Director Emma Tammi On The Horrors Of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’

There’s an affinity out there for Chuck E. Cheese that’s a little … weird? Though, there’s a world where animatronic animals singing while people eat mediocre pizza seems somewhat appealing. (Though my parents lived near a ShowBiz Pizza, which was sort of like Chuck E. Cheese, only if I remember correctly it focused on a cartoon bear instead of a cartoon rat, which if nothing else seemed more sanitary. ShowBiz would later merge with Chuck E. Cheese.) Anyway, this is our setting for Emma Tammi’s Five Nights at Freddy’s, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese-type place called Freddy’s Fazbear’s Pizza, only the animatronic animals are possessed and kill people.

Set in 2000, Josh Hutcherson plays Mike, a down-on-his-luck guy who is raising his younger sister while still haunted by the kidnapping and presumed murder of his younger brother when they were kids. With no job prospects, his career counselor (Matthew Lillard) offers Mike an overnight security gig at the abandoned Freddy’s Fazbear’s Pizza where past security guards either seem to quit or be murdered. But Mike has no problems and the movie ends with him successfully guarding the former restaurant without any issues whatsoever. That last sentence is a lie, a lot of weird things happen to Mike.

Ahead, we spoke to director Emma Tammi about striking the balance between a movie about the grief over a kidnapped sibling and possessed animatronic singing animals who murder people. Also, despite all the murder, Freddy’s Fazbear’s Pizza still looks kinda fun. I mean, it does have a working Centipede arcade game.

I know there are a lot of bad things happening at Freddy’s. I think would still hang out there.

I think I would, too.

There’s Centipede. There’s Asteroids.

Right? It’s worth it. The arcade alone.

The benefits outweigh the risks. That was my takeaway from this movie.

I love that.

Okay, so this is based on a video game. I don’t really know this game. Did you know this game?

I did once I started hearing about the project from Jason Blum. So I started playing it and doing my homework. But it was super fun. I played a lot of video games as a kid, but actually never, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I had ever played a horror video game before Five Nights. And, man, it’s such a cool premise and I immediately felt like what a brilliant idea for a film adaptation. And then once I became familiar with how big the fan base was, I was so excited about potentially being a part of this.

That’s a good point. I don’t think I played a lot of horror video games either. Castlevania, I guess that counts?

I don’t think it was much of a thing. I mean, for me, I was playing in the 90’s – late 80’s and early 90’s. And, yeah, I was paying Tetris and Bubble Bobble and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Tetris isn’t very scary.

Yeah, it wasn’t scary.

Hey, but they made a movie about that too, somehow.

Yeah, true. But there is such incredible world-building now with games and the idea of getting scared while you’re playing them is such a no-brainer.

I won’t say what happens, but I do feel like the fans of the first Scream movie are going to like this.

Excellent. I hope so, too. And look, I think some of the fans, like you and I, of Scream are going to really, really get some references. And feel some things specifically with Matthew Lillard’s performance. And for some of the younger audiences less familiar with Scream, I think they’re going to equally just respond to Matthew Lillard’s performance, and this will be the new thing for them. This will be their introduction.

Chris Columbus was originally attached to direct this? Is that right?

Yeah, he was attached for a while.

I can’t even imagine his version. Does that make sense? I can’t imagine what his horror movie would look like.

I mean…

And I like his movies, don’t get me wrong, but…

Totally. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Chris Columbus and, obviously, his work speaks for itself and I don’t even need to say more good things about him. But I think the key to getting this movie on its feet was collaborating with Scott Cawthon on what the story was going to be. And I think different directors prior to me had maybe different takes on what that story should be. And Scott and I, for whatever reasons, were completely aligned on what the vision of this film was going to be. So I loved the story elements that he thought were important to include. And he really liked my take on how we were going to bring it to the screen and make the tone exactly right for the FNAF fan base and really hopefully make an excellent movie. We were just really in partnership on that, and I think that was important.

Were you a Chuck E. Cheese person or were you a ShowBiz Pizza person? I guess Chuck E. Cheese bought ShowBiz? Do I have this right?

Yeah, they’re connected. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a ShowBiz.

That’s what we had. We had ShowBiz.

Oh yeah, I grew up in New York City and my access to Chuck E. Cheese as a kid was Jersey. So yeah, there was something super nostalgic about it. I mean, it in and of itself is a completely unique world, very specific to it, but it evokes an era and the film is a period piece. So it evokes an era that I felt a very personal connection to.

Does it actually say in the movie when it’s set? I have a guess…

It does, but it’s not in your face and it’s easy to miss. Our present-day timeline is 2000.

Yeah, that was exactly my guess. When both DVDs and VHS tapes were both used.

Totally. And I think Abby and Mike, whose home we’re spending some time in, and nothing in their place is new. They’re probably getting everything secondhand. And so some of their technology is not the most up-to-date anyway. And certainly in the pizzeria, nothing is up to date. So we’re pulling from the ’90’s and ’80’s in terms of these heyday eras of the pizzeria.

Why 2000? Because that is an interesting year to set something in. Everyone still loves setting stuff in the ’80s…

We were hovering around the year 2000. Obviously, there was a lot going on with Y2K then, and so we didn’t want to be right on the cusp of that because that felt like such a big moment and that wasn’t the focus of our story in any way. But just over the hurdle of that and doing the math backwards from when generally the pizzeria would’ve opened and when it would’ve closed and when Mike’s brother would’ve been abducted. So, really, just piecing together a rough timeline landed us around the year 2000.

There are some grim themes in this movie, considering it’s about animatronic animals. Did anything seem too grim?

Sooooo grim. And I think what made it all really palatable, if you will, was how it was already incorporated into the lore of FNAF. Through not only the games, but the books and all of these other elements in the franchise. And the fan base has already digested so much of that…

But then there are people like me who aren’t in that fan base who are like, “Wow, this is grim. All right.”

Right. And I think for a lot of it, we were like, this is just part of the fabric of this and we are going to incorporate it in a way that still feels germane to our story and in a PG-13 tone. But we’re not going to shy away from any of it either because it is the DNA of this franchise. So it’s why Blumhouse was the perfect fit to produce this film. The deepest, darkest things are what they’re all about.

The way this movie ends I have a feeling in five years we’re going to be talking about Five Nights at Freddie Part V because this seems so set up for multiple movies.

Thank you for saying that. We sure hope so!

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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