Adam Wingard tells MyM magazine how his new Netflix version of Death Note nearly didn’t make it to the screen at all…
“Years ago, my younger brother and I were talking on the phone,” Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch, Godzilla Vs Kong) tells MyM magazine’s Dave Golder, “and just randomly at the end of the conversation he mentioned, ‘You know, if you ever need something to adapt into a movie, what about Death Note?’ At the time I was aware of Death Note, but I wasn’t fully familiar with it. The reason he mentioned it was that we both grew up watching lots of anime, that was our main thing. So I went and checked it out and I really liked it.
“Then a couple of years later, I met with Warner Bros. and they were really interested in me doing it. I got attached really quickly from there. We had to get the Japanese rights holder’s permission to do my take on it and then we were off and running.
“We were developing Death Note for a long time. I mean, I was attached to do it right before I went off to do Blair Witch. I was working on the script for Death Note with Jeremy Slater [Pet] while we were in production on that film, with the idea that once we had wrapped on Blair I would have a brief rest then start right away on Death Note. Literally I would have one weekend off and the Monday would be the start date for Death Note. We had already done all the budgetary stuff. We knew what we wanted the movie to be. We were all ready to go.”
One of the things he wanted the film to be was R-rated. While the script he was given was “pretty good, though the characters weren’t totally fleshed out and the tone wasn’t totally there” there were two things he really pushed for when trying to convince Warner Bros. to give him the gig.
“My initial pitch concentrated on the death scenes. The death scenes in Death Note are most of the time the victims having a heart attack. So one of my first things was, ‘Can we make it more like Final Destination?’ I wanted to take the death scenes and make them more splattery and crazy and interesting.”
“I also wanted to push the cat and mouse kind of thing between Light and L. That’s what’s really cool about the story. It’s a crime thriller, but it’s with teenagers. It’s like a young adult version of all these crime thrillers we’ve seen before.”
But then it looked like everything had fallen apart.
“I go away for the weekend and I’m driving back on the Monday and I get a call from my manager telling me the movie had gone into turnaround. And I thought, ‘Well, great, nobody else is going to pick an expensive, R-rated, supernatural movie. A kid with a demon friend. It’s a really wild movie.
“Sure enough, we started shopping it around and other studios were interested but they wanted to do it for $10m less. And we were going, ‘We’ve already budgeted this thing to the bare minimum right now. We can’t afford to do it for anything less.’
“And that’s where Netflix came in. They saw that this was a mainstream film that was doing something that wasn’t mainstream. And it translated into the kinds of things they like doing.”
To read the full interview with Wingard (including why he makes no apologies for the fact that his adaptation is very different to the Japanese manga that inspired it, and how he has even – gasp – added new rules about how the notebook can be used), pick up a copy of MyM magazine Issue 65 in WHSmith or all good independent newsagents.