Centered around teen girls in love, ‘Fear Street’ spotlights characters that ‘normally would die very quickly in horror movies’

Writer-director Leigh Janiak talks to Yahoo Entertainment about the Fear Street trilogy, which the writer-director has adapted for Netflix from R.L. Stine’s young adult horror books of the same name.

Video Transcript

[PHONE RINGS]

- Hello?

- Still alive?

- Who is this?

- It's happening again.

KEVIN POLOWY: So what can you say about how you first got involved in this one, or should I say these three?

LEIGH JANIAK: Believe it or not, it was 2017, which is really stressful when I say that out loud because that was so long ago now. I was approached by Chernin Entertainment , who are my producers on the project. And they had kind of controlled the Fear Street properties. We were trying to figure out how to do it. Peter Chernin, who's amazing, had this idea that he wanted to release a set of movies in a short amount of time. And that was like kind of like his brainchild.

There wasn't more beyond that. It was just like, this would be cool. How can we do this? When they approached me, I was drawn to two different things. One was the books, the Fear Street property because I grew up in the '90s. So it was kind of like sweet spot of horror novels for me. And then beyond that, there was this idea of this cool new model.

When I started on the project, it was kind of figuring out how do we do this thing that is this hybrid between films and traditional television content.

KEVIN POLOWY: So the plan was always to release all three of these back-to-back in such close proximity?

LEIGH JANIAK: The project started at Fox. And we didn't know exactly what the time period would be in between. But we knew that it was going to be close. But it was always built to be a pretty short amount of time.

KEVIN POLOWY: It's amazing the way it worked out because it ends up being sort of like the "Lord of the Rings" of Netflix horror. I mean, those were more spaced out. But even just the way you guys just filmed these, I assume production went back-to-back-to-back. Can you talk about that?

LEIGH JANIAK: So production was 106 days total. And it was actually more like 106 nights, I would say. And we filmed all of the '94 stuff at first. '94 is obviously the present of the first movie. It's the frame story of '78. And then you'll see there's some of it in 1666 too. And so we did that first. Then we did 1666. And then we finished out with '78 and the summer camp.

So it was crazy. It was all three movies production at once, which is nuts.

KEVIN POLOWY: Fear Street, of course, based on the popular book series by RL Stine. Over 80 million copies sold. Was RL Stine involved at all and to what degree? I mean, did you guys have to get his blessing on anything?

LEIGH JANIAK: I have only personally met Bob once in person. And then I've met, obviously, people on his team of people who kind of like handle his estate. And it was kind of important to me from the very beginning, I think as a fan of the books, that we were true to the spirit of everything that he had created and then also just having his blessing.

And the great thing about him is that he is excited for how his material can be adapted and changed depending on what the format is. So he was very supportive.

KEVIN POLOWY: How would you say that the films depart from those books?

LEIGH JANIAK: The books are insane. Anything bad that could happen to characters happens in Fear Street. And that's kind of the amazing part of Bob's series. It's like there's a ton of them, first of all. And then there's killers. There's evil cats. There's like blobs. There's like insane things. There's a joy of life and death in it, is what I would say.

And so for me, when we were tackling on how to adapt it, that spirit was the main thing that we needed to be there, no matter what. And then essentially, we kind of departed. And we took main things. Like we took the idea of Shadyside. Sunnyville just exists in the books as like a prep academy. And we made it a different city.

And then there's character names, things like that that were shared. But mostly, it was taking that spirit of a town that was cursed. And then we figured out how to kind of adapt it to our three kind of movie structure.

KEVIN POLOWY: There's a killer in part two that feels like a little bit of a nod to Kevin Bacon's famous death scene in "Friday the 13th," gender-flipped though. Young girl has sex.

LEIGH JANIAK: Oh, yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: --she gets murdered in perfect succession about a minute long.

LEIGH JANIAK: Definitely, definitely. And there's a few moments. The thing that I love about "Friday the 13th" is that before they get killed, they often look right into the camera. And we did that a few times in that movie too.

KEVIN POLOWY: At the heart of the film series is a love story between two teenage girls. I don't think that's in the books. It was an exciting development, I know, for people when they saw the movie when the trailer first hit. Can you talk about the genesis of that aspect?

LEIGH JANIAK: That was also one of the exciting things about the movies to me when we started figuring it out was that there would be a love story kind of at the center, kind of bringing the characters throughout the three movies. Part of the awesomeness about developing the trilogy was that we created this mythology which had to do with Shadyside and the idea that everyone in Shadyside feels that they are other in some way.

That kind of core thing of what that means to be told by the world that you're an outsider and that your story is kind of not enough, that's central to the entire thing. And so it made sense as we were trying to figure out who each of the characters would be to kind of tell this queer love story.

And so it was important to me. It was important to my writing partner who grew up as gay in the '90s. The whole thing of Fear Street, I think, is telling the story of characters that normally would die very quickly in horror movies. And so it was exciting to be able to kind of give characters a moment that they should have, that they should be able to-- because that's what the world was. It just wasn't what films were necessarily reflecting of that time.

KEVIN POLOWY: I mean, I think it's fair to say, had the series been adapted in the early '90s after the first book first hit, I don't know if the studio or network would have been bold enough to do that at the time.

LEIGH JANIAK: Totally.

KEVIN POLOWY: Probably not. Did this feel like a mark of progress, or it sounds like it felt like an opportunity to evolve in that regard?

LEIGH JANIAK: Yeah. And I think that one of the great things about-- the film industry, obviously, is still changing and needs to have a lot of change. But I think in the past few years, storytelling has been more inclusive. And the studios and the different streamers and production companies are embracing those stories.

It was never a challenge for us. Everyone was excited to tell the story. But for sure, I think it's progress. And I think there's a real history within horror film of queer characters that really die immediately. I think this was really great. And I hope audiences respond to it.

- That's what she said.

- You are disgusting. And yes, I don't want to walk home alone.