The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has taken a long time to come together, but it finally came to fruition thanks in large part to the efforts of indie writer-director Emma Tammi, who worked closely with franchise creator Scott Cawthon to bring the beloved video game franchise to the big screen (and to the Peacock streaming service). Though, as with all things, it took some effort to adapt nearly a decade of lore and turn the heavy subject matter of these games into a family-friendly PG-13 movie.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has been in the works nearly since the first game, in which you play a security guard who must survive a night in a decrepit Chuck E Cheese knock-off where the animatronics try to eat you, came out way back in 2014. Since then, the franchise has grown massively, both in popularity and in scope, and the task of adapting the games to film has become an increasingly tough challenge. But Tammi said that Cawthon’s involvement–he co-wrote the film–was key.
“It was a really great collaboration and continues to be,” Tammi told GameSpot. “I think, at times we’re coming from different perspectives, and have different views on things. And talking it through, we always reach the solution that feels right for the story. But it’s the reason I think that he wanted me involved. It’s the reason why I was so excited to have him involved, too. Both of those perspectives are really helpful. And we’re coming from different places, but with the same intent of making the best movie.”
But when it comes to adapting a franchise as robust as Five Nights at Freddy’s–in addition to the rather large pile of games, there are also novels and comics that flesh things out–things are never really all that simple. Tammi and Cawthon wanted to focus primarily on the events of the first game, but at the same time they incorporated many franchise elements that didn’t come until much later, like the character Vanessa from the Freddy’s spin-offs Help Wanted and Security Breach, who’s played in the film by Elizabeth Lail.
Fortunately, Tammi told me, Cawthon had a pretty good idea of what ground he wanted the film to cover by the time Tammi signed on for the movie.
“It was never going to be possible to incorporate everything, nor did we try,” Tammi said. “What was really exciting is that at the point at which I came on, Scott had a really clear blueprint of what he wanted the story to include. And that was an ever-evolving thing, as we did a pass on the script together…But we had him as a guide in terms of what was going to be the right thing to include for this first movie.”
With the franchise’s co-creator guiding things, you might be tempted to think that Five Nights at Freddy’s is overly faithful to the source material, but that’s not really the case. Rather, the movie takes a lot of pieces from Five Nights at Freddy’s lore–which has frequently been so vague that few, if any, fans can truly claim to understand it all–and presents it in a new, sort of mashed-up way.
That’s not to say the movie changes everything–it’s more like a remix. But unlike a lot of those types of adaptations, which aren’t always driven by folks who care all that much for the source material, it was the franchise’s creator doing the remixing in this case.
“Some of that was definitely like coming from, again, the blueprint that Scott felt like would be the right mashup for this first film. And he really wanted to link this mostly to the first game,” Tammi said. But she added that some further changes came about because of how the actors played them.
“Once we cast Matthew Lillard and Elizabeth Lail, these characters kind of started taking on different dimensions as the actors inhabited them. So that was also an exciting moment where the characters evolved and, and kind of took on new elements,” she said.
While the adaptation of the source material was no small task, Tammi and co. had another major challenge to deal with as well: the PG-13 rating. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a really dark and disturbing series with hard R-rated subject matter–this is a story about animatronic animals murdering children. But since the target audience is pretty young, the movie had to have a PG-13 rating.
Tammi said it wasn’t always easy to figure out how to make certain scenes work in a PG-13 context, but she enjoyed the challenge. And they knew going in that it would need to be like this, so at least the team was aware of what they were aiming for. Still, it was a tall task.
“I think it’s all execution-dependent. Like, the ways in which you allude to things versus stating it outright, or just the tonal and visual world that we’re living in as we’re revealing that these deep dark secrets are kind of lurking in every corner of this movie,” Tammi said.
“But in terms of keeping it PG-13 and any gore or deaths that we were incorporating, we knew it would need to be done in a way that was not seeing everything, right, and that was not super graphic. So we were really trying to find cool and creative ways to show that, whether that’s in shadow work or hearing something and not seeing it fully. I really enjoy that, to be honest. Finding ways to not show the whole thing, both as a moviegoer and a filmmaker, it makes things more interesting sometimes.”
The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie doesn’t explicitly tease a sequel story or anything like that, but it certainly leaves plenty of doors and windows open for a continuation of the story, if you know what I mean. I tried to pry Tammi for any details about what they might have in mind for the next one, but she kept those things to herself.
“We definitely have some ideas,” she teased. “We definitely have some hopes and dreams. It would be a dream to be able to keep making films within this world. So I’m really hopeful that the audiences will like it enough to get us back making more.”
Five Night’s at Freddy’s is in theaters and on Peacock Friday.
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