Based on a true story, the suspenseful movie “The Conjuring” tells the horrifying tale of how world-renowned paranormal investigators/spouses Ed Warren (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga) were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse in the early 1970s. The family in danger are the Perrons: trucker husband Roger Perron (played by Ron Livingston, housewife Carolyn Perron (played by Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.
“The Conjuring” was directed and co-written by James Wan, who is considered one of the modern masters of horror movies, since he also directed the first “Saw” film, as well as “Insidious” and “Insidious: Chapter 2.” “The Conjuring” was released in U.S. and Canadian theaters on July 19, 2013. Critics have been hailing “The Conjuring” as one of the best horror films of the year. At the 2012 New York Comic-Con in New York City, a press conference for “The Conjuring” was held with Wan, Wilson, Taylor and Livingston. Here is what they said at the press conference.
There are so many horror movies out there. How hard is it to make a scary movie these days?
Wan: It’s not easy. I’ve done a few of these now, and I find that today’s audiences are so adept to it. They’re so used to it as well. Trying to stay a step ahead of everyone is a tricky challenge, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. I see that as a good thing, because it pushes me to do something better.
What’s the scariest part of “The Conjuring” story?
Wan: The scariest thing about the story to me is the fact that it’s based on the lives of these two really amazing people. And I think trying to stay true to their stories, trying to stay true to what they went through is what makes it really amazing for me. And from that, it gives me a lot of inspiration to try and pull out all the things that I think are scary about it, and then put it on the screen with the help of all of these people with me.
Wilson: If you’re a fan of horror movies, if you’re a fan of anything paranormal, whether it’s a movie or a reality show or an article, it all goes back to who were the first people who brought paranormal investigating. We even have in the movie, “What are you? Ghost hunters? What is the term?” It was so new at the time.
You have a very real situation that happened in this family that freaked them out. There were no reference points. So everything was coming from a very pure point of view. This was not, “Oh, I saw this in a movie, and I think that’s what’s happening to me.” I think we have a real window into a world that’s a true story.
And I think the structure of the movie, where you have this true story happening to this family, and these two paranormal investigators that are in their own personal place in life where they’re trying to figure out, “Is it worth it? Are we doing the right thing? How long do we do it? We’re just trying to help people.”
You find these two stories meet, which is interesting enough and different for this movie. But I think the fact that you always have to go back to these are the people who started it. So if you have any desire to watch any of those paranormal stories, these are the people who put it on the map.
Wan: And to add to that, the reason why we have all these ghost-hunting shows on TV, these are the people [Ed and Lorraine Warren] who started it. They were known as the original modern-day ghost hunters. They pioneered the idea of using cameras and technology in capturing evidence and so on. That’s what makes it really interesting.
Livingston: Lili and I play a couple with five daughters who just moved out to the country to their dream house with a huge mortgage. I find that alone to be terrifying. So before anything else goes wrong, a lot of what this movie does — and I think that’s where James does a great job — is: “How do you take an audience that’s so jaded and are so used to seeing people killed in the first 10 minutes? How do you set up the idea that you really want to see some people who are trying to hold their lives together in an ordinary way?”
You care enough about them that you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. And yet, you know what movie you’re in. I almost feel like you’re working in reverse a little bit. The audiences’ expectation of something terrible is going to happen soon.
But then it doesn’t happen soon. He makes you wait for it. It puts you on the edge of your seat in a way that today’s audiences that didn’t grow up with Hitchcock and that long fuse, they’re not used to that. It’s creepy again.
Where are you in the production process for “The Conjuring”?
Wan: We’re pretty close to wrapping it up now. I’m taking a detour here to promote the film, but I’m going back to finishing it up.
Do you let your actors see dailies?
Wan: I’m not that insecure to the point where I go, “No one can see it.” I love it. I think it’s a very collaborative process. I think the more you can get everyone on board, the more I think t helps the process in the long term. Also, there wouldn’t be any surprises down the line.
How would you like to see the final cut of “The Conjuring” for the first time? At a private screening or at a public place, like a premiere?
Livingston: I saw a cut of it because we did some additional photography. When I saw it, it was like at a little [get-together with] friends and family. It scared the bejeezus out of me. It really plays terrifically.
The first thing I saw. We were about halfway through the shoot. And for one lunch, you guys put together a little sizzle teaser, just an in-house trailer, just for the cast and crew to watch at lunchtime, to see a little bit of what we were making. That alone kind of blew me away. It really fires you up for the second half of the movie because you go, “Oh, this is a really cool thing here.”
Wan: That’s interesting that Ron pointed that out. That’s a tradition of mine. As we’re shooting the movie, I like my editors to start getting stuff together, like maybe a little tease trailer, just to show the cast and crew, to show everyone what we’ve been working so hard on. It’s the stuff that people really appreciate. They get to see what they’ve been doing. It just gives people an extra incentive to finish it off.
Taylor: I saw [“The Conjuring”] yesterday. Ideally, I’d like to see it in late November on a chilly night or something like that, but I saw it yesterday.
Wilson: How many people were there?
Taylor: About three. I want to see it on 42nd Street. I want the ride!
Can you talk about coming up with the title for “The Conjuring”? Wasn’t the movie supposed to be called “The Warren Files”?
Wan: When I first came on board, it was called “The Conjuring.” And I came up with the word “Insidious,” which I thought was a super-f*cking cool title. And I was trying to push it in that direction, trying to come up with a snappier title. And at one point, I started calling it “The Warren Files,” because that’s what I thought the film was about. But I think the belief was that no one at this point fully knows who the Warrens are.
And so going with a more traditional may actually beneficial for the film, so that it if it becomes a franchise and there are more films, then you can call it “The Warren Files,” because people know what it is. We’ve set it up and established it already. So for that matter, we went back to “The Conjuring.” And I was cool with that.
You may or may not like a title to begin with, but when you say it enough, you do get used to it. And that’s how you kind of see it and know it. And people seemed to like the title as well. So I was cool with that.
Livingston: I don’t know if it was a superstition of mine, but the first thing I did was look the title up in the dictionary. And the word “conjuring” goes back to the root of “jury.” And one of the original meanings is “a group of people who pull together to fight a power that’s larger than any of them can handle by themselves.” So the title literally means to come together in addition to this other meaning we have to summon something up.
Wan: I like that Ron does his homework, Patrick. [He laughs.]
“The Conjuring” was originally scheduled for a U.S. release in January 2014, but it was delayed to July 2014. Can you comment on the change in the release date?
Wan: It’s one of those things, for me, I find scary movies tend to play better around the fall, around Halloween. “Insidious” came out in April Fool’s Day. That was a bit different.
I think it’s a testament to the strength and quality of the film that the studio feels so strongly about it that they can compete in the summertime, and that is the reason why they’ve given us Chris Nolan’s slot: July 19, which around the time they put out his “Dark Knight” films and “Inception.” So for that alone, I’m very flattered and honored. So I don’t know what to think. I’m cautiously optimistic.
Does “The Conjuring” have a lot of digital effects, or does it have mostly practical effects?
Wan: I think the best ghost stories are still done practical. I want digital visual effects to clean things up. I love ghost movies where you’re walking down a hallway, and you think you see a ghost standing there. And when you’re making it, it’s really an actor standing there, as opposed to some CGI apparition.
I don’t think crazy, over-the-top visual effects help make movies like this spooky and creepy. And that was the same philosophy we applied to “Insidious” as well. And that worked really well.
Old-school tricks is what I love. We did a lot of old-school tricks in this [movie]. But ultimately, since it is a period film, we did need some computer effects to clean things up.
One of the things I had to fix recently is that there’s a sequence in the movie where Patrick’s character and Vera’s character are giving a lecture at an auditorium. And right next to their leg is an Ethernet port. And this movie is supposed to take place in the early ‘70s, so stuff like that, when you see it, luckily, we have the technology to paint it out. So that’s what we used it mainly for.
Patrick, you worked with James Wan before on “Insidious”? What was the main reason why you wanted to work with him again for “The Conjuring?”
Wilson: There’s a funny answer in there somewhere. All joking aside. We had a long conversation on the phone. I think my first question was, “Are we going to do an ‘Insidious’ sequel? Now many of these are we going to do together?”
Truthfully, my feeling was that if you’re going to dip into the well again, you better be someone you trust and know the vision of the film. And I think James is someone I had an amazing time working on “Insidious” with. I love not only the way we worked and work together but also the outcome of the film. And I knew that that [“The Conjuring”] is a very different type of story, whether it’s in the same genre as a horror movie. It’s such a different set up and character play.
But really, it comes down to chemistry at the end of the day. I think the older you get and the more movies that you do, you want to work with people you enjoy working with. And I trust him and we have a great time together. He wants the best truth out of a scene. He knows how to structure the scares.
I would imagine that putting together a great horror movie is like putting together a great comedy — knowing exactly the beat that you need, whether it’s a laugh or a scare. And I think he knows how to do it better than anybody. So it was an easy yes.
For the actors, can you each describe what your character is in “The Conjuring?”
Taylor: I’m a mother of five girls. I’m happy. I have a nice marriage. We buy a new house and are hoping for the best. And that’s where it starts.
Wilson: I’m an investigator that is a very practical person and one of the foremost demonologists in the world. But he’s at a point in his life where he’s wondering, “Is it worth it to keep doing it? And what toll does it take on his family?”
Each time they go out to investigate a new story, it takes a little piece away. It’s like a cop: How many dead bodies do you see before you go mad? And so reluctantly, he gets into a situation with this family that is much bigger than any of them could imagine for Lili’s character and what she goes through and how that rolls through the entire family and the people that become involved.
And you find yourself in a very tough emotional struggle to try and help this family the best that you can, knowing that you’re dealing with forces that are much bigger than you could have imagined. So that’s what we’re facing in the story.
Livingston: I play a husband and father who is trying to hold it all together. He doesn’t really want to ask for help, but that’s what ends up happening.
Wan: And I just want to say that the “true story” aspect that we wrote the film around, it’s not just around Patrick’s and Vera’s characters. It’s around the Perrons which is the family [Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor] played. And so not only did we have to stay true to the Warrens but we had to stay true to the Perrons as well.
And on one of the days that we were filming a somewhat creepy sequence, the five daughters showed up on set, and they’re now in their 60s. It was a very emotional return for them to see what we were doing. They were happy and melancholic at the same time.
How creepy is the evil spirit in “The Conjuring”?
Wan: Oh, it’s messed up! [He laughs.] You don’t see the antagonist a lot on this film, but you feel its presence a lot.
For more info: “The Conjuring” website