Writer talks ‘I Still Know…’ – 20 Years Later

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Way back in 1998 the slasher was in the thick of a mini-revival following the success of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

With this success came an urgency to churn out a slew of ‘post-modern’ slashers and in turn a return showdown between Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie James and killer fisherman Ben Willis.

We got the chance to quiz writer Trey Callaway all about I Still Know What You Did Last Summer –

Tell us about the first time you were approached to write I Still Know….?

In 1996, I sold a pitch for an original science fiction film to Mandalay/Columbia Pictures (which was later adapted into my first television series, MERCY POINT). And while that screenplay never got greenlit into production as a movie by the studio, my experience of working on the project with all of the executives was very positive. So much so, in fact, that shortly after finishing my last draft of the sci fi movie, they asked me if I would be interested in coming in with a take on a sequel to I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. As a huge fan of the first film, my answer was an emphatic yes— and shortly thereafter, I pitched them my take for I STILL KNOW.

How much direction in terms of the story were you given by the studio?

I was actually given very little. As I recall, there were four basic instructions from the studio. 1. The film needed to be centered on Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character of Julie James. 2.

While they were also interested in keeping Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character of Ray Bronson around for the sequel, they definitely  wanted me to introduce some new friends for Julie to hang the narrative on. 3. They wanted one of the new characters to help carry the torch for the hook-wielding villain of Ben Willis. And 4.
They already knew they wanted the film to be called I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. By the way—for the record, I immediately bumped on the lack of time-line logic in that choice— but for whatever reason, that’s what they wanted to call it— so that’s what it was called.
What I didn’t know until later, was that the studio had also secretly hired a second writer, the tremendously gifted screenwriter Stephen Gaghan to write a completely different version of the movie (something which I now know happens all the time in Hollywood).
Then they ultimately chose between the two scripts— and I obliviously won the competition. I’ve never read his draft, but I vaguely remember being told it was set in New Orleans. Regardless, I wouldn’t feel too sorry for Stephen— he later won an Oscar for writing the amazing film TRAFFIC and has gone on to write and direct many amazing things.
Did you get to visit the set of the film?

Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the set of the film— if only because the sci fi series I mentioned, MERCY POINT, was picked up to series on UPN at the exact same time— so I was very quickly up to my ears in building a staff and breaking all the show’s episodes. In fact, the first time I saw the movie was at the film’s premiere.

It was a very strange (but enjoyable) experience I can only describe as feeling like you’ve just run into an old friend you used to be extremely close to, but haven’t seen in a couple of years. You still totally recognize them, but at the same time, a lot has changed.
How much of your vision for the story was carried forward by Danny Cannon?

I was very fortunate to get to work closely with Danny during almost all of the production rewrites once he was hired to direct the film. He’s an extremely talented director and we got along well together— even if I would often unintentionally begin to adopt his British accent during our meetings!

We were both later a part of the successful CSI television franchise (he directed the pilots for CSI/CSI:MIAMI/CSI:NY, I wrote and produced six years of CSI:NY), but regrettably, we haven’t had another chance to work directly together on anything since I STILL KNOW.
Did you get to collaborate or offer input to Danny on set?

Not on set. Just during pre-production, when I was editing and polishing the draft.

Were you under pressure to write it fast given the success of the first film?

There was definitely some urgency attached to the job. The studio was eager to get it rolling ASAP in order to capitalize on the success of IKWYDLS. My memory’s a little fuzzy on all the details at this point, but I’d say from the time they bought my pitch to the time the film went into production was around six months.

Tell us about some ideas in your original script that never saw the light of day?

I’ll never forget one major set piece that Danny and I were both fond of— which was unfortunately (but understandably) cut due to budget concerns. In my original draft, there was a cocktail lounge at the Tower Bay resort which had large porthole windows behind the bar looking into the pool. So later, I had a scene in which Julie was swimming alone, as we saw a nefarious pair of hands begin to pour gasoline into the pool’s filtration system.

The gas slowly spread out across the water’s surface. And just as Julie begin to smell and taste it… that same villain tossed a lighter into the mix… and the next thing you know, POOL FLAMBE’! Julie was forced to dive beneath the watery inferno— then as she swiftly ran out of air— she desperately began to bang on one of those porthole windows, eventually attracting the attention of NANCY the bartender (Jennifer Esposito).
And once Nancy realized what was happening— she quickly improvised a way to save Julie, by slamming a fire extinguisher against the glass until one of the windows finally broke, flooding the bar, and carrying Julie’s body to safety along with it. In other words, as you can imagine— IT WAS A VERY EXPENSIVE SCENE. So sadly, it was one of the first to go.
Did you feel with the way I Still Know… ended that the franchise was over?

Well, I’ve been around the business more than long enough to never say never. And I did intentionally end I STILL KNOW with a jump scare cliffhanger designed to help any other writer with whatever might come next. So I’m not sure I can tell you it was over when it was over.

When was the last time you saw it?

It was actually just screened in celebration of its 20th Anniversary in March of this year at the first inaugural Bates College Film Festival in Lewiston, Maine.

I was invited to attend and teach a couple of master classes to their film studies students— and while I didn’t make it to the screening (I’ve seen the movie lots of times over the years), I am told there was still a packed house!
Do you think it was a mistake casting Brandy in a role given her limited acting experience?

Absolutely not. Brandy is not only a talented performer, but a lovely human being. And I thought she injected some great energy to the film.

Because Julie was so haunted by the events of the first film— you really needed someone like her character of Karla Wilson to keep things as light as possible for as long as possible— and then function as Julie’s stalwart friend and defender to the end.
What was your favourite scene to write?

The tanning booth scene, where Julie James is locked into a tanning bed. Why? Because years earlier, when I was still in high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I had a summer job painting the logo of a friend’s new tan salon on the wall of his establishment.

To be clear, tan salons were a brand new thing at that point in the early 80’s. Plus, they weren’t the spray tan salons of today, but the old school UV bulb beds. So like an idiot— I happily accepted my friend’s offer to pay me partially in cash, and partially in tanning sessions.
But the very first moment I pulled the lid closed on my tanning bed— I immediately thought to myself: “how messed up would it be if somebody locked you into one of these things and turned it up on high?” I never forgot that creepy and claustrophobic feeling— and years later, when I finally wrote it into I STILL KNOW, I felt like I’d finally “come home!”
The film in 20 years old this year, does that make you feel nostalgic about it at all?

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but yes— it really does make me nostalgic. I STILL KNOW was a very important stepping stone in my career— my first produced movie— and helped launch me into all kinds of new opportunities.

And while I won’t tell you who everyone is— I will tell you that every single character in that film (who wasn’t featured in the original) was named after someone I either love or dislike intensely to this day. In fact, Nancy the aforementioned bartender was actually named after my wife!
Following the film it was rumoured around 2011 that a game adaptation was being made of I Still Know… were you ever contacted about being involved?

I was never contacted about a game adaptation. But believe it or not, I do have a new idea for how to reboot the franchise that I’ll be meeting with a number of people about shortly. But I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you without having to yank your heart out with a hook!

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