Writer/Director David Goyer Interview THE UNBORN – Interview 2 of 3

     January 7, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening this Friday is “The Unborn” and it’s written and directed by David Goyer (“Blade: Trinity”, “The Invisible”, co writer of “The Dark Knight”). The movie is a supernatural thriller that follows a young woman pulled into a world of nightmares when a demonic spirit haunts her and threatens everyone she loves. Odette Yustman (“Cloverfield”) stars as the woman and Cam Gigandet (Twilight) plays her boyfriend.

Here’s the synopsis:

Sometimes the soul of a dead person has been so tainted with evil that it is denied entrance to heaven. It must endlessly wander the borderlands between worlds, desperately searching for a new body to inhabit.

And sometimes it actually succeeds.

Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) hated her mother for leaving her as a child. But when inexplicable things start to happen, Casey begins to understand why she left. Plagued by merciless dreams and a tortured ghost that haunts her waking hours, she must turn to the only spiritual advisor, Sendak (Gary Oldman), who can make it stop.

With Sendak’s help, Casey uncovers the source of a family curse dating back to Nazi Germany—a creature with the ability to inhabit anyone or anything that is getting stronger with each possession. With the curse unleashed, her only chance at survival is to shut a doorway from beyond our world that has been pried open by someone who was never born.

Anyhow, the other day I posted my exclusive video interview with writer/director David Goyer and now it’s time to post the roundtable interview I participated in. If you don’t know, a roundtable interview is where a group of journalists sit around a table and take turns asking questions.

During this interview David talked about casting, directing, his thoughts on “The Dark Knight” getting any awards, “Magneto”, “Invisible Man”, his new show at ABC called “Flash Forward”,and a lot more. It’s a pretty deep interview and one I think you’ll really enjoy.

Finally, if you’d like to watch some clips from “The Unborn”, click here. And one last thing…I also did a very extensive video interview with David and that’ll be online tomorrow night. Make sure to check back!

Q: Why did you turn down directing this so many times?

David: Well, first of all I was maybe going to direct another film instead, so there was that. And then I didn’t know, I’d never done a horror film before, so I didn’t know if I was ready to do a horror film, but then we started talking about someone else directing it and I didn’t really want someone else to do it so then I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll do it.’

Q: What was the biggest surprise directing a horror film?

David: I think the biggest surprise is just – I think directing a horror film is sort of a lot like directing a comedy, which is there’s not really a formula for what’s funny or what’s scary, there are these kind of innate rhythms and you just have to find them. I mean, I know what scares me. It’s not particularly scary when you’re doing it on the set because you’ve got a hundred people around you and you know what’s coming obviously, so it’s not until you get into the editing room that you can decide whether or not it’s scary. But it’s really not until you test it, we tested this film more than any film I’ve been involved in before. It’s there in black and white, they scream or they don’t scream. And then you just modulate it and hopefully you get more screams the more you go along.

Q: Can you talk about the genesis of the idea, there are about three different things in the film that I don’t think I’ve seen before in horror movies.

David: Is that good?

Q: It is good, Nazis –

David: No, come on, you’ve seen Nazis.

Q: But the blued-eyed thing, and the twin thing.

David: There were twins in The Shining.

Q: That’s true, okay so it’s not original.

David: You haven’t seen a dog with an upside down head before I hope. The genesis was I was in Chicago on set for The Dark Knight visiting, and I was just at dinner one night with my wife and I said, ‘Hey, you know what would be scary?’ ‘What?’ ‘If you did a movie about a girl who has an unborn twin and she’s being haunted by the twin that never got born.’ And she said, ‘That’s fucked up’ Oh, sorry. ‘That’s messed up.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, and the unborn twin, I don’t know why I said this, ‘His nickname should have been Jumby, and somebody will say, ‘Jumby wants to be born now.’ And she said, ‘You should go write that.’ And so I did. And then I just started doing research, twins, and that led me to hedachromial, which is the idea that the blue eyes turning brown, and that led me also to Mengele’s research with twins and with eye color bizarrely, which is all true, and that led me into the legend of the Dybbuk, which is also true, and I started reading all that stuff and it just fit together and I thought, oh it’s an interesting way to maybe do a new spin on a possession/exorcism story.

Q: Is there a pro-life metaphor in there somewhere?

David: No, no, I mean, pro-life for a demon baby? No.

Q: Life begins at demonic possession.

David: I guess.

Q: Was there an earthquake on that set or not?

David: Yeah there was. No, no, no, it’s absolutely true, we were filming the exorcism, it was bitterly cold, it was the dead of winter in Chicago, it was the middle of the night, and there was an earthquake. And you can Google it, it was a real, honest to goodness earthquake in Illinois. And it wasn’t a little one, it was a big one.

Q: And how did everybody react?

David: Well, we had wind machines and things in the room already, and we had these big chandeliers that were on monofilaments, so everybody thought at first – I mean, it was actually happening while we were filming it, so everyone thought, ‘Oh, it’s just special effects.’ But then more stuff started falling and everybody realized – and then the next night we had a tornado warning, we had tornados, and we had to evacuate the set. So that was pretty fun.

Q: How far have you come as a director?

David: Oh, a lot, I mean, I think most people when they start don’t really know what they’re doing, and God knows I learned a lot on Blade, but I know that for me at least, this is the first time I was kind of able to cut in my head and say, ‘No, I don’t need that shot, I need that shot,’ and the movie turned out – I storyboarded a lot of the film, but it turned out very similar to what I had boarded and what I had [envisioned]. I don’t know, I remember that fourth script I wrote was Blade, and that was the first time I felt like oh I really as a writer am on a roll now, and this is the fourth thing I directed and I just felt like, oh I’m really getting the hang of it now.

Q: Can you talk a little about the collaborative process with your cinematographer and the visual side of the film? The camerawork in the opening is very nice.

David: Oh thank you. Well, obviously I’m friends with Chris Nolan, and he was encouraging me to shoot anamorphic , which is the format that he shoots all of his movies in, and it’s a format that I had never worked in before, even as a writer, well with the exception of Batman Begins. And anamorphic is a – I also think I would not have shot with anamorphic if it had been my first film directing because you need a bit more technical expertise when you’re shooting with it, but I picked a DP that had shot anamorphic before, and we just spent a lot of time in the locations talking it over. I find at least for me that the films that are scariest are the ones that feel a bit more realistic, so we try not to have a lot of crazy, a lot of long takes, a lot of – where the camera movements that draw attention to themselves and things like that, but hopefully at least from the beginning frame it’s kind of creepy with that frozen river as you’re going down and things like that.

Q: The whole flashback to the concentration camp in sepia was really well done

David: Thank you.

Q: It looked like a high production value

David: Yeah, I’m really proud of it, we made the movie for $20 million and I think it looks way bigger. I’m very proud of the production value.

Q: What I really noticed was the sound, as a director do you go through the scenes looking for the right places for the sound or do you put them in later?

David: Obviously some you think you’ll have a bang or something like that in, but sound is – it’s not really that much of a secret, but scary movies probably half of it is the sound, so you spend a long time with sound and you wrestle with the sound, and you wrestle with – interestingly enough when you’re previewing a film you’ve only got temp sounds and you don’t have foley and things like that, so you have a lot more music in it, and then as they start to build the sound design and the soundtrack, you find yourself pulling music cues out when you’re on the final mix, and so like a lot of the scenes when she hears the tapping in the mirror and stuff like that, those used to have music in them, but I think they become scarier with just the silence. I really like the sequence at the beginning of the film where she hear something in the baby monitor, and then she’s sort of looking up in the bottom of the stairs and I just like – it’s very quiet and you just kind of hear the creaking of the stairs.

Q: Do you have concept for the sound design as you start the movie, or is it something that evolves in the process of postproduction.

David: Usually it evolves in the process of postproduction. I think with a movie like this I told my sound designers, and I’ve worked with them before, is we really have a latitude to be non-literal, so that the visual style is fairly literal, or fairly naturalistic, but the sound design wasn’t literal at all. I don’t know if you’ll notice but we hit various things that don’t make any sound like when she’s walking that kind of haunted film, anytime the lens would flare we would have this kind of slightly grating high pitched sound, anytime the light would happen or things like that, which was just fun to bring sounds to things like that, because it obviously affects people in an unconscious way.

Q: Can you talk about casting Jane Alexander.

David: Well, I knew that I wanted a really great actress to play Sophie, it’s sort of her being the explainer role, and if we didn’t have a great actress – I knew we wanted to have someone doing a Hungarian accent, and so they had to be damn good, and I think that Jane Alexander is one of the best actresses around. She was thrilled to do the part, it was really exciting. In fact, we shot with her first, we shot her scenes the first three days and she was a trooper, it was 15 degrees in that location, no heat, and she’s running around in that scene – because I called her up the day before and said, ‘How would you feel about doing all that stuff barefoot?’ And she said, ‘Oh, okay.’ She’s in her sixties and she’s running around barefoot, and it was cold. We were wearing long underwear and all sorts of things.

Q: How much better prepared do you feel now to do your next film?

David: A lot, a lot more, I mean, this is a film that I felt I prepared well for and we didn’t encounter any big surprises, it went fairly smoothly so I’m excited to dive into another one.

Q: Will you talk briefly about casting Odette and Cam?

David: Well, we saw a lot of young actors, we weren’t specifically trying to find people that were new per se, we saw over a hundred actresses for Casey, and Odette was just far and above the best one that came in. She’s a really great actress, she’s a fresh face, I think she’s got a very exotic beauty to her, I think the camera loves her and audiences find her sympathetic, so it was pretty unanimous when she did her audition everyone wanted her.

Q: What scene was it she auditioned with?

David: Oh Lord, I don’t remember. She did a couple of scenes, but I will tell you, all the women we made them scream at the end it. And my point was it’s not specifically that you have to be a good screamer, but I needed to know that the actress would go there, so if you’re not willing to scream in front of the three of us, you’re not going to be willing to do that in front of two hundred crew members. And in terms of Cam I just thought he had a sort of young Steve McQueen quality, I don’t think he had even done Twilight when we cast him, so we just got lucky with that. And he was sick of playing bad guys, so he was kind of happy to do that. Gary Oldman I knew obviously because of the Batman films, that got my foot in the door and fortunately he’s a fan of horror films.

Q: And you didn’t warn Odette that she would have stuff stuck in her eye?

David: No, I would spring that on her, I used to spring that on her at the last minute. In fact, that particular day we were in an ophthalmologist’s lab and the ophthalmologist was our tech advisor on the day, and I said, ‘Is there anything really uncomfortable we can do to her?’ He said, ‘Well, I can put this speculum thing in her eye,’ and so right before we rolled I said, ‘You know honey, we’re just going to do this little thing, it’s fine, and we’re rolling,’ and she’s like, ‘What, what, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘It’s okay we’re just going to do one take and I’ll do it too.’ And then we did eight takes and then we ran out of time.

Q: And did you do it?

David: No, I didn’t do it.

Q: That reaction seemed pretty authentic.

David: Oh no, it was, she was intensely uncomfortable, and she was uncomfortable with the potato bugs.

Q: That wasn’t CGI?

David: There were CGI bugs but there were about 500 real ones and they were all over her. And in fact, we finished filming and we were resetting and stopped filming for about 15 minutes, and she started screaming all of a sudden because one of them was in her bra. And she was like, ‘Get it off me, get it off me.’ She started tearing off her clothes.

Q: You and Jonah might have a real chance of a screenwriting nomination this year for The Dark Knight, have you wrapped your head around that?

David: No, I don’t think any of us could have imagined the reaction, the reception that The Dark Knight had, we thought it would do well with – it did far and beyond anything anyone expected. I’m enormously proud of my small contribution to the film, and what can I say? But yeah, you can’t even wrap your head around that.

Q: There must be discussions about a third one

David: Maybe. If there were I wouldn’t tell you.

Q: Can you give us an update on your next projects, directing and writing?

David: The next project directing-wise is I co-wrote a pilot for ABC called Flash Forward with Brannon Braga, I’ll be directing that in February and we just cast Joseph Fiennes and John Cho from Harold and Kumar, and Courtney Vance, and Jack Davenport, a couple of other guys. So we’ll be shooting that in February and I think it’s a design for ABC at least as meant to be a companion to Lost. So we’ll be shooting that in L.A., and then I’ve written an adaptation, sort of a re-imagining of The Invisible Man for Universal that theoretically would be the next feature I direct.

Q: Do you have an actor in mind for that?

David: I do, but I don’t want to say because we’re just in the midst of talking with this person.

Q: Is that why you put a clip of The Invisible Man in this?

David: Yes, it was, it was, just as a little fun homage, or maybe hopeful homage, I don’t know.

Q: What was the hardest thing for you to shoot in this and that surprised you that it was that hard?

David: The scene with the dog and the upside down head. We shot that scene three times. The first time we shot it, the dog wouldn’t do what it was told, Gary Oldman was saying (in an excellent Oldman impression), ‘David, how long are we going to be here,’ And finally I just said, ‘Screw it, just take the dog out, we’ll shoot it without the dog.’ And then we came back to L.A. and we shot another dog, and that didn’t work, the dog didn’t do what it was supposed to, so we shot it a third time and then that worked. But I think it looks cool.

Q: That looked like the Budweiser dog

David: It is, Bud McKenzie it’s a bull terrier. It’s actually the Target dog. It is the real Target dog.

Q: Any updates on Magneto?

David: Magneto, they’re just waiting to see what happens with Wolverine, it was like sort of – they were deciding whether or not to do that one, Wolverine or Magneto first, and they decided to go with Wolverine, so I decided to do Unborn, and now they still want to make it and they’re hoping Wolverine will be a big hit and that will open the way for Magneto.

Q: Could The Invisible Man possibly conflict with that?

David: Yeah, it could, but those are a rich man’s problems; not me specifically.

Q: What might be on the DVD, any extended footage deleted scenes?

David: There are a couple of deleted scenes, there’s not like any amazing, it’s not like Jacob’s Ladder where there were just total, incredible sequences and scenes that didn’t make it into the movie. There’s not that much – you know, there’s going to be an extended version, it’s a couple of minutes longer, there are four or five deleted scenes that are kind of interesting.

Q: I’m interested because the producers where in here saying they had to scale back for PG-13

David: Shockingly we did not have to scale back very much. We intended it to be PG-13 and so when they say scale back there’s one shot where that woman’s back breaks, there was a third shot, so that was cut out, there was the shot where the boy in the dream reaches into the girl’s stomach which we had to trim eight frames, stuff like that. It was very minor. No scenes, no characters, nothing like that.

Q: So nothing your threw away as bait for the MPAA?

David: No. Well, my editor had also cut The Grudge, and Emily Rose, and so when I was shooting I relied on him a lot to say what do you think we can get away with and what can’t we? I mean, I think we were riding the bleeding edge of PG-13, but I think it worked.

Q: How did the name Jumby come to you?

David: I just made it up and then freakishly I found out that Jumby is actually like Guianese for ghost or spirit of something like that.

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