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Candi's Corner: Interview w/ Producers & Director of OCULUS

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Mirrors, Movie Making, and Jem:  Interview With The Producers and Director/Writer of “Oculus” 

By Tinsel & Tine Blog Contributor Candace Cordelia Smith (Candi's Corner)

Call me weird, odd, or sick, but I love horror movies. The less gory, the better. I don’t know when this love first began, but you can count on me to watch “The Gate” if it’s ever on television and Lord knows that I’m waiting with bated breath for the next installment of American Horror Story. There’s just something invigorating, frightening, and psychologically remarkable about wanting to avoid all windows every night for a month after watching “The Strangers”. “Oculus”, out in theaters now, is one of those horror movies that will cause you to think about mirrors in a completely different way.

I was lucky to get to interview three of the most creative people working in Hollywood and within the genre of horror today, Mike Flanagan, Jason Blum, and Trevor Macy. Even with the limited time that I had with all three, I gained more than enough insight into their love of horror, the process of getting "Oculus" from a short to feature film, and some insider tidbits about another highly anticipated Blum production that is leagues away from the world of fear and dread.

Candi’s Corner: Thank you all for taking the time to meet with me and answer my questions today. To start, what is it about horror that excites you and compels you to produce films within the genre? Why do you love horror?

Mike Flanagan, Jason Blum, and Trevor Macy

Mike Flanagan (writer, director): I love watching them, is the biggest thing. I think that any kind of really intense, emotional response you’re going to have to a movie is really exciting and I don’t know if there’s an emotion that you can feel as acutely as the fear you feel from a really good horror movie. I love being scared! I was such a scaredy cat as a kid that horror movies kind of presented a chance to be brave for a little bit and to kind of push myself to make it through a movie that I found really scary and come out safe on the other side. It’s an interesting way to grow up, you know?

Trevor Macy (producer): I’m going to go on record and say that I do not love all horror. I love a lot of types of horror, but there’s some that I kind of…even when I was growing up in the 80s, I didn’t love the subgenre of the “have sex and die” kind of movie. The horror that I love is the one that represents a really specific, compelling emotional arc. It takes a protagonist at a point where they are in a transition in their life- they’re moving, they’re having a kid, someone’s died, whatever it is. Something that inherently creates trepidation in people and it puts an external force into that position that lets you explore and relate to that fear. When you can do that and when you get a character who really experiences that… that’s what really connects with me. That’s one of the reasons that drew me to this (“Oculus”).

Jason Blum (producer): I love all types of movies. I love comedies, I love drama, I love all different things. Why I get out of bed in the morning professionally is our (Blumhouse Productions) business model. We take these little underdogs of movies that are made for under five million dollars, and the average studio movie is fifty million dollars. We did it on “Paranormal Activity”, on “Insidious”, on “Sinister”, on “The Purge”, and hopefully this movie, and I love fighting the studios, and by far, the best genre to do that with is horror. Mostly what we’ve done in the last five years is horror and I’ve learned a ton about horror movies from people like Mike (Flanagan) and other directors that we’ve worked with. So, I love it for a very different reason, which is like it’s the great underdog fight, and I’ve come to really think that horror movies now are very similar to the movies that I grew up on, which were the very independent movies of the 90s and more art house movies. I really feel like most of that work now is on TV…what’s happening in horror now is kind of the equivalent of what happened in art house movies in the 90s. Like the new, interesting risks and chances that you can take are really happening in horror almost more than in any other genre.

Candi’s Corner: So, Mike, through my research I found that “Oculus” first started off as a short film and I wanted to know if you could explain the process that it took from taking this movie from a short film to the feature that it is today in theaters?

Flanagan: Sure! It was actually a really long road. The short was made in 2005 and it was just one guy alone in the room with a mirror. When it was out in the festival circuit and kind of getting the attention it got, people wanted to talk about expanding it into a feature, but we didn’t know how to do that for a very long time. Everyone’s default position, I think, in a lot of cases inspired by the success Jason was having, was that everyone wanted to do it like “Paranormal Activity”. Do the found footage way, which I didn’t think worked for this story because a found footage frame has to be objective. You can’t question it. That’s the one thing about found footage is that you have to completely believe what you’re seeing in the frame is what happened.

 Blum: This movie as a found footage movie would have never worked.

Flanagan: In all the ambiguity and all the- Blum: Never in a million years. Flanagan: So, it took a long time to find people who felt that way, actually. I would always take it out of meetings and people would always go, “Great! Could we do it under two million as found footage?” and I was like, “No…” We take it away again and keep trying. I had done this other movie called “Absentia”, which was a 70,000 dollar movie that I shot in 2010 and that was getting around town and I was starting to take meetings. So I took a meeting at Intrepid. I pitched a bunch of ideas, none of which worked, and on the way out the door kind of mentioned “Oculus”. “And we have this short…”, but I was almost reluctant to bring it up because it was like, it always goes the same way. But they were really excited about it. They wanted to do something different with it, and so then we thought that we needed to expand this world into a really interesting new structure, because one guy alone in a room isn’t going to carry a feature film. I also never wanted to just stuff stuff in there to give us running time. It was like, let’s just try to make something really cool. Then it was all about trying to find people who could come on to it once it was finished and wanted to get it out into the world in the right way, and not just kind of bury it as another limited release or platform movie. That took a long time too.
So, it took seven years to find partners who were willing to make the movie the way I thought it should be made and then it took, God, a year and a half, two, to find partners who were like, “Yes, we love this movie” and wanted to get it out there into the world in a big, wide way. So, it’s been a nine year experience all in all.

Macy: It’s hard to overestimate how difficult that is, right? Because you’re trying to do something fresh, but that you want a lot of people to see. It’s not easy because you really want to aspire to that wide audience. We’re very grateful to Jason and to Relativity and to WWE, all of whom jumped into the boat with us, God help them, and helped us get it to a wide number of theaters. It was always our aspiration, but we also want to stick to our guns creatively.

Blum: Usually really good movies take much longer to make than ordinary movies because good movies are original and original bumps up against no’s a lot.

Candi’s Corner: It’s true! But it only takes that one yes and you’re golden. What’s a dream project that you all would like to work on?

Flanagan: Wow, no one’s ever asked me that! My dream project of all time… I would love to do Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. But I believe that it has to be done a certain way and it’s such as huge volume of material and it’s a whole world you have to buy…you’d probably have to do it in one or two movies more than it took them to do all of Harry Potter. It’s a juggernaut. But that would be my dream project. I adore those books.

Candi’s Corner: Who would you cast?

Flanagan: Oh man….well it’s tough because, you know, I’m a little tainted by a lot of the discussions and rumors that the fans have kicked around… those people who picked up the project and put it down. I’d read something that somebody had said Aaron Paul was talking to them about playing Eddie Dean in the movie and I think that would be inspired. I think he’s incredible. For Roland the Gunslinger, I don’t know, I have such a hard time imagining what actor can pull that off. I’d have to see them actually do it before I could say for sure, but that’s such an impossible character to play.

Candi’s Corner (to Blum): So I have to ask because I’m here in the room with you, but I wanted to know a little bit about the Jem (and the Holograms) project for a few moments.

Jem the movie

 Blum: It’s a real scary horror movie.

Candi’s Corner: (laughter) That was one of my favorite cartoons growing up, hands down.

Blum: Good! You’re in luck. We start shooting in two weeks. John Chu is directing it, he’s a great director. We’re casting and hopefully this time next year it will be in a theater near you. But it falls into what we were talking about before. We’re doing it in a very low budget way, so it falls into the model that we have, but a different genre.

Candi’s Corner: Are you guys casting directly from the website that I’ve seen?

Blum: We cast in all different ways. People have been submitting their auditions to us, so hopefully we’ll cast a few people like that. We also are casting in the traditional way, so we have a casting agent and we’re going through agents too, so both ways.

Candi’s Corner: Cool! I had to ask because when am I ever going to get this chance again?

Blum: There’s a new update. Did you see the new update?

Candi’s Corner: I just saw an update about the casting itself on the website.

Blum: With Jessica? It’s Jessica and John Chu… with a woman and a man?

Candi’s Corner: No… Blum: I’ll send it. Get me your email.

Candi’s Corner: Yes please!

Flanagan: He showed it to me this morning before we went in to do a TV thing because I’m with you. I think it’s really cool.

Candi’s Corner: I saw that (Blum and Flanagan’s TV interview which aired earlier that day) on NBC. I did see your interview earlier today.

Blum: Oh did you? Oh good! Did we do alright?

Candi’s Corner: You did great! You did wonderful. My last question has to do with inspiration. Who inspires you?

Blum: I love Hitchcock. I studied him when I was in school. We watched all his movies and that was the first time I was so into genre. He’s definitely number one for me.

Macy: I had Ridley Scott on the brain lately, because you know, Alien in particular, in space no one can hear you scream…

Candi’s Corner: Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever find out…

Blum: Never say never.

Flanagan: For me, I think the biggest influence has got to be Stephen King. I with Jason on Hitchcock in a big way too.

From a short film about a guy alone by himself in a room with a mirror to a feature released in theaters nationwide, “Oculus” now carries on the legacy of Blumhouse Productions and solidifies Mike Flanagan as a director to keep an eye on. With “Somnia” as his next horror film, starring Kate Bosworth and Annabeth Gish, Blum’s countless upcoming projects to be released within the next three years alone, and Macy’s producer’s touch on the approaching “Diver” and “Somnia” movies, it’s no longer feasible to even think that investing in horror movies, whether in the film business or as an audience member, is a worthless risk. Rather, like watching a horror movie, it’s a terrifying ride worth betting on.

Note: Interview was conducted at The Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia to which Tinsel & Tine was invited to chat with this team behind Oculus, and as you can see, so many other projects.

While You're Here Check Out

Candi's Corner: Interview with new Evil Dead Director Fede Alvarez
Candi's Corner: Interview with Robert Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, and Alexa Vega - MACHETE KILLS
Candi's Corner:Interview with Mr. Peabody & Sherman Director Rob Minkoff
And be sure to follow Candi on her blog - A Confederation of Travelers

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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