We have spoken a lot about The Possession (which hits theaters August 31) in the last few months. The new chiller from Ghost House Pictures is based on the true story of a family haunted by a Dibbuk - a Jewish demon. But now we get to hear what producer and genre icon Sam Raimi has to say about it.
The Possession had a lot of the same energy as Drag Me to Hell. Is this a sort of branding for Ghost House that you then collaborated with Ole on or did he bring this feeling in on his own?
That style is all Ole Bornedal; he's a great director and he's made a lot of films. He has his own unique style and the type of film The Possession is is representative of the kind of films that Ghost House Pictures likes to make. I really enjoy supernatural horror films myself; that's what we set out to make with our company. We don't like realistic slasher pictures or real tales of murder but something with more of a fantastical story that incorporates the supernatural and those elements. I think that in that way, The Possession probably represents a Ghost House picture but everything has to do with Ole's style. Well, there's the script too because our writers, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, wrote a really great script; they also wrote Boogeyman for Ghost House Pictures and wrote Knowing too. So our writers contributed a lot and then Ole was the main influence of the style on the picture.
The character development was as important to this story as the scares. Can you talk about why Ole's approach made him the right guy for this material?
I knew Ole and his work from his earlier film The Substitute which Ghost House had wanted to remake for America; we're actually still involved in that but we're just delayed a bit in the script process right now. But what I came to know about Ole is that he's a brilliant director of actors and in fact, some of the children's performances in The Substitute are some of the best kid performances either in a horror movie or any other type of film for that matter. And to me, that speaks of someone with a great eye for casting and someone who really knows how to work with the actors.
That was the quality that was most important for us and this picture at Ghost House. That is, because this is a story based on a true story and is written about a family who is torn apart and how they have to find the love in their hearts to come together and defeat this evil, it really needed someone who honored the story and could direct a great performance and make those relationships real to the audience. That was the strength of the script and we were looking for someone with that strength as a director and Ole really connected to the material; I couldn't be more pleased with his work.
There are many different levels of interaction that comes with a producer title, from just throwing money at the project to being really hands-on. How involved as a producer were you?
I was very involved at different points and not involved at other points at all. At the beginning, I was very involved in working with different writers while developing the screenplay and trying to find the right way to crack the story. Originally, our goal was to stick to the absolute true story because that's what was so unique about this, that it was this terrifying true story. But every writer we brought in, while sticking to the true story, were true to the story but nothing they did made for a great, dramatic film. So finally, we came upon these great writers, Snowden and White, and we said we'll step away from the absolute truth of the story and just unfortunately say "based on a true story." At that point they were free to crack the story and make it into a great screenplay.
I was also instrumental in finding the director and Ole was our first choice; bringing him on board was my greatest contribution to The Possession. After that, it just became a question of protecting Ole from those who may have disagreed with him. And Ole had some very unusual casting choices; the actor, Matisyahu, who is this hip-hop, reggae guy as a rabbi in the picture is a really strange choice for the studio and the other producers. But I knew that Ole really believed in him and he said, Look, we can't just go with what's in your mind and what we've seen before, it's got to be new and this is how it could happen.” He was fearless in striking out for original choices and my job as a producer was not to choose the actors but to protect him and his vision.
I would watch all of the dailies but I wasn't ever on the set giving him note; then in the editing I would give him notes and contribute like a normal person would that was involved with the film creatively. But he was really in control of the picture and I tried to be as supportive as possible; then when the studio had doubts about this or that, I asked them to go Ole's way because he was our visionary. I have always believed that films are made by directors and this film is no exception.
Did you yourself ever flirt with the idea of directing The Possession taking into consideration just how involved you were in the development of the script and seeing that it got to the right place?
No, I never really desired to make The Possession myself. I'm primarily attracted, as a director to actors and the main character in the piece. I'm attracted because I understand the main character, I know what they want and I understand the conflict in getting what they want. I think it's great when they succeed and I get exhilarated when the character reaches their goal. So as a director, that's all that I'm interested in, because all a director really has to do is understand the character and if I know who the character is, I know how to direct a scene.
I can always say to the actor, “I think you'll be much more angry at this point and really storm over there because she broke your heart and you don't want to see it, you'd be mad” and I know the camera has got to be angry and capture that emotion. If it's just a cool story and series of events, which is what the original Dibbuk Box story was, it's just the possibility of something cool happening; it wasn't until we had these writers write these great characters that I would ever be interested but by that time we were already out looking at directors. Plus we had Ole and he was getting interested so, I didn't entertain the possibility.
Have you seen a cut of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake yet?
I saw a really early incomplete cut that was even before the editor's cut; at that point, Fede still had three weeks to shoot and it was great. It was really scary, gut-wrenching, low budget feeling and I think it's going to be a great horror film. I read what Bruce said and I can't remember exactly what he said- something like “Fede didn't just repeat what we had already done.” He took the flavor of Evil Dead, the way the original affected people and made his own movie from that. I think it's really a great combination and I'm super excited about it. Fede also got great performances from the actors.
When you're considering a horror film, do you feel like you have to change things up because audiences have evolved over the last few decades? Especially when it comes to something like Evil Dead?
Absolutely. Audiences have evolved. They're much smarter, they're very savvy to the film technique and you can't repeat what's been done before because they've seen all of the horror films. I think the truest thing I can say about the horror audience is they're the most original audience out there; they want to see something never before done and they don't want a sequel like most audiences which want to see what they've seen before. Horror fans are like, “No, I want to see something I've never seen before. I want to be freaked out, I want to see what's beyond the grave. I want to know if there is an afterlife.” They want the next new thing and my hat is off to them. Even more than the art film crowd, the horror audience is the one that accepts the newest techniques and filmmakers and are on the cutting edge; in my opinion they're the coolest of the bunch.
I don't know how things have changed, but as a horror filmmaker, you've got to really try and to come up with something they've never seen or experienced before or put it stylistically in a new way.
Do you want to go back to horror, or do you find that, now that you're associated with blockbuster films like Spider-Man that it's hard to switch between the two?
You know, I don't feel like it's hard at all right now for me; I've been given a lot of great breaks and surrounded myself with some great artists and I'm thrilled to be making these bigger budget pictures and I know that won't last forever because Hollywood is a popularity thing. You're in one minute and out the next and there are always new directors being hired.
But I'm so thrilled to be making bigger budget movies for the studio, it's a blast; I'd put Oz, The Great and Powerful in that category. Sure I'd like to make another horror movie; in fact I'm writing one with my brother [Ted Raimi] right now and I'm really looking forward to it. I love that crowd, that original audience I was speaking of, and to have it be successful. To do something the fans like, when a horror crowd really likes your movie, it's just so much fun and telling a ghost story to guys that like ghost stories while they're getting scared is the greatest thing in the world for me.
In another interview someone asked you about Drag Me to Hell and you sounded kind of despondent and disappointed by the film in some respects; you also added that you learned a lot from making that. What did you learn and how did you pour what you learned into producing The Possession?
I learned about the importance of character and I feel that we didn't have enough of it in Drag Me to Hell so that did influence me, in some ways, in working on The Possession because it's a rich character picture - at least for a horror film. Maybe the lack of character that Drag Me to Hell might have suffered from pointed me in the right direction and in that way, I guess I learned something.
Have you had any involvement in the Evil Dead ride they're creating at Knott's Scary Farm this year?
I'm not involved in the ride but I'm honored they're going to use The Evil Dead for one of their rides; I really don't know much about it but it's really surprising and cool. It might be Film District who arranged that as they're handling production on the new Evil Dead film; we're partners with them on it. But I don't know much about it, honestly.