Annabelle opened in theaters this past weekend, taking in $60.8 million at the global box office. And recently, Annabelle producer Peter Safran (pictured above) took time to discuss the film, its theatrical predecessor The Conjuring, and his own history with horror.
Read on to see what Safran had to say.
You’ve gone from producing humorous horror, with 2000s Scary Movie, to producing cry-for-your-mommy terrifying horror with last year’s huge hit The Conjuring, its follow-up The Conjuring 2, which will come out in 2015, and Annabelle, which is the film we’re discussing today. How has your perspective on the genre, and how you see your role in it, changed in that time?
I have always felt that comedy and horror share a common bond, in that the audience reaction is a reflexive one–laughter in the former and fear in the latter. The audience can’t truly fake either of those reactions, so you know if your film is having the desired effect.
As far as how the genre has changed, I would say that what we have endeavored to do with The Conjuring and Annabelle— and what we’re planning to do with The Conjuring 2—is somewhat of a throwback to the character-driven horror films of the 1970s. Clearly, we are putting our own spin on it but we are borrowing liberally from that era. James Wan (director/producer of The Conjuring and a producer on Annabelle) has truly been leading the charge on that front. He made sure, on The Conjuring, that the characters were well-developed and we had gotten to know them prior to putting them through the terrors that they were soon to face. In addition, we went to great lengths to avoid cheap scares. James would relentlessly build the tension and then subvert the audience expectations. We took those lessons to heart on Annabelle and endeavored to give depth to Mia and John and to craft scares that were worthy of being in The Conjuring pantheon.
When did you decide there was audience appetite for a film focused on the Annabelle doll–was there a standout moment when you realized this story needed to be the next one you told?
In the very first meeting with James, when he came on board to direct The Conjuring, he suggested that The Conjuring prologue be about Annabelle. So I suppose that was when we started to consider a potential stand-alone film for the doll. However, it wasn’t until The Conjuring was released last year that it was clear that there was significant appetite for Annabelle. So many people, on social media and in person, clamored for more information about the doll–what was her origin, where was she now, how did she get there, etc. She was to The Conjuring what Zach Galifianakis was to The Hangover! People couldn’t get enough of her. So, last fall, we collectively agreed that Annabelle’s story needed to be told.
In terms of chronology, the events addressed in Annabelle happen before those in The Conjuring. Is this film a prequel, a spinoff or something else? And why did you decide to tell this story now?
In my mind, this film is a prequel to The Conjuring. It deals with events that occurred prior to those that affected the Perron family. We decided to tell the Annabelle story now because there was such a fascination from the audience about her from the moment The Conjuring premiered. From a timing perspective, it also made sense because The Conjuring sequel had been on hold while James was finishing The Fast and the Furious 7, yet we were eager to explore other ideas connected to Ed and Lorraine Warren. And what better way to explore those ideas than with a film about the Annabelle doll’s origins?
What has been your favorite part in the process of creating this film?
Generally, working with such a great group of people has been my favorite part of this process. The New Line team has been endlessly supportive, James is masterful in his leadership, notes and guidance, John Leonetti has shown himself to be as talented a filmmaker as he is a director of photography, and Gary Dauberman wrote an extraordinary screenplay as the platform on which we built this film.
The more specific favorite part of the process was, just as it was on The Conjuring, watching James craft unique and unexpected scares. No one does it better and it is truly an education, seeing him tweak a scene in some small way that increases the terror exponentially.
Have your thoughts and feelings about hauntings, and the supernatural in general, changed as a result of working with this subject?
I think that it is impossible to work as closely as we have with Lorraine Warren and not be impacted by the certainty and fullness of her faith and belief. No matter how skeptical one might have been at the beginning of the process, talking to Lorraine and researching this subject deeply compels one to be open-minded about the supernatural in general. I know that I have become far more open to the possibilities since I started working with this subject several years ago.