Set Visit: We have a playdate for Annabelle: Creation with David F. Sandberg

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

A good ghost story owes a ton to having the perfect location. And when it comes to bringing back the terrifyingly disturbing doll ANNABELLE, the filmmakers have scares aplenty in store. How do I know? Well, for starters, David F. Sandberg has stepped in to helm ANNABELLE: CREATION. The filmmaker did a terrific job making the separation of light and dark quite terrifying thanks to his feature LIGHTS OUT. What else will make this upcoming origin tale work? Well aside from the seriously messed up Annabelle herself, the new feature offers a perfect location that fits is well placed in THE CONJURING universe – with the ANNABELLE films and the upcoming THE NUN, Warner Bros. is certainly heading in an intriguing new direction with these films. And frankly, after visiting the set of ANNABELLE: CREATION, my faith is even more intact.

As much as I would have loved to embrace the original ANNABELLE, I wasn’t a fan. The main characters didn’t excite me at all, and frankly it just wasn’t scary. And now, we are on the verge of another haunted tale with the lady of the hour returning to leave mysterious “MISS ME” notes for those unfortunate enough to be in her presence. And you can probably guess from the trailer, we get to see how the doll is created, and just how she found herself with demonic entities trying to mess with those who keep her in their possession. And if last year’s Mike Flanagan directed origin tale to OUIJA proved, you can certainly take a weak first film and make something special. Frankly, after spending a little time on the set of ANNABELLE: CREATION, I feel as though we may be in for just that.

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Last July, we had the chance to visit the set of the upcoming horror sequel. And frankly, I was thrilled to not only speak to Mr. Sandberg again, but I always love spending a little time in a scary location. If you’ve checked out the trailer, you’ll get a glimpse of the brand new orphanage that the girls visit. Now we didn’t get to see out the exterior of the home, but we did walk the hallowed halls thanks to the magic of a Warner Brothers soundstage. The house had been beautifully recreated on a stage to encompass this place where a demonic entity has inhabited that familiar doll. It’s quite fantastic how impressive the set design is for not only this, but THE CONJURING 2  was as well – we had the opportunity to visit both sets. This is a cinematic universe that I look forward to continuing, and yes, that includes ANNABELLE: CREATION.

Production Designer Jennifer Spence – an expert at creating a cool horror design – had suggested a creepy dumbwaiter among other haunted house essentials. While we were visiting, they were shooting in that very place. While we didn’t get much of a glimpse of the terror going on, it sounds like a fine way to scare an audience. Set mostly in 1957, the farmhouse where this takes place is quite impressive. As we walked room to room, the detail of this old home set in California was beyond impressive. If ever there was going to be a haunted house flick, the people crafting this place knew exactly how to make it all look and feel very dark and foreboding.

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The origin story presents us with a one time happy couple, Esther and Samuel Mullins (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia). Samuel is a dollmaker, and you can guess which doll he created. True to the mythology created in THE CONJURING, after the Mullins lose their daughter in a tragic accident, they notice that her spirit is seemingly still with them. And what happens when said spirit wants to stick around? It asks permission to live in a doll. And clearly, it was a bad idea for the grieving parents. Years later, Esther and Samuel decide to welcome a group of orphans into their home. The girls, including young Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), soon discover that there is an evil force that will haunt not only the girls, but the Mullins as well.

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As mentioned, when I had first heard about a sequel to ANNABELLE, I had serious doubts. However, my interest was piqued with the hiring of David to direct. While we were stepping into Annabelle’s world, we sat down with some of the cast and of course Mr. Sandberg himself to talk scary dolls and taking things back to the beginning.

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In regards to filming on this particular set, and whether this was more challenging than LIGHTS OUT.

I don’t know if it’s more challenging…LIGHTS OUT was all on location, so it was so fun to come here where you can take walls out and you can do whatever you want. You can be like, I want to create in here, you can say ‘just take this wall out’ so you can really design it and put all these things in like a dumbwaiter and a little hide out beneath the stairs. It’s awesome because you get to come up with a lot of new stuff.

How he came across the script for ANNABELLE: CREATION.

We had just sort of finished up, we were just finishing up post on LIGHTS OUT and the tests did really well and the studio was really happy with it. So the studio came to me and said, “Do you want to do ANNABELLE?” and I was like “Yeah, let’s go!” uh yeah and also it was just like of course, I loved the script and it was a period movie, in an orphanage, and we were gonna be shooting in a studio, so it was perfect.

Is there more pressure taking on an established franchise?

To me, it’s a lot less pressure because it’s not my first. With LIGHTS OUT I was like, “Oh, this is my shot at Hollywood, this is it” whereas now I’m like, I’ve been on a film set, I know how it works, and yeah it feels like a lot less pressure.

Much like LIGHTS OUT, he is once again working with children in horror.

Well, I mean it’s an advantage in that it’s almost an automatic sort of sympathy many times, unless it’s the kid from THE BABADOOK which is just an annoying kid.

(Everyone laughs, says “aww”)

No, I mean but you go like, “Ugh, I never want to have kids”. No, but they’re awesome, you hear all this “Don’t work with kids” but they know all their lines, they’re up for anything, like the girl with the stunts. The only negative thing is that they’re not allowed to work for as long as adults, so it’s like, you constantly have to be like, “Okay, we’re gonna lose her at 4:00, okay so we have to try to get it before then”.

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On working with DP Maxime Alexandre when David is used to shooting himself.

It’s a collaboration, I think I only operated the camera once when I was in the dumbwaiter, but we just talk about what’s needed and what’s not, sometimes I want things that he’s not really sure about but he does it anyway –

Like that doll, it just doesn’t look creepy unless you light her correctly, so we had this shot where she sits at a table, and she doesn’t look creepy, so I said let’s put a light on top of her so she looks more creepy, and Maxime was not a fan of that because it’s not motivated, but it’s like, well we have to do it or it’s not gonna look creepy.

When it comes to finishing his second feature, what has he learned about working in this business.

That you don’t always have to plan as much ahead, because things change so much anyway. Like on LIGHTS OUT, it was like I wanted to be super prepared. That’s why I did all these storyboards, I wanted it to be super cinematic. I had these camera setups printed out, and then you realize that things change anyway. Like once you’re on set you get new ideas, like when you see things a certain way. For LIGHTS OUT I had the art department give me 3D models of the whole house and everything so I could in Blender –  this 3D software – I could sort of walk around and be like, “Okay, I can put the camera over here”, and for this one it felt more like, you can do that for certain sequences like the dumbwaiter but you don’t need to do that for everything because you’re going to change it anyway. So it’s more improvisation.

On creating a period horror film.

Well there’s no damn cell phones, so they can’t call for help. It’s just creepier. But they’re actually out in the countryside so we have to have them call the police anyway because they have to wait anyway before they get there. But it’s just creepier to have it in the past. I mean it’s not that far in the past, but just the aesthetics of it.

During our visit we discovered the film has nuns, the orphanage, and an upstairs room covered in bible verses in the closet. Is religion going to have a heavy role in this film?

I mean yeah, that’s the thing with these movies, I mean, I’m not religious myself I just use it as a narrative tool. Like yeah, this is evil, and this is how you protect yourself from evil, with bible verses and crosses and stuff like that. I mean I’m not a man of faith myself.

Would Sandberg be interested in continuing in this, what is becoming a CONJURING universe?

Probably my own idea, but that’s what I liked about this, that it wasn’t just a straight up sequel to the first ANNABELLE. It was kind of my own little thing where I could do my own version of [it], um, so it’s not like any character is previously established.

The film features newcomers and a couple of vets, he opened up about casting Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins.

With Miranda Otto, it just felt like it would be a classier film (laughs) so I met her and I told her my whole story about LIGHTS OUT and how all this happened. She was very intrigued by the script and all that and she was interested in it and she asked to see LIGHTS OUT which they set up here at New Line. I was like “Oh shit.” So she got to see her own little screening. But it’s like, “Oh shit, what if after she sees it she’s like ‘Yeah, actually I gotta go’” I even tried to tell them like, “Don’t let her watch it alone” because it’s such an audience movie, like you want the audience reaction, so I tried to ask them to put some interns in there or something and they didn’t do it, so she had to watch it alone, but I mean she’s in this movie so she must have liked it.

On creating the story and the villians in ANNABELLE: CREATION.

The overall story they liked, so it’s not huge changes, some of it is like, one sequence is actually based on a dream I had. It was this dream I had, it was like I was watching a scene in the film where Linda has this, like, I’d never seen it in real life, but I dreamed that she had a little gun with a reel on it, and a ball on a string, so you reel that in, which tightens the string, and then you shoot it out. I had this dream of her shooting it out into this dark room, and sort of reeling it out, and it got stuck because something was in the dark or whatever. I woke up and I wrote that down in my phone and sent it to Gary and I was like, “Hey, can we put this in the movie?” and now it’s in the movie. Little things like that. The dumbwaiter was in the script, and that’s thanks to Jennifer pitching to put that in there, but overall, the story overall felt good. I liked the story.

About creating the film and what he wanted to use from the previous ANNABELLE film.

[We used] A little bit. I really liked the demon in the basement and I liked the little girl running that turns into the big girl. I actually didn’t rewatch the whole film before this, because I mean I had seen it before, so I kind of just rewatched parts of it just to sort things out. Yet this feels like it’s its own story so I didn’t want to tie it too much to that one.


During our time on set, we also spoke to a few of the young girls terrorized by whatever demonic forces that like to hang out in little Annabelle. One thing was clear, the young talent enjoyed working with Sandberg. Lulu Wilson – who is becoming a little bit of a scream queen with this, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL and DELIVER US FROM EVIL – absolutely loves this world.


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Wilson describes her role in ANNABELLE.

Well, Linda is 10 years old, like me, and she has just come to a new orphanage, and she’s not really sure about it, because she sees the doll and it really freaks her out. But her best friend, Janice, is kind of trying to help her get used to it. 

On working with her co-star, Talitha Bateman – whose brother Gabriel appeared in LIGHTS OUT.

Well, we’ve been hanging out together a lot, and she’s going to come over to my house to swim with me, and we read lines a bunch together, and we try to get in the moment together. If we have a scene whee we’re crying, we rehearse it over and over and over again.

Did the original ANNABELLE scare the young actress?

No, it didn’t scare me. I was really surprised. I watched it at night and I was like, I want to watch it in the day time. I just found myself watching it in the middle of the night, and then I was like so nervous, is it going to scare me, am I not going to be able to sleep. Then, the next morning I woke up at like 12:00 and I was like, oh, I did have a really good night’s sleep. [laughter]

And since you have a houseful of orphans, you just know you have the one that is going to cause trouble for the leads. This time around, the charming Grace Fulton takes that particular title – a sixteen-year-old girl named Carol.

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So what can you tell us about Carol?

Carol is the oldest orphan. She is sixteen-years-old and she is right all the time [Laughing]. She is very strong, or appears to be. And there is more that I can’t tell you [Laughing]. No, she’s the oldest orphan so obviously when you are the oldest orphan, you are probably the least wanted one. You can only imagine how that affects someone’s personality and how they are with others.  She’s not that bad, she’s just a bit controlling. But at the end of the day, I’d like to think she has a heart of gold.

When it comes to her on-screen relationship with Janice and Linda. Is she just a big bully?

Well, okay, that’s what everyone is saying [Laughing]. And that is part of my talking points with you guys, that I just reject them. But you know, they are young and they are often kind of misinterpreting what I’m saying because we are just two different age ranges, right? You’ve also got the dynamic of Janice being the victim of a polio outbreak, so she is Sister Charlotte’s focus, getting Janice adopted, right? And here I am, getting old. So I think there is also that dynamic of bitterness towards Janice because Janice is kind of whiny [Laughing]. That’s Carol’s thinking. Dynamic wise, they’re young. Carol is ready to talk about boys, moving and doing things while these girls want to play hide and seek.

And what about the character of Evil Mullins? Is it the girl’s creation come to life?

That’s actually kind of something that’s going to be up to the audience to decide. I’m still sort of figuring that out myself because there are moments where I go, was that even Mrs. Mullins? Is that a thing, or is that maybe how the demon targets someone in their fears? Because we learn from like THE CONJURING movies that the demons target people with anxieties and what they are afraid of, and really kind of beat them down. Evil Mrs. Mullins is old, I will say that. And Carol is afraid of growing old, so you can see how that could be part of her being a little unsettled if she encounters her.


And finally, we spoke to Evil Mullins herself. If you aren’t familiar with the incredible Alicia Vela-Bailey, just look at her terrifying turn as Diana in LIGHTS OUT. Sandberg clearly has a terrific working relationship with the actress, and man is she good ag sending a chill down your spine. We spoke to her about taking on Diana – and you can check that out here – but what about taking on this new villain?


Was it equally as physically intense playing Evil Mullins as it was Diana?

Right now, I mean, it’s actually not totally as physical yet. I haven’t done all my scenes, but the wardrobe is, you know, it’s actually really beautiful, like flowing gown type, nightgown thing, very ghostlike, but that’s actually, it’s really hard to move in. I’m walking and I’m like, oh crap, you know, I’m stepping on my own dress and I’m tripping, so dealing with those aspects of it, it makes it a little trickier.

And the mask has one-eye, so I only have one eye vision, and it’s blacked out, so it’s really hard to see as well. So, trying to find your mark and find where you’re supposed to look and balance and your equilibrium is off a little too when you can’t really see and you’re trying to move. And she has like these little, they’re not that high heels, but they’re heels too, so it’s like, I don’t know, just walking in a long nightgown in the dark with one eye. [laughter]

Talking about the transition from stunt work to performance.

Well, as a stunt person, we’ve got the opportunity, like sometimes your not just doubling, you’re actually, you know, playing a character as well, and usually we just die. You’re going to get shot or you’re going to get thrown off of this balcony. They need you to perform as well, and my dance background too, because of, I don’t know, with dance I feel like you don’t have to talk or anything, but you’re portraying emotion, just by body movement. That’s why all this horror movie stuff has been so much fun, because it’s almost like a dance to me, without full-on having to say anything. You’re just moving with your body and I was like, I can really, it brought me back to home, like where I started and I was [young]. I love all of this, and yeah, and then getting more into acting and stuff, it’s just been so much fun. I don’t know, I’m like, I’m so excited where my path has taken me and I can’t wait for what’s next.

It’s funny, before this I was the female freak in The Purge, so like I’m doing all these horror mask movies. This is awesome, but it was just like, I don’t know, it’s just so much fun to be this character that I’m not. Actually my first one I did was Hostel 3, and I got to do this scene where I kill this guy with crossbow arrows. It’s so evil, he’s like tied up and I had so much fun doing it, and I remember, when I tell people about how much fun I’m having, like pretending to kill someone, they’re like, uh, you’re creeping me out. It sounds horrible, but it’s just fake. I don’t really thing this, but it's just like, being something you’re not and it’s, I don’t know, it’s so much fun, like playing make-believe, you know. You play it as a kid and now I get paid to do it. This is awesome.

When it comes to the movement and technique of creating these very physical characters.

Even in the stunt world sometimes, I will watch, I’m getting like throw across the room, smashing into a wall, and I’m always so critical on my own movements and whatnot. Some people would be like oh my gosh, that looked great, and I’m watching and I’m like, I don’t know. It kind of looked graceful to me, because of my long limbs and you try to be like rag doll and whatnot. Sometimes it almost looks balletic in a way, so I have to ugly it up sometimes, which is, as a gymnast and a dancer, you’re not usually trying to make things look ugly. It’s a fun challenge and even, I love, for even Diana I had to practice a lot in the mirror, because I needed to see what my body looks like as opposed to what my body feels like, because I don’t have the mirror in front of me when I’m on set. It’s kind of different movements and even just slightly tilting your head or having one shoulder up, you know and I don’t know, just a lot of trial and error for me. It's just trying to see what worked and you know, I’d run back, look at the monitor and go, ok, that’s what that looked like, let me try something else, trying to get different options and stuff.

On creating Evil Mullins, which appears to be based on Miranda Otto’s character.

I actually started working with David on the movement of the character before I met her, so I was, I didn’t really get to see how she moved and whatnot, but it was, it was just really fun though, to work with her and even in the scenes, just play off of that. So, it was really cool.

When it comes to working with David.

Working with him on Lights Out, it was so cool and it was his first real big chance to make his passion project into this huge film. I think seeing, I’ve seen him grow, from Lights Out to this. There is more of a confidence now, and I think he’s, I don’t know, I feel like he’s able to be not as afraid to do what he feels. On the first show, I think he was a bit more cautious working with everyone. Now, it’s like, everyone trusts [him] and his ideas are great. I feel like he’s really grown. It’s been so great to work with him and I can’t wait to see how this one comes out too.

Is she a fan of horror in general?

Yeah, I actually love horror movies, although, I mean, not as a young, young kid, until I was old enough to watch them. I remember when I first watched Jurassic Park, I was scared, like I was not a horror person when I was a young girl, but growing up, me and my friends, who just, you know, sleepover, watch horror movies. I don’t know what it is about horror movies, like being afraid and it’s that excitement, that, especially when it’s based on true stories, when you’re like, oh my gosh, like this actually happened, or something similar to this happened and it’s just so creepy. Exploring the unknown in your imagination and how bringing all that to life is like, I don’t know, but I feel like with horror movies, there’s also the, like good endings, so you’re like, as crappy as whatever happened, something always good [happens], so it’s kind of like, it’s good to see the despair in all this, and then turn it into something good. I don’t know. I like to be spooked. 

We’d like to give a huge thanks to Warner Brothers and all those involved with ANNABELLE: CREATION for welcoming us to the set. And get ready for August 11th. I can guarantee Annabelle will want to play with you.

Source: AITH

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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.