Steven Quale Final Destination 5 interview

  • Breaking
  • 30/08/2011

By Daniel Rutledge

The latest movie in the Final Destination series opens in New Zealand cinemas this week and is set to be a 3D delight for horror fans.

Final Destination 5 is the feature directorial debut of Steven Quale, who has previously worked as second unit director on James Cameron’s Titanic, Avatar and Aliens of the Deep.

In the film, a small group of co-workers survive a suspension-bridge collapse after one of them is warned of the disaster in a premonition. Unfortunately for the survivors, Death does not like to be cheated and begins to kill them off, one by one, in a series of deadly accidents.

I spoke with Quale about Final Destination 5 – click the ‘View Video’ button above to listen to the audio interview, or read the transcription below:

Of the first four Final Destination films, from watching those as a viewer, what was your favourite death?
I have to say probably without question the bus kill in the first one. It was so completely unexpected and shocking that I think it set the tone for what really works in a Final Destination movie. It completely came out of left field. It’s one of those things I remember seeing in the theatre with the audience and they just went wild after it because they were so shocked.

A lot of people go to Final Destination films wanting to see a big opening disaster with a high bodycount and then a series of elaborate singular death sequences following it. How important do you think characterisation and story is in these films?
I think it’s very important. I think the fourth movie showed what happens when you completely abandon that – nobody remembers who those characters were or what they did or how the performances were. One of the things I said to the producers before I agreed to this film project was, ‘I’ll do this, but only if we really concentrate on trying to get good actors and really work on the story’. Obviously you have to follow the formula of the deaths and so forth but at the same time I wanted to put small plot points and character moments in. I wanted to explain what the characters were wanting to do. If you look at the other Final Destination movies, you never know what the goals or ambitions of any of these people are. They just aren’t set. Maybe they’re high school students, and that’s it. Or they’re, y’know, a jock who picks on people, but you don’t understand what their ambitions are. I felt if we could have just enough of that, so that you believe in these characters, then when all the terrible stuff happens, it grounds it in reality. Let’s face it, audiences are not coming to see the life story of these characters, but at the same time if you don’t give them something, they’ll just feel empty and it won’t fit very well. So it’s a blend, and it’s the same with the comedy. I felt that some of the Final Destination movies had gotten so self-reflexive and over-the-top with the comedy that it had become not organic to the way you could do it if it came from the characters. That’s what we tried to do with the two funny characters, we have the boss and Isaac, the guy who goes to the massage parlour.

Final Destination 5 director Steven Quale

In Final Destination 5, there is some severe eyeball violence, there is some needle violence, then we have the gymnast stepping on the screw – these seem to be more sort of primal fears with more of a cringe factor than some of the previous films. Was that something you were particularly interested in yourself?
Well I don’t know if it’s a cringe factor, but I felt that more everyday, benign objects causing demise was more interesting and people could relate to that more. Everybody knows that horrible feeling of stepping on a tack or a screw. I’ve found that it’s the suspense leading up to the kill that is often more interesting than the actual violence of the death itself. If you can cause the audience to get uneasy and nervous as they’re leading up to the demise you get a much more rewarding execution. Every once in a while it’s good to do a ‘bus kill’ kind of death where it kind of happens from out of nowhere, but you can’t do that all the time. So I think it was intentional and we were trying to get stuff that people could relate to.

You’ve obviously seen the film a number of times now, what’s the one part that still really gets to you each time you see it?
Well I have to say, for me, it’s the gymnastics sequence. The build-up to that with the screw falling down, every time I see that with a theatre packed with people and get their response to that as it’s going, I think we totally succeeded with it. You have a number of different misdirects, you build the tension, everybody is trying to figure out how is this person going to eventually be killed and I think it just works really well on all levels there.

Still from Final Destination 5

That was a great sequence. Another part that really got to me wasn’t even violent. It was just the close-up of the eye clamp going in such detail.
We knew exactly going in that that would be the response, because anything to do with the eye causes people to be squirmish. You look at old movies like Clockwork Orange or Un Chien Andalou, it’s just the eyeball is really scary. One of the things I did is I had a doctor put in a speculum clamp in my own eye and numbed it to see how it felt, to make sure that the actress Jackie could put that in her eye and be OK with it. Again it’s just the tension building it up and having this great macro telephoto shot of just the eyeball sitting there before anything bad happens. When the doctor is putting the clamp in and the eyelid doesn’t quite fit and I’m just milking it forever. I mean, I’d never normally hold a shot that long, but it just gave the audience that ‘Ew, that’s not very pleasant’ feeling.

The previous three Final Destination films have all included some nudity, but there is none in Final Destination 5. Was there any discussion around that?
The original script didn’t have any nudity written into it and the studio never asked for any, and I felt it didn’t need any. I suppose we could have but the way the characters were, it didn’t really seem organic to the film so we just went in that direction. Final Destination 3 probably had the best organic use of nudity with the tanning sequence. That I understood, it made sense. But the second and fourth movies just kind of had nudity out of nowhere which made me think ‘Why did they do that?’, it just made no sense at all.

Still from Final Destination 5

Since Avatar there’s been a boom in 3D cinema and there’s also been a bit of a backlash against that boom. Obviously now we’re at a stage where it’s very clear that there’s good 3D and there’s bad 3D. How has your experience with James Cameron on the likes of Aliens of the Deep and Avatar given you an understanding of the technology that maybe some other directors don’t have?
Over the years working with Jim we learned a lot of things what not to do. A lot of first-time people doing 3D end up causing eye-strain, and that’s the number one rule about 3D - be as cool as you want to be, but if it rips your eyeballs when you’re trying to watch it and it hurts, it’s a bad thing. I think there’s really been a disservice done to 3D by directors who don’t quite understand the technique of using it effectively. Worse is when studios decided to convert movies really poorly and quickly just to make a buck on releasing it in 3D. So now suddenly we’ve had lots of films come out that really have done nothing in the 3D realm to enhance the movie. Hollywood itself has self-inflicted these wounds and I think it’s key that we get filmmakers who really understand it to fix them. I’m looking forward to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus especially after he said he’s never gonna shoot in non-3D ever again because he loves the experience so much. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Peter Jackson does with The Hobbit and Martin Scorcese with Hugo. We just need to get the talented filmmakers who understand what 3D can do to their films and do it in a very positive, creative way that gets the audience not abandon it. I think 3D is here to stay and it’s important that we don’t make it a gimmick but make it part of an additional immersive experience so the audience can enjoy it.

The opening credit sequence of Final Destination 5 is fantastic. There’s blood flying at you, there’s skulls, there’s broken glass… the audience has got their money’s worth for the 3D horror gimmicks straight away. It’s great fun and looks like it would’ve been quite costly. How important was it to you to get that opening so right?
The opening sequence was done by Kyle Cooper who is an amazing title sequence creator and in fact was responsible for the original titles for the movie Se7en. I told Kyle up front, “Look, nobody’s done a really good 3D title sequence. I want you to do what you did for the titles in Se7en for that genre, to do the equivalent of in 3D for a 3D movie”. So we worked really hard and thought of all kinds of different ideas and we finally went back to an old school concept of just getting these giant 4x8 sheets of glass and crashing them with objects coming right at the camera in super slow-motion at 2000 frames per second. It was a great way to just introduce and say ‘hey this isn’t your father’s Final Destination’. At the same time Brian Tyler did an amazing main score with that complimented the images and those two things I think told the audience right away, ‘strap your seatbelts in, this is gonna be a fun ride’.

Still from Final Destination 5

Since the year 2000 there has been two major, successful, prolific horror franchises – Final Destination and Saw. What do you think the differences are, and are you a fan of the Saw movies?
I’m actually not a big fan of the Saw movies, I would call them sort of ‘torture porn’. It’s just constant torture as opposed to suspense or Twilight Zone style aspects, it’s just holding somebody hostage and torturing them. In Final Destination films it’s more the suspense leading up to the demise of the person. We don’t show any blood and guts at all until the actual act occurs. The audience wants to see the shock and the horror of the death, but it’s almost like a real quick release – you barely show a glimpse of the aftermath, and then you move on. Also, the Final Destination films are not vicious and mean-spirited, it’s more of just a series of unfortunate accidents that can even be somewhat humouress.

I always walked out of Saw movies feeling a little down, but I always walk out of Final Destination laughing.
Exactly! The audience can laugh at the deaths because they’re so over the top, you can really have fun with the movie.

Still from Final Destination 5

I think you’ve made a great 3D horror movie. Are you interested in doing any more, or even Final Destination 6?
Absolutely. I love the genre, there’s all kinds of projects I’d like to do. At the end of the day, the fans will determine if they make another one. If they do, I’m game, if we can get the right script and get something that will do justice to what the fans would like to see.

And maybe you’d shoot it in New Zealand?
Hey I was there directing second-unit of Avatar and I actually did a TV pilot called Superfire in Auckland about ten years ago that used the same special effects people from Avatar. I love New Zealand!


Final Destination 5 opens in New Zealand 3D cinemas this Thursday, September 1.

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