WonderCon 2014: Scott Derrickson on Deliver Us From Evil & Sinister 2
The plan was to confront Scott Derrickson with Jason Blum’s challenge to direct Sinister 2, but before WonderCon it was announced that Ciaran Foy will direct the Sinister sequel. Derrickson was in Anaheim presenting his latest movie, Deliver Us From Evil, to WonderCon and I got to interview him about this July’s horror movie from producer Jery Bruckheimer. I still managed to bring up the Sinister 2 challenge given the latest news.
CraveOnline: So you go from Jason Blum to Jerry Bruckheimer.
Scott Derrickson: Yeah.
What kind of transition is that?
They’re both really good producers and good producers protect their directors. They both did that very well. It’s funny, the budget size of a movie in my experience doesn’t really matter and you’re always going to have the same kind of problems. You’re always going to be just a little bit short and your schedule’s going to be a little bit too tight. I think the biggest difference between the two producers is that Jason is less of a creative producer than Jerry. I think Jerry is really involved in the creative process and extremely helpful in an unthreatening way for a director. So I learned things from him and had only a good experience with him creatively.
Is Deliver Us From Evil still on the low end of the Jerry Bruckheimer scale?
Well, of course. It’s not a $200 million movie so I think you have to get over that number for it to be a big film for Jerry. He has made some good smaller movies as well and I didn’t get the sense that the size of the movie changed much how he operates either.
So you’ve got a child’s bedroom with creepy plush toys and you start there?
[Laughs] The scary scenes in my movies, I do think a lot of times they start by me just looking around my own house. I think the idea of the invasion of the paranormal into our ordinary lives is the thing that makes it scary a lot of times. I’m sure that that owl started by me looking around my boy’s room and seeing the stuffed animals and imagining something.
You got such an interesting performance out of Ethan Hawke in Sinister. Are you able to do something similarly unexpected with Eric Bana?
I think so. I think both of them are similar in that they both become deeply invested in the characters that they’re playing. I think both of them as actors feel a lot of responsibility for the movie they’re making. Both of them are the kinds of actors I like working with the most where I can speak to them about not just their character roles but about the deeper ideas of the movie and the themes of the movie. They embody that and help serve the movie in the performance that way also.
I think Eric is particularly good at playing these big characters, these larger than life characters. I love Chopper. I like Hoot in Black Hawk Down. I like these character that have a mythic kind of quality to them. Ralph Sarchie is one of those characters. He’s a guy who’s a larger than life personality in the way he speaks and what he does for a living, the strange paranormal stuff that’s gotten himself involved in. All of it contributes to a sizable, colorful character and Eric is uniquely good at playing those kinds of characters. I kind of feel the good fortune of having brought Eric back to the big screen doing what I think he does best.
So based on a true story means Ralph is a real person?
The real Ralph Sarchie is a real guy. He was our police advisor on the movie and the movie’s about him. The guy you see up on screen is very much like the real life character.
Is Ralph now a believer in the supernatural?
Well, he is now. He was working at the 46th precinct in the Bronx which was the highest crime precinct in the country at the time. He was an undercover cop working with a team of I think six guys underneath him doing what was called Street Crimes Division which was trying to interrupt violent crimes in progress. So he was in fights all the time and getting shot at and shooting at people. He was a really serious cop, and at the time, he was a lapsed Catholic, total skeptic, didn’t believe in God and it was through a series of cases that he began to get entangled in this paranormal research. That transformed him. Over a series of cases and over a period of time, he ended up becoming assistant to an exorcist.
Did he see the things that you create in visual effects in the movie?
Not so much in visual effects. I mean, there are big sequences in the movie that are based specifically on stories that he wrote about in his memoirs which is what we adapted for the movie. That was the thing that transformed his own life and his believes. It was about what he was experiencing.
Are we still being vague about what the evil is in Deliver Us From Evil?
Yeah, I think so because I don’t think that it’s so much about being vague as it is that the evil in the movie is actually complex, in a good way I think. I like the fact that the story has complexity to it and that the evil has complexity to it, which is why it’s also a police procedural. There is an uncovering and a discovery process about what it is that’s happening exactly in the movie.
That reminds me, my favorite part of The Exorcist is when they try to find a medical explanation. In the book it’s 300 pages and only the last 75 is what the movie ends up focusing on with the exorcism.
It’s so great.
That’s what you would do in real life. Is Deliver Us From Evil similar in that you’re trying to find a criminal or legal explanation before you even think of the supernatural?
It is a police procedural and the character is running into things that he cannot explain, and as a result ends up teaming up with this priest who has information for him and has access to people for him. Their relationship becomes the key relationship in the movie, the relationship between Eric and Edgar [Ramirez].
Is Deliver Us From Evil a bigger film for you than Sinister which could be contained in the house? Can this be out on the streets?
Yeah, this is a movie with a pretty big canvas. I think that it even looks bigger than I honestly thought it would look, because the Bronx is very cinematic. We shot the whole movie in the Bronx and a little bit overseas. I think that the texture of that part of New York City becomes a kind of character in itself and I’ve always liked the idea that the real Ralph Sarchie, because of the severity of violence in the 46th precinct, was already so familiar with evil that evil was a part of his daily life and it blackened him. That’s true. Having met the guy, when he was an active cop, he was a guy who carried around a lot of darkness as a result of it. His discovery of moving from that kind of street evil to a kind of supernatural or spiritual evil is a big part of what the movie’s about.
Knowing how much Jason Blum wanted you to direct Sinister 2, why did you decide not to?
You know, I decided not to after having written the script. I’m so proud of the script. I think the script is great but the script was maybe the hardest script to write that I’ve worked on. Cargill and I really struggled with that script because we knew what kind of movie we wanted it to be and we weren’t going to settle for anything less than that. There’s never been a screenplay where I’ve thrown out more work, where we would write big chunks of it and just feel like this is not it, this is not good enough. Then we would start again and we’d go different directions. So by the time it was over, I felt and still feel completely satisfied that we hit a target when it came to the screenplay and the story that is a worthy sequel.
But, I sensed that I was going to have the same kind of experience as a director, feeling frustrated as a director that I was not approaching it with enough freshness. Unlike screenwriting, [where] you can take as much time as you want to get it right, when you’re directing, you have to keep going and I ultimately just came to the conclusion that it needed some freshness of directorial vision for it to be as good as it could be. That’s why I chose the director that I did because I think that he is somebody who will bring something to the movie that I will not.
Knowing how difficult you expected it to be, does Ciaran Foy have a plan for how to approach SInister 2?
Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why we chose him also, because he has a definite understanding of the first movie and loves the script. As soon as he read the script he immediately wanted to do it which is always a good sign. He has a vision for it that I think everybody feels extremely comfortable with.
We have a video from SXSW of Jason Blum challenging you to direct Sinister 2.
Oh, was that you? I saw that.
That was my editor, William. So you’re aware of that?
Yeah, somebody sent that to me. He definitely wanted me to do it. It certainly would’ve made more financial sense for all of us, but in the end you have to do what’s best for the movie.
So how did he take the news?
Oh, he was fine. I think he was fine because we ended up with such a good director. If we hadn’t gotten such a good director for it, I think he’d be upset.