Guillermo Del Toro often says that a filmography is actually a biography for the filmmaker involved, but in the case of Lindsey Anderson Beer, her filmography doesn’t come close to telling her story.
Beer is currently making her feature directorial debut with Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a prequel to Stephen King’s classic horror novel Pet Sematary (1983) that explores Jud Crandall’s (Jackson White) backstory and finally defines the Timmy Baterman (Jack Mulhern) story that has only been alluded to in various on-screen adaptations. The Paramount+ film originally began as a prequel to 2019’s Pet Sematary, however, once Beer came on board to write and direct, Bloodlines instead morphed into a prequel to King’s book.
“I was actually not trying to tailor it to the 2019 film. In my head, it’s a prequel to the book,” Beer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was just trying to do my own thing, and the book, to me, is what was sacred. So I just treated that as my North Star.”
Bloodlines may be Beer’s first directorial outing, but she’s been a prolific screenwriter for nearly a decade now. She’s worked on a staggering list of franchises as either a screenwriter or a member of a writers’ room in order to develop long-term plans or cinematic universes for some of those properties. Her filmography may not reflect her wide variety of experiences, but that partial list of IP includes: Transformers, Star Trek, Fast and Furious, the Godzilla-led MonsterVerse, The Wizard of the Oz, Pacific Rim, Sleepy Hollow, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, Bambi and Hello Kitty.
One of Beer’s most memorable moments as a working screenwriter took place in Quentin Tarantino’s writers’ room for his now-defunct R-rated Star Trek film.
“There was a funny moment where [Tarantino] just stopped in the middle of that room and turned to me and said, ‘Lindsey, you’re really good at this,’” Beer recalls. “And getting that compliment from somebody whose career I admire so much meant a lot, obviously.”
Below, during a conversation with THR that took place prior to the end of the WGA strike, Beer also reflects on how much the Transformers writers’ room impacted her career, before addressing the entertainment industry’s current existential crisis at length.
So you have a fun name, and the name of your production company, Lab Brew, implies that you’re well aware of that. Do you think that type of childhood nameplay was the first domino to fall en route to you eventually becoming a writer? Was that the first writing muscle you developed?
That is a really good question that I have honestly thought about, and I wasn’t teased for my last name the way you would think I was. I really wasn’t. The worst of it was guys bringing me to high school parties and being like, “I brought the beer!” That isn’t very traumatic, but it probably did help instill at least an appreciation for comedy and writing.
What was the actual path to becoming a screenwriter? It wasn’t a direct line from what I understand.
Well, it wasn’t a direct line and not because of an intention. As a child, I always wanted to be a director, and I separately wanted to be a novelist. I had no real interest in being a screenwriter, partly because I didn’t know they existed when I was a kid. But I knew that I loved science fiction and that it would probably be my focus. And so in college, I studied neuroscience and robotics as a backdrop to what I hoped would be a great science fiction career. And then I went on to New York where I thought I would start writing my first novel in addition to taking some filmmaking classes. I ended up in branding and marketing for some large companies to support myself at the time, and then I found myself not actually pursuing the creative arts and getting lost in New York life. And then I had a big life event that made me refocus my efforts.
So I moved to L.A. I drove across the country with my sister, and I started writing as many scripts as I could. I’m a fast writer, so it was a lot. I then networked as much as I could with any assistant that I could and just got my scripts out there. I was pretty shameless. I got an IMDbPro account, and I just started cold-emailing production companies with loglines and scripts. They say they won’t read things on their websites, but they actually do. And through all of this effort, I got my stuff read and things just swelled from there. So I had always wanted to be a director, but until the last couple of years, there wasn’t that much openness to women directing. I couldn’t get people to let me direct my own stuff.
Gender is a huge factor without question, but I’ve heard so many stories of now-prominent filmmakers having to sell their early scripts for a more experienced director to bring to life. The powers that be want experience, but they aren’t willing to dole it out.
Yeah, there’s certainly a rite of passage that you have to go through. I have been making movies since I was maybe nine or ten years old, and I’m also a little bit of a compulsive photographer. So I felt like I was able to take that love of visual language and translate it into world building, and that became a valuable skill on the writing side. But I for sure needed to pay those dues, earn that trust and goodwill and build up the right relationships to be able to direct.
Your filmography is not an accurate representation of your career because you’ve been involved in the development of so many big movies. I tried to organize all of those properties, and I became overwhelmed rather quickly.
So what got the ball rolling on this type of work? What got you in the rotation?
Honestly, it was a surprise to me. I came to L.A. wanting Tarantino’s career. I really thought I was going to be on the indie writer-director path, and it just became one thing after another. There were a few coincidences, and a lot of it had to do with my background in robotics and people needing someone with expertise in areas that I had and that lending itself to larger sci-fi projects like Transformers. The genesis of the bigger franchises was a general meeting, and I had written this kind of [Guillermo] Del Toro, darker story about an undead robot. And the person who read it said, “I really feel like if you turn this more into a [Tim] Burton film, there’s a home for it at Disney.” So I rewrote it to be much lighter family fare, and then we gave it to Disney. They didn’t want to buy it, but it did lead to Disney hiring me for a different family film, which was my first big foray into fantasy adventure.
Off of that, I got a job at Warner Bros. doing The Wizard of Oz, and off of that, out of happenstance, I had a general meeting with Akiva Goldsman’s company. His executive called Akiva in at one point, and it came up that I had a background in studying artificial intelligence and robotics. And Akiva just so happened to be putting together the Transformers writers’ room at the time and he said, “Would you ever be interested in writing a Transformers film?” And I said, “Absolutely.” So it just kind of happened that I was put in that room, and it began the trend of doing writers’ rooms for big franchises.
That Transformers writers’ room wasn’t a “let’s break one Transformers story” kind of a room. They said, “Everybody involved here can pitch their own Transformers movie. We can make 12 movies. This is a cinematic universe.” The only thing that was predetermined was that Steven Spielberg really wanted to do a Bumblebee movie and this Amblin-esque thing. And since I’d been writing family movies, everybody thought that I would take that one. And I weighed that, because, clearly, if Spielberg is behind that one and it’s the only one he has an idea for, then that’s the one that’s going to get made. But I was so hungry to move into something that felt a little bit more in line with what I was going for originally, which was a little bit more intense.
And so I decided, “No, I don’t want to take that one. I just want to pitch the most epic fucking Transformers movie that I can think of, even knowing that it probably won’t get made. But hopefully the right people will hear it and they’ll see that I can do that.” So that’s what I did. I pitched the biggest, darkest, most epic thing I could think of, and I was so excited by it. Paramount and the producers were, too, so that room ignited a great relationship with the producers that ended up producing this movie, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines. It also ignited a great relationship with Paramount, and word spread that I was good at cracking IP. So I started being put in all these writers’ rooms, but I also started being asked to help people crack IP, including Star Trek, which started as the Tarantino writers’ room. Tarantino wanted to do a Star Trek room, which was the most fun room I’ve ever done.
We got in there and he started with, “So what are your guys’ ideas for a movie?” and I think I went first. So he listened to us patiently and just kind of nodded his head, and then he took out his notebook and started talking for 20 minutes with lines of dialogue and passionate ideas that he’d already written. It wasn’t really a story yet; they were just random thoughts he had on a movie, but it was so passionate and so wonderful. And I laughed to myself and thought, “Well, why didn’t we start with that?” There was a funny moment where he just stopped in the middle of that room and turned to me and said, “Lindsey, you’re really good at this.” And getting that compliment from somebody whose career I admire so much meant a lot, obviously.
So that room was also the beginning of a very strong relationship with Bad Robot, and I’ve been brought in a few times on different iterations of Trek, most recently on Star Trek 4. And so Transformers, Star Trek, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Bad Robot and Paramount are the confluence of how all of this came together in terms of me directing Pet Sematary. I was at the point in my career where I had written a bunch of things, and I just felt that I had reached a point where I couldn’t write without directing anymore.
So I said that to my agents and they said, “Well, let’s set some meetings with producers you have strong relationships with.” And one of those was Mark Vahradian who said, “I have to produce whatever you want to direct.” A couple of weeks later, he called and said, “Would you ever be interested in Pet Sematary?” And I said, “Absolutely. It’s my favorite Stephen King book.” I also happened to be writing Star Trek 4 at the time for Paramount, and so I had a good thing with them, although they probably weren’t super happy that I was looking at another project at the same time.
But the triangulation of those relationships that led me to Pet Sematary, and I had developed a really good shorthand with Paramount and the same producers from Transformers. We were very aligned in terms of character-driven storytelling, even if it was big IP. So it all just came together and happened really quickly. I was hired in March , and I turned around two drafts a week for several months until we were greenlit in May and prepping in June.
What makes some of these big movies so difficult to crack?
What makes them difficult to crack is that they’re often made by committee, as opposed to an auteur. With something like Barbie or Nolan’s Batmans, if you entrust that IP to somebody with a strong point of view, you’re in much better shape, as opposed to when you try to design these stories by committee and you make the IP the only stars of that. The normal development process of writer after writer after writer assumes that there is an objective best way to tell a story, which is just inherently false. A story is, by nature, subjective, and you just need a strong subjective point of view and to trust in that storyteller and invest in that point of view. So that’s why a writers’ room with a showrunner works, but not just a random feature writers’ room. So I think it gets broken just because there are too many cooks in the kitchen and nobody trusts someone to lead, unless it’s somebody like Christopher Nolan.
As a fan of King’s book, how would you describe your relationship to Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary (1989), as well as the rest of King’s work?
Pet Sematary was the first Stephen King book that I read when I was about nine years old. I saw it on the library shelf, and as a big animal lover, I was tricked by pets. So I stayed up all night and read it, cover to cover, and I loved it. And then I ended up sneaking a copy of the movie from a family friend’s library and made my sister watch it. She hated it, I loved it and I just kept re-watching it. So it definitely ignited a lifelong love of Stephen King, and from there, I read literally everything that he’s written.
Pieces of the Timmy Baterman story already existed, but in general, was it daunting to invent lore and backstory within King’s world?
Not daunting, no. It was really fun. I love that stuff. I re-read the book maybe 20 times while writing the script and just looked for little phrases and threads. There’s so much mythology in there that’s hinted at but not fully explained. So, as a fan, there’s stuff that I’d always wanted answers to, and I found it really satisfying and fun to pull on those threads and try to weave them together.
You had the tricky task of teaching a younger Jud Crandall a lifelong lesson about the Pet Sematary, all while knowing that he later defies that lesson with the Creed family. Was it difficult to reconcile those two points?
I was actually hoping to reconcile it and answer that question, and there were cuts of this movie that maybe did it more explicitly. The book basically suggests that this evil targeted Jud as an older man because he had encountered Timmy and fought the evil as a younger man. So the more desperate or weak or feeble-minded you are, the more this evil force can get in your head. So Jud had fought this off for most of his life, but as he got a little older and a little more forgetful, it whispered to him and convinced him to tell Louis Creed about the burial ground.
This project originally started as a prequel to the 2019 reimagining, but it sounds like you approached this as more of a prequel to the book. Is that correct?
I was actually not trying to tailor it to the 2019 film. In my head, it’s a prequel to the book. [2019’s writer] Jeff Buhler was the writer on Bloodlines before I came aboard, so I have no idea where conversations started with him and the producers. Perhaps they talked about it more specifically as a prequel to the 2019 movie, but in my mind, so much of the mythology is kind of rewritten. I was just trying to do my own thing, and the book, to me, is what was sacred. So I just treated that as my North Star.
Based on what you’ve said so far about Tarantino, it now makes further sense why you cast Pam Grier in Bloodlines. Was it quite a thrill to rub elbows with her on set?
Pam’s roles in exploitation films in the ‘70s and also Tarantino’s Jackie Brown are why I wanted to cast her in this movie, and she was the first-and-only person I went to for the role. As badass as you might think Pam Grier is, you are wrong: she is more badass than that in real life. She constantly had me laughing on set, and has the most amazing stories. She’s less the type to rub elbows and more the type to put you in a headlock. She was actually on the set of the first Pet Sematary, visiting Mary Lambert, so this was a long time coming for her. She loves Stephen King, and if anyone is listening, she’d love a role in the Shining universe.
How did you decide on your style, both on the screen and on the set?
In terms of my aesthetic style, I can’t say how I arrived on it because I think that just comes inherently. I love so many movies from Tarantino and Fincher and Director Park [Chan-wook] and surrealist stuff that feels very extreme and full of contrasts. I wanted to imbue the film with a lot of the things that I’m drawn to in my photography, which are strange angles, super close-ups and also super wides that feel a little graphical. I’m always drawn to contradictions and contrasts. This movie has this beautiful small town during a time period that we think of as a little idyllic. It’s also a hippie time. So I wanted to subvert that beauty and show a lot of ugliness. Those two contrasts, both visually and thematically, were very interesting to me.
As far as my directing style, as a human, I believe in being very grateful and being very kind to everybody. I don’t believe that directing requires ruling by fear or condescension. It’s incredibly important to keep people motivated and inspired and happy. I did seek out advice in terms of just management and process on set, and J.J. Abrams was particularly helpful and kind and generous with his recommendations on how to handle on-set logistics and politics. He’s somebody who’s just an incredibly generous person in general, and I had been working with him very closely on the Star Trek stuff at the same time. Honestly, he was the only person I talked to at length about advice. So I just tried to follow my heart in terms of being a human being and extending that on set, and not changing who I am just because it’s a work setting.
What surprised you the most about your first go-round as director?
How energizing it was. I’d only heard how exhausting and terrible it is. I mean, I was working 18 to 20 hour days on this for three years, and I definitely collapsed the day I finished the film. I felt like shit. But for those three years I felt so energized. Even on the longest and toughest days, I just felt grateful and happy and excited and inspired.
Oddly enough, I brought up your name in my very first THR interview five-and-a-half years ago. It was with Emily Carmichael for Pacific Rim: Uprising, and I noticed at the time that there were at least a half-dozen female screenwriters working on huge tentpoles. So, from your vantage point, have circumstances improved at all for female screenwriters and directors these last five years?
The statistics say not really, which is really unsettling. I also worked on Pacific Rim with Emily, who’s great. By the way, I met two of my closest friends in the business in the Transformers writers’ room, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Christina Hodson, and they’ve all gone on to do amazing things. By them being more visible, I hope it not only encourages studios and networks to hire more women, but also encourages more women to fight hard to be in those positions. But it’s really scary to me. There was a little bit of a bump right after the Me Too movement. There was a marginal bump in the number of female writers and directors hired, but then it fell off again. So I don’t know exactly what to attribute it to, but it is really disheartening. I won’t name names, but it’s also really disheartening when you look at the female filmmakers who’ve made amazing films and haven’t been rewarded with lifelong careers the way that a lot of men are who’ve made much lesser films.
The industry is in a state of disarray to say the least. Given your background in AI, what’s your take on that issue and the strike? [Writer’s Note: This interview took place before the end of the WGA strike.]
I hope there is a swift resolution that is beneficial to all. I know some people see AI as an interesting tool, but I myself see it as a cheat. I would never use AI to help me write a script, no more than I would say, “Hey, writer’s assistant, write half the script for me and then I’ll take credit for it.” (Laughs.) To me, it’s disingenuous and really contrary to the artistic process.
One minute, they’re saying that they don’t value you enough to give you the contract that you want, but the next minute, they’ll make it known that they apparently do value you enough to have AI scan all of your work. It’s contradictory.
It is. I was just reading an article last night about how CEO jobs are actually the jobs that AI are most adept at replacing, and I can see that because it’s all about optimization. So what’s going on in Hollywood is really just a microcosm for what’s going on everywhere, which is that CEOs everywhere are overpaid compared to the employees that work under them. And there’s a devaluation of not just creative work, but work everywhere and that needs to be addressed.
And of all this just compounds the uphill battle that underrepresented writers and directors are already facing.
The critical issues of diversity, AI and the strike are actually all intertwined in that this industry faces an existential crisis unless we prioritize and value the contributions of artists and their authentic experiences. Can AI write a competent script? Yes, it probably can – if not now, very soon. A friend recently typed into ChatGPT, “Give me a new season of a [long-running TV show I won’t name],” and in seconds, not minutes, it spewed out a convincing season arc that would have taken a writers’ room weeks to months to come up with. These were just summaries, not full scripts. I’m sure the ChatGPT scripts of today would be filled with oddities and errors that a human would have to revise and make sense of, but in a few years, undoubtedly the scripts will be serviceable.
This efficiency cannot replace the sheer magic of a writers’ room, where writers treat the story-breaking process like therapy and infuse their real-life, relatable experiences. Contributors are moved to laughter or tears in the room, as audiences then are in turn when watching these real-life moments infused into shows. We need more realness and humanity in our stories, not less. Our industry cannot survive on “serviceable” content. Competent, coherent-enough plot lines aren’t enough to capture audience attention for long. We have seen what has happened to the film industry and what IP-driven studio filmmaking by committee has given us: the near-death of an industry, and viewer fatigue even for what once was the most shiny of IP.
What has been the shining hope this summer? Barbie and Oppenheimer. Two movies that were filmmaker-driven, with very specific and authentic points of view. Movies that were not and could not have been made by committee. I have no doubt that there are men who could have written and directed a very funny Barbie movie, but it wouldn’t have been the phenomenon that was Barbie, because Greta Gerwig tapped into her authentic experience as a woman navigating the patriarchy in a way that made women all over the world laugh and cry. Just as only someone with an authentic Black POV could give us the genius that is Get Out.
When studios value and trust in creatives, magic can happen. This is why we need more female and diverse filmmakers and writers. When an artist can tap into their experiences in a real way, rather than regurgitate things they’ve seen on screen, audiences can feel it. If we start giving liberties to a more diverse set of artists to tell their human, diverse stories, people will tune in. Stories will feel different and engaging, and touch us in ways we can’t explain. Audiences will show up because something will have been created that looks like a delightful surprise, something they haven’t seen before. Cinema will be saved by original stories or original takes on IP, from creatives from a wide array of backgrounds and experiences. Replacing human writers with AI, even if feasible, would not just mean the death of writers; I believe it would mean the ultimate death of the industry.
Can you say what was supposed to be next?
I can’t say too much about all the stuff in my life, but I turned in the first draft of Sleepy Hollow before the strike started. It’s something that I’m writing, directing and producing, and I’m excited to get back to that after the strike is over.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines debuts October 6th on Paramount+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.