Peter Safran, producer of the last year’s blockbuster horror-thriller “The Conjuring,” recently sat down with a panel of journalists to discuss “Annabelle,” the spinoff movie that traces the origins of the infamous doll. Learn how they developed the new supernatural thriller and the spooky happenings that marked the production.
Question: When did the idea to make “Annabelle” first emerge?
Peter Safran: When people started to see “The Conjuring,” they were so fascinated by the Annabelle subplot. I was constantly asked about the origin story of Annabelle: ‘What’s real? What’s not real?’ It just seemed like people gravitated towards it so much that it made sense to give Annabelle her own film.
Q: How did this project begin to come together with John Leonetti as the director?
Safran: We were working on a sequel script for “The Conjuring” and when it became clear that director James Wan’s schedule was not going to allow him to be available to direct the sequel in the immediate future, we decided we all wanted to wait for him. But we also wanted to tell other stories that take place in the world of “The Conjuring.” At that time, the execs over at New Line had been toying with the idea of making some modestly budgeted genre films, and everybody felt that “Annabelle” would be the perfect project to kick off that program, not only because the doll was such an important part of “The Conjuring” but also because it’s a great story in and of itself.
So, we sat down with [screenwriter] Gary Dauberman and beat out an original concept for how this doll might have come to be possessed, and Gary wrote the screenplay in just 12 days. Even his initial draft of the screenplay was so good, and it was so clearly a movie, so we continued to develop it. And when we started talking about directors, just looking out there at the universe of genre filmmakers and filmmakers in general, we came back to the idea of bringing as much of “The Conjuring” as possible to “Annabelle.”
While still in production on “The Conjuring,” John Leonetti and I talked about how he should get back into directing. He and James Wan worked so closely together on the set. They’ve made five movies together and you could see in the way they communicated that they had a real mind-meld going on. John was really the only director we approached for this.
We talked about it with John and he had such a clear vision for it. As a cinematographer, we knew he could use visuals to create a certain tone, and what he was thinking about was a kind of “Rosemary’s Baby”-type feel. But he also had a real passion for the story, just from a character perspective in terms of Mia and her journey.
James is very sensitive to what scares us. Out of every meeting with him, you get an enhanced view of the scares that are available, and he’s been involved with our development process from the beginning.
Q: Does “Annabelle” continue in the tradition of “The Conjuring”?
Safran: Absolutely. I think one of the reasons “The Conjuring” worked so well not just with audiences but with critics as well was how much time we spent developing the characters. That was James Wan. He wanted to spend a lot of time with this family so that you get to know them and like them before he put them through what he put them through. And that philosophy is very much continuing with “Annabelle” as well.
You have a young couple, Mia and John Form. And we establish the wonderful relationship they have. They obviously love each other. They share a sense of humor. And Mia’s pregnant. And at the beginning of the film, we meet their neighbors—who are very much like a mother and a father figure to them—and then Mia and John watch as they’re murdered. Mia is stabbed by one of the maniacs and almost loses the baby, and you see how that incident really preys on her and John. I think building those characters and not just throwing out jump-scares are a trademark of James’s brand, and now we’re hoping to continue that with “Annabelle.”
Q: Did anything strange happen while you were shooting Annabelle, as it tended to during production of “The Conjuring?”
Safran: You know, freaky things will happen. People would say, “It must be the demon.’ But the strangest thing to happen was actually disturbing. It was on the very first time that Joe Bishara, who is our composer and also plays the demon, was in full makeup, head to toe regalia as the demon. We were shooting a scene where Mia is running up the stairs and she hears this bumping under her. She looks back and sees the demon on the steps. That was the sequence we were about to shoot.
So, we bring Joe up to the sixth floor where we’re shooting. He walks out of the elevator and takes a left into the corridor where our holding area is. And as he takes a left, he’s walking under a huge glass light fixture that’s in the building we used for Mia and John’s apartment. Right behind him is another actor—Christopher Shaw, who plays Fuller—and as the demon passes by the light fixture and Chris is walking directly behind him, the entire glass fixture falls into the corridor, directly onto his head, and shatters.
He was not cut, but because it was so loud, it was really shocking and jarring to everybody involved. I was getting to the top of the stairs and turned around and saw this happening, and after making sure Chris was okay, my first thought was that in the original script, the demon kills the character Fuller in the hallway at that moment. We had taken that scene out. But it was really freaky. That’s one of the most unusual things that has happened on set.
New Line Cinema’s new horror-thriller “Annabelle” stars Annabelle Wallis (“X-Men: First Class”) and Ward Horton (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard (“12 Years a Slave”).
The film reunites the filmmakers behind 2013’s hugely successful supernatural thriller “The Conjuring.” James Wan, director of the global hit, is producing “Annabelle” with Peter Safran. John R. Leonetti, who served as cinematographer on “The Conjuring,” is directing.
Opening across the Philippines on October 01, 2014, “Annabelle” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company.