From humble indie horror game beginnings, Five Nights at Freddy’s has become a global phenomenon. After an initial entry in 2014 that seemed designed to give YouTubers something to overreact to, the franchise blossomed into a media empire comprising seven core games (an eighth is coming in 2021), three novelizations, a bunch of experimental spinoff titles, a ton of merchandise and a lot of surprisingly complex lore.
Soon you’ll be able to add a movie to that list, as creator Scott Cawthorn has just confirmed that he’s approved a script for the Five Nights at Freddy’s film and that it’ll begin production in spring 2021. For those unaware, most of the games put the player in the shoes of someone being terrorized by murderous animatronic animals (you have to monitor them on CCTV and use various traps to survive the night).
It’s a solid horror concept, though judging by Cawthorn’s revelations about the scripts he’s considered and refused, difficult to get right on screen. He explained all in a Reddit post in which he listed the takes on the premise. The outlines variously came from major studios, ‘big directors,’ hired writers and Cawthorn himself.
I’ll let him explain the rest in his own words:
The “F” screenplay
Basic Setup: Group of teenage trouble-makers break into Freddy’s; chaos ensues
Problems: Although a pretty basic setup, there were a lot of odd choices here, which only got weirder as the story continued. The story ended with our protagonists in a secret underground animatronic factory that was designing robots for the government. -___-
The “Plushies Take Manhattan” screenplay
Basic Setup: Plushies take Manhattan.
Problems: Plushies took Manhattan
Verdict: Burned with fire.
The “Random Charlie” screenplay
Basic Setup: Charlie and friends sneak into Freddy’s after-hours to retrieve a lost toy.
Problems: Although sharing names of familiar characters from the series, these characters had nothing to do with their game and book counterparts. So, while featuring familiar elements of the games, it seemed too “loosely based” on the game, and lost a lot of its impact because of it.
Verdict: Felt like a random bag of FNAF elements with no real stakes. Meh.
The “Silver Eyes” screenplay(s)
Basic Setup: Kira and I both worked on three versions of a Silver Eyes screenplay over the course of about a year, trying to find the right approach to the story from the first book.
Problems: These were the first attempts I made myself to write a screenplay after realizing it was going to be difficult to find someone else who understood the lore well enough to do it. Unfortunately, it also meant these screenplays suffered greatly from my inexperience at writing. Even Kira, with her writing expertise, couldn’t save them.
Verdict: Although these had some good elements, I ultimately decided to focus on making a screenplay from the games and not from the books.
The “Pawn Shop” screenplay
Basic Setup: A kid who watches after a pawn shop finds trouble when an animatronic is brought in. It turns out Freddy’s had been robbed, and the animatronics were taken to different locations for sale. The other animatronics come to retrieve the one at the Pawn Shop, and the kid and his friends get roped into adventure.
Problems: A creative approach, but felt a little too much like “a boy and his animatronic”. Too much after-school adventure, not enough horror.
Verdict: Seemed like a good idea at the time.
The “Cassidy” screenplay
Basic Setup: Diving deep, this screenplay packed in a lot of lore, following the story of Cassidy.
Problems: Spanning multiple time-periods, following multiple characters, and featuring lore from multiple games, this was pretty saturated, saturated to a fault. It may have been satisfying to the most hardcore fans, but it would have left the majority of people confused and lost. (Hey wait, maybe this WAS the most accurate screenplay…)
Verdict: Ultimately more of a visual encyclopedia than a movie, this just wasn’t satisfying, even to me. Out.
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The “Misfit Kid” screenplay
Basic Setup: Single Mom brings her kid to a new town; kid finds Freddy’s; hilarity ensues.
Problems: One of the problems in creating a modern day story with an old Freddy’s setting is finding a way to connect the protagonists to the restaurant, finding a reason for them to be there, and finding a reason for them to stay. The problem here was that the reason for this kid to go to Freddy’s and have misadventures was too contrived and too forced.
Verdict: Not a bad setup, but it just didn’t work. If I don’t care about the characters, then there’s a good chance no one else will either. Pass.
(This was going to be THE screenplay for a while because it didn’t have any serious flaws. I ultimately just decided it wasn’t good enough though.)
The “Ghost Trackers” screenplay
Basic Setup: A group of amateur ghost-trackers sneak into the abandoned Freddy’s.
Problems: Although a very common-sense setup for this sort of movie, the problem again arose about how to give these characters a connection to Freddy’s itself. What ended up happening was too much of the story went to their own backstories and their own hardships, and it took the spotlight away from the story of Freddy’s.
Verdict: A stronger connection between protagonist and Freddy’s was needed. Lesson learned.
The “Insane” screenplay
Basic Setup: Another ghost-tracker variation, this one involved the Funtime Animatronics, underground ball-pit tunnels, and a Marionette out for revenge!
Problems: As some other screenplays ventured too far into adventure, this one went too far into action.
Verdict: Too all-over-the-place, with too many characters doing too many things.
The “Mike” screenplay
Basic Setup: Hmmmm. This makes sense. Why didn’t I think of this before?
Problems: Actually this is a good mix… it has the best pieces from all the previous screenplays… Not really any problems here. All the right characters, all the right motivations, all the right stakes…
Verdict: Yeah, we’re going with this one. It’s fun, it’s scary, and it has a great central story!”
This is a nice peek behind the curtain of the creative process and shows that there are many studios who see killer animatronics and instantly go for the most cliche-ridden option. Still, Cawthorn is playing his cards pretty close to his chest with his description of the “Mike” screenplay.
This is undoubtedly a reference to Mike Schmidt, the security guard protagonist of the first five games. If he’s the lead role, it suggests that we’re going to see the basic structure of the original title replicated (an underpaid and underinformed minimum wage worker doing his best against the sinister plushies and waiting for the sun to rise).
With production set to begin soon, let’s hope we get a better idea of how this’ll shake out over the next month. Given that the Five Nights at Freddy‘s fanbase skews young, it’ll be neat to see how they keep the intense thrills without dulling the monsters’ claws.