“The Person You Put Up There Ain’t the Person That Comes Back”: Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer on Pet Sematary

The filmmaking tandem of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the team behind Starry Eyes) talk about their new version of Pet Sematary in my latest piece for Filmmaker Magazine.

Here’s Kölsch on how the filmmakers began working together decades ago as teenagers on Long Island:

Kölsch: We’re from the same area and knew people in common, so we’d see each other at parties or on the basketball court. As far as working together, we were both already writing on our own [before we became friends]. I had just written a script for a screenwriting class when I ran into Dennis at a mutual friend’s house. Our friend was like “Dennis, you write scripts? Kevin wrote a script too.” I lived around the corner, so we walked over to my house and I showed Dennis some stuff. From there we started showing each other our work and giving each other feedback.

We decided that while our other friends were getting together and drinking on Friday nights, we’d try to be productive. So we’d get together, bring our word processors, get some beers and play some music to make it fun. We’d work on pages of our scripts and at the end of the night we’d show each other and give feedback. That turned into helping each other—like if one of us got stuck on a scene, he’d turn to the other and say “I’ve got a problem.” So slowly we started contributing to each other’s scripts and eventually it was like “Why aren’t we just writing these together?”

And here’s Widmyer on the decision for “Jud” actor John Lithgow to not attempt the Maine accent used by Fred Gwynne in the original film:

Widmyer: That was an ongoing back-and-forth with John. At first he was up for it, but then he read the book and saw that our interpretation in the script was different. In the book King leans more into the folksiness of Jud and the locality of him. He’s like the quintessential Maine character. But [the accent] is kind of a no-win situation. If you nail it, you’re going to sound like Fred Gwynne, and if you don’t nail it, then you don’t sound like Fred Gwynne, who did a pretty good job with it.

John actually knew Fred. They’d been in a play together and he’d always joke that Fred was the only actor that was ever taller than him, because Fred was 6’5″ and John is 6’4″. He has a lot of respect for Fred Gwynne and so he purposefully didn’t watch the first film. We talked about it a lot and John tried the accent in the read-through and we all thought it was great, but in the end we left the decision up to John. He decided to go his own way and we were actually really happy that he did.

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