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Producer Peter Safran talks Annabelle: Creation and The Conjuring universe!

This coming August, the haunted doll that Ed and Lorraine Warren dealt with is back in theatres with ANNABELLE: CREATION. In addition to visiting the set last year, we also had the opportunity to talk to producer Peter Safran along with the other press in attendence. With nearly sixty credits to his name, Peter has been involved in some seriously spooky projects including THE CONJURING and THE CONJURING 2, as well as the recent THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, and of course ANNABELLE. During our time on the Warner Brothers lot, a small group of journalist sat down with Mr. Safran to not only talk about the upcoming sequel, but all things CONJURING universe as well.

peter safran annabelle creation james wan david f sandberg miranda otto anthony lapaglia the conjuring the nun

Press: I’m kind of wondering what the game plan is with the Conjuring universe?

Peter Safran: I think the idea always was, right from the get go, was to create a universe, but you don’t go out and tout that as being the goal. You start off by just making one good movie. But the idea was certainly that using the Warrens life rights and access to their cases, that would be a really good starting point. It was actually James Wan who suggested putting Annabelle into the opening of the original Conjuring. It was not in the script when he came on board as director. That was not in there, so that was totally him and it was planted for the obvious reasons. After the first [CONJURING] came out we had so much fan interest in Annabelle, both because she was already a well known entity, but also I think people liked what we did with her in the first movie. A lot of people were really interested in her background, her origins, where she was and where she’s going - so it was pretty natural. New Line has been very supportive about doing a modestly priced spin-off that if we made a really good movie, it would go out on 3,000 screens and if we didn’t it would probably never see the light of day. Fortunately we made a movie that tested extremely well and that was the beginning of it all, so when it came time to do Conjuring 2, obviously in the same manner we wanted to plant spinoff opportunities. You never really know what’s going to capture the audience’s imagination. But we knew there were some options in there. THE NUN really was the one that everyone gravitated towards and so that was it. 

annabelle creatiion peter safran james wan david f sandberg the conjuring the nun miranda otto anthony lapaglia

What’s the biggest challenge for you from a producer standpoint coming into this film?

The goal on this one is the same goal we had on THE CONJURING 2 which is that you want to make a movie that is worthy of being a sequel to a much loved movie, even though the first [Annabelle] wasn’t loved by audiences, but the Conjuring Universe has now we’ve achieved a certain level of quality that you don’t want to dilute. The real challenge is to make a movie that is scary, with good characters - not cheap scares, that you really spend some time developing the characters before you put them through their paces. It’s the challenge you have whenever you make a supernatural thriller, which is how do you put a new spin on the scares? How do you not let it feel derivative of other movies that you’ve made? By the way not just what we have made, but what James has made with Insidious, or his other films. It’s always a challenge to come up with new stuff and I think what David Sandberg brings to the table is a real freshness to that. I loved what he did with LIGHTS OUT. I think he did a great job and he was the only director we ever talked to about this film. Having him, with his fresh perspective, has really been an incredible addition to the team.

How much foresight is involved planning out the story? 

We made the first Annabelle as a stand alone movie, but with it’s success, certainly even before it came out, after we tested it and knew we made a successful movie, we started thinking about where could you go with it, because it’s a great character. It was actually Gary Dauberman, who’s our writer, he wrote the first [ANNABELLE]. He wrote It, which is shooting right now. He’s a terrific writer. It was his idea to go back and give the real origin story of Annabelle and I think it’s feathered into one in a really clever and innovative manner at the end of this movie. I think people will be really satisfied with the way that they dovetail together. 

Is there any thought to a PG-13 rating? Is this R?

We never actually give a lot of thought to what the ratings should be when we’re making the movie. We know that traditionally with nobody getting killed and no blood and no gore and no sex that technically it should be PG-13. But, when the first CONJURING was rated R and we said, “Well what can we change? What can we tweak.” They said, “Nothing. It’s too intense. So it’s going to be R rated.” Then we just kind of embraced it and said we’ll make the movie the way we’re going to make the movie and whatever rating they give us it doesn’t matter. Technically, they should be PG-13 movies - as in them, that automatically will take you out of PG-13. There’s no language issues. We’ll kind of take whatever they give us. We’ve shown that an R rated supernatural thriller has the opportunity [to do] just as well as a PG-13 one if not better.

annabelle creation peter safran the conjuring the nun james wan david f sandberg miranda otto anthony lapaglia

With THE CONJURING sort of being based in the real world, have you thought about taking something else like a LIGHTS OUT and saying that’s a part of this universe?

We haven’t. I think people are pretty familiar with the Warrens. Not necessarily their cases, but they are with the Warrens. I don’t think we would try to shoehorn something in that wasn’t organically part of it. You know we might take a story of theirs as the starting point for something and then kind of go with it as we choose, but I think there always has to be that Warren relationship. Even THE NUN, which is just a character we created obviously, the fact that it was given birth in THE CONJURING 2 so it automatically makes it intrinsically part of the franchise. 

What do you think about the line between truth and fiction?

We want to make a great narrative. It’s not a documentary. We want to make the scariest and most satisfying movie that we can possibly make. Consequently we take all the liberties we need to take in order to make a scary movie. I don’t think we feel constrained by it, but it’s great to the extent that you can hold to the true elements as much as you can. So, when we’re making the first [CONJURING] the parents had a certain number of daughters. From a production point of view maybe they should have two. No! Anything that’s Googleable you want to be true. These are the five daughters and these are their names. The same thing with the {family from THE CONJURING 2] They had four kids, sadly only three are still alive, but they had four kids at the time it all went down, so we gave them the four kids. We gave them the same names, the father had abandoned the mother. You draw as much as you can from truth and then you’ve give it the spin you want to give it. 

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In the broader James Wan universe, have we seen the last of the Crooked Man?

It’s an excellent question, because obviously the Crooked Man was one of the ones were contemplating spinning off and when we tested the movie it was the most polarizing character. It had the most people who loved it and the most people who hated it, but it really was - people loved it. The people who loved it wrote, “That’s awesome!” A lot of the people who didn’t like it, their criticism was, “That’s all CG! That’s all CG.” None of it was CG. It was 100% practical. That actor just looks like that, we created an amazing wardrobe for him. Skin tight latex-basically suit. And he walks - I’m sure you’ve all YouTubed his test for Mama, crawling around before they decided to go CG. So I think there’s something fascinating in the Crooked Man. Maybe tonally he’s not as Grounded as the Conjuring itself is and maybe that’s why some people felt it wasn’t what they were looking for in the Conjuring but I suspect a movie with him would be really really cool. I love the character, just things like the transformation from the dog into the Crooked Man and the way he walked. It’s one of those characters when I see his fingers coming out when Ed Warren has kind of blinded by the steam and is coming into the living room where the TV is, there’s a thing where his fingers come around a door and every time I see that I just love what that character can be. And we have some interesting ideas for him. So we’ll see. What do you think? 

I asked because I wanted to see it. 

You know it tends to be the genre fans that like it the most and the casual fans that like it the least. But I think there’s a movie there. The more we hear from guys like yourselves that it is intriguing the more likely it is. And we just have to figure out how you position it. I love the Zoetrope. It’s a cool device in that it builds on what the music box was in the first movie. Again we hadn’t seen that particular thing with the spinning and the disappearing. works well as a device  It is good to hear, when you’re next interviewing James at some junket you should bring it up with him too. Because you know him, he loves crazy feeling creatures and he loves the Crooked Man. There’s a reason why he came up with that. 

annabelle creation peter safran james wan the conjuring the nun miranda otto anthony lapaglia

One of the things that seems really cool about this as a universe is that you can watch all  of these movies, but they happened out of order, so then you can go back and watch a marathon in order. 

You know that’s funny, we have a board that we created that has what we hope will be our series of movies. We have it in chronological order so we can keep track of where it all happens, because yes, listen we’ve already messed it up I’m sure from the first Conjuring to Annabelle. Well, I know that we did, and we were trying to be careful about it and you’re absolutely right, at some point you will be able to watch in order, THE NUN, ANNABELLE: CREATION, ANNABELLE, THE CONJURING and THE CONJURING 2.

So is THE NUN earliest in the timeline?

Eh. Could be. 

Are we going to go into Amityville territory?

I don’t know. I think we selected that because from a visual perspective it’s so iconic. It is, the eyes of the house is just a great engaging iconic image. Connected to the Warrens to whatever degree you agree it’s connected to the Warrens, though there clearly is some connection. To us it was less planted as a spinoff and more a really interesting preface to the movie. We found in the first one that having a great opening sequence buys you a lot of goodwill for people that sit down and watch the character development afterwards. You can relax because you’ve already had a really good sequence. I love what James and Don Burgess shot, that whole sequence I think they used a lot interesting technique. I think you could really sit around and study that opening and see really smart genre techniques that are used. There’s a lot going on. 

Are there any other Warren Case files in particular that you would want Wan or Sandberg to explore?

There are definitely some we are looking at and we’ll come to a conclusion as to what we want to do for the THE CONJURING 3. To be determined. 

Do you have any personal favorite case files? 

I do. I like the ones, I don’t want to mention them because they might actually become the third movie. There are some that maybe aren’t as well known, but they spent a fair amount of time researching and were a part of. Clearly we can’t do another haunted house movie, we can’t do a supernatural possession in a house with a family in peril. It’s gotta be something different. There are a lot of places to go.

You mentioned David Sandberg was your first choice to make this movie.

He was. He had just made [LIGHTS OUT] for New Line and I saw it early because they loved it. He crafts scares in such a beautiful manner and it’s so authentic to him. It’s what he does. You watch his shorts on Vimeo, it’s what he does. So making this movie with him, it’s been a blast. He’s so prepared. I think he learned a lot on LIGHTS OUT that he brings to this. But he brings his organic, authentic love of scary movies and crafting scares. I love his “making of”, When he talks about how he makes his two minute movie, but then its fifteen minutes of here’s the making of, it’s a guy who loves it. We showed him the script and he immediately had a bunch of great ideas. 

annabelle creation peter safran david f sandberg james wan the conjuring the nun miranda otto anthony lapaglia

What’s the biggest difference you’ve seen in David between LIGHTS OUT and ANNABELLE: CREATION?

Well I didn’t produce LIGHTS OUT, but I think he’s got a confidence, not just in himself - because I think he always knew he had the skills - but confidence in terms of being the general of the army and leading probably more than he did on the first film. You know it was his first experience in Hollywood, so I don’t think he even knew what he was allowed to do, and now I think he’s got a really good sense. He’s tremendously collaborative, but he has a really distinct vision. I would say that, having not worked with him on the first one, even just what I’ve seen from the time we gave him the screenplay to prepping the movie and shooting the movie, he’s just got an even greater sense of confidence. 

Honestly part of the reason it works is because New Line is tremendously supportive,and supportive but hands off in the right way. Meaning they let us make the movie as close to an independent movie as you can make within the studio system. So we really get the value for the money that we spend. In terms of bringing on crew, we draw from the Conjuring universe. Most of these people came from the Wan camp or the Conjuring camp or some people were on Lights Out. Even though we’re making them for a modest price, it’s been no problem at all getting the highest level of crew. I just feel like it’s not even an issue. They’ve just been there. 

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