For the upcoming release of ANNABELLE: CREATION, Craig had the pleasure of being part of a round table interview with actress Stephanie Sigman and director David F. Sandberg about their upcoming feature film ANNABELLE: CREATION, where they discussed everything from a nun’s habit to using silence to create tension.
Question: What drew you both to the material?
David F. Sandberg: I mean, I was a fan before, when it was only THE CONJURING (2013) and ANNABELLE (2014). If anyone had told me before, “You’re going to direct an installment in that universe one day,” I would haven’t believed them.
Stephanie Sigman: I was too scared to watch them but I ended up doing so because I was doing this movie. I just need somebody with me, I can’t really watch them by myself. Once I have somebody with me, I can deal with it. We, myself and David F. Sandberg, are very different from each other but we work well together.
DFS: You were a little freaked out by that doll.
SS: I was very freaked out by that doll! Then I got in character so I felt powerful. I was like, “God is with me, I have the Bible, I’m spiritually powerful, and I’m a fighter,” not in a physical way but in a spiritual way. At the end [of the day] I was like I got this, but at the beginning it was kind of scary and a little freaky. I was like, “Do I really have to touch the doll because I don’t want to touch it.” Touching the doll is not a nice thing to do in general but I had to do it so they blessed the set for me.
Question: Can you tell us more about the blessing of the set?
SS: I heard the story about blessing THE CONJURING set because weird stuff was happening in the first one so they told me they were doing that every time they’re doing a movie. I was like “Why aren’t we doing this right now before I have to touch doll?” I talked to Peter the producer and I was like, “I’m not touching that doll before you bless the set.”
DFS: Which means we had to create all the scary stuff ourselves, dammit.
Question: Did anything creepy occur on the set?
SS: Not that I know of. It’s just the energy on set was different than any other movie I’ve ever done. You know, you’re dealing with the darker energy in general so it feels different, but nothing crazy happened as far as I know; except for my finger. I had, like, a black finger because I closed the door on my car all the way closed with my finger in it so the whole movie I’m acting with these huge purple fingers. I had to put my hands over my mouth a lot in the movie so he [David F. Sandberg] had to tell me to hide my fingers because they could see them and they were black.
DFS: I convinced her to have them popped, to have a little drill go through the nail to get all the blood out and I have a video of that.
Question: What were the some of the challenges of working with children?
DFS: These kids were so professional. I mean, we had a very extensive casting process and met with a lot of girls and these are just the best of all of them. They were so professional, so there was no need to treat them like children. You could treat them just as professional adults and they did a great job, the only challenge was –
DFS: (laughs) Yeah! The only challenge was the hours because they can only work so many and there’s absolutely no overtime so when the time is up, it’s up, so you better try and get whatever you need. Sometimes you have to get a stand in and shoot from behind.
SS: And it’s not the same, but you try to make it work. I feel like it was a pleasure to work with the kids and sometimes it’s more difficult to work with grown-ups than with kids. There is some misconception that kids need more or are difficult, but these ones are not.
DFS: Yeah, I’d heard that like, “never work with kids or animals” and I figured that, yeah, because kids probably suck. The problem is it’s just the hours really.
Question: Could you explain how you used silence to create tension?
DFS: Yeah, sound is super important and certainly the absence of sound. I’m very involved and very picky with sound design which means I sometimes feel like an asshole because it’s like, “That’s not the right creak when she steps on the board.” I think sometimes, especially in Hollywood movies, they have a tendency to lead you too much with the sound. It is like they are leading you instead of surprising you. What I try to do is really build to that because you can make anyone jump with a loud noise coming out of nowhere. The hard part is building up to it and still getting a scare and then it becomes a matter of timing as well. I try to have you glimpse the scary thing a couple of beats before the big sound so that your brain has that split-second of wondering, “What is that?” and then comes the sound.
SS: He loves to scare people. It’s amazing that he’s so passionate about it.
Question: Can you explain the process of making a period piece horror movie?
SS: It was amazing. For a horror movie I think it’s great because when you think about it you can solve a lot of things with a cell phone or technology. Back then you can’t because there wasn’t any of that type of technology so it makes it easier for the horror movie to happen. In my case I loved it because the wardrobe made me feel so much more in character. The set design was absolutely gorgeous as well. [To David F. Sandberg] How was your experience?
DFS: I love the fact that it was a period piece and it inspired me to shoot more classically; to have these longer takes and really stage and block things. You know, plan it out more, rather than just shoot a bunch of coverage. Not having cell phones is a plus, even though they do call the cops at one point, but they’re so isolated that it took so long
SS: And traffic (laughs).
Question: Do you feel like the subject matter was taboo?
DFS: No, to me it’s just a great source of material for a horror movie so I don’t really feel taboos like that. I mean, we kill kids in the movie.
Question: How do you feel about kids seeing your film?
DFS: Some horror fans are pretty young. I mean, we have a huge horror fan in this movie in Samara (Lee) who plays Bee. She’s like eight years old and she loves these horror movies and she goes to see R-rated movies all the time.
SS: She was extremely excited about in the makeup where you can see the veins and she looks like a demon. She was so excited, I mean, she was jumping up and down and I was like, “that’s kinda creepy girl.” Some girls get excited when they look like princesses; she gets excited when she looks like a demon.
DFS: But the fun thing was when we were shooting the scene where she [Samara Lee] gets hit by a car. I was telling her and Miranda [Otto] we were gonna cut just as she gets hit so you don’t see the aftermath. She was all disappointed because she was like, “I kind of want people to see my dead body.” It was a little weird.
Question: What was it like making a prequel?
DFS: That’s what got me excited that it wasn’t a straight up sequel to the first one, it was a very different story with different characters and we didn’t have to pay that much attention to the continuity. Except for the very end, which I loved, it is that separate thing, but then at the end you get that twist of how it fits together.
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Question: Can you talk about the change of years and the twelve year gap?
DFS: In the first movie the Higgins’ daughter, Annabelle Higgins, is the one who kills them and then her blood possesses the doll, so Janice needed to become Annabelle Higgins and that was through adoption. The twelve years wasn’t significant, and at one point I even thought of not saying the timeframe, but there was some concern that maybe it would confuse people to not have it, so we just did twelve years.
SS: I think it is important because they’ve been through a process, Mr. and Mrs. Mullins with what happened with their kid and they decide to bring these orphans in after a time. To me it makes sense, it’s important.
DFS: It is sort of, at the beginning, twelve years later and another twelve years late it, can sort of explain why Janice/Annabelle waited to kill her parents until twelve years later after joining this cult.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about the Hollywood life and making short films?
DFS: I want to do more shorts as well, and we did do one little short after we shot LIGHTS OUT (2016). I am getting more accustomed to it in that I am figuring out how movies are made here. On LIGHTS OUT I prepared like crazy because it was my first movie and I didn’t want to mess this up, this has to be great and I did all these diagrams and storyboards and everything. Then when you get to the set you don’t have time to do it that way or you can’t do it that way, so you just come up with better things. With ANNABELLE: CREATION I was like I’m not going to prepare as much and we can just figure things out on set. Sometimes that leads to some of your favorite moments.
Question: Is it scary to do improvisations on set?
DFS: Not really, because I sort of let this great set inspire the movie a lot. You get inspired. The biggest example being the dumbwaiter sequence; putting the dumbwaiter in the house was the idea of production designer Jennifer Spence. When she had that idea I was like, “Oh, maybe we can put a little kid in there.”
SS: Shooting that was a pain in the ass, though.
DFS: Oh, well, yeah, it was. It turned out pretty cool, though.
SS: Yeah, it was worth it.
Question: There is a scene where the banister cap breaks during a suspenseful scene. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DFS: Yeah, the breaking off of that thing; Talitha (Bateman) was just holding onto it and it broke off and shattered, but I was like, “Great, let’s bring in another one and do this from another angle as well.”
Question: Where there any other set pieces that broke that were included in the final film?
DFS: Just little things like when Carol’s stuck in the barn and she goes for the axe – we were just planning on her picking up the axe. Then I was joking around with Grace (Fulton) and was like, “Maybe just the handle comes off instead and you’re, like, screwed. Yeah, let’s do it, let’s just go with that.”
SS: It was very effective.
Question: Did past experiences of working with shorts influence your current practices?
DFS: Yeah, it’s a lot of just coming up with things on the fly and you know that we can actually put it together this way and it’ll work in post.
Question: What lessons have you learned from LIGHTS OUT and ANNABELLE: CREATION?
DFS: Even though the budgets change, the way of telling stories is very much the same. You just have more expensive toys and more days to do it, which makes me feel not that worried about it or that freaked out by a bigger budget.
Question: What was it like working with director David F. Sandberg?
SS: It was so difficult.
DFS: Yeah, I’m sorry.
SS: No it was great because I got to watch him do things for the first time, which was really refreshing. I think that’s what he has to bring to the table; he has a very fresh view on a lot of things and those things that he has on set, it’s just so exciting to see him do that. He has a lot of ideas, but he is not necessarily married to one idea and I think that’s what he’s talking about; he’s just playing with the creativity that he’s got on set, with the things he’s got to work with, which was really fascinating to me.
DFS: And figuring things out with you guys as well if something doesn’t feel right.
SS: Sometimes I would be asking a lot of questions and he’ll be like, “Just do whatever you would do, just play with it,” which is a great answer sometimes because he let me play.
Question: Lastly, can you tell us about the contemporary look of Sister Charlotte’s habit?
DFS: It is based on photos from that era so it looks exactly like one of those, but what we tried to do is find one that didn’t look too extreme or too big because she has to be in it for most of the movie. We wanted to find one that was more scaled-down, or not that crazy, so that she could walk through doors.
SS: To me she’s more like an independent nun if that makes sense. It think she’s very progressive which is what I like about my character.
ANNABELLE: CREATION will be released in theaters nationwide August 11th from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures.
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