Interview | Five Nights At Freddy’s director Emma Tammi chats videogames and animatronics

Five Nights At Freddy's Emma Tammi
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With Five Nights At Freddy’s now in cinemas, we chat to director Emma Tammi about taking on the challenge to adapt a beloved videogame into a film.

2023 has been particularly good for videogame adaptations. The Last Of Us, Gran Turismo and The Super Mario Bros Movie have all soared to varying degrees on screens small and large.

But the road to this point hasn’t always been an easy one. Many have tried, and most have failed, to turn games into coherent, dynamic films over the years. Look no further than Assassin’s Creed, Prince Of Persia, Need For Speed and Max Payne for evidence that it’s not as easy as it may look.

Now, director Emma Tammi is the latest to give the genre a go. She has adapted the beloved, and thoroughly terrifying, Five Nights At Freddy’s (or FNAF for short) into a film with a runtime of less than two hours. Below, she tells us about making the film and working with that dreaded PG-13 rating.

I believe you hadn’t played the games before you signed on, but how familiar were you with the whole franchise?

I had played the games when I signed on, but I had not played the games prior to my first conversation with [producer] Jason Blum, who told me that they had been trying to make the film adaptation for quite some time and asked if I’d be interested in reading the script.

I did a quick crash course on playing the game and familiarising myself with the world of the franchise. It was an incredibly rich and nostalgic world that, even though I wasn’t a long time consumer of it, felt so immediately exciting to adapt into a movie, because playing the game felt like such an immersion into quite a cinematic soundscape and visual space. And then, of course, the animatronics felt like such an incredible opportunity to bring that to life in a practical way.

Five Nights At Freddy's josh hutcherson

Credit: Universal Pictures

There are so many games and spin-offs to Five Nights At Freddy’s, the lore is so extensive and the games are simple, and not story-lead at all. Where do you start with all that? 

Scott [Cawthon, the creator of the Five Nights At Freddy's franchise] was actually really specific. He was like, “This one should tie in with the first game, play the first game and focus on that.” So that did narrow things down a bit. It was great to become more familiar with the world beyond the first game, but it’s a tall order to do an adaptation. It would be an impossibly tall order to put the whole of the franchise lore into one movie. That was certainly not something that I was trying to do, nor was it something that Scott was trying to do. The existing draft of the script, that I then did a revision of with Scott and Seth Cuddeback, had a pretty clear blueprint of what Scott wanted to incorporate in terms of the lore and the character arc. From that blueprint, we were figuring out ways to enhance that, bring it more fully to life and make it as entertaining of a movie going experience as it could be.

I’m glad you mentioned Scott. It’s his franchise, it’s his baby in a way, but cinema is a completely different medium to tell a story with. How did you go about incorporating Scott’s original vision to yours as a filmmaker and specifically making a horror film?

Scott was really looking for someone who also had their own vision for the movie. I think the key was finding a person whose vision lined up with his vision. It was kind of a matchmaking thing that Blumhouse was tasked with in order to find the right partner for him. One of the things that really worked was us both listening to each other. Scott had never made a film before. Obviously, I was never going to know as much about Five Nights At Freddy’s as he does. He’s the ultimate guide for everything Five Nights At Freddy’s related. We were just each bringing our [own] skill sets to the table and, knowing that that needed to be a completely seamless meld, we were working together to make this adaptation everything that we thought it could be.

Like we already mentioned, there’s so much lore, and so many different characters and types of animatronics in the franchise. Is that exciting for you? Or did you feel pressured to have a certain amount of things and references and names thrown in there?

It was hugely exciting, just on the animatronics front. I had never worked, as a director, with puppets before, and certainly not with animatronics. Getting to partner with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, to figure out how to transform these incredible digital renders of characters into practical moving and, dare I say, breathing elements was really an incredibly unique learning process and an incredible collaboration. It felt like both one of the most challenging aspects of bringing this movie to life, but [it was] also one of the most exciting components.

Was it always the plan to make actual animatronics? They’re quite big! And in this day and age, it’s so easy to just get somebody to do everything on a computer for you.

Yeah, it was really something that I felt strongly about and that Scott felt strongly about as well. We wanted to make sure that we’re getting the designs right in real time, that we were able to touch, feel and see these things through our lenses and really feel confident in the fact that there’s Freddy Fazbear, there’s Foxy. Those are the iconic characters, and [they’re] really part of the cast of this film, if you will. And in addition to that, the ability to have those animatronics and the characters interact in real time with our actors was just adding a whole other dimension to the film that I don’t think we would have achieved if we had approached those characters using CGI.

Videogames are notoriously difficult to adapt to film, and a lot of them do get a bad reputation. Were you intimidated by that? Five Nights At Freddy’s has a very passionate fan base.

Absolutely. I think having Scott involved in the process gave me confidence that if we were taking big swings, and he didn’t feel like they were going to land with the fan base, he would keep us on track. And certainly, we were getting the most authentic, firsthand information about the lore and the accuracy of everything that we were building out. So just speaking, for this specific movie and this specific game, that felt hugely essential in order to feel like we were getting it right for the fan base. We all hope that it stands on its own two feet as a great movie as well, but we knew that if we weren’t making this movie properly for the fan base, then it wouldn’t have been worth doing.

A lot of that fan base is made up of quite young gamers, and you have a PG-13 rating. Was that something that was quite clear as well, that you wanted this to be accessible for a very large audience, even if it cost you some of the more gory bits?

It was, early on, the priority to be able to include the younger fanbase, as well as the older fans. It would have been a lost opportunity to exclude them. And, for me, PG-13 lends an interesting creative challenge in finding ways that were less obvious to show and indicate the violence that ensues at certain parts of the film. And I think that’s more interesting at times. You can see all the guts in the gore and that, of course, is totally fun and has its place, but it’s more obvious. As a filmmaker, I find it personally more interesting to figure out other elements that tell the story that are a little bit more unique. And so in our case, we were leaning into shadows and silhouettes and that was really exciting.

Five Nights At Freddy's review

You get away with quite a lot. Someone gets bitten in half! That was quite gnarly. How did you tow that line?

We had conversations with the MPAA at script stage. [We had] creative storyboards that we were able to share with them so that I can describe execution, and how that might be able to fit into the MPAA, PG-13 rating, so that we knew we were tackling [scenes] in a way that would make it into the final cut. So that was hugely helpful, but that was really execution dependent. There’s so much darkness in the world of Five Nights At Freddy’s and in the lore, and we, of course, are drawn to that. It’s one of the most delicious elements of the game and the movie, but in order to make sure that we were not dipping into an R-rating, we just needed to be specific about the execution.

Do you think Hollywood should be offering and making more horror films for children to get them into that genre and providing these gateway films?

Absolutely. It’s actually quite a hard nut to crack, but I think it’s something that has a lot of untapped potential. I hope that this will open the door for more. I think about gateway horror books and movies in my life, like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and just the ways in which I think younger audiences are drawn to those types of scary stories in all different mediums, I think there’s such a big appetite for it. If more films could live in that space, [they] would be very successful.

Five Nights At Freddy’s is now in cinemas. Read our review of the film here!

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