Thomas Harris chats with Annabelle: Creation director David F. Sandberg…
It was only about four years that I watched your short film Lights Out that came to my attention, could you talk about your meteoric rise from then to ‘Annabelle: Creation’ now?
Yeah, so that’s four years, truly everything has gone so quickly, yeah it’s been a non-stop amazing ride since that you know. I got to move to the US all of a sudden to make Lights Out. Before Lights Out was even out in theatres I got this job, it’s just kept going and now I’m a caster, director, I just am, which is a really big move, so it’s just amazing, a dream come true.
The Conjuring universe, people love it a lot! Would you say there’s a pressure coming into it with Annabelle because of the love for the franchise?
I didn’t feel that much pressure because it still felt like it is sort of a separate thing almost to The Conjuring so I think it would have be more daunting if it was The Conjuring 3 or something like that compared to Annabelle which is like its own separate thing, with its own story so it kind of felt like I was still doing my own thing even though it is within this universe. I was alright with that, there was more pressure on ‘Lights Out’ to make sure that it turned out good so that I would get more chances.
How would you say you brought your own personal touch to Annabelle as a film?
I think some of it is a little bit of those humourous touches, you know like shooting Annabelle in the face, that was my idea. Having fun with it, you know, I like making those kinds of movies that are really fun to see with an audience. We had some great screenings with this that were like a roller coaster, you have a lot of people talking to the screen and being really engaged which is very rewarding. At the same time, I’m a fan of The Conjuring so I wanted to try and do that classic horror movie feel so I sort of leaned into that. I have a similar taste to that kind of movie so there wasn’t a chance of me straying too far even if I’m doing my own thing.
What was the process of working with James Wan who is like the modern icon of horror? How collaborative was the process working with him? How did you first get involved with James?
Well, I was working on Lights Out when he came on board because he got our script, our producer got in touch with him because we felt like we wanted someone who really knew horror to come on board as a producer and he was great. He wasn’t as involved in Annabelle: Creation because he’s a busy guy with Aquaman and everything going on but he was involved in the script stage and he wanted to make sure that we had tied it in with the universe that we have with reference to the nun and the same demonic presence from the first Annabelle in this one. Other than that, it was a pretty free process.
The young cast in the film, they’re unbelievable, they’re so good, what was it like working with them?
It was good, we had a very extensive casting period where we met a lot of girls to find these great ones and they’re amazing, they just knocked it out of the park. They’re so professional, you don’t have to talk to them like kids, you talk to them like professional adults and they just nail it. I was very fortunate to work with some really amazing actors like Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman which makes it super easy for me as a director because they get into their parts so quickly, so well so it’s not like you have to spend all this time on set to get the right performance out of them because that comes naturally so you can focus when technical issues come up or stuff like that you can work to solving that instead of having to only work with the actors.
What I really liked about the film was the balance between the CGI and the practical effects, can you talk a little about that?
My approach is to do practical as much as possible so the CGI stuff in this is either because we couldn’t do it or because of time issues, like for one when the fingers break, that’s CGI but that’s only because it was a thing that I came up with during shooting so I went to ADI who were doing our practical effects and I asked them about making a practical hand that could do that and they said that they could but it would take two weeks and I needed it in 2 days so we had no choice but to do it CGI but I think it turned out really well, it looks like his hand! Usually it’s just taking the practical effects as far as possible like with Mr’s Mullen’s face is a combination of practical and then CGI to remove the eyeball.
Did you do much research behind the true stories around Annabelle’ Did you speak to Lorraine Warren? How much research did you do prior to shooting?
Not a lot to be honest, I’ve never met The Warrens and I’ve never seen the real Annabelle in real life, I’ve only seen pictures of her but to me it felt like it wasn’t that necessary because this isn’t based on one of their cases. I think that it’s pretty cool that they have the main comedy franchise that deals with their actual cases but then the spin-offs like this and the nun, they’re something else which is kind of cool and it’s kind of funny because I almost did too little research, I guess, because I didn’t rewatch The Conjuring before this movie. I had seen it a couple of times but I did rewatch it afterwards and I totally forgot about that opening sequence with Annabelle leaving those notes behind so I sort of realised ‘Oh, that’s why we had those notes throughout this movie!’. I think I’m bad at research.
Did you take any inspirations from any of the horrors or any other directors and pop them into the film?
Yeah, the two big references I had was The Haunting for cinematography because I loved that wide-screen cinematography of the original The Haunting from 1968 or whatever and just for the music, The Shining. The soundtrack for that was a big inspiration because for that they’d have a lot of stuff from Krzysztof Penderecki who was the composer and the use of that so the temp music for the movie was all Penderecki so it sounded very much like The Shining so I was kind of worried that I was going to miss it so much once we replaced it but Benjamin Walfisch did a great job of emulating that feel and I have this rule, I didn’t want any electronic sounds in it or if he used something electronic, it had to sound analogue so sometimes he would play me stuff and I would go ‘Ah, ah that hit or that thing sounds too electronic’ . And then there was minor stuff looking at other movies, for example, we were considering, because we were shooting on a sound stage we were sort of debating what to do outside the windows, whether to put up a backdrop or a green screen or what to do so Maxime (Alexandre) showed me what he had done for The Hills Have Eyes that he shot with Alexandre Aja and he had just blown out the windows because that takes place in the desert as well so it made it look really hot and you don’t really see anything outside the windows because it’s bright and hot so we did that on this movie as well.
Back onto the score, that was actually going to be my next question, what was it like working with Benjamin Walfisch, was it fairly collaborative or did you do it as you went along?
It was quite collaborative, it was kind of funny because there’s a scene in this movie, actually two scenes, where I take, I kind of steal from myself from one of my shorts, Attic Panic and in that short, I did the music myself and it was a very simple piece of music but since I sort of recreated parts of that short in this movie, Benjamin sort of did a cover of that score for the movie which was really cool to get to hear a real orchestre play something that I had sort of come up with on a keyboard so that was really cool. It was also kind of funny because I had this rule of nothing electronic but then right after we had done the score for this, he gave me the score for A Cure for Wellness which he did and I listened to that which is very electronic but it was so good that it was almost like ‘ah, maybe we should’ve allowed some electronic stuff’ but no, I’m happy that we have that classic old school feel for Annabelle.
One last question, the film made me jump so much, there’s so many different scares from the stair lift to the scare crow, do you have a particular favourite scene or jump
I think my favourite overall is that first scene where for the first time Janice finds the Annabelle doll and she throws the sheet over it but she starts walking around just because I like the fact that it’s smaller, it’s not like a big jump scare or anything, it’s just more attention than just having fun with it. But I also like the big chair lift scene, I think that’s pretty fun and I really loved the music in that.
It’s certainly one of the most intense films, just non-stop gripping my seat but thank you so much for taking the time out again to chat and I wish you all the luck with this film, I hope it does really well , it deserves to, so thank you so much again.
No problem . Thank you very much.
Annabelle: Creation is set for release on August 11th and stars Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto.