chapter in his career, and whilst I’m lucky to have him in this film, I’m more excited to see what he does next.”
However, what he does next could end up being more FNAF, as rumours have suggested Blumhouse are eager to make a trilogy – Matthew Lillard, who appears in a supporting role as Mike’s career adviser, has claimed elsewhere he’s signed a three-picture deal with the studio, with the movie hinting he’ll play a more fundamental part in future instalments.
Tammi doesn’t deny this, but stresses that it’s still too early to confirm anything on the record. She wants to make sure this movie is a hit first, after all: “I would love to make more films in the FNAF-verse, but I think we need to see how this first movie does before we can start talking about that!
“However, I know the whole team would be very excited to continue to explore this world. For me, it would be a huge privilege to make more stories with these characters”.
Our first stay may only be five nights, but it seems safe to assume we’ll be making a return trip to Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria very soon indeed…