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Set: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (1/2)

09.05.2005by: The Arrow


PART 1 / PART 2

January 20, 2005: Hey kids, Arrow here reporting live (for JoBlo.com/AITH) from gorgeous yet muggy Vancouver, British Columbia on the set of Screen Gems/ Lakeshore Entertainment new nail-biter THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.  

The film stars the "I wish she was my girl" Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott (Dying Young baby, Dying Young!) with Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose. Let me break it down for you!

Official Synopsis: In an extremely rare decision, the Catholic Church officially recognized the demonic possession of a 19-year-old college freshman. Told in terrifying flashbacks, The Exorcism of Emily Rose chronicles the haunting trial of the priest accused of negligence resulting in the death of the young girl believed to be possessed. Inspired by true events, the film stars Laura Linney as the lawyer defending the priest (Tom Wilkinson) who performed the controversial exorcism.

On Set: I and a slew of other journalists were taken inside a "mock barn" set. The barn interiors were impressive to say the least and quite realistic. I almost felt like bringing in a cow to do some old fashioned "milking" but I digress. We were seated on some chairs, given earphones and shown a monitor. We were then treated to witnessing a scene being shot.

The Scene: The scene itself took place in a courtroom. It had the prosecutor (played by the brilliant Campbell Scott) and the defense attorney (played by the lovely and oh so sweet Laura Linney) go into verbal sparring between each other and with the "witness" on the stand; the Priest (Tom Wilkinson) who conducted the exorcism. It was a hoot to see the actors doing their thing and I must say that I was really impressed by Laura Linney's show.

Sure, she flubbed lines at times, went into giggle fits and blanked out in places, just like any other actor does but the manner in which she'd bounce back into character was a statement to her strong chops. What a pro! The sole negative juice I got from watching this sequence were two specific lines that made me and two fellow horror journalists crack up like the rejects in the back of the classroom. The lines were: “The Game is on!” and “You really are God’s gunslinger Father…”. In my opinion, the quips just didn’t work within the context of the scene but then again, who am I?

After witnessing this fine display of "acting Ping-Pong" we were taken on the Court room set. Not much to say there, it looked like a real courtroom and gave me flashbacks of when I was arrested for bad writing. The true second helping of meat on this day kicked in after that minor excursion, when screenwriter Paul Harris Boardman showed up to answer our many questions. The extensive "bla bla" session went a little bit like this:

PAUL HARRIS BOARDMAN (SCREENWRITER)
VS.
A ROOM FILLED WITH JOURNALISTS

Where and when does this take place?

PH: We are actually trying to get the setting of the movie to feel a little bit timeless. When we did the production design we sort of thought if it could feel like any time from say the seventies, maybe late seventies, to virtually the present. You might notice in the film that there won't be people on cell phones. There won't be things that particularly date it to right now. And even in terms of the kind of fashions we used, the settings, the physical locations, the way things were art directed in the rooms. We tried to keep it a little bit timeless like that partly because we did not want the film to feel like a contemporary updating of this story that was from the past, or an attempt to completely set it in the time period when the Anneliese story occurred (the actual case).

In terms of how much we used, we certainly read all the material we could on that case, and we optioned the rights an underlying book that had been written to the case as it occurred. The only book we knew of about it really. Then we’ve fictionalized it quite a bit, so I would say that a lot of the incidents in our movie are very different, but they are very true to the kinds of things that happened to her. And the way the court case unfolded similarly there's a lot of dramatic license in our story to fit the story we were telling and make it more effective. But certainly, people can always look that up later on their own if they want to compare it, it might be an interesting thing to do and see what occurred in the actual case, what incidents we kind of changed for dramatic purposes.

Can you tell us who the girl that the film inspired itself on was?

PH: This story is inspired by Anneliese Michel. In broad strokes the case was a story of a girl who became afflicted with what may have been mental illness, may have been demonic possession depending on your point of view. And then there was a court case that came out of it when her treatment ended the way it did where some priests were put on trial. That's sort of the basic structure of our movie too. And then, like I said, individual incidents and individual details of our plot are sometimes somewhat parallel, but we felt free to change them because we were just inspired by that story.

How much time is spent in the courtroom and how much time is spent with the flashbacks?

PH: Without having edited it yet, I'd say based on the screenplay and what it feels like, it's fairly evenly divided. I think there's probably a little bit less courtroom time then there is time for everything else. The courtroom might be a little over a third of the movie or something like that, but there are also scenes that are not flashback or scenes from the courtroom. There are scenes in Erin, the lead attorney's, life that happen in the present of the story as well. So it's a reasonable amount of time in the courtroom, comparable to a lot of courtroom movies actually, even though we have a whole other horror movie folded into it as opposed to just the lives of lawyers drinking and talking about the case and all that sort of thing.

What is being done to set this film apart from any other film with exorcism as a theme?

PH: Well one big thing that sets it apart is what we're already touching on, which is this is sort of a hybrid of a courtroom drama and an exorcism/supernatural movie. It really does try to serve both of those things and fold them together in an interesting way to make the two very interrelated in terms of how one unfolds the mystery of one thing, unfolding very much pertaining to what's happening in the present and in the courtroom attorney's life and the courtroom story. So that's very different, and then in our depiction of the exorcisms themselves. People talk about THE EXORCIST for example and say “Oh, spinning head and pea soup and all that,” but there were a lot of very realistic things in THE EXORCIST. Scott (the director) and I both love that film. It's definitely a film we really enjoy even now.

I do think that a lot of the depictions of how they do exorcisms and the medical treatment the girl went through in that film was all very harrowing and it felt very real. A lot of the films since then have kind of gone away from a more realistic approach and gone into these more Armageddon type things where the devil is blowing things up and all that. We definitely wanted to go back to something closer to THE EXORCIST and then take it a little further in terms of realism by studying tapes and actual exorcisms to try to make our depiction of it, very close to what at least has been perceived and recorded. Whether you believe its exorcism or not, possession or not, I should say, that the things that she does, do fit into what we’ve really observed and studied.

Have you at all felt pressured by the Studios to deliver a PG 13 flick?

PH: We haven't really felt constrained. The studios love PG-13 movies right now. It's a bigger audience and they've seen that you can make scary PG-13 films that actually draw in the whole audience. THE SIXTH SENSE and all these films were scary and effective without being a gory type of horror movie. Nothing against DEAD ALIVE and those movies, they’re different kind of movies. So we have had a lot of discussions with the studio. Ultimately they did not make us feel constrained. They let us go into this knowing that it could be R, it could be PG 13. Make the movie you want to make; you can always edit the movie as well. But I think we've kept in the back of our mind that it we want the possibility of it being PG-13. If the content is too intense and it ends up being that way then it’ll be R.

Did you have any concerns about using the title Emily Rose since it’s close to Audrey Rose (the Robert Wise horror film)?

PH: It did cross our minds. The studio head really liked the name Emily Rose, and there‘s a legal process they go by where the studio submits a name and the other studios who have the rights to those books or whatever can challenge it. So, on that level it did pass muster and it was okay. But you always wonder a little bit -- I mean ROSEMARY'S BABY too. You know, there's rose in the name of various movies. Is that good or bad? Will that evoke good feelings about those movies to make them want to see this? I don't know. But ultimately I think this movie will feel so different from those movies that that'll pass, you know, pretty quickly.

You have an A-list cast, how does that change the movie and how did you get that cast?

PH: It didn't change the movie in terms of the script. We kind of tried to write a movie that would deliver the scariness, but also have this thematic depth to it and some characters that were layered and everything. What was really gratifying was that actors of that caliber and that kind of background responded to the script with a lot of interest and wanted to do it and that the studio supported that. The studio supported the idea of making not a genre film in a narrow sense where we just got to do everything about it, make it fit the genre, cast it that way, spend that kind of money on cast and look for that audience only.

I think they know that the horror audience can be a very sophisticated audience that can like a lot of different films. There are a lot of people that like DEAD ALIVE and maybe they might go see CHUCKY. They also love to go to repertory theaters and see ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE OMEN, films from the seventies and Argento films…all sorts of films. And so that's a smart sophisticated audience and I think we were very happy to see that the actors responded and that we were supported to go for that kind of cast. It helped us make the movie we kind of dreamed of making.

Does this film sport a lot of special effects?

PH: We tried to write it with that realism-based idea. We wanted to use them subtlety and selectively in terms of special effects. I think the casting of Jennifer Carpenter helped us in that a lot because she, as you will see can do so much with her body and her face and her voice. It kind of changed the paradigm a little bit for the visual effects people, and they just said “Once we saw her audition we all decided that, we just wanted to stay out of her way.” Obviously they're doing more than that and there will be effects through it, both visual effects and special effects like the old-fashioned kind. They're very effective too. I think keeping it more real like that and then having those little things just to enhance certain things that are there makes it scarier for this kind of movie because it doesn't take you outside the reality and make you think “Oh, gee, look, that's a cool effect.”

Given the obvious comparisons you’re going to have with THE EXORCIST do you think people will get shook up by your film as they did Friedkin’s classic?

PH:
They maybe won’t get the same horror gut feeling they had from THE EXORCIST, but yes. People might wonder about the ideas behind this. The court case and the themes are more cerebral. A good half of the movie is the experience that Emily has. It's different in the approach, the exorcism sequences, and the way they're shot, where they're set and staged. And not just the exorcisms, but all the demonic manifestations in the movie should feel different from what people have seen. I've seen most of it all cut together now, and it's very visceral and frightening. And I think because her performance again is so good she's very empathetic, even as she's going through these horrific experiences, so you feel for her. You're in there with her and that makes it terrifying.

Did you consult church representatives or mental health professionals to try to nail the realism and verisimilitude of the story?

PH: We did a lot of reading. Scott's wife works in the health profession and we talked to people that she knew and other people we knew about it. Read a lot of abnormal psychology things. We had a priest come in to consult with us and with Tom Wilkinson, we had some meetings with him together with Scott, myself and Tom, just to talk about what would the real props be that he would have? How would he use them? What would a priest do or not do? Obviously you take all that in and then you look at the scenes and you see if there are certain adjustments you might need to make for dramatic purposes. But we tried to be very cognizant of all of that, do our homework and help the actors to do theirs, so that Tom particularly could feel comfortable being this guy going into this.

One interesting thing too and I don't think it gives too much away is that he's not the exorcism expert that Max Von Sydow was in THE EXORCIST for example, who comes in with this long history with it. This guy is doing an exorcism for the first time, and so that was also something we really wanted to talk about with the priest. Tom wanted to get a handle on that where it’s new to the character, he might be a parish priest who's been a priest for a long time, but he's never done an exorcism -- hardly any Catholic priests have. What would that be like? We wrote it that way in the script. And I think he played that very well.

How important was it for you to take a realistic and serious dramatic approach to the subject matter?

PH: We felt like the subject matter merited it. Even THE EXORCIST was based on a true story and they took that pretty seriously. It wasn’t a completely exploitative kind of film despite how some people remember some of the more lurid things about it. We felt like that it would give this movie something to say, that would be different , we could come at it in an intelligent way and give a broader audience a chance to deal with this. I think the audience for this movie should range from more mature people to a younger audience that might go to horror films for the thrills of it. The only thing I can think of is that some of the less horror inclined filmgoer will be scared away. I certainly have some relatives who won't see a movie that's this scary, and they'll be like “Oh, I’d love to see it, but I can't watch that, you know.”

How RASHOMON is your film in terms the split between the flashbacks and the present?

PH: Once the court case starts, which is in the first act, then we start interweaving, interlacing the past and the present for the rest of the way, and we just try to balance it. It was a very tricky thing to do too in the writing and in the filmmaking. We wanted to do justice to both of those stories and then weave it together in a way that's balanced and that builds tension as you go through both the past story, the present story and how they're connected.

Did the true story basis have any effect on what the film is trying to say in terms of assumptions about the reality of the supernatural or not. Does the film take a stand or does it leave it up to the audience to decide what happened?

PH: The true story had both arguments made so coherently that we wanted to do that as well. Our idea in the film is definitely not to make assumptions about the validity of possession or the fact that it's always mental illness. We want the movie to really have both of those things articulated very well and compellingly so that the audience will walk away and make their own decisions. We just want to get people thinking about it and create discussion about it.

Will there be a lot of striking imagery in the film?

PH: I hope so! Scott and I have a very eclectic interest in film and we don't feel like it's mutually exclusive to have kind of a European drive-in movie as we've called it or an art house horror film or whatever you want to be. The visual opportunity in horror films, with metaphors coming to life in a sense are great, we wanted to really explore that. So yeah, you'll see influences that probably feel pretty eclectic and from a number of filmmakers that you might not necessarily associate with the genre.

How close to the true story is the “time span” of your film?

PH: This film compresses her whole experience into a much shorter period of time in the underlying case which took place over many years. We did that for dramatic purposes.

Have you found a composer yet, or have you picked a particular musical style?

PH: We have not found one yet. We have gotten tapes from people, resumes and had some discussions, but it's, its pretty premature. That'll be probably one of the biggest things we jump into as soon as we wrap. And we agree a hundred percent that it's hugely important. Sound and music are things we're really interested in using to the fullest in the film.

What message do you want the audience to walk away with after the film?

PH: It's not a specific thing. It's almost easier to define it first in terms of what it's not. There's no overt political doctrine or religious doctrine that we're trying to say is more valid. Or even have a religious doctrine at all. It's much more about the journey of the main character that is about examining the life she's living. Ethical questions, what she sacrifices and experiences because of her beliefs in something bigger than herself and how it affects her in terms of her own value systems and looking at her life. And I think if anything that's what it is. And I think there is something very inspiring in this story beyond the scary movie that could make you think hard about your own choices and your own life.

Can you set up and talk about the exorcism that takes place in the barn we’re in?

PH: The lead’s family lives on a farm and we thought it'd be interesting to subvert somewhat the idea of the exorcism movie. The exorcism, the girl in the bed, the exorcists gather around and put it into a whole different setting and situation, which felt, you know, organic to where this girl is from. Where she grew up and the idea of nature all around her and getting that integrated into her experience. Separate from the city and the world where the case takes place and all that. So all of that was part of what we were doing and we also just thought that visually and dramatically it would be very interesting if we could make use of her world. This barn was a fantastic set. It really felt like you turned the corner and you were on some farm in a barn. I grew up in Tennessee and I've been in barns, so I can tell you it was very real. I think the scene looks amazing. And the fact that it was all shot here is pretty impressive.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this set report where we'll grace you with an extensive Press Conference "brouhaha" with:

Laura Linney (actress), Scott Derrickson (Director), Tom Wilkinson (Priest), Paul Harris Boardman (screenwriter) and Campbell Scott

CHECK OUT THE OFFICIAL EMILY SITE AND TRAILER HERE

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