“Be Careful What You Wish For” Screenwriter Jillian Jacobs Talks ‘Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island’
Do you have a fantasy? Do you imagine going to a mysterious tropical resort where dreams can come true and anything is possible? There is such a place – it’s called Fantasy Island. Perhaps you want to exact revenge or simply have it all.
We all remember that the 70s TV series of Fantasy Island, replete with those colorful characters such as the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalbán) and Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize). Blumhouse Productions decided the time was ripe to reimagine this iconic show into a feature-length film. One-third of the writing team, Jillian Jacobs (who co-penned with husband Christopher Roach and director Jeff Wadlow) spoke with Creative Screenwriting Magazine about giving Fantasy Island the Blumhouse treatment.
Screenwriter Jillian Jacobs also wrote Truth Or Dare (2018) for Blumhouse. It was also co-written by Christopher Roach and directed by Jeff Wadlow, so the trio already had a working relationship prior to making their film adaptation of Fantasy Island.
Both Truth Or Dare and Fantasy Island share similar themes of “be careful what you wish for,” with revealing characters, story, and drama to bring out the horror elements.
A New Life For Fantasy Island
Jacobs admits she wasn’t overly familiar with the TV show, so she immediately binge-watched it. “I initially thought is was a ‘Love Boat’ type of show, but after watching it, it was more like Twilight Zone and Westworld.” She was amazed at the relatively dark tone of the Fantasy Island TV series which translated into the film adaptation. “It was a natural stepping stone to turn the movie on its head and make it more of a horror/ thriller genre movie,” she added. Given that Blumhouse Productions is known for churning out low-budget horror films, Fantasy Island could be more inventive and infuse the Twilight Zone and Westworld flavors into their film.
“Fantasy Island is a secluded place where guests pay large amounts of money to have these fantastical experiences where they can do whatever they want,” expanded the screenwriter. The film has also been compared to contained thrillers like Cabin In The Woods, a comparison Jacobs finds flattering, especially the themes it explores. “People might be watching and controlling you without you knowing,” is a theme that is permeated into Fantasy Island. Westworld and Fantasy Island both share lush, exotic settings.
Overall, Jillian Jacobs believes that comparisons are more based on the idea of there being “more than meets the eye to what’s going on. You need to peel back the layers to reveal what’s actually happening,” according to Jacobs.
A film adaptation of a popular TV show can be approached in a number of ways. It can be unrecognizable from the source material, apart from the title and character names, or it could slavishly follow it to appease the fans. The filmmakers opted for something in the middle. “We didn’t want to destroy the original completely. The character of Mr. Roarke is so iconic, we couldn’t do an adaptation without him, but we had to give it something new.” Michael Pena (who plays Mr. Roarke in the film) still maintained Ricardo Montalban’s charm and mischievous spirit.
Given that the film is a horror, the filmmakers wanted to honor some iconic visuals from the series such as Mr. O’Roarke’s immaculate white suit, the luxurious, hotel, and the tropical island setting.
Jillian Jacobs, Jeff Wadlow, and Christopher Roach began their development process together in a room. They wrote note cards to settle on structure and storylines before breaking off. “We would outline then write a treatment. We would go back and forth and give notes to each other until all three of us agreed on the story. Then we’d break it up into chunks to write.” Having a robust outline meant they could find character and plot surprises on the page rather than having to construct the plot.
They aimed to ground the fantasy elements in reality, no matter how extravagant. “We wanted to keep real things about real people. You get the hedonistic, superficial party, so you might know what to expect if you ever visited Fantasy Island.”
The balance between fantasy and grounding was struck by keeping the characters emotionally motivated. “The idea that the guests came to Fantasy Island to go back and fix something broken in their lives felt very real to us,” she said. It had to be a universal story of wish fulfillment that people could relate to. This story dynamic meant that the screenwriters couldn’t show too much horror, too quickly. When they did get to the horror elements, it still needed to feel real.
“Despite our horror take, we wanted to honor the original TV series, but also reinvent it a little bit,” Jacobs added. “If you’ve seen the original TV show, you could recognize familiar elements, but you didn’t need to have that background knowledge to appreciate the film.”
Fantasy Island stays true to its horror/thriller core, but it does enjoy its crossover genre elements. “We had a little war movie, a romance, comedy, and even an adventure.” These plots could shift between genres and storylines so it was structured like the TV show. “We enjoyed having these mini-movies within the main movie, each with their own genre.”
Inevitably, loved scenes didn’t make it to the screen. Jacobs conceded, “Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s for the best. You can fondly look back at the discarded scenes and agree they were nice but didn’t naturally fit into the overall film.” It’s important to note that deleted scenes aren’t necessarily bad, just not essential.” They are either not needed, have the wrong tone for the moment, or be deleted to restructure the story to make the movie work better. We didn’t necessarily lose anything by deleting scenes, but we moved things around to improve the rhythm of the story.” Jillian likes the challenge and puzzle of finding solutions to write a tighter screenplay.
Jacobs admits that she hates her first drafts. But that is part of the writing process. She recommends, “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
“Writing is like a high. It can be lonely and self-loathing at times. But it can be exhilarating and euphoric when you’ve found a solution to a story problem.” Jacobs relishes her writing process. “You black out in a way. Your mind and your fingers are connected, but you’re not conscious in your consciousness. It’s magical chasing the muse.”
Her parting advice to aspiring screenwriters is not to follow trends. “Be true to you and your story. Write the best version of the story you’re telling. It doesn’t have to be crazy inventive, but it has to have heart and real emotion in.“