Spec Spotlight: Minsun Park and Teddy Tenenbaum Talk About /RedDoor
What is being described as a cross between The Ring and the upcoming Ready Player One is Sony’s supernatural thriller: /RedDoor. The deal was landed in February 2017. The film follows a young journalist who discovers the new game app he is reviewing has the ability to kill the player once they’ve entered the game world. The journalist must stop the game before both he and his sister end up becoming its victims.
The innovative minds behind the upcoming horror /RedDoor, Minsun Park and Teddy Tenenbaum, have collaborated on multiple projects and achieved success in very diverse ways. Teddy and Minsun speak to their experience, the inspiration for the film, and more!
Q: What brought you guys together? What is it like working together on projects?
Teddy: I don’t think it’s published, but we’re married – we have been for a long time. We mostly work separately. Although when we met, we were both aspiring writers. So, we already knew we were both heading down that path. We just took different directions: one of us took a path through the woods and one of us took the path through the internet; and ended up in the same destination point. We did work together early in our careers on a couple of specs. And Minsun said it was either that or marriage – we chose our marriage. I wrote separately. I mostly have focused on screenwriting in television. Minsun has worked mostly in feature writing and worked for a number of magazines.
Minsun: Like online blogging, things like that. If I rewind a little bit with where I started, I started as an assistant to a literary agent and then I worked for a production company for a while. And then I decided to try a spec script which ended up being a Nicholl’s semi-finalist. I got my first agent that way. After that, I guess I had babies. Instead of the marathon of screenwriting, I decided I was more of a sprinter. So, I sprinted into short articles for websites. It was nice because I got paid for things. I got used to getting paid, I got used to getting published, and I got used to getting positive feedback. So, I didn’t go back to doing screenwriting for a while. I still did little specs here and writing with Teddy.
Teddy: And most writers are like Minsun where you’re fighting your demons and your insecurities. Fewer writers are like me where you feel way overconfident in what you’re writing. So, it’s good that we’re partners because she needs to take me down a few notches. She keeps me realistic, and I keep her hopeful.
Q: How did the collaboration happen for /RedDoor?
Teddy: We had written two specs together in the far past. We hadn’t done it for probably 10 years. Minsun still would read and edit my scripts and my work. And she always had amazing ideas. In fact, some of the projects that I’ve sold as pitches were projects that she discovered. For instance, the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren which was turned into the movie The Conjuring – although I had sold it previously under another title as a television show and a feature – and Minsun had discovered the Warrens and had brought them to my attention. So, cut to ten years later – or seven or eight years later – and Minsun had another idea that I thought was amazing. And I encouraged her to write it and she encouraged me to write it. And we just decided why don’t we encourage each other to write it together.
Q: Why horror?
Teddy: We have a core love for horror and science fiction. The two scripts we’ve written in the past were horror and thriller. This was a solid horror idea and we decided to team up. So, I think that what we continue to write going forward as we work more as a pair than we have in the past will probably be mostly genre: horror, science fiction, thriller. That sort of thing. There’s an inherent threat in the online world and we think it’s a very ripe arena for horror because it’s a part of daily horror.
Minsun: For instance, as an online writer, it’s probably now you just get hate mail sent to you sometimes. And they’ll find you. They’ll find your Facebook profile and they’ll yell at you. And I’m just thinking, “Wow. These are people who have literally never seen me face-to-face but they hate my guts, you know, over some ridiculous story.” And they might be willing to resort to violence or havoc or abduct you. It’s like an opening of the door to these crazy strangers and –
Teddy: The red door.
Minsun: The red door, exactly! It’s like a Pandora’s box being online.
Q: How is this concept portrayed in the script?
Minsun: It’s more represented in a supernatural way. But I think Pandora’s box is a good allegory for the threats we face online.
Teddy: We feel all good horror and science fiction has to be allegory for current socio-political situations anyway. For us, this was very much about hiding behind the screen and not living your life fully in the real world even if you’re doing it in the virtual world.
Q: What was the inspiration for the story of /RedDoor?
Minsun: I kind of creep around a lot on the internet and in weird places of Reddit and things like that. I’ll read a lot of creepy stories before bed – like, I don’t know why I do that, I have bad dreams. But I do it anyways. And I read something about some creepy game that people were playing. There’s some vague rumors that it would check your computer if you downloaded it, if you played it. So, that was going around. That got my brain going. That was kind of around the time PokémonGo was like a big thing with the augmented reality where you could find these Pokémon monsters in your environment. And that was something I was doing with my kids. That whole idea with the idea infecting your laptops and going viral – and we all get these game invitations constantly. And a lot of people say I never sent them but it just kind of happens. It was those ideas that started to marinate. And it gave me this idea of this very viral game that can infect your life. Also, we have children who love to watch Youtubers do gaming and stuff like that. So, that also helped, informed, and inspired us because I can’t understand why people watch other people play video games. But, they seem to do it all day long. I mean, they’re obsessed. But having gaming teenagers helped us with the world for the script.
Teddy: It is a blending of the app and real life. The truth is the sequences in the app in an augmented reality setting are set pieces and a minority of the actual screen time. Probably 20-30%. Most of the movie takes place in the real world.
Minsun: Because the real-world overlaps so much with our online world. Anyone who spends as much time as we do on Facebook or things like that, we realize there really is a heavy overlap. That something that happens online can follow you offline and ruin your day. If you’ve ever had a Facebook fight with somebody or whatever, we all know. Unfortunately, the reality is it’s integrated into our daily lives.
Q: What was it like researching for the film?
Teddy: We did a lot of research on the Dark Web – which has started to take a more prominent role after the arrests for people using the underground black market on the Dark Web. So, we did a lot of research there. It was a little bit frightening trying to avoid the creepier and more sinister sections of the dark web. And we love horror movies, but there aren’t that many good ones. It’s difficult to find a way in to a ghost story that is modern and somewhat unique. And we felt like we had one of those ways. This was an idea that instantly grabbed us and we knew we had something good because it was a unique way to tell a classic story. Or a modern way to tell a classic story —
Minsun: Or a post-modern, even.
Q: What is the status of /RedDoor now?
Teddy: We’ve just began the process. We’re about to have our studio meeting. We have already had initial meetings with Barry Josephson and Liz Bassin at Barry Josephson Entertainment. Our manager, Jim Wedaa, is very, very material focused. He’s still a producer and was a studio executive. And it’s helpful to us to have a producer and a manager who is so focused on material and has amazing ideas. He’s probably the best person with material that I’ve worked with in Hollywood. He’s also a genre man as well. We wrote the script on our own but worked with him to develop the script. Then we brought it to my agent, Valerie Phillips at Paradigm. And she brought in David Boxerbaum, another agent at Paradigm. They sold it to Sony and, from what we understand, they’re trying to fast-track it because they have some openings on their slate and they feel like they want to get a filmmaker attached quickly. So, we’re going to do a path that’s more geared toward filmmakers and try to attach a director.
Q: How has your experience with /RedDoor been different than your previous projects?
Teddy: This seems to be moving quicker than I’m used to.
Minsun: This project seems to be moving at a global warming pace rather than a glacial pace.
Teddy: I think it’s also timely. There’s a danger of someone else coming up with a similar concept. And I also think the fact that Sony is a gaming company – a digital entertainment company with such an enormous foot print in that world – and there are multiple opportunities for cross marketing and vertical integration on a movie like this. It helps move it along quickly.
Q: Should writers take into consideration these marketing possibilities when writing a script?
Teddy: It’s not something we set out to do.
Minsun: But we certainly recognized the potential.
Teddy: I know especially from the television work that I’ve done and the pilots that I’ve sold in the past two years that networks regularly thinking about the other arms of their corporate entities and where there can be additional revenue streams. When we realized we had an idea that heavily involved both game platforms and apps — which are a big money maker obviously as well now, we realized that we were writing something that could be utilized as revenue streams for the various arms of a company that might buy this. We knew there could be a lot of cross marketing on apps and web platforms, for instance, but what we were creating could also be branched off into paid entertainment in other areas such as game platforms. We just took advantage of something that was inherent and organic in the story. We didn’t set out to create something that would have that bonus or benefit. But I think it’s important for writers to consider those options when they’re creating something. Especially when they get to the pitching stage; whether it’s their agent or manager pitching it or themselves, it’s important for writers to consider how they’re going to sell their property. And we realized this was a good way to help sell ours even if it was never a part of the selling process.
Minsun: And I think with my half of the writing team, I have written online for so much of my life – like, have of my life is online – so it was natural fit to think about the online access of everything.
Q: What are some pieces of advice that you have for writers looking to follow in your footsteps?
Teddy: For my part, there are two pieces of advice: write all the time, never stop because you get better constantly; and second, tell a universal story at its core. We all have common experiences at our core, and every story whether it’s a period piece or takes place partially in the online world needs to have a core emotional experience that people can connect with.
Minsun: I agree with Teddy on the writing everyday thing. But I’ll also take it further in that when I was younger, I used to think that you had to look for inspiration or a muse to come and give you that great idea and that does help. But I see writing more like working out now every day. Most of the time, you don’t feel like doing it, it’s painful, it’s hard to get started. But you just got to do it anyways. It’s just like running three miles a day, it’s just work. It’s nothing glamorous about it, you do it whether you feel like it or not. You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. And you just push through it whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes you think, “Gosh, you know, I thought I was more creative than this,” or “Gosh, I thought I was better than this.” And in the end, it’s the same thing with working out. Some days I’m running and I’m like, “Gosh, I can’t even make it a mile today.” Over time, you’ll look back and you’ll see that you’ve done something. But day-to-day it’s a grind and it’s nothing glamourous. That’s one thing I didn’t realize when I was younger and now that I’m older, I realize it.
Teddy: I made the mistake early on of only watching movies and television and reading fiction to guide my writing. And I only realized a few years ago what I could learn from other writers. So, my advice is if you aren’t taking advantage of the multiple books that exist about writing written by writers such as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, then you should be taking advantage of those because they are tremendously helpful. Never give up. It’s so easy to give up in this business. If you enjoy writing and if you hate writing but you feel like you need to do it, never give it up.
Q: Minsun, is there anything you’d like to contribute about being a successful woman in the industry?
Minsun: This is a small thing, but I recently went on a dinner meeting and I needed to use the bathroom and I said, “Can I have the bathroom key?” And he looked at me like I had grown two heads and said, “No, the bathroom is down the hall to the left.” And I said, “I know, but it needs a key.” And it occurred to me and the both of us that he had never had a woman in the office before and never needed to give him a key and had no idea that that was a thing. And I realize that the whole office was full of men and they probably never have a female writer walk in that door in all the years they’ve been there. And it was a sobering moment. It’s a little thing, but it really hit home to me. The WGA said that only 27% of working writers are women right now.
Teddy: And most of them aren’t in genre, but should be.
Minsun: Yeah. But I feel like on some level being a woman writer, a minority writer too because I’m Korean-American, I just feel like a unicorn.
Teddy: And women are the target audience for horror. And one of the main target audiences for thrillers. And I think women should be writing genre a lot more because they have – their voice is also the voice of the main target audience.
Minsun: Yeah, I would tell women don’t be discouraged by being an outlier. I mean, I’m used to being an outlier. I do martial arts. I’m often the only woman in my studio and I’ve earned a black belt fighting against much bigger men. And so, I guess on some level it was normal for me to be around dudes, but I’m not saying that that’s easy or comfortable for other women. There should be more women everywhere and I think the only way to make more women is just to be that woman. Don’t be discouraged by being the only woman in the room. And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t write horror or you can’t write action or you can’t write thriller. I think women are pigeon-holed into writing romantic comedies or chick flicks and that’s great. But, you know, come on. We write other things, too.
Thank you Minsun and Teddy for taking the time to chat with Final Draft! We’re looking forward to seeing /RedDoor on the big screen.
Script Supervisor / Screenwriter
Originally from Aurora, CO, Roe Moore is a script supervisor, screenwriter, and emerging director based in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked on commercials, film, and television shows. Her favorite number is 2 and she loves dachshunds. More can be found on her website: www.RoeMoore.com.