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JAMES WONG Final Destination

Death is coming and Alex Browning (DEVON SAWA) is blessed with the curse of knowing when, how and where the grim reaper will strike.

Alex's bone-chilling gift reveals itself just as the teenager embarks on a trip to Paris with his high school French class. In the plane's cabin, buckled-in and ready for take-off, Alex experiences his first powerful premonition. He sees the plane explode in a fiery blaze moments after leaving the ground. Sensing imminent doom, Alex panics and insists that everyone get off the plane. In the melee than ensues, seven people including Alex, are forced to disembark.

Back in the airport terminal, Alex is surrounded by those who were kicked off the aircraft: his friends Billy (SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT) and Tod (CHAD E. DONELLA); Clear (ALI LARTER) a young woman who instinctively heeded Alex's warning; Carter (KERR SMITH), who ends up in fisticuffs with Alex and is ousted off the plane along with his girlfriend Terry (AMANDA DETMER); and Ms. Lewton (KRISTEN CLOKE), the teacher who volunteers to stay with the ejected students.

As each fumes about their lost opportunity to visit Paris, Alex's horrific premonition proves tragically accurate. The ill-fated plane explodes in midair. Shocked and confused, the survivors struggle to understand how Alex was able to anticipate the catastrophe. Some are drawn to his eerie clairvoyance, but most of the group is scared of his gift. As skeptical FBI Agents question his every word, Alex tries to reconcile the tragedy and return to a normal life but portents of doom surround him.

Ultimately Alex comes to believe that somehow he and the others cheated death. One by one, as each of these fugitives of fate meets an untimely end, Alex and his remaining friends must band together to change the course of destiny and outwit the untamable forces of death.

New Line Cinema will release Final Destination on March 17, 2000. The film is a supernatural modern-day thriller that invokes memories of horror classics like The Omen and Rosemary's Baby; films in which atmosphere and innuendo played an integral part in building suspense. Based on a story by Jeffrey Reddick, the screenplay for Final Destination was written by Glen Morgan, James Wong, and Jeffrey Reddick and produced by Warren Zide, Craig Perry and Glen Morgan. Wong, best known for writing some of the most memorable episodes of "The X-Files," makes his feature directorial debut. The dynamic young cast features Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd, Kristen Cloke, Seann William Scott, Chad E. Donella, Amanda Detmer, Daniel Roebuck, and Roger Guenveur Smith.

About the Production

For New Line Cinema, Final Destination is a homespun project conceived by a longtime employee of the studio. Jeffrey Reddick, who still works as an assistant to the co-chairman of worldwide marketing, has always been a fan of the horror genre. His appreciation of spine tinglers dates back to his early teenage years when he was just a kid growing up in Jackson, Kentucky.

"I remember seeing the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and the movie literally changed my life. I was a huge horror fan as a kid and I remember thinking this was the smartest, scariest film I'd ever seen." A few years later, Reddick took his first stab at writing a Hollywood screenplay.

While thousands of writers aspire to have their screenplays produced, few are teenagers who are aggressive enough to take their dreams directly to the chairman of the studio. Reddick did just that. "I was a 14 year-old in Kentucky with no knowledge of screen writing or how the movie industry worked. I had no idea what I was doing, but I ended up writing a 10 page sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street."

He sent the outline to New Line Cinema's Chairman, Robert Shaye. In return, he received a letter saying that New Line didn't accept unsolicited material. Again, not knowing that studios generally do not respond to writers without the formal representation of agents, lawyers or managers, Reddick wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

"I responded to Bob with a surly note listing all of the New Line Cinema movies that I had seen and the amount of money I had spent watching them. I told him that since I had spent all that time and money on his product, he could take five minutes to look over my story. I never expected the Chairman to write back, but he did. He replied with a very nice and encouraging note. He like the imagination that went into the story, but he said I needed to work on developing a structure that would lead to a stronger story. I was blown away and I still have that letter."

With Shaye's advice in hand, Reddick began writing more and more. He kept in contact with executive at the studio while continuing school in Kentucky. Years later, while on a summer field study in New York, he secured an internship at New Line.

"Later, New Line offered to hire me on as a temporary floater. I even temped for Bob Shaye a couple of times, but I was too shy to tell him who I was. One night the executives were out having dinner and Bob told his assistant that my name sounded familiar, but he couldn't plane it. His assistant told him who I was. The next day, Bob came in and congratulated me for following my dreams and making my way to New Line. 'See what you can do when you set you mind to it,' he said."

Nearly ten years later he sold the outline for Final Destination and was hired to write the first draft. Producers Craig Perry and Warren Zide read a lot of scripts. "Even though Final Destination came to us as a treatment - it stood out," says Perry. "On an immediate level, I responded to the universal themes -- the feeling when you take a plane that you're placing your destiny in someone else's hands -- then taking that idea forward to question how fate interacts with our lives at every stoplight on every street corner."

Zide and Perry worked with Reddick to develop the screenplay. "The story went through several incarnations. Initially, the characters who get off the plane had no immediate connection and sought each other out after the accident. We changed that, logically the organically creating a situation where a class of high school kids were at the center of the story. But it was crucial to make sure that the ideas the themes of the story permeate well beyond that particular demographic."

After Reddick developed the blueprint for the screenplay, New Line turned to Glen Morgan and James Wong to produce and direct the project. Morgan and Wong were quickly developing a reputation as masters of suspense, having written some of the most memorable episodes of "The X-Files," and the studio gave them free reign to develop their own inimitable take on the project.

"Glen and James know how to generate an atmosphere of dread - to create suspense out of things that are ordinary. That's what their work on "The X-Files" and "Millennium" is all about," Perry concludes. The cornerstone of the story reworked by Morgan and Wong centered around the fascination with life and death and the workings of fate. "I believe that at one time or another we've all experienced a sense of prescience. We have a hunch, a feeling, and then that hunch proves true," says Wong. "Do we become momentarily aware of our fate -- a brief glimpse at the script for the movie we're enacting -- and if so, who's the director?"

"Once we had a basic story," says Morgan, "I started cataloguing the strange coincidences in my own life. For example, I was in the Vancouver airport waiting for a flight when John Denver cam on over the loudspeaker. I remember saying to myself, 'Hey, he just died in a plane crash -- that's a little weird.' We wrote that version of that experience into the script."

"We want to do for planes and air travel what Jaws did for sharks and swimming," quips Wong.

"There have been a lot of plane crashes done in the movies over the years," Perry admits. "This is probably the first one in which the audience experiences the entirety of the crash from the perspective of the person sitting in the cabin. There are no cut-aways -- it's all very claustrophobic and very real because you're experiencing it first-hand."

Final Destination is James Wong's feature directorial debut. Wong was nominated for an Emmy for "Musing Of a Cigarette Smoking Man..", an episode for "The X-Files". With production designer John Willett, Wong and Morgan have devised a unique visual signature for Final Destination. "The challenge," Willett explains, "is to present something that is creepy and off-putting -- that makes you feel strange -- but that you can't quite put your finger on. Rather than going for the obvious -- odd camera angles, strange lighting, dark colors -- we elected to do very subtle things. By using forced perspective, we created corner that don't meet at 90 degrees as they should. Objects that feel vaguely out of place -- these are just some of the creative techniques we're using to make things feel out of kilter."

"This idea of skewing things just a few degrees off-center is a very subtle representation of how the world has changed for the seven survivors," says producer Warren Zide. "The way the sets are sued to refract and reflect the characters' state of mind will hopefully create a certain sense of unease in the audience."

"One thing we were all in agreement on from the start," says Wong, is that we didn't want to do a slasher movie. We didn't want a guy in a dark cloak or some kind of monster chasing after these kids. That's been done again and again. I became very excited when we decided to make the rold at large, in the service of death, our antagonist. Everyday objects and occurrences then take on ominous proportions and it becomes less about whether or not our characters are going to die and more about how they will die and how they can delay their deaths. The entertainment value is in the 'ride' not in the outcome, and by placing the premise of the film on the inevitability of death, we play a certain philosophical note."

"There are sequences in the film," says Perry, "that are designed specifically to misdirect the audience. Part of the fun of the movie is watching the sequences unfold and trying to figure out 'hmm, how is this character gonna get it?'" Beyond inventive ways to meet one's maker, Final Destination pays homage to the greats of the genre in its choice of character names. Alex's surname is Browning, as in Todd Browning who directed Freaks and the original Dracula. Billy's surname is Hitchcock, and Valerie Lewton is a moniker of Val Luten whose credits include Cat People and Walk of the Zombie.

Devon Sawa leads the ensemble cast as Alex Browning, a thoughtful young man. who whose vivid premonitions change his life."I'd been reading a lot of scripts," Sawa recalls, "and the Final Destination script really stood out. It got me thinking about death... and life! I thought it would be challenging as an actor to go through the whole arc of character development that Alex experiences."

"Devon has an every man. quality that makes him accessible," says Wong. "He doesn't appear as if he's supremely self-assured, he's more of a regular kid who can take on the complexities of the role and become a hero."

"In the beginning," Sawa muses, "Alex is a low-key kind of guy. He and his friend Tod aren't the most popular kids at school, but they've got their own thing going. After the plane does down his world changes completely. People are dropping like flies and the FBI is watching him like a hawk while he's trying to figure out death's design. All he wants to do is figure out how to stay one step ahead of death."

Ironically, Sawa first read the script to Final DESTINATION while he was on a plane. "I found myself peeking out the window at the engine every couple of minutes," he said. That anxiety was rekindled months later while he was on the set and he toured the mock-up of the 747. "You really felt like you were inside an airplane," Sawa enthuses, "and so when it started shaking, people were screaming and explosions were going off it felt very real. Next time I'm on a plane and there's a little turbulence, I'll probably reach for my oxygen mask!"

"One of the most important things we were looking for in casting," explains Morgan, "was the actors' ability to play the subtleties - the little things that a character doesn't say or do that create the edge. The things that get under your skin and spook you."

Ali Larter co-stars as Clear, a feisty young woman whose individuality and intelligence have rendered her somewhat of a loner. Clear is the only person on the plane who heeds Alex's premonition and after the crash, the two become friends. "The film shows how easy it is to turn on someone, to blame someone when you're scared. It's also about trusting your intuitions and yourself."

Kerr Smith plays Carter, a classmate who emphatically dismisses Alex's theories on the workings of fate. Smith joined the cast of "Dawson's Creek" in September '98 and his character, Jack, evolved in complex and intriguing ways over the season. "Carter's the exact opposite of Jack," says Smith. "He's a bully -- he lives on anger and because of the crash he's also living on fear. He feels like his life is out of control and he can't deal with that at all."

Final Destination is Smith's first feature, and working with 'green screen' in the creation of some of the movie's effects was a challenge. "You've got to kind of whip up your imagination," Smith laughs, "but I liked it - it was fun!"

Kristen Cloke plays Valerie Lewton, the teacher who volunteer to stay behind withe the disembarking students. Cloke met Morgan and Wong when she starred in their Fox television series "Space: Above and Beyond." Cloke also worked with Morgan and Wong on "Millennium."

"I have incredible respect for them," says Cloke. "Jim's the kind of director who knows exactly what he wants. As an actor I can find a way to get there if I know specifically what I'm going for and Jim gives me that. The fact that he won't move on until he's got exactly what he wants creates a safe environment which allows me to experiment and try different things."

Valerie Lewton is the only adult character who escapes the fatal crash and suffers the growing fear and anxiety as death comes to collect its due. "At the beginning of the film," Cloke explains, "Valerie seems to have it all together. She's strong and sassy -- in control. After the crash she comes unglued, probably more than any of the kids, and it's a quick, drastic change. I had to understand the psychology of a person who can turn on a dime like that." The character, Valerie Lewton, has always lived in the same house -- the house she grew up in. She's always lived well within her comfort zone and has no tools for coping with the extreme discomfort she feels after the crash. "Alex makes her look into the eyes of death," says Cloke, "and it rocks her. She feels she has lost control of her life."

Seann William Scott plays Billy, the class clown, whose goofing around results in him being removed from the doomed 747 before it takes off. Scott was last seen in the hit feature American Pie. "Billy's the kind of guy that says things out loud that are, to say the least -- ill times. He's a bit of a social outcast," Scott chuckles.

"Jim, Glen and Jeff have written a story that will make people question the coincidences in their lives," Scott continues. "I see this film as dark and eerie as any "Twilight Zone," he concludes.

Amanda Detmer plays Carter's girlfriend Terry, who goes along with pretty much everything Carter says - to a point. "Terry's very put-together," says Detmer of her character. "At the beginning of the film she and Carter appear to be the perfect couple. Terry seems content to defer to him - to not make waves. But the stress of what happens affects their relationship and interestingly enough brings out a certain strength in her." Detmer, to, was impressed with the script for Final Destination. "When I first read the script the thing that struck me most was that the characters were well-written and the relationships between them were strong and believable," she enthuses. "That's important because you have to care about these people in order to be worried about the might happen to them."

Chad E. Donella rounds out the ensemble cast as Tod, Alex's best friend. "I believe in fate," Donella muses. "I think you come into this life with some things to accomplish and you're taken out earlier or later depending on the game plan."

The game plan behind-the-scenes was to create an intriguing visual signature for Final Destination. To serve the subtleties of the script and to help personify death, Production Designer John Willett developed the concept of 'skewing' the sets. "What I've tried to do with the sets themselves, with their design and with various color choices, is to make things just a little unnatural," Willett explains. "Nothing that calls attention to itself, but instead creates a sense of uneasiness -- the unsettling feeling that something's not quite right."

To achieve this mystique, Willett designed two versions of virtually every set - one version was used before the crash and the other sets were used for scenes after the jet explodes. Unlike what you might thing, when death is present the world appears as it should. It is only when death has been thwarted - unable to seize its next victim, that the sets are 'skewed'. "On the skewed sets I force the perspective either vertically or horizontally," says Willett. "Nothing is square, and although you can't put your finger on it, it just makes you feel like something is not right."

Likewise, skewing' was part of the overall design for the color palette used in set decoration and costume design. "In the real world, the colors are bright and rich," Willett explains. "In the skewed world they're washed out and faded. Nothing is obvious, and ti's only in the overall effect that these subtle differences will work their magic."

Final Destination was demanding show for SPFX Coordinator, Terry Sonderhoff. "When I realized how many stunts there were in this film, I said to myself, 'Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into!'"

By far the biggest effect Sonderhoff had to orchestrate was a full-scale mockup of a 747 on a massive hydraulic gimbal. "We spent two months building this central set piece that weighs about forty-five thousand pounds and holds 89 people." Used for filing the riveting on-board sequences, the plane could be shifted on the gimbal to create a pitching movement of up to 45 degrees side-to-side and 60 degrees from to back, conveying most realistically the horror of airborne engine failure.

"You walk into the studio and there's a huge gimbal with a plane on top and you think, 'That have I done?' I was afraid we we're gonna have forty extras vomiting," jokes Wong.

Not only did the plane 'rock 'n' roll' during the week of shooting the crash sequences, there were also explosions, walls being ripped apart and stunt people flying out of the plane on harness rigs.

Another big stunt was the scene where Carter(Kerr Smith) has stalled his car on the railway tracks. "We stripped the car down to just the metal shell," Sonderhoff explains. "Normally if a train hit a car it would just push it along, finally pushing it off to the side. To make the scene more dramatic, we stripped the car down to the metal shell, split the car in two, with one half rolling off in fire - the other half in smoke. It worked perfectly."

By the end of the shoot, the cast and crew had mastered the macabre. Nearly every cast member came face-to-face with the disconcerting notion of dying. But some, for the sake of survival or potential sequel, determined to discover a way to cheat death.

Cast Information