Interview With 'Wrong Turn' Director Mike P. Nelson
February 17, 2021
It was such a pleasure chatting with Mike P. Nelson, the director behind the Wrong Turn reboot and seventh instalment in writer Alan McElroy's horror-thriller franchise. We discussed the writing process, pitching to Warner Brothers, and his love for Final Draft! This interviewed has been condensed.
While Nelson now writes on Final Draft 11, his beginnings as a writer-director were good, old-fashioned paper-and-pen — though the subject matter hasn't strayed too far.
"Growing up, I was always writing stories. My mom still has a collection of journals entries. When I was in kindergarten, I wrote about the wolf man killing someone, so… I haven't strayed too far from that! I started making films soon after, went to film school, and used an idea from one of my shorts to write my first feature, The Domestics. I had no idea what I was doing, but received some guidance from a friend who would work with me on the scenes which led me to my first draft."
When asked what his writing process is, Nelson admits, "Ooh, okay, I might get in trouble for this, but…I do not outline."
"Nope. I generally start writing before I start writing. Meaning, I will write an idea for two or three weeks until I become so familiar with it in my head and just vomit my ideas into a script. Once I have the story out, I work backwards to find the areas that need fixing. I rewrite in chunks, probably another no-no, but it works for me! I like to outline after the draft’s been written so I can see where the disconnect happens."
Nelson might be on to something... He certainly is with his fresh take on 2003's Wrong Turn. This time, backwoods terror and nerve-jangling suspense meet when Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of friends set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course — and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, Jen and her friends seem headed to the point of no return, unless Jen’s father (Golden Globe® nominee Matthew Modine) can reach them in time. The update takes the original fright fest to more psychological depths with the us vs. them concept by weaving in political culture-clash.
But how did Wrong Turn end up in Nelson's hands?
"I used my short The Domestics as a proof of concept. I also had an outline, a pitch, even mock posters — a bunch of materials to go with the short. I had a friend who passed the feature version on to some people who ended up liking it and spent the next few months working with me to elevate it. Then, those people took it to Warner Brothers, where we pitched it, but they ultimately passed. We then took it to MGM and surprisingly they bought it! We made the movie and it was great. But then, months started going by and I couldn’t get another job. My agent sent me the Wrong Turn script and as soon as I read it, I knew there was nothing like it. I got a chance to pitch on it over the phone and they hired me that way, too. I will say, through all of that, nothing really stuck to these people but me."
They bet on Nelson as a person, which says a lot about both him and perhaps even a bit on where the industry is going.
As the director, one of his jobs became discerning what in the script could be accomplished within budget, and what couldn't?
"I like to use the example of the log scene. The first variation of that scene was scripted very differently. It was very special effects-heavy and a much bigger task in the draft. We didn’t have the budget to do it. On the day, we only had the location for a certain amount of time and we still had other scenes to shoot there. I remember watching Jurassic Park and thinking how cool it was to see the dinosaurs through the characters' reactions, so I took that into our shoot. Instead of seeing this log over and over again, we used sound and the actors' reactions to frame the dread and tell the story. We also used a cell phone to get the first look of the log so that — and Technicolor — did such a fantastic job, so that we didn’t need to budget out this huge log monster.
And Nelson's advice to his own younger writer self, and others out there?
"Write more and don’t be afraid to write poorly. I’m still dealing with that. The more you write ,the better you’re going to get and the more you mess up, the more you discover things that are going to make you better."
Wrong Turn is available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray February 23rd.
Written by: Sade' SellersSade’ Sellers is a screenwriter and producer based in Burbank, California. Originally from Michigan’s capital, Lansing, Sade’ has been working in the entertainment industry since 2009. In 2017, Sade’ was a finalist for Tv One’s Screenwriting competition for her teleplay The Replacement. This achievement motivated the network to hire her as a writer for their upcoming movie of the week event, Deadly Dispatch, which premiered on the platform in the summer of 2019. Through that production process, Sade’ met casting director Leah Daniels-Butler who was in the midst of staffing her production company, 1oneninety5. Sade’ then rose to the role of Vice President of Content Acquisitions and Development and spent the next year learning the ecosystem of film and television development from pitching to production. Using that experience, and bound at home due to COVID-19, Sade’ made a return to her first love, screenwriting, utilizing her free time to write new content. www.sadesellers.com