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Samuel Bayer: From Nirvana to ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’

The director, a veteran of memorable music videos and commercials, makes his feature debut with a reboot of the Freddy Krueger slasher flick. ‘This was “Twilight” before “Twilight.”

April 29, 2010|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

How Bayer, after more than a decade of film flirtations, finally came to direct "Nightmare" is a twisty tale in its own right. At various points over the years, he has been committed to direct several remakes, including one for the '70s road movie "The Vanishing Point," and has been courted for numerous genre films, as producers sought a fresh vision for a familiar form.

"We tried to get him for ‘The Amityville Horror.' We tried to get him for 'Friday the 13th.' We tried to get him for one of the 'Texas Chainsaw' movies," says Brad Fuller, a partner at Platinum Dunes — founded and owned by "Transformers" director Michael Bay — and a producer on "Nightmare." "When we decided to do 'Nightmare,' I went down to his office. I got down on one knee, begging him to do it." But Bayer was unwilling to take the leap.

It wasn't until Bay himself took a run at Bayer, sending the auteur a long e-mail explaining that "Nightmare" would be a big commercial release, that the director began to relent. "There was an element of the e-mail that talked about this being a hit and that you don't get that opportunity very often," recounts Bayer. From someone else such a slick appeal might have fallen flat. From an uber-populist like Bay -- "When you get an email from the highest paid individual in Hollywood, you need to listen," Bayer says it resonated. Bay sealed the deal with an exhortation to stop being such a, well, fussy artist. "'You're going to wait a lifetime. You've got to pull the trigger,' Bayer recalls the message from last winter. After years of balking, Sam Bayer finally agreed to make a movie.

Remaking "Nightmare" would be a challenge, with its rich mythology and high fan expectations. Bayer's idea was to return the franchise to its more razor-edged roots. "We got rid of a lot of jokes," the director says. "I tried to make [Krueger] a really brutal character that relies less on the supernatural." And he hoped to play on the parable aspects. "I always saw this as a fairy tale for teenagers: Freddy Krueger is going to kill you if you fall asleep. This was 'Twilight' before 'Twilight.' "

Bayer has directed dozens of high-end commercials, including a memorable one in which people at landmarks around the world bat around a giant beach ball shaped like a Pepsi logo. So, directing a movie might seem to some like child's play, especially after hearing tales of his international adventures on commercial and video shoots, which when his crew was taken hostage in Morocco (apparently someone forgot to pay off the local city council).

But he admits finding it a particular form of taxing. "The hardest part about making a movie is stamina. When I do a music video or commercial, I do the whole thing in two weeks. With a film, it's very difficult to stay objective and see the big picture." The experience still motivates him to try again — he says he wants to be like John Huston, "directing 'The Dead' when I'm in my eighties and in a wheelchair" — and his agents have been busily lining up his next project. "I got a taste for it, and now I'm hungry for more," Bayer says.

But then, his choosiness and perfectionism creep in, and he pulls up. "I want to wait and make sure it's the right thing. Too many directors take on their next movie right after the first. It's like a band — the first album is small and heartfelt and the next one [stinks]. I want to make sure it's right."

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