Director Emma Tammi on “breathing life” into Five Nights at Freddy’s

A Five Nights at Freddy's movie has been a long time coming, but how did we get here? We spoke to the movie's director Emma Tammi, for the full story.

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It’s been a long road to the silver screen for the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. Development on the film began in 2015 but it spent years languishing in development hell until Blumhouse got their claws into it and brought on director Emma Tammi to bring the evil animatronics to the big screen.

Now, anticipation for the Five Nights At Freddy’s movie is at an all-time high, and it’s easy to see why. Blumhouse is the studio responsible for some of the best horror movies of the last decade, including Get Out and Paranormal Activity, and few videogames dominate pop culture quite like Freddy and his friends. So when we were offered the chance to interview Tammi about the new movie, we leapt at the chance. Here’s how our conversation went.

The Digital Fix: What made Matthew Lillard perfect for the role of William Afton?

Emma Tammi: Matthew’s got such incredible energy and has so much delight in finding characters. Darkest, darkest moments, but mixed with a dash of delight, and he always has a little twinkle in his eye. And I think what we needed for Five Nights at Freddy’s was someone who inhabited all of those elements with true charisma, and Matthew Lillard is the perfect person for that.

TDF: Did you go back and play any specific games for this film?

ET: I did. You know, Scott was very specific about wanting to focus on the first game. So that was where I put most of my attention, so I got a bigger sense of the overall landscape of the games, the books, and the world. But we were really focusing on on specific elements of the lore for this movie and not attempting to bring in everything, which, of course, would have been completely impossible. By just focusing on the first game, it made the task at hand more tangible.

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TDF: What made you want to bring Security Breach characters like Vanessa into the film?

ET: That was really coming from Scott. He had a specific blueprint of how he wanted this movie to unfold and also which characters he wanted to be focusing on. So, bringing Vanessa into the mix was something that was already on the table on day one when I started work on the project. The really exciting part for me was getting inside the character of Vanessa figuring out what makes her tick, and discovering her, both in the script and alongside Elizabeth Lail and her performance.

Vanessa is such a complicated character who is compartmentalizing so many different parts of herself. It was no easy task to step into those shoes, but Elizabeth Lail just did the most amazingly genuine job of finding Vanessa’s truth.

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TDF: There was a pretty major change from the games, with Vanessa being William Afton’s child. What made you want to make that change?

ET: For me, what was so interesting about those character connections was the complicated dynamics that it brought into the mix of the movie, which I think are just so interesting.

How do you grapple with having a parent that has done some of the most atrocious acts that a human can do, and also feel tethered to them as part of your family? That is such a complex human thing that Vanessa is going through, and that drew me immediately to that storyline as a filmmaker.

In terms of the liberties that were being taken with different storylines from the lore, that was, again, really coming from Scott, and I have full confidence that he knew what he was doing in terms of taking parts from here and there and figuring out what was going to be the best elements to include and shape maybe in slightly different ways in the movie.

TDF: What made you want to differentiate Mike Schmidt in this film from Michael Afton?

ET: When I came on the project, the lead character was always Mike Schmidt. So, that was who I was looking to expand and develop as a character. And that was who Josh was introduced to and wanted to, you know, breathe life into. So yeah, that was coming from Scott, and it was our job to make that character a fully three-dimensional human being.

TDF: Was there a lot of pressure to get the film right because of the fandom? How did you mediate that?

ET: I think as a filmmaker, you put so much pressure on yourself to make the best possible movie, no matter what movie it is, and of course, the fanbase was an additional element for this one, but it wasn’t so much that I felt the weight of that being more pressure on my shoulders, I think what I felt was mostly, you know, adrenaline and accelerated excitement to really get this right for them.

Yes, it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also just so much fire to keep you going to make something that you think they’re going to love. Because we knew this was gonna go out into the world at some point and not just be our little movie anymore, but really be the fans’ movie, so we just wanted to really get it right for them.

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TDF: Did any other film or directing styles serve as an inspiration going into Five Nights at Freddy’s?

ET: One movie that I haven’t talked a lot about yet, but one we’ve definitely pulled images from and talked about quite a lot, was It. You know, we were figuring out ways in which to light the animatronics differently so that they at times felt incredibly sinister, and then in other moments trying to light them through the eyes of our character Abby, where the animatronics felt endearing and even lovable, like how she viewed them.

I think It did such a great job with color and lighting, and tone in making something that is both frightening and also captured this weird childhood wonderment and fantasy gone terribly wrong kind of quality that is also so relevant to Five Nights at Freddy’s.

TDF: What is your favorite scene from the film?

ET: I think the first time that you see the animatronics come to life. It’s pretty inspiring for me still, even after watching it so many times. It’s the same feeling I got the first time I saw animatronics from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop up on their feet, walking around. It’s a pretty unparalleled feeling. So that’s definitely something that speaks to me every time I watch the film. How lucky am I to feel that way?

To see the new movie for yourself, here’s our guide on how to watch Five Nights at Freddy’s. Or, you can check out our Five Nights at Freddy’s review and articles breaking down the Five Nights at Freddy’s cast, Five Nights at Freddy’s Easter Eggs, Five Nights at Freddy’s movie differences, and 10 things you didn’t know about Five Nights at Freddy’s.