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From the Set: The Conjuring Interview Highlights

The Conjuring’s scare factor definitely gets a nice boost courtesy of the film’s true roots, but the filmmakers involved still had their work cut out for them when trying to ensure they do the real haunting justice.

In The Conjuring, and presumably in real life too, a long time ago, Bathsheba Sherman was a practicing witch in Harrisville, Rhode Island. She struck a deal with the devil so that one day, she could return to Earth as an all-powerful demon. Unfortunately for Bathsheba, that never panned out. After hanging herself and cursing anyone who may take her land, she ends up returning to her old farmhouse right as a new family moves in.

Due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Perron family winds up subjecting themselves to Bathsheba’s wrath, a scenario that’s prime for a horror screenplay, but especially sensitive because the experience is no joke; everyone involved attests to the otherworldly events and is deeply affected by them.


Tony DeRosa-Grund – Producer

Does the narrative diverge at all from the truth as you heard it accounted?

Tony DeRosa-Grund: Not a whole lot … you have to be true to the story, you have to have integrity for your characters built into the script and if you don’t, then why bother doing it? Because then you’re not telling a true story. This is true as can be. Yeah, there’s small things for artistic license, but the big picture and the big story, this is what happened. This is a family that was scared to death, that were physically imperiled by what took place up there.

Is there any fear of making a movie of that and rousing that kind of spirit?

DeRosa-Grund: I don’t think Chad and Carey Hayes will be embarrassed to tell you that they do not say Bathsheba’s full name. Lorraine has this philosophy that if you say a demonic entity’s name, you give it power, and Chad and Carey are very respectful of that. They won’t say her full name. Watch what happens [laughs], don’t tell them I told you this, and if you ask them to talk about the witch, they’ll say Bathsheba or Bathsheba S. They will not say her full name.


Robert Cowan – Producer

Do you have options on Vera and Patrick for sequels? Are you thinking about a franchise where those characters could pop up again?

Robert Cowan: Yeah, obviously you hope. You never know what happens, but that is the hope. The Warrens have many, many stories. And it was great actually having Lorraine down here because, just anecdotally, she would start to spin off and tell a story. And it is great characters to run with. Our feeling is it’s what makes the story slightly unique because those characters are always the characters that come in as cameos and then leave and that’s it, so it’s been fun to follow them. And the more research you do on them, the more research we’ve done on them, you realize they were kind of unique; there weren’t a lot of people that did this. And they were involved in Amityville, Haunting in Connecticut and over in Europe as well. They were called over to London. Again, I’m not sure how much you know about them, but it’s quite fascinating because the Church actually really used them as a fact-finding group to go out and see if they’d heard about someone that they felt was possessed or that there was something going on demonic, that they would actually go, I think it’s called a discerning, to see whether something that’s going on in a building or a house or with a person is just not real, just something supernatural or something really demonic, and if it becomes something demonic, then the Church gets actively involved. And it all sounds movie-ish, but it’s real. When you research it and talk to Lorraine and the whole group, it’s what they did, they had the Church call them up and we have elements of that in the movie where they’re called upon to go and deal with things. So, yeah, our hopes would be that this works out and everybody likes the characters and we can run with it a little bit more.

Could the title go back to The Conjuring? What do you want to evoke with your title?

Cowan: I think there still is discussion going on about the titles and I’m not sure until we get done that it’ll really solidify. I think the best thing to evoke out of this is a sense about the world that it is, and it’s tricky with these things because you don’t want it to scare an audience off, because it’s a very accessible movie. It’s not a slasher movie, it’s not bloody at all, it’s a fun romp. That’s why it’s always tricky finding that right title of something that isn’t off-putting and doesn’t make you feel like, “Okay, I don’t want to go see a movie about something demonic,” and allow it to have that kind of tell that you can run with. The Warren Files is fine, but it’s a little dry and you might think you’re watching CSI or something. So it is still in the works, it’s still being talked about.


Peter Safran – Producer

Can you talk about the challenges of scaring a modern audience? There’s loads of gore now, but when we talk about the scariest movies, we tend to go back to the ‘70s.

Peter Safran: I think if you can allow it to be a slow build, if you will take the patience to build the characters up first, then I think what happens to those characters is a lot more relevant when it does actually happen. But I think frequently, certainly over the last decade, what has been happening is people haven’t had the patience to let those characters build. You go into a test screening, you have your test audience and they say, “Hey, it really dragged in the first act,” and suddenly you’re clipping out all the stuff that’s not immediately on point or on story and packing the movie tighter and tighter together to get your scares closer together and I think it’s a reaction to what the audience was saying. The movies in the ‘70s, they were allowed to breathe. They were long, you had time to really get to know your people before you put them in the circumstances that they were in.

Ultimately, scary movies, like comedies from my perspective, they’re just reflexive. Either they scare you or comedies, they make you laugh, it just happens, and I think James Wan is just a master of it. It’s been extraordinary since the day he got involved with the project. Everything he’s done has been additive. There is not an idea that he’s thrown out that we said, “Eh, maybe not that one.” He really is just a master of it. You watch him and John Leonetti, our DP, and they’d done four movies together, maybe five, but you watch them do this little dance together and you see exactly what James and he want and what they’re crafting and it’s amazing how accurate they are together. There ’s very little wasted energy. Certainly no wasted shots. James knows what he’s gonna use.

From the day he got involved he kind of had a holistic view of the movie. He goes, “This is gonna be an iconic image. This is going to be something that I want to use in the marketing campaign.” Literally from day one, and that kind of influenced how we prepped the movie and how we put the movie together. But it’s been remarkably consistent for him. All those ideas that he had are all things that are in the movie.

Is it ever difficult working with a director with such specific ideas? Did you ever have to tell him, “Sorry, we just can’t do that?”

Safran: No! It’s awesome because he’s a guy who his last movie was made for a million bucks in 18 days, so he is not scared at all by the challenges of moviemaking and he can expand or contract depending on what the situation requires. If you give him 38 days, he’ll use 38 days, but he could also do it in 18 days. Probably not this movie, but he’s not scared at all by what it is. It’s nice to work with a filmmaker that has a team of people around him that have done so many pictures with him. Julie Berghoff – three or four. Kristin Burke is wardrobe designer – three or four. Leonetti – four or five. Albert Cho, the AD. They all have this shorthand and they all have a little bit of a mind meld with James, so they really know what he wants and he knows how to communicate with them to get it swiftly. It’s really been a pleasure. It actually makes my job a little too easy.


Production Designer Julie Berghoff on The Tree

“The tree was my favorite thing on this show because I love trees. I think they’re amazing, they talk to you, they’re old souls, and so I got to create a 50-foot tree that was a mix of ‘Sleepy Hollow ‘meets Twisted Sister meets big oak tree. So that, for me, is kind of like the eyes in Amityville in the house.

“If you look at it, it kind of looks like a hand coming out of the earth and with its fingers all messed up and twisting. I felt like the tree was really old and amazing and then the witch cursed it and so it just died over time, and the limbs fell off and fell nearby, but it was such a big tree that it’s still standing, like the carcass of it is still standing. And then vines grew all over it, but they didn’t really grow because the tree is cursed.

“The witch hangs herself from the tree, so I think that it represented her final days of giving herself to Satan or whatever she decided to do, and I felt like it kind of scorched the earth and that area including all the water. So I think it represents kind of a poison to that part of the land. And she basically cursed all the land that she originally owned so I think for me, it’s like, the trees, how their root systems can kind of touch each other, I think it just went into the earth and just spread, and she just became a poison to that area.”


Chad and Carey Hayes – Writers

Can you talk about the genesis of the script? You’re dealing with loads of cases and real people, so did the focal point of the material change at all throughout the process?

Chad Hayes: We switched it off. Peter Safran had sent a treatment through a management company for a story that was about the Perrons and although it was really scary, Carey and I were like, “Gosh, I feel like I’ve sort of seen it.” The Warrens were mentioned in there a little bit as the investigators, and we were familiar with them and we went, “Whoa, I wonder if we can switch the POV of this movie,” because what scares the investigators? That was really interesting.

So we went back and said, “If you can get the Warrens rights, I think we’d be really interested in writing this movie, and they did, so that was great. It felt very franchisable to us as well, the idea that they’ve done so many case files. And if you think about the Warrens – and this takes place in 1971 or two – these guys were on top of their game. There weren’t any people that you could go to to do all this, and it was at the height when “The Exorcist” came out and so the church was super reticent because people were like, “Whoa, the church really does that kind of thing?” It just all felt very compelling and a lot more interesting than just family buys the wrong house, drives up and then it all begins. And we got a chance to tell family POVs; this is really about three families – the witch family, the Perrons and the Warrens, and this collision course that they were all on.

Anything you can tell us? Any specific stories you’re eying for future installments?

Chad Hayes: We don’t know yet. There are thousands of cases that they were on. They went all over the world. What interests us is, possibly – not that we would get the approval to do this – but do something in a foreign land. They went to the Eastern Bloc countries, they spent a lot of time in England and Ireland, and there’s a couple famous cases, there’s an Eddsfield case that got a lot of attention. It’s called dematerialization when someone literally disappears from a room and shows up somewhere else, and they have photographs that Carey and I have seen of a girl who would literally disappear from their house and they would end up having to dig her out of a wall. No way in. Nothing like that. There’s a case that we use in the film, a case they were on with this guy Maurice, and we recreated this in the movie and it turned out really fantastic.

Carey Hayes: It was a man who was possessed twice.

Chad Hayes: Twice. He had a third grade education. He spoke perfect Latin backwards. And we’ve seen the footage of this that Ed had and when you watch the footage – it’s not meant for anyone, it was meant for their own archives – and they pull up his shirt and his skin, these upside-down crosses appear on his skin and you just see him babbling in Latisn. And then we researched this guy and this guy was a dairy farmer, in the middle of frickin’ nowhere, no Latin exposure whatsoever, but they discovered he was speaking it backwards, which is amazing. And he had tears of blood that come down on his shirt and we asked Lorraine, “Is that Maurice’s blood?” And she says, “No, honey. The spirits can manifest it. They can manifest things out of their own will.”


Lili Taylor – Caroline Perron

Have you done makeup tests yet for the possession?

Lili Taylor: I did a makeup test yesterday and Justin [Raleigh] is fantastic. He’s the special effects make-up guy and Kelly [Golden]’s assistant. They’re great. And it’s there. We need to make one tweak, but he did a really great job. James [Wan] is so great because what James does is he wants to look as real as possible except just a little bit off. He doesn’t go for a stereotypical, like, what you’d imagine. Bathsheba’s not what you’d imagine or you’d imagine sort of this old lady, but he didn’t want that. They first presented grey hair and no, it’s like he went with something that’s interesting, but also a little off, and the same with my thing. There’s something a little bit wrong. Second stage possession, I have these contacts in, these brown contacts and they’re so subtle. It’s almost like people are looking at me and they’re just cocking their head a little bit. They’re not quite sure what’s wrong with me, because I’m sort of dead in the eyes. It’s just a little bit off and that sort of, to me, sums up some of James’ way in.

You said second stage, so is there a progression to your possession?

Taylor: Yeah, there’s the first stage possession, which is almost like, to me, I’m almost thinking about it like the flu, like I’m not feeling so great, but I’m still kind of here. Second stage possession, the second stage of contacts are in, a little darker brown. I’ve got a little bit of stuff happening around the lips, like sores, some broken blood vessels around and you imagine almost the analogy of rabies or something, that the rabies is sort of like I’m now thinking about how to get that rabies into somebody else.

Do you feel like this movie could be a classic in the making?

Taylor: I do. I think in some ways he is using “The Exorcist” as a template. What I love about “The Exorcist” was you can actually have depth and meaning, good acting, and interesting cinematography, and have a genre. And what James is doing is it’s looking beautiful. John Leonetti, the DP is brilliant. It’s looking gorgeous. It actually has a very 70s feeling. I think he’s being inspired by [William] Friedkin’s “French Connection” and “Exorcist.” I’m sort of thinking of [Ellen] Burstyn a lot. I just thought her performance was just beautiful and surprising and unique and specific and I think what I like is that James allows reactions that maybe others might not like because they’re not general reactions. They’re not like classic, you know, like how stereotypically you’d imagine someone might behave scared, but if we see a documentary when someone’s really scared, it’s usually a much more interesting reaction. And maybe unusual and James is allowing that where maybe a more commercial director might say, “No, no, no, no, that’s too unusual,” you know? “We have to make it so that they get it in Kansas,” or something, which is ridiculous. So in all those ways, I think that James is sort of making a classic movie.

After all the research you’ve done and having had the real family on set, do you believe it all? Do you believe all this really happened to Carolyn Perron?

Taylor: I don’t know. But you know what? It kind of doesn’t matter in a way because it felt real. It’s sort of like with a kid; if a kid is scared, you just have to acknowledge and say, “You’re scared,” because it’s real to them. I don’t have to actually validate or verify any of it, and that’s in fact why I didn’t want to get into it, because I didn’t want to get into like, “Well, actually they later found out that …,” you know what mean? Because no, to her, it was very real so I have to believe it’s real, but if you’re gonna talk to me about whether I believe it happened to her, I don’t know. I know she went into therapy after. We could talk to her therapist. Maybe she had some other stuff going on that was coming out through the manifestation of fear of a ghost or whatever, but I don’t know.


Ron Livingston – Roger Perron

Did you get a chance to speak with your real life counterpart?

Ron Livingston: I did. I didn’t speak to him before the shoot. I did a little bit of reading on the stuff and kind of determined that – there’s some of them where I try to do a lot of homework and then there’s some of them where, this one in particular, everything’s supposed to take you by surprise, so you kind of just want to get in there and let everything take you by surprise rather than have him tell you about how everything went down and then you kind of know the end of the story before the beginning. Patrick and Vera are the experts and I think they’ve been really good about really being all over the Warrens and learning their process and their history and how they came up. We are a real family, the parents, but I don’t think at the time they knew they were going to be this family, so I kind of wanted to come into it not knowing.

Is Roger aware that his wife is being haunted?

Livingston: If we’ve done it right, I think you kind of walk the audience through it. There’s kind of a fine line that you want to run. You want the audience to slowly buy into the concept and the premise, and so you have a couple of characters that themselves are kind of slowly buying into the concept and the premise. And the great thing about it is, people say, “Do you believe in this?” Or, “Do you believe in that?” “Yes, I do,” or, “No, I don’t.” I think everybody has a couple of different opinions that come out at different times. There’s how you feel about it at 3:30am in the dark, and then there’s how you feel about it in the light of the day reading Scientific American, and I think the fun of the movie is swinging back between those two things as a character.

It’s been mentioned that James is shooting this chronologically. Do you find that helpful as an actor?

Livingston: Tremendously. You forget how much easier it is to do it that way because you’re used to working the other way. It’s funny because I think probably part of the reason he did it is because he thought it would have been easier for the kids. The kids would have been fine. The kids are such pros. [Laughs] But I found it a lot easier. I think it’s a lot easier for continuity too, because you don’t paint yourself into a corner where it’s like, “Oh, he tore his jeans in this shot, but we already shot stuff afterwards, so how do we do it?” We can kind of figure out where it is as we go and if there’s gaps, we can plug them. It also I think helps with the tone because if there’s a slow build I think it’s easier to tell where you are on that if you’re just going off, “Okay, yesterday we were here, so we’re coming off of that,” rather than trying to go, “Where were we in March?”


Patrick Wilson – Ed Warren

What is it about Ed as a person that you enjoyed exploring?

Patrick Wilson: For me it’s always just trying to do something different and even though I’ve done the horror genre once, I mean, Insidious is a totally different set up. If anything, I’m closer to Roger, Ron [Livingston]’s character, the husband in peril and saving his family. There is a lot of being protective with me and Lorraine, but I think it’s fascinating, a couple that dedicated their life to the occult, supernatural, demonology and the guy was one of seven or eight demonologists, the only person at the time that was authorized or supported by the Vatican to give an exorcism who wasn’t a priest. He knew more about this world than most priests around the world. I don’t think most priests delved into the demons and the backstories and the hundreds of years of spirits. I don’t think anyone knew that better than Ed. He read. Everything about him, he was always reading and studying and from a very early age just really loved this world. I can latch onto somebody like that that has that kind of passion even though it wasn’t my passion, but it’s something I can really respect.

He must have had interesting tax returns.

Wilson: [Laughs] They were only paid by their lectures. They were very famous for that. He also sold paintings. When I went to [Lorraine’s] house and I saw all his paintings everywhere, there are two things we called back to the producers and said we have to have in the movie, one was chickens because – remember this is also 2012 and we’re saying what was it like in the 70s, but she’s always had this love and affinity for animals, which I think is also really kind of awesome. She had chickens in the house! And so we said we have to have these chickens. It’s awesome. It’s such a celebration of life and a weird quirk and something fun, and to his paintings that were everywhere! When he got out of the Navy and came back, he had gone to art school and she had studied as well as I recall. He didn’t really know what to do and so they traveled around, this is in the 50s, they would travel around in the northeast to houses that they had heard were haunted and they’d go and paint the house or they’d ask the owner, “Can we take a look at your house and we’ll give you a painting of it?” [Laughs] So they would be outside, he’d paint it and that was sort of their price for just wanting to just – and her being clairvoyant, it sort of was this match made in heaven because he was just very focused and fascinated by this culture and also they’re very devout Catholics. They’re just fascinating people.

Did Lorraine feel you embodied him?

Wilson: I thought about trying to go closer to his look, but it wasn’t that important. People aren’t gonna see me and go, “He doesn’t look like Ed Warren!” You know what I mean? The physicality doesn’t matter, but she had said to me, and Tony DeRosa, too, her son-in-law who’s also here, he had said, “I look in your eyes and you have that same kindness and that same openness that Ed had.” And that to me just made me feel great. That’s all I’m going for is just to try to capture his spirit.

I don’t have the ring on now, but I would say things, I guess I’m picking rings, this is kind of crazy actually. I was looking at rings and I thought, “Eh, it’s probably closer to this one,” and I sent him a picture and he was like, “Oh! That’s perfect! He had an onyx ring, it was grey.” And so I picked this ring out and they come to set. We were sending e-mails back and Lorraine goes, “Oh my gosh, you know, I looked for that ring. It looks just like that, but I think I buried him with it.” [Laughs] I was like, well I hope you don’t find it, or maybe you will! And then randomly my dad, my own father, had come up the next week and he had a ring and I don’t even remember when he got this. He had a ring that looked almost identical to the ring I’d picked out to play Ed Warren. I mean, the two diamonds and a little onyx piece there. He was on set and I was like, “Dad, let me see your ring.” He holds out his hand and I was like, “Wow.” And then, of course, my mom goes, “Oh, did you get that ring after Dad?” I was like, “No, I had no idea.”


James Wan – Director

There’s been talk about the Warrens having so many stories that this could be the start of a franchise. How are you building them as characters so that the audience might want to follow them from film to film?

James Wan: One of the first things that Patrick, Vera and I really wanted to do when we started production was to meet Lorraine Warren. Unfortunately, she’s the only one that’s around so everything we learned about Ed is through her point of view. We wanted to try and capture some of the quirky charms that they have. I tell people this is a subjective movie. I know they have their believers and fans, and then they have skeptics, as well. I’m making this movie through her point of view. So whether or not you believe in their story or you believe in the story of the parents, I’m showing you a movie that is seen through their point of view, through what they experienced. People can then decide whether or not to believe.

We heard you’re really adamant about sticking close to what really happened. Why was that important to you?

Wan: I think if you’re gonna make a movie that right off the bat wears that headline that says, “Based on a true story,” I wanted to wear it proudly. A lot of horror films now say that, but they may go, “Okay, in this story a ghost crossed the street,” and then they have a sequence in the movie where a ghost crosses the street and you say the whole film’s based on a true story. We don’t believe that, right? It’s not like “Texas Chainsaw.” That was part of the selling shtick back then. So I kind of want to wear it proudly and I feel like if people are interested in this family back then, [with] today’s technology, they can just look it up. They can look it up very easily. They can just search for it, and I don’t want the first thing that they look up to go, “Oh, wait. The family that’s portrayed in the movie has just two kids,” which kind of was how the original script was before I came on. And then they go look it up online and go, “Actually no, there were five.”

When I first heard the story I go, there’s five kids within a family of seven; that’s what makes it realistic to me. And it makes it hard for the family as well to just move around. It’s a very poor family. They move into this farmhouse, they don’t have a lot of money and so they didn’t just pack their bags and leave when sh*t starts hitting the fan. And then when they wanted to, they realized they could not, even if they had wanted to. I think that it was very important to try and get as much of the real stuff in as I can, but at the same time sort of don’t tie my hands as well and make a fun, scary movie at the same time.

Do you have plans for the score? Those bold sounds and tunes from “Insidious” really left a mark, so can we expect something like that again?

Wan: The score is going to be very interesting. [Laughs] I love my atonal scores for these kind of films. “Saw” was actually very melodic in some parts. The theme is very memorable now. I want to find a balance between the classic Lalo Schifrin style of scoring from “Amityville Horror,” but then I also love the atonal stuff that I embraced with “Insidious.” That, with the sound design, hopefully I can find a balance between the two.

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