Producer Peter Safran Talks THE CONJURING, the Challenge of Creating a Creepy Movie, Skepticism vs Belief in the Supernatural & Working with James Wan

by     Posted 1 year, 55 days ago

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With James Wan’s The Conjuring opening up in a few weeks, we’ll be bringing you all sorts of content from our set visit.  The new horror film from the director of Saw and Insidious centers on the Perron family and their decision to bring in acclaimed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) when unexplained events start happening in their house.

During our set visit, producer Peter Safran talked about .  Hit the jump for the interview with Safran and be sure to check out our set visit recap here, plus interviews with James WanPatrick WilsonRon Livingston and Lili Taylor.  The Conjuring opens July 19th.

ron-livingston-the-conjuringQuestion:  How long have you been in production?

Peter Safran: It was a while ago. Although in the studio world, when you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago. To go from idea to actually shooting the movie in under three years is not terrible.

How many years?

Safran: I think it will be three in … three this fall.

So how did you team up with, I can’t remember the name of the producer who was with the Warrens.

Safran: It was brought to me …Basically he brought it to somebody that I knew who ultimately decided they didn’t want to do it but I heard about it through my buddy and leapt on it because I thought it was a particularly original idea. I loved that is was a true story. I loved that it was a family protecting their 5 daughters ..I’m the father of a young daughter ..ya know I’d do anything for my ONE daughter, I can only imagine what it must be like when you have 5 that are in jeopardy and I just thought it was something really special and unique and in terms of genre I’m drawn more to the kinda classic scary movies rather than the blood and gore of some of the later types. I appreciate them but those aren’t the ones I was looking to make.

Is it challenging to create that creep without it just being jump scare jump scare…

Safran: It is. It is challenging. The Hayes brothers did a terrific job. Ya know we spent a long time developing the pitch. Much of what the movie is today is that pitch. It’s really remarkable how close the movie, today, is from what the pitch was. And the Hayes brothers, as a testament to what they did, we took it out to four studios when it was ready as a pitch. Every single place we took it to bid on it. So it was a real bidding war to get the rights. And that’s, I think, because people understood how interesting it was. It was a true story. It’s a precursor to Amityville and in many ways, the Warren’s experiences in Harrisville, in some ways lead to the path to Amityville and everybody just recognized it. It was a really interesting story and also it was interesting to tell the story from both the investigator’s point of view and the family’s point of view because so many of these movies are simply family moves into a house..creepy stuff starts happening..and it’s not til the third act that you really get to meet the investigators who come in and resolve it. In this case you know we had both stories at the same time and then they intersect early on and it brought a more human element to it.

Did you have any personal experiences with the supernatural or the occult?

the-conjuring-lili-taylor-joey-kingSafran: No! I don’t and I brought a pretty healthy dose of skepticism into it initially even thought I recognized that it was an interesting story, but as you spend 3 years working on these projects you can’t help but become a believer because you do so much research you read so many articles you watch so many clips you spend time with Lorraine Warren and the passion of her belief and her faith is so strong that you just can not help but be swayed to that side of the fence. So I definitely started as a skeptic and a I now embrace it far more. And then …stuff happens…around the movie that, I don’t know, Lorraine said there is no such thing as coincidences. I’m definitely a believer at this point. I’ll tell you one thing that was very interesting. Vera. We’d sent her the script back in December and she’s in New York..James is in LA. So they were ..she got the script she read it immediately. Got the call from her reps said she loved it and wanted to get on the phone with James or Skype the next day. So she read it that night. She went to sleep. She came back in the morning to get on her computer to Skype him and there were three deep scratches on her computer screen. Completely inexplicable. Like..they weren’t there the night before when she read the screenplay on the computer, but they were there in the morning. And there was just no way to explain what it was but stuff like that has happened constantly.

I’m surprised she agreed to do the movie after that!

Safran: I think that made her WANT to do the movie! Ya know Vera has embraced the Lorraine of it all in an enormous way. She and Patrick went up to Connecticut to spend time with Lorraine and they just spent hours and hours together and I think it became very important for Vera from a personal point of view to make this really be a testament to Lorraine and what she and Ed spent their life doing. Patrick has clearly embraced it as well but it’s different. Ed’s not alive so he’s kind of created his own version of Ed ..the authority that Ed brings to the table as a former military man, but Vera ..she’s really Lorraine. It’s just…it’s crazy at this point and what’s interesting is when we went to cast the role, none of us spent a second thinking “Well we need to cast someone that looks vaguely like Lorraine.” It never crossed any of our minds. Wasn’t even a factor. And when Lorraine was on set ..I don’t think we could have cast an actress who looks more like Lorraine. I can’t think of a well known actress who looks more like Lorraine than Vera. But again it was not part of the decision making process but there’s something about their eyes…kinda the shape of their face and their nose that was just..crazy.

Did she ever figure out how the scratches got on there? Cuz the first thing you’re gonna do is say “I gotta deduce how this happened…”

the-conjuring-dollSafran:  No. The kids couldn’t get theirs…they literally couldn’t figure out how it happened. An also a lot of people found themselves ..on the movie when we were in prep, waking up between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning and when we mentioned this to Lorraine, she said “You know that’s the Witching Hour. That is it.” And..again..maybe it’s just in your head but so many people were having that happen ..and again who knows what the reality of it is but it certainly ..it’s in all of our consciousness at this point.

Can you elaborate a bit on the challenges of scaring a modern audience..what do you think scares people nowadays? Whenever we talk about the scariest movies we tend to go back to the 70’s. Things like the 80’s and 90’s ..and there were scary movies then.

Safran: For sure.

We tend to go back to those, but we do seem to be coming out of that violent horror cycle and getting more into getting under your skin

Safran: I think so. I mean I think if you can allow it to be a slow build …if you will take the patience to build the characters up first and I think what happens to those characters are a lot more relevant when it does actually happen. I think frequently, certainly over the last decade, what has been happening is people haven’t had the patience to let those characters build and you go into a test screening and you have your test audience and they say “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 but I think the way the movies in the 70’s were allowed to breathe. They were long and you had time to really get to know your people before you put them in the circumstances that they were in. I mean, listen, ultimately, scary movies like comedies, from my perspective, their just reflexive ..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’s not an idea that he’s thrown out that we said “Wellllll maybe not  that one.” He really is just a master. You watch him and John Leonetti our DP and they’ve done, I guess 4 movies together..maybe 5..  but you watch them kind of do thie 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. There’s very little wasted energy..certainly no wasted shots. I mean James knows what he’s going to use again from the day he got involved he kinda had a holistic view of the movie. He literally would talk about ..ya know..This is gonna be an iconic image. This is going to be something that I want to use in the marketing campaign. This is ..literally from day 1 and that kinda influenced how we prepped the movie and how we put the movie together but it’s been remarkably consistent for him. I mean all those ideas that he had are all things that are in the movie. Did you guys read the screenplay?

the-conjuring-lili-taylor-2They don’t let us see that! (laughter)

Safran: Ya never know! You could find it online.

It’s not online. (more laughter)

Safran: But no there are certain elements that were in the screenplay … there was a location where a certain thing happened. It was a barn and James said “I don’t want to do it in a barn..I want a tree and I need some water” and he just really had a specific vision and boy when you see it in the movie now…you can’t imagine it was any other way. You can’t. It’s so perfect. So James ..really to answer your question how do you craft scares today..I just think it’s a film maker’s medium like It’s always been. If you have a good film maker who’s got real confidence ..because you have to be willing to kinda be patient and know that you’re going to get what you need to get without the voices around you saying “trim a little bit here..do a little bit there” and James is that guy. He has no doubt about what’s scary.

What was the stuff that he wanted as iconic images for the marketing campaign? Was it the tree…

Safran: Yea..The tree was a huge thing and again, it was just kind of in his head. He hadn’t seen this kind of image in this kind of movie and very specific about where the tree was and location to the body of water and even down to how he wanted to shoot it from a barge with a crane ..very, very specific. We found a perfect location to do it and it looks amazing. It took all day to set up the shot and you’re like “Oh shit this can not possibly be worth it.” We were just killin the day! It’s amazing. It’s amazing! It’s an amazing shot. James just knows what he’s doing.

How was it for you working with a director with such a specific vision…

Safran: AWESOME.

Was there ever a time though were you were had to be like “I don’t think we can make that happen”?

Safran: NO! No. It’s awesome cuz he’s a guy his last movie was made for a million bucks and in 18 days so he is not scared at all by the challenges of movie making he kind of can expand or contract depending on what the situation requires and so if you give him 38 days he’ll use 38 days but he can also do it in 18 days. Probably not this movie but he’s not scared at all by what it is and I think he ..it’s nice to work with a film maker that has a team of people around him that have done so many pictures with him .. Julie Berghoff ..3 or 4..Kristin Burke is a wardrobe designer 3 or 4 ..Leonetti ..ya know 4 or 5 ..ya know Albert Cho..so ..they all have this short hand 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..and it’s been a pleasure. It’s really been a pleasure. It actually makes my job a little bit too easy.

the-conjuring-lili-taylor-3Sorry if this is too much of a plot detail or if you can’t talk about it. We’re all embargoed ..Is the witch something that we’re going to be familiar with from the get go?

Safran: No

Okay. So what will we know? When will we see the marketing for this..what will we know about the plot?

Safran: What will you know about the plot…obviously you’ll know that it’s the parents and the Warrens. You’ll know it’s about those two families and their interaction. You’ll know it’s a true story …based on a true story whatever the legal term is. By the way James was very adamant about keeping as close as possible to the real story even down to the fact that they have 5 daughters and there were certainly suggestions from some people that 5 kids running around ..it’s a complicated shoot. How bout 3? How bout three kids?? It had to be 5. They had to be the right ages. He really wanted it to get close to that. So in terms of what you’ll know…obviously everyone knows ABOUT the Warrens ..I think everybody will know this thing is a precursor to some of the later cases. In some ways this is a ..I’m sure it will be discussed..a seminal case for them in terms of setting them on the path that they ultimately were on just in terms of what they had to do in this case. 

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