|The Last Exorcism Webchat|
Eli Roth and Daniel Stamm talk horror
Eli Roth and director Daniel Stamm stopped by Empire HQ to talk The Last Exorcism. The found-footage horror, which is already scaring - and probably scarring - audiences in the US, is out this Friday in the UK. In anticipation we put your questions to Roth (who produced the film) and Stamm about the supernatural thriller, micro pigs and what to get Quentin Tarantino for his birthday...
thatfilmlover: How did Eli and Daniel meet?
Eli Roth: We met on Chatroulette... No, originally the writers Huck (Botko) and Andrew (Gurland) were going to direct the film, but we lost them when their movie Virginity hit, so suddenly we were without a director. One of the producers, Eric Newman, had seen Daniel's film A Necessary Death. He met Daniel and called me in Berlin when I was on Basterds, and said, "I think we have the guy." I saw his film, was blown away, and we spoke, and I knew he was the guy for the job. We hired him from that one conversation.
Daniel Stamm: I'm the quiet, deep guy.
Eli Roth: It's the intense expression on his face. Daniel only eats mashed potatoes. I just want to poke the perception of him as the romantic artist. You should know this if you ever want a dinner date with him.
Spacesimian: Either/both - your fave Argento(s)?
Eli Roth: Obviously Suspiria, but I have to give a shout-out to Five Days In Milan, which is a rarely-seen historical comedy. I love it. It was a big financial disaster for him, but I think it's a fantastic film and fans should seek it out.
thatfilmlover: Daniel, how scared were of repeating The Exorcist, do you set yourself any rules or things to avoid in this movie?
Daniel Stamm: We watched The Exorcist and analysed it to make sure we didn't repeat anything it had done, because you can't top The Exorcist. So we went down a completely different path, in that we didn't use any make-up effects or special effects. Our movie is based on the question of whether the girl is crazy or whether she's possessed, so we couldn't do anything supernatural. So it's all in the acting, and the actress, Ashley Bell, does all her own bending, unaided. Plus, it's a completely different story with unique characters, and doesn't have much in common with The Exorcist apart from the name.
paul.mccluskey: Hi Eli! What's your next directorial project: Endangered Species or Thanksgiving!? I think the latter would make a great crazy OTT slasher homage.
Eli Roth: I am going to finish both scripts and see which, depending on the weather, makes sense to shoot first. The dream is to shoot them back-to-back, but as everyone knows with me, the plan is always subject to change. That's the plan today.
Costigan74: Did you use unknown actors so that the documentary feel would work even better?
Daniel Stamm: Yes. It was important that we didn't have known actors who would have to act against their persona. We thought it would make a much stronger impression on audiences if there were fresh faces they hadn't seen before, so they could really lose themselves in the character.
Eli Roth: The nice part about financing the film with my name in this genre was it gave the producers the freedom to hire a director who was a great director but did not have a track record yet, and give him the freedom to cast the best actors for the parts. This was very much a movie that required great performance, and Daniel, Patrick and Ashley really nailed it. In America, you can really see the public's response and hunger for new faces out there. People are already starting Facebook pages campaigning to get Patrick and Ashley Oscars, which is incredibly sweet.
QuentinCappuccino: Question for Eli – how much persuasion did it take for you to accept the role of 'Wet T-Shirt Contest Judge' in Piranha 3D?
Eli Roth: A lot. But I felt that there are some films you do for money, like Inglourious Basterds, and other films you do purely for art, like Piranha 3D. I came out of acting retirement for what I believe would be the betterment of cinema and civilisation as a whole. Please make my Golden Globe out to Eli Roth with an ‘I’ not a ‘Y’.
con2105: Did you enjoy working with each other? any annoying habits either of you have?
Daniel Stamm: That is such a good question…
Eli Roth: You go first.
Daniel Stamm: No, you go first. It's a political question.
Eli Roth: It was a pleasure to work with Daniel. He's incredibly smart and if we had a disagreement it was never personal and we really listened to each other and heard each other out. He did an amazing job, and I knew he'd make a great movie, but I'll never be able to predict his lunch order. He is the weirdest eater I have ever encountered, and that's saying a lot, because I have worked with crazy actresses for years. He may direct actors like Lars von Trier, but he eats food like a crazy, picky, psycho actress.
Daniel Stamm: How hard is it to predict mashed potatoes?! Eli is my boss. My boss is who's paying me. So no, he does not have any annoying habits whatsoever. He also is a genius. Except for the mashed potato prediction thing that he can't figure out.
Costigan74: Was a script used at all times, or did the actors improvise?
Daniel Stamm: We had an incredible script to work off, but at the same time the producers were giving me a lot of freedom to adjust the script to my needs, and we did improvise and experiment a lot on set. A lot of my favourite moments weren't in the script but happened on set when the actors were going crazy with the material.
Eli Roth: With a script that's shot in this style, the dialogue becomes the DNA for that character, but Daniel and the cast did an incredible job of expanding on those characters to make it natural and real. Now many of the most iconic moments and images, like the Doc Marten boots and Ashley doing her back-bend, were not in the script but came alive on set once they knew who these characters were. In fact, the banana bread sermon was improvised, but that can only happen when the script gives you a real character to work from.
oscar harding: Daniel, will A Necessary Death ever be released on DVD?
Daniel Stamm: Yes. They're actually working on it. We've been trying to get it released for years, and we're always told that suicide is too tough a topic to sell. But this weekend's box office for The Last Exorcism seems to have changed that entirely.
Eli Roth: I would like to add that I'm so happy fans will get to see it. For aspiring filmmakers it's a great example of taking control of your own career and making a film on a $2000 budget that truly shows your talent. Without that film, we would not have known to hire Daniel. It's spectacular.
thatfilmlover says: Where does Eli buy his clothes?
Eli Roth: Well, excellent question. The best part about directing is when you wind up in GQ and Edgar Wright and Rich Kelly get mad at you because they're jealous. And I now have relationships with designers like Simon Spurr, Burberry, Dolce who will dress me for events. Because CLEARLY I cannot dress myself. Thank you for noticing. I feel validated. And now, I will never let Peaches make fun of me for wearing cargo shorts again.
paul.mccluskey: Daniel/Eli - for the past few years, we have seen a resurgence in the "found footage" genre, with the likes of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity having major success. Are there still plenty of ideas left for this type of genre, or is it beginning to run out of steam?
Eli Roth: I think with technology where it is, and the price of cameras getting so cheap that anyone truly can make a feature, it's going to become a much more widely accepted format if people can fully take advantage of it. But it's rare to find a director like Daniel who truly understood how to embrace it. But I have loved this type of film since Peter Watkins' rarely seen masterpiece Punishment Park.
Daniel Stamm: It is such an incredibly rich style. And it really can be a counter-balance to the over-produced special effects feasts that Hollywood produces day after day, that I hope it's gonna have a long, long career ahead of it, and a lot more stories are going to be told in this format. It really allows you to focus on storytelling and acting.
Fee: What really scares you, Daniel and Eli, given the amount of blood/guts/horror in your own films?
Daniel Stamm: Eli scares me. Because of the amounts of blood, guts and horror in his films.
Eli Roth: I have nightmares that I'm trapped in an eternal restaurant for all time, and the only food they serve is mashed potatoes.
Giddysamurai: Eli, not a question but my friend still can't forgive you for the fingering scene in Cabin Fever which happened just as he was trying to get with a girl!
Eli Roth: Tell your friend if he can't close the deal, watching a scary movie, he has no business putting his fingers in anyone's pants but his own.
QuentinCappuccino: Eli, apparently you have a micro-pig. Do you recommend them as a pet?
Eli Roth: This micro pig is fucking nuts. They grow much larger than a teacup. He is like having a child on Prozac who grunts and goes to the bathroom wherever he wants. But what's most disturbing is that I am deeply in love with him, and never thought I would feel that way about a pig. But they are a full-time job. Thankfully, my father – the Harvard professor – recently retired and is enjoying being my part-time pig custodian, while I am at the Empire offices.
oscar harding: Daniel, can you say anything about the rumour you might be directing Twelve Strangers?
Daniel Stamm: The Shyamalan movie? I wish that were true.
thatfilmlover: Did Eli get to keep that famous prosthetic penis from the photo shot he did for Guts: The Art of Marketing Horror Films? Where is it now?
Eli Roth: Well, that penis has become very popular at the Lions Gate offices and the heads of the company I think take turns wearing it around when they have a big opening weekend. Or so I have heard. But no, I prefer my own. It was just raising the bar and setting expectations I could never meet.
Pieholme: Daniel, what sort of potatoes are your favourite for mash and do you have anything with the mash like ketchup or brown sauce?
Daniel Stamm: It's really rather personal. I'd prefer not to talk about it.
Eli Roth: You can see what I'm dealing with here. Imagine lunchtime in the editing room. Daniel
is truly a man of mashed mystery. Sorry, that's going to follow you everywhere now…
Daniel Stamm: IMDb, you wait.
odddaze: Did Eli ever consider directing this one himself?
Eli Roth: No. When we lost our directors I looked at this as a test of my producing abilities. I want to make many films and help new directors that really deserve it get their break. To quote Homer Simpson, looked at this as a "cris-atunity" which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to this project.
Rgirvan: Daniel, did you have a camera operator on the film, or was all the footage shot directly by you?
Daniel Stamm: Our cinematographer Zoltán Honti operated the camera himself, and carried it on his shoulder for ten straight hours, 24 days in a row. He was bathed in sweat two minutes into the day, every day, and 20 minutes later his shirt was saturated with sweat, so he would be dripping everywhere he went. He also got a back injury out of it. And he would do it all again if he had to.
Eli Roth: I would like to add, he is a very, very sexy Hungarian, and a brilliant cinematographer.
odddaze: Are you two looking forward to the new Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel movie "Life As We Know It"?
Eli Roth: I was quite certain our film would be the scariest horror movie of the year, but that sounds more disturbing than a human millipede.
MattHooper: Hi Eli, you are the best "guru" on trailersfromhell.com. Do you and the other directors have arguments about who will dissect which trailer and what would be your dream director to talk about?
Eli Roth: I love all the gurus on trailersfromhell, and each time someone takes a trailer I want to do, ten new ones pop up, so that's never a problem. But it's as much fun to talk about Three On A Meathook as it is to talk about The Birds, so I generally go by the trailer, not the director. But if there was a trailer for Hard Bodies, I certainly wouldn't object.
Gromit: I'd really like to know how Eli found working on Basterds? Was it a different experience to working on Grindhouse or is Tarantino pretty consistent when it comes to directing?
Eli Roth: Grindhouse was a party; Basterds was a military operation. On Grindhouse, Quentin was king of the fraternity. On Basterds, he was a general. Both were incredible experiences, but whereas Grindhouse was all fun and games, Basterds was truly men on a mission.
thatfilmlover: What did Eli get Quentin for his birthday and vice versa? What does Daniel want for his birthday?
Daniel Stamm: Mashed potatoes.
Eli Roth: For Quentin's birthday I got him all of those beautiful Jack Kirby-style Inglourious Basterds comic covers, done by a superb English artist named Martin Duhovic, I believe, and framed them, and he got me a 35mm print of the Scott Baio masterpiece Zapped. Both of us were very touched.
oscar harding: Daniel/Eli – what is the most effective way of marketing your film on the internet?
Daniel Stamm: Well, Chatroulette was pretty damn effective. I wouldn't know how to top that.
Eli Roth: Twitter is also hugely, hugely important. Fans look to their friends' opinion and others' opinion on Twitter as much as they do reading critical reviews, and it was essential for a movie with an unknown cast and first-time director in getting out the first impression that the film was smart and scary and original. We really embraced Twitter and used actual tweets mixed with critical quotes in the campaign, and the fans really responded.
robjcross: Have either of you seen A Serbian Film which was pulled from FrightFest? Do you think horror films can go too far?
Daniel Stamm: I haven't seen it.
Eli Roth: I have seen it, and I think it's absurd it was pulled from FrightFest, but that's a whole other discussion. Movies don't cause violence, people cause violence, and a Serbian film is very much a comment on their culture. Obviously it was important enough for the director to make it, and by pulling it, it's true government censorship denying an artist his voice to say unpleasant things that people do not want to hear.
paul.mccluskey: Daniel, have you been approached by the studio to do a sequel, or are you not into that sort of thing?
Daniel Stamm: The producers behind The Last Exorcism actually have a lot of integrity as storytellers, and have no interest in making a sequel purely based on the original's box-office success. If someone came up with a really unique script, that would take the tale of Cotton Marcus in a new direction, I could imagine that there might be a sequel one day. But it hasn't been discussed.
thatfilmlover: Eli, what can you tell us about The Man With The Iron Fist and The Other Woman, two movies you're credited as producing on IMDb right now?
Eli Roth: The Iron Fist is a really cool kung-fu spaghetti Western that RZA and I wrote, that he is directing and starring in. We are location-scouting in China later this month, and will most likely start shooting before the end of the year. The Other Woman is still in the writing stage.
Big_Pants: Can you steal me something from the Empire office please?
Eli Roth: I'm going to steal Chris Hewitt's heart, but that is for me, and me only.
thatfilmlover: Eli – apparently you worked on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Any stories from the set? What happened, dude?
Eli Roth: Well, I found out they were shooting and got on as an extra because I wanted to watch Spielberg work. Then I showed up on set, and the writer David Koepp was directing the scene on the subway. Spielberg was not even in New York. I am curious if that happened at any other point during the shoot. That might explain a few things about why we've all forgotten that Steven Spielberg directed The Lost World. I'm in the subway. You can find it on YouTube. But it was very thrilling to have Jeff Goldblum come up to me and say he loved me in Inglourious Basterds, and I said, “We've actually worked together before.” Amazingly, he had no memory of me standing next to him in one shot on the subway in Lost World.
Steven Sloss: Do either of you have any advice for young aspiring filmmakers?
Daniel Stamm: Do it. Don't wait for anyone to give you a green light, because it won't come. Grab a camera and make a film.
Eli Roth: My advice would be to follow Daniel's example, but if you do not have your idea yet, get as much experience as you can working on movie sets doing ANY job at any level, so you can really see what it takes to make a film.
Nitro13: Who is that actress in the Chatroulette videos?
Eli Roth: Her name is Carly Jones, and you can find her on Twitter @carlyaj. She changed the campaign, and we invited her to the premiere, and I was totally star-struck by Chatroulette girl.
thatfilmlover: I thought Martyrs was the best horror movie of the last decade. Have you guys seen it and what did you think of it? If you disagree, what's your picks?
Daniel Stamm: I agree, I thought it was brilliant. Loved every minute of it.
Eli Roth: Well, people say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and I wanted to like it, but let's just say that I had seen some things in there that I had seen before in other movies. It started off great, but then it really bothered me that the characters stopped behaving logically, and did not leave the house. By the time the second girl is getting tortured, I couldn't really sympathise with her, because she had too many chances to leave. That said, I thought all the performances were superb, and I salute the director for truly going for it and making some incredible, brutal scenes. It just felt a little too convenient that there's a torture chamber you secretly enter through a couch that the kids in the house never found and that these girls found in two hours of being there.
mortgrimm: What are your personal views about the phenomenon of possession?
Eli Roth: My father, who’s now a pig keeper, was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst for 40 years, so I always approach it from a psychiatric point of view, but who's to say that's right? I'm fascinated by it, and as a child was terrified I would be possessed by the devil. Many would argue that actually happened, but in a strange way all the films I've directed deal with possession and loss of control of your body in one form or another.
Bellatrixxxx: What are your opinions on the 3D trend and have you any plans to use it in upcoming projects? Do you buy into Cameron's snobbery when it comes to the medium or do you agree that standards must be upheld?
Daniel Stamm: I think 3D is great for certain projects where that technology can really enhance the storytelling. I wouldn't be interested in going 3D just for the sake of going 3D. And I'm not sure about Cameron's tone when he belittles other movies, but I certainly agree that standards should be upheld.
Eli Roth: I love 3D, but it works best when it's planned for. Even on Piranha 3D it was written that way, and though shot on film, there were technical advisers at the camera for every shot looking at the light, the distance and the movement to explain how it would convert. When you retrofit a film for 3D, you cannot rush it. If you're going to convert a film that was never planned that way, take the time to get it right, otherwise it will just ruin everyone's idea of what 3D is, in the same way that bad computer effects can spoil people's idea of what a special effects movie is.
Rgirvan: What other found footage movies have impressed you? Have either of you ever seen the BBC’s Ghostwatch which caused a national outcry?
Daniel Stamm: No.
Eli Roth: No, people keep mentioning it and I'm dying to see it. I would suggest that people seek out Peter Watkin's Punishment Park, which Alex Aja recommended to me and Quentin during Basterds, and we were blown away. It's from 1971 and was recently reissued on DVD.
Rgirvan: Do horror movies work better if they are low budget?
Daniel Stamm: Probably, because low budget means you have more creative freedom because there are fewer people involved and less financial pressure. You have to compromise less, so the outcome is more provocative and cutting edge.
Eli Roth: That said - I agree with Daniel - but we cannot discount big-budget movies where the director has full control, like The Exorcist, The Shining and Jaws. I think there's room for both. The beauty of low budget is you can have a film with an ending that does not try to please the masses, and that's controversial, but keeps people talking about the film 25 years after it's been released. Those are the films I love.
heavyhand: Eli, what happened to Cell?
Eli Roth: I'm a big Vince Vaughn fan, but I really think they were awry with that movie. I don't know if anyone can truly explain what happened in The Cell.
oscar harding: Have any big names congratulated you on The Last Exorcism? What have they said?
Daniel Stamm: Quentin Tarantino very passionately and excitedly congratulated me on the movie, and we went into a deep discussion of the ending and its meaning.
Eli Roth: I've heard many wonderful things from other directors like Quentin and Richard Kelly who loved the film, its mystery and the questions that came out of the screening.
Eddy: To Daniel/Eli – what's the scariest/best horror you've ever seen?
Daniel Stamm: Psycho, hands down. Terrorised me, and I'm still having nightmares. Killing off your protagonist after 20 minutes and leaving us with no-one but the psycho-killer to identify with is pure perverted genius.
Eli Roth: My favourite horror film... the scariest horror film for me is constantly changing, because the haunted house is never as scary the second time through. So to truly judge how terrifying a film is, you have to judge it on how scared you were the first time you saw it, and many things beyond the film can factor in to that experience. However, recently I saw a film that still disturbs me months later. It was called Valentine's Day, starring Ashton Kutcher.
Eli Roth: Thank you everyone. You guys have been awesome and supportive of me since Cabin Fever, and I hope you will show the same love to Daniel, because he really deserves it, mashed potatoes and all.
Daniel Stamm: What he said. Thank you so much.