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Exclusive: Matthew Peterman and William Brent Bell Take Us Inside 'The Devil Inside'

Raking in over $34 million at the box office this weekend, it looks like Paramount has a new notch in its found-footage belt. Exorcism flick The Devil Inside beat all expectations and now has the third-highest opening for a film in January (behind Cloverfield and the Star Wars re-release in 1997). We sat down with writing/directing pair William Brent Bell and Mattew Peterman about what they plan to do with their newfound success. 

The numbers for the opening weekend box office are pretty strong. What will it take to get you guys a sequel?

Matt: I think for a follow-up, we are talking part box office, part audience desire. If people want more of the story. I don't think we will know that for at least a couple weeks. Then there is the whole international vibe of it all. This films plays very "internationally." We'll see how that plays out, which will take another month or two. 

Brent: We made this film two years ago. We didn't have a studio; we didn't have any of that stuff, so it's exciting that it has come out and seems to be doing well.

Do you have sequels already planned out?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, we haven't officially done that. I think everybody's waiting because no one wants to put in a lot of time on something that isn't happening. We definitely know the basic structure and the basic direction [of a sequel]. It will be exciting if we get to continue what is going on. The website is kind of a step in that direction.

Were there any scenes that were cut from the theatrical picture that we might see on a DVD?

Brent: Yeah, there are a number of things that I shot that you might even see on the website, right now. It certainly would be stuff you could see on the DVD as well. There are plenty of things at the end of the movie that could answer some questions. There is plenty of material there.

Matt: The Rossi Files website is an experimental version of DVD extras. It immediately explains things, gives you backstory, and continues the story you just saw in theaters. We'll see how it works out. It's kind of an interesting thing to do.

Brent: It was a very bold choice for Paramount to do the website. We think it's very cool. It's an interactive thing; it's never really been done before, so I know it might be a polarizing issue, but it is certainly a unique thing to do. 

Will we see the deleted scenes in their own section of the DVD, or will we get a longer director's cut?

Matt: I think we will have another cut of the film, but I'm only guessing. It will be fun because when you do the DVD format, you get to play around and show stuff that, if someone is interested in watching the extra 15 or 30 minutes of extra stuff, they are probably going to like what they see.

Can you talk about some of the research you did while prepping for this film? What were some of the more intriguing real-life exorcism cases you came across?

Matt: A lot of the stuff is stuff we aren't allowed to talk about. It's one of those deals where "the names have been changed to protect [everyone]. These priests didn't want us to use their names, they didn't want us to copy exactly what they did, but be inspired by what they did. So other than books that are published - and there are a lot of good ones - there was one in particular that we used. For example, there was this one case - well, actually, I'm a little afraid to talk about them outside of the story of the film... I just don't want to get in trouble.

Brent: We tried to take elements and incorporate them into the film, but we don't want to get into it too much because it could get in the way [of audiences' experiences].

I feel like we are seeing for the first time, in recent memory at least, rogue exorcists in a high-profile film. Do you think that's one of the elements that makes the film unique?

Brent: Yeah, I definitely think it is. We interviewed a lot of priests and exorcists [for the film]. Exorcism is a very controversial practice, even within the religious community. Catholics sometimes shun it themselves. When you have disenfranchised priests going off to do what they think is right, that is an element we learned might exist. We're not saying there are Catholic exorcists going off and performing rogue exorcisms, but we did learn there is an element of being disenfranchised from your "boss," so to speak.

Matt: We also found, to some degree, that it is the politics of the church. They can only approve so many exorcisms. So when people come to them, a lot of times it might come down to how much money the family has, or how much "pull" the family has. It's almost like health care -- these people are not getting the healthcare they deserve. So there are people who believe in what they are doing and do it anyway. The priests in this film know that they are helping people in need, and the church might not allow them to do it but that doesn't mean they can't help.

Brent: The church is never in an easy position on this either, because there is so much controversy over the validity of it. There are so many things that could go wrong during an attempted exorcism. There are a lot of things that could go wrong, and a lot of liability for the church.

Matt: One thing we said in the movie -- and this was true -- is that in 1999 the rites changed for the first time in almost 400 years. So now a priest has to be absolutely certain that a person is possessed before they can even attempt an exorcism, which doesn't make a lot of sense because a lot of times an exorcism needs to be performed in order to deduce whether a person is possessed or not. It doesn't make a lot of sense: how can we help this person if we aren't even allowed to try to provoke the demon? So it's all about liability.

The film opens with the disclaimer that the church had no involvement in the making of this film. Did you guys approach them at all, or did you bypass that route?

Brent: Of course we did. We weren't trying to make an anti-church movie, we were just trying to make the most realistic film we could. We did approach a local diocese because we wanted their expert opinion on the script, and we wanted to go through proper channels. What we had to essentially do is go through back channels and it became more clandestine.

Suzan Crowley's performance as Maria Rossoi is pretty remarkable. Did she help  inform her character, once you saw what she was capable of?

Matt: Basically it was laid out in the script. No one came close to bringing to the character what she brought. It's one thing to write every single line and say which line is supposed to be in which voice, but with someone like her who can go in and out of these characters so quickly and easily, she was able to interpret it very easily. We didn't have to be as specific and as a result we could throw out more and more stuff to her: "Let's do this in German, let's do this in Italian, let's do this in Latin." Every time she did it it was amazing. We had so many options once we got into editing. 

Are there any aspects of exorcism that you discovered through your research that you didn't get to touch on in this film, but that you would like to explore in upcoming films?

Matt: Things like multiple demonic possessions and transference... those things happen late in the story. To us, they are unique and interesting ideas about exorcisms. Those are the kind of topics that can blossom into more and more stories. I do feel like we hit on all the basics. More than the basics -- all the tenets of exorcism and possession. They are just very complicated and very rich, so I think we have a lot more story to tell.

What are your thoughts on the found footage -- I am hesitant to call it "genre" because it goes beyond that -- medium? There are a surprising number of horror hits within the found footage medium. Do you see this as a cycle or trend, or more of a permanent thing?

Brent: I feel like it's a very intense form of filmmaking; it feels very real and it feels like something audiences can immerse themselves in the experience more -- I think that's why they do so well. I hope it's around to stay. I think it is a great way to tell a story and you can tell a lot of different stories that way. I know for us, "found footage" is a very broad topic. We do things in our film that others like The Last Exorcism and Paranormal Activity don't do. We use interviews, real footage mixed with footage we shot... literally the true-crime documentary format. There are ways to expand that term and do different types of things under the same umbrella.

Matt: Paramount expressed to us specifically that this [genre] wasn't going anywhere. I don't know if it's true or not, but I guess in this day and age, if you see something that is handheld..  Ten years ago, on even a TV show like 24, it was groundbreaking. Now we are so used to reality stuff and handheld that it is bleeding over into feature films now. And it plays best in the horror genre because you're talking about the most visceral genre. So it makes really good movies.